Plein Air Painting-Before You Oil Paint TREES Know This..| Beginner PLEIN AIR

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Written ByTerry Ouimet

Plein Air Oil Painter, specializing in mountain landscapes

Blog | Uncategorized

June 15, 2021

These are some of the most important tips to know for beginner plein air landscape painters who want to improve at painting trees. I know this will help you paint more beautiful trees!

Have You Tried These Techniques?

1. Paint Your Trees Through 3 Stages

The FIRST stage of tree painting is the abstract stage. Here you want to paint the tree in two-dimensional flat form. Just focus on putting the right color, value, and temperature inside the right shape.

Compare, compare, compare. Always look at your other “pieces” that you’ve drawn out in the earlier stage and compare as you paint. 

The SECOND stage of tree painting is the Forming Stage. Describe the tree by painting the subtle shifts in temperature and color caused by changes in plane. 

Describe the smaller pieces within the piece. But careful not to overmodel! Leave some of those genius “finishing strokes” that you nailed early on. 

The THIRD state is the Finishing Stage. Make sure you have your darkest dark and your lightest light completed properly. 

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Also, this is the time to put on any accents to finish the painting off strong. 

2. Light and Shadow

Don’t tell yourself you are paitning a “tree”. Paint the light and shadow on the tree. You are painting colors and shapes, nothing else.

When you are finished, perhaps it will look like a tree if you have accomplished this correctly.

Remember that there are many elements to light and shadow. There are light, shadow, cast shadow, halftone, highlight, reflected light and core dark.

Try to address all these elements of light and shadow to make your trees interesting and bursting with color!

Your “Core Dark” is that part of the tree where no light gets in at all. The darkest part. Careful not to make it boring black.

Try to put a small brush stroke of pure color in your core dark such as cobalt blue or alizarin crimson.

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Painting colorful shadows en plein air will make your light brush strokes”pop” your tree colors.

Shadows do the heavy lifting and light gets all the credit. It’s True.


3. Don’t Be A “Leaf Counter”

This is worth mentioning one more time because the most important realization that I was taught as a plein air landscape painter was that my job is not to try and make a masterpiece.

My job is to compare shapes to shapes and colors to colors and to create interest in my pleinair paintings by purposefully placing warms next to cools. And placing complementary colors next to each other.

Contrast creates interest. Everybody loves interesting paintings.

You have heard it said, “Paint what you see not what you know”. This is why I say don’t be a leaf counter.

Paint the gesture of the tree. Do not paint every leaf.

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Learn to “see” trees as shapes, colors, and values.

I hope this gives you some food for thought as you go out and plein air landscape paint trees!

God bless, see you up in the mountains!


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