How to paint evergreen trees in watercolor

How to Paint Trees with Watercolor

by Matt Fussell in Watercolor

The medium of watercolor is perfect for painting organic subjects such as portraits and landscapes. The water produces complex color mixtures, gradations, and of course, organic shapes. Trees are simply made of organic shapes of color and value.

With a medium like watercolor, it's important not to "over-think" the subject. Details should be allowed to "manifest" themselves by working layers of applications of contrasting values and color temperatures. We shouldn't allow ourselves to become overwhelmed with observed details.

The Basics of Painting Trees

Those of us that are obsessed with details may relate with the saying, "you can't see the forest for the trees".  When it comes to painting trees, I think this quote can be amended to read, "you can't see the trees for the leaves."

When we paint a tree from observation, we could become overwhelmed with the amount of detail that is observed. Rather, we should focus on the overall shape of the values and colors on the tree and paint these shapes instead of details such as leaves. Trees are mostly observed as masses of form, instead of a collection of tiny leaves.

Here's an example... 

We can clearly see the leaves on the tree in the image on the left. The image on the right, however, is how our mind should "see" the tree in order to paint it.  The details are removed, leaving simple shapes of value and color.

Watercolor Materials Used in this Demonstration

(Some of the following links are affiliate links which means we earn a small commission if you purchase at no additional cost to you.)

Winsor and Newton makes a great field watercolor set which I'm using in this demonstration. The set consists of 12 pan (or cake) watercolors, a travel brush, 3 tiny, fold out palettes and a small container for holding water. Although it is designed for use on-site, it's perfect in any situation including work in the studio.

The watercolor sketches in this tutorial were completed on Strathmore cold press 140-pound watercolor paper. This is a great introductory paper to work with. It is excellent for beginners, great for simple "sketches" like these, and inexpensive.

The brush used in this tutorial is Grumbacher's Goldenedge watercolor brush (size 14, round). This brush is my absolute favorite for painting with watercolor. It is capable of producing clean washes and sharp details without having to load very often.

Step by Step Painting Trees with Watercolor

To create the illusion of the form of the trees we'll need to develop the illusion of light in the painting. We'll do this by creating lighter and warmer tones on the sides of the trees that are closest to the light source.

To contrast the lighter and warmer tones, we'll add cooler and darker tones on the opposite sides of the trees. We'll also add these tones in the areas of cast shadow underneath and behind the trees.

We'll build up these relationships gradually by layering applications, starting with the lighter and warmer tones. And while the surface is still wet, we'll begin to develop the cooler and darker tones. Mixtures of the Yellow Ochre and Winsor Blue will occur in transition areas producing natural greens. 

After initial applications have been applied, a darker mixture of Yellow Ochre, Winsor Blue, and a touch of Raw Umber is applied in the areas of shadow.

Areas are lifted by adding water and dabbing with a paper towel to create lighter areas for contrast. This is followed by additional applications of the dark green mixture becoming more concentrated with blue.

The second tree addressed in the same manner as the first, but the initial wash of color is mixture of Winsor Red and Yellow Ochre as opposed to pure Yellow Ochre.  While the surface is still wet, a dark green mixture of Yellow Ochre, Winsor Blue, and Raw Umber is layered in the areas of shadow.

The contrast between light and dark values and warm and cool tones continues with an application of Winsor Blue in the areas of core shadow on the tree.

This process continues by applying a heavily pigmented application of Yellow Ochre on the highlighted side of the tree, followed by a heavily pigmented application of Winsor Blue in the areas of shadow.

For the third tree, a lighter mixture of Winsor Yellow and Winsor Blue is used for the initial wash. This is followed by an application of Winsor Blue in the locations of core shadow on the tree.

From there, we'll simply continue to increase the contrast between the light and dark values. The cooler mixture of green is used for the trunk and branches of the tree and applied underneath and behind the tree as cast shadow.

Here's a look at the completed watercolor sketches of the trees...

More Lessons You'll Love...

