How to Paint Trees




Hi there! My name's Sarrah, and today, I'm going to show you how I paint trees in the art program, Clip Studio Paint.

Tree Anatomy

First off, let's take a quick look at the characteristics all trees share. A tree has a trunk, from which limbs sprout and branch off into smaller and smaller branches, ending in some type of leaf. The leaf-covered part of the tree is called the crown. The roots are usually hidden beneath the ground, and branch off in a very similar way to the limbs.


Trees come in a huge variety of shapes, so it's important to study references! You can find pictures of any kind of tree you want by doing a quick search online, or take a walk outside to get ideas.

For example, coniferous trees like pine and spruce usually have very straight trunks and cone-shaped crowns. Deciduous trees like oak and maple often have rounder, flat-bottomed crowns and their trunks may begin to branch much nearer to the ground.

There are over 60,000 species of tree on earth, and every tree is different. Once you have an idea of the type of tree you want to create, the variations are practically endless.

Distant Trees

From a distance, you won't see much detail in a tree at all. To paint a distant tree, I start with a sketch. I like to do my sketching on its own layer.

On the layer panel, click the button shown to create a new layer, and double-click on the layer to give it a name.


I prefer to sketch in a lighter color, like light blue. This way, it's easy to differentiate when I draw or paint over it later.


Of course, you can just choose a light blue in your color picker, but for consistency, I like to change the color of my whole sketch layer. Enable the layer color by clicking here:

You can change the layer color if you wish by clicking the Layer Color in the Layer Properties tab, shown below. I'm just going to leave the color as-is.


Note we're ignoring the sub color for now as it's a whole other subject. Just know that the layer color affects colors closer to black, so for now, make sure the color you're drawing with is black.

I use the built-in pencil tool to sketch, as I love how it feels like sketching with a real pencil.

The brush size you choose depends on the size of your canvas; use this panel to choose a brush size for the pencil that feels natural to you.


Hint: You can make the brush size smaller or larger using the shortcut keys [ and ].

At this point, I keep my sketch very rough and loose, just defining the shape of the tree's crown, the trunk, and the main branches.

I also add in areas to show where the leaves may be clumped.

Next, I create a new layer for the trunk. Since we're on the sketch layer now, clicking New Layer will create my trunk layer above the sketch. I use the color picker to choose a medium brown to start with. For organic shapes like trees, I prefer a paintbrush such as the built-in Oil Paint brush.

I always paint in all of the main branches, even if they'll be mostly obscured by leaves later. The branches will always show through a little, so painting them in looks more natural.

Now that the trunk is laid out, we don't want to shade outside of its shape, so turn on the Lock Transparent Pixels option.

Now, I choose a darker shade of brown and add some shading to one side of the tree's main trunk, as well as the underside of the branches. This will of course be on the opposite side from the main light source in your scene.

For the crown, we'll create a new layer above the branches. Start with a dark green color.


I know it's tempting to use brush with individual leaves for the foliage, but for a tree in the distance, it actually looks better not to.


Leaves are so tiny they get blurred out by distance, so you can opt to either hand-paint your tree's crown, or use a speckled brush that gives the impression of leaves instead.


Here's a link to a great, free brush asset pack that I used in this tutorial:

The cluster of leaves follow where the branches get smaller toward the outside of the tree's crown. Some branches will be coming toward the viewer, too, so your clusters can overlap. Be sure to leave some of the branches showing too.

Turn on Lock Transparent Pixels so our leaf cover doesn't get too dense. Select a brighter green color and paint in some highlighted leaves. Here's where you can really define each cluster if you have some overlapping each other.

Now's a good time to refine your painting, adding additional shadows to your trunk and branches where the leaf cover is thicker, and perhaps some variation to the hues of your leaf cover.

You can also make adjustments to each layer individually. Go to the Edit menu and choose Tonal Correction - Hue/Saturation/Luminosity. Here, you can adjust the layer's base colors, the vividness of the colors, and their brightness.

Hide your sketch by clicking the eyeball icon next to your sketch layer, and you're done!

Remember, you don't need much detail at all to create a convincing tree that's far away.

A Tree Up Close

From up close, however, it's a different story.


You'll be able to see a lot more detail on the tree's trunk and leaves, and you can see the individual branches and stems between the clusters of leaves. Many trees will also have flowers, fruit, or seed pods that may not be evident from a distance.


Once again, the best way to get ideas is to do some research.

What do the leaves look like on an aspen versus a black oak?

How are the needles of a pine tree different from a spruce? What does the tree's bark look like?

An Example Fantasy Forest Scene

You'll often see really close-up trees used to frame a painting. Let's create a fun fantasy forest scene!

We'll start the same way, by sketching in our trunk, branches, and leaf clusters in blue pencil, as well as some other details.

I then paint in the wooden parts in brown on their own layer.


Hint: The closer an object is, the darker and more saturated you want your colors to help it stand out. Keep this in mind as you choose your colors!

For close-ups, I like to start with a textured tree bark brush (Also from the brush pack I mentioned earlier) in a darker color, and then paint in some additional shadow and highlight details by hand with the Oil Paint brush.

Here, I've painted in a rough background with the foliage brush I mentioned earlier, and some additional details with the Oil Paint brush.

Here's where a specialized leaf brush will come in handy! You can find lots of examples in the Clip Studio Assets shop, or if you need something really specific, you can always make your own brush. For the sake of simplicity, I'm using the Leaves brush that comes with Clip Studio Paint.

I start with very dark green leaves, then layer some slightly brighter leaves on top, as well as some paler leaves behind the tree to give an impression of depth. After that, I switched over to the oil paint brush to add some stems to the floating leaves, and a little bit of extra detail.

Add in some fun lighting effects and our little scene is complete!

In Closing

By layering a background of distant, indistinct trees with low saturation and higher luminosity, a midground of trees with a medium amount of detail, and a foreground frame of dark, almost silhouetted trees with high detail, you can see how a forest begins to take shape!


I hope you enjoyed this tutorial. May you add many beautiful trees to your paintings. So long!



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