How to paint: Trees





Trees are a crucial element in creating beautiful backgrounds. Their versatility and prevalence in nature make them ideal for filling up any empty spots in a canvas and adding depth to your scenery. With their diverse shapes and sizes, from tall and slender to short and bulky, trees can bring your artwork to life. In this tutorial I will cover all there is to know about trees and how to combine them together to form the perfect forest.



To understand an object better it's always useful to simplify it to its core. Trees are not bound to the same shapes and it's essential to know the basic shape of the tree you want to draw. By doing this, we can outline all the necessary details and simplify the process of adding light. However, before we delve into that, let's first talk about the main components of a tree.


A simple separation of a tree includes:





The trunk and the branches of a tree are typically cylindrical in shape. And the easiest way to visualize this shape is by using repeating circles. This allows us to see it in 3d.

Nature doesn't repeat perfectly. When drawing branches try to avoid perfect symmetry.

The majority of trees have a shape that is formed by lower branches growing horizontally and upper branches growing more vertically. However, not all trees have this fan-like shape. Pine trees, for example, are an exception, but even their branches are not exact copies of each other.

Some trees are bulky while others are slim. One thing to note here is that thick trees' branches start at lower with more density while thin trees have it opposite.

There are many textures when it comes to tree trunks. We can talk about some of the most memorable ones.


Birch, aspen and beech have smooth barks with horizontal dark lines and other spots that resemble eyes. When drawing vertical lines it's important to remind ourselves that we are dealing with 3d objects so the lines should hug the bark instead of being parallel to each other.


The bark of a sycamore tree has a distinctive pattern that resembles a puzzle or cowhide, and is notable for its vibrant colors, which set it apart from other tree barks.

The bark of oak trees is known for its rough texture, which is created by cracks and dots. However, it's important to note that much of this texture is lost when light interacts with the surface. This provides us a good opportunity to discuss the topic of light.

We talked about the trunk being cylindrical. Let's see how light is applied to it.

The smooth surface of a cylinder has highlight, halftone, core shadow, reflective light and cast shadow but the trunk isn't perfectly straight and smooth. It is dense in texture and crevasses. Using airbrush or blending everything will make the surface smooth, not the way we want. Apply light in strokes, you can also use textured brushes to achieve that imperfection.

Let’s look at this example of a trunk drawing

First lay the the colors on the trunk

Cross the colors using strokes

Blend with a soft brush

Additionally, we should remember that cast shadows don't only apply to the trunk. The branches also cast shadows on the bark depending on the direction of light.


Lastly, keep in mind that too much or direct light can obscure texture. The area that takes the light directly will have the brightest hue and the least texture.


We can create textured shadows using cross hatching by gradually increasing the strokes as we move away from the light source. Notice how the presence of light is more visible when texture is lost.


To draw more dramatic trees add in perspective. To draw anything from an angle putting it in a box makes it easier for us to visualize it. Since we're only sketching at this stage, we don't need to worry about adding too many details - a simple cylinder and half circle will suffice.

You can also use perspective lines to achieve dynamic poses.


Doing the cubes in manual isn’t hard but using perspective tools gives more precise and quick results. This is especially helpful when you are working with multiple objects in your drawing, as using grids can help you keep everything organized and easy to manage.


To make a perspective layer, go to Layer—Ruler/Frame—Create perspective ruler.

Pick 2 point perspective.

Now you can draw your cube! As long as the perspective layer is open it won’t let you draw out of the perspective lines.

Sketch the tree inside. Then you can detail it and it's done.

Coloring The Trunk

Let's now focus on coloring the bark following the example below:

1. Add the appropriate colors while considering the light source.

2. Blend the colors using stripes.

3. Use a soft brush to further blend the colors.


Trees provide shelter and habitat to many living creatures, such as birds, squirrels, ivies, and mushrooms. Moss, in particular, is a common resident of trees. Including these elements in your drawing will not only add to the realism but also create a more compelling narrative.


Here's an example of drawing mushrooms on the bark of a tree:

1.Draw the mushrooms on the tree, making sure to vary their sizes and position them diagonally. This will prevent them from looking identical.

2.Based on the direction of the light source, draw in the shadows for the mushrooms.

3.If the mushrooms have a reddish color on top, add it in. Some mushrooms may also have dots.

4.Add the highlight to the mushrooms, and blend in some of the shadows.

5.Don't forget to add the shadows created by the mushrooms on the bark. This will really make them stand out.

There's a wide variety of mushrooms in different colors, so if you want to make your tree more interesting, you can choose to draw a colorful mushroom.


Moss is a common sight on trees here’s an example on drawing it:

1.Put down the colors. It's important to match the light on the bark: light green on the lighter brown parts and dark green on the darker brown parts.

2.Blend the colors using strokes and vary the shades by picking up colors in between.

3. Continue to blend and add more details to create a realistic mossy texture.


Foliage is made up of leaves but when we look at a tree, it's impossible to distinguish every single leaf with our eyes and just like drawing every strand of hair would be unconventional and ugly, we need to think of the leaves as multiple groups instead.

We talked about how it was enough to represent the foliage as a half circle for sketching. The next step is to group up the leaves, try to keep them simple. Then you can outline the circles in the shape of leaves. Try not to repeat in patterns.