How To Paint Trees In Watercolor

Table Of Contents

  1. How To Paint Trees In Watercolor In 4 Easy Steps
    • Step 1: Sketch the outline of the tree
    • Step 2: Paint the leaves first
    • Step 3: Paint the thickest part of the trunk
    • Step 4: Paint the thin branches
  2. Tree Structure
  3. Cast Shadows
  4. Useful Watercolor Brushes For Painting Trees
    • Hake Brushes
    • Swordliner, Dagger Brushes, and Riggers
    • Round Brush
    • Bamboo Brush
    • Flat Brush
    • Palette Knife
    • Plastic Wrap
  5. Mistakes To Avoid When Painting Trees
    • Trying To Paint Every Individual Leaf
    • Only Using One Or Two Shades Of Green
    • Making All Your Tree Trunks Dark Brown
    • Branches At Random Angles
    • Making A Branch Thicker Than The One It Stemmed From
    • Making A Tree Too Symmetrical
    • Painting “Flat” Looking Trees
    • Making The Trunk Too Straight
    • Bad Perspective & Tapering Trees
  6. How To Mix Realistic Colors For Painting Trees
    • Bark Texture And Colors

How To Paint Trees In Watercolor In 4 Easy Steps

Trees were probably one of the first things you painted as a kid. Maybe your mother or a classmate showed you how to do it. They painted a thick brown line with a green circle on top and you faithfully copied it. Those “Lollipop” trees we used to paint were a useful symbol that served us well and many of us never progressed from there. Let’s lose that tired old symbol and learn how to paint a simple tree in watercolor.

Total Time Needed :




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Rigger Brush Buy from Amazon

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Watercolor palette: Buy from Amazon

Adjustable desktop easel: Buy From Amazon


Burnt Umber : Winsor & Newton | Daniel Smith

New Gamboge: Winsor & Newton | Daniel Smith

Ultramarine Blue: Winsor & Newton | Daniel Smith

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Painting A Watercolor Tree Step By Step:
Watercolor Tree Sketches From My Sketchbook

Tree Structure

Tree Studies From My Sketchbook

To understand human anatomy, artists study the skeleton. Likewise, to understand trees let’s look at the structure of the trunk and branches first.

Let’s break it down into it’s simplest abstract form. A trunk is basically a large cylinder. The branches can also be thought of as cylinders that radiate out from the central cylinder of the trunk. The branches also have smaller cylinders radiating out from them in a predictable sequence. This is known as the Fibonacci sequence but it’s beyond the scope of this post to go into that here.

So we’re back to symbols again but let’s think terms of three dimensions instead of just two.

Once the basic form of a tree is understood as a series of interlocking cylinders. You can understand how light falls onto a cylindrical object, then by knowing where your light source is coming from, shading becomes predictable and consistent.

See the pic below for an illustration of this.

Cast Shadows

Cast shadows tend to be darker than shadows on the object itself and the edges of cast shadows tend to be hard and distinct. Shadows tend towards the cooler side of the color wheel , blues and purples and cool neutrals. Remember also that the trees leaves and branches also cast shadows on the tree itself. These details will make your tree paintings much more convincing.

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Useful Watercolor Brushes For Painting Trees

Hake Brushes

The Hake brush is an Asian style brush, popularized by the artist Ron Ranson. The soft flexible hair of Hake Brushes work well for creating natural looking foliage.

Lighter branches Scratched Out With Palette Knife in this sketch of a Pine Tree

Swordliner, Dagger Brushes, and Riggers

These are all brushes specifically designed for painting very thin lines. Therefore you can use any of these for painting delicate tree branches

Round Brush

This is a versatile brush that can be used for painting trunks, and branches. Held horizontally to the paper and dragged on the paper, it can be used for foliage. Held horizontally and dragged across can create interesting bark textures. This can be done with minimal paint in the dry brush technique or wet depending on the effect you want to achieve.

Bamboo Brush

Bamboo brushes are very cheap floppy natural hair brushes. The way the hairs splay out are great for creating a lively natural looking foliage.

Flat Brush

Flat brushes work well for painting bold thick tree trunks. They are also perfect for lifting out highlights from the trunk.