While the details of foliage are not as pronounced as those of bark, we can enhance its appearance using light. Foliage as a whole is just made up of multiple groups of leaves in organic shapes, so the line that divides light from shadow, known as the terminator line, is not a perfect circle, but rather somewhat uneven. We can talk about light more in the coloring process.

Coloring The Canopy

While trees can have various colors of foliage, green is the most common. To draw green foliage on a circle we can follow these steps:

 1\. Draw a circle and apply your darkest shade

 2\. Add other colors using a soft brush and blend them with stripes. Consider the circle below as reference for how light works.

 3\. Draw some leaves.

 4.Draw more leaves and blend the colors together with a textured brush.


You can copy this process on the other groups of leaves as well and there you have a tree!

Additionally, the leaves create gaps in the foliage that allow light to shine through, mostly visible on the bark. There is a brush on assets that captures this very well. Pick a bright color and set your layer to color dodge to use the brush. This technique is useful for indicating the presence of a tree without explicitly drawing it.


Pine trees offer a distinctive example of a tree. Here's an example of how to draw a pine tree:

1. Draw the pine needles in groups. Pine needles are spiky and stick out from the sides of the tree.

2. Color the groups. The innermost part of the pine should be the darkest, while the needles sticking out receive the most light. Slightly draw the leaves as well.

3. Now it's time to focus on the details. Choose colors in between and shade the needles. The outermost needles should be the lightest in color.

4. Similarly, add more details to the needles and draw more of them.


Roots play a vital role in absorbing water and storing food for the tree. Their size is often larger than what we perceive, and even though they are not visible, understanding their structure and function can aid in visualizing the tree as a whole. There are three main types of root systems:


1. Taproot trees

Taproot trees have a thick primary root from which smaller roots branch out, and this root system can be observed in various trees like oaks, pines, walnuts, hickories, conifers, and more.


2. Heart root trees

Heart root trees have multiple primary roots that spread out and create thinner roots, resembling the circulatory system, which is where they get their name. Sycamore and pine are some trees that have this root system.


3. Plate root trees

Plate root trees, such as birch and spruce, have roots that spread horizontally instead of growing deeply into the soil. As a result, some roots are visible above the ground.


It’s important that roots follow their direction on the bark as well. This is particularly crucial for trees with larger roots.


To make the roots look more interesting, vary their thickness by making some sides bulky and others thin. You may also divide some roots like branches.


Drawing a Forest

As Bob Ross once said, everybody needs a friend , and just like that, we can't leave our tree alone by itself but before we can attempt to draw a forest we need to consider how we group trees together .

Instead of lining trees up side by side, it's better to vary their heights and sizes. For a better placement and arrangement use a triangle as a guide for drawing a group of trees.

Trees that are closer to us will naturally be more detailed while the ones very far away don’t require much detail. A forest with all trees drawn in intricate detail can be visually exhausting for the viewer.

Focal Point

When we look at a scene with many similar elements, our eyes naturally seek out the differences. This makes a forest an ideal setting for creating a focal point, as any subject within the forest that differs from the trees will naturally draw the viewer's attention but it's also important where the subject stands.


There are various techniques that can be used to direct the viewer's attention towards a specific area in a painting. One such technique is the rule of thirds, which involves dividing the canvas into nine equal rectangles and placing the subject at the intersections.

There are also other methods like the golden spiral that recommends following a spiral in your drawing for a satisfying look.

Here are some examples:

The focal points also makes it easy to follow a story like how the first one depicts an encounter between a human and a deer.


In landscape drawings, value plays a crucial role as it can be difficult to distinguish between close and distant trees. To create the illusion of depth, we can decrease the brightness of trees that are farther away.

Here is another example:

We can clearly identify the positions of the trees.

Contrast is an effective way to draw attention to a subject, and value is an important aspect of contrast. Using a bright color on a dark background creates high contrast, making the subject more noticeable.

In this example, the dark silhouette stands out against the bright background.


Here, a person holding a flashlight at night illuminates the deers, making them the brightest and the most noticeable objects in the drawing.


Now let’s use all of our knowledge to create one last illustration.

I selected a painting example from our discussion on value and made some modifications by adding a castle on to one of the intersections for depth.

Now that the castle is added, it is time to start coloring in the values. While contrast is important, it should not be overdone, which is why I ensure that the castle blended well with the background.


I then proceed to add the base colors for each object in the painting, while keeping in mind where the light source is coming from. It's essential to consider the direction of the light when coloring in values to create a realistic-looking scene.


All we need to do from now is add details, starting with the log and the tree closest to us, while still keeping the light source in mind. The same applies to the forests and the rock on which the castle stands. For the clouds I used cloud brushes. You shouldn’t get too lost in details in this part. Look at the picture as a whole and try not to zoom in frequently.


Now I’ll add details to the castle and the dancing couple and since the couple is a silhouette the colors need to look dark and subtle. You can achieve this by drawing your colors normally in a clipping mask and then turning the layer into a color layer. Make sure the silhouette isn’t completely black and slightly bright otherwise it won't work.


As a finishing touch, I added more detail to the log, the forest, the tree, and other objects in the scene.

Finally, on another layer on top, I applied color dodge by picking a bright pink color and airbrushing it to the places that receive the most light. It’s done!


I hope you enjoyed this tutorial as much as I did making it. I tried to cover all the essential points that came to mind, and I appreciate you taking the time to read through it. Thank you!




New Official Articles