Palette Knife

I tend to use a combination of painting around the thicker branches and scratching out the thinner branches with a palette knife. This works best when you apply the paint in thick creamy consistency. Scratching out from a very thin wash tends to have the opposite effect leaving a dark line. You could just cheat and use an opaque white. Of course there’s no such thing as cheating. I just personally prefer the look of white paper showing through rather than using opaque whites

Any old or tatty brush that refuses to form a nice point anymore can be put to use as a natural foliage brush. That’s why I never throw any brush away no matter what condition it’s in.

Plastic Wrap

Using plastic wrap to create leaf textures is a trick I copied from artist Kanta Harusaki

If you need some help trying to select appropriate art supplies for your needs I’ve put together a list of my recommended art supplies.

Mistakes To Avoid When Painting Trees

Trying To Paint Every Individual Leaf

Trying to paint every individual leaf is frustrating and pointless. To overcome the temptation to do this squint at the tree (Or tree reference image) until you only see large blurred areas of color. While you don’t need to define every single leaf you can certainly add some leaf detail in various places.

Only Using One Or Two Shades Of Green

I’ll go into more detail on mixing natural greens later in this post but think in terms of 3 – 4 greens per tree a light, a mid and a dark, and possibly another very dark for the deepest shadows. This will enable you to convey the full range of tones. Observe the range of greens, are they light or dark, cool or warm. There is such vast array of greens in nature.

Oak Tree Sketch With Light Medium and Dark Greens

Making All Your Tree Trunks Dark Brown

This assumption that trees are this color goes back to that tree symbol you learned as a child. Really look at tree trunks and you’ll realize that they are almost never this color. Warm or cool neutrals are usually much closer to reality than those chocolatey earth colors that you’ve always automatically used. I’ll show give you some palette suggestions at the end of this post

From My Sketchbook: This note to myself was a personal discovery that I didn’t necessarily need to use shades of brown for tree trunks

Branches At Random Angles

The angle of Tree branches tend to be widest from the vertical at the lower branches with the angle becoming more and more acute as you go upwards until they are almost pointing straight up. This is quite a broad generalisation as it does also depend on the species of tree. As always observation is the key. Certain varieties of Pine Trees can have branches that tend to be roughly horizontal, or close to horizontal. Also, weathering, gravity and age can cause branches to twist and turn in all sorts of directions but as a general rule it’s worth bearing in mind that a tree’s branches don’t tend to point in random directions. Yet they are often drawn that way. A strange looking tree in a photograph is believable but a strange looking tree in a painting is more likely to be interpreted by the viewer as a badly painted tree.

Making A Branch Thicker Than The One It Stemmed From

Again, weird anomalies and exotic varieties aside, branches tend to be noticeably thinner than the branches that they stem from. It will just look wrong if there is a thick branch stemming from a thinner one in your painting. Someone may not even consciously know why it looks wrong but they will feel it on a subconscious level.

Making A Tree Too Symmetrical

Unless it’s an ornamental tree, trees tend to be asymmetrical. Branches tend not to mirror each other but are usually offset. They do have an overall balance though. Unless they are growing in the path of a strong prevailing wind. In which case, other surrounding trees will tend to have the same bent over look.

Painting “Flat” Looking Trees

Always try and think in 3d. Remember that a tree’s branches point towards and away from the observer. They don’t just sprout from the sides. The foliage forms a canopy, so be aware of how the light and the shadows combine to give a sense of three dimensionality.

More Tree Studies From My Sketchbook

Making The Trunk Too Straight

Notice how a tree trunk flares at the base where the roots appear. There may be kinks and twists in a trunk depending on it’s age and species.

Bad Perspective & Tapering Trees

I’ve seen trees drawn that look like isosceles triangles. This is usually done in an attempt to try and introduce perspective. Perspective drawing is beyond the scope of this post. But suffice it to say that you would need to have a viewpoint from the very base of a very tall tree looking directly up to the top before any significant perspective effect would become noticeable.

How To Mix Realistic Colors For Painting Trees

Try and observe trees in nature as much as possible. There are an incredible range of greens in tree foliage. It may help you too think in terms of warm greens (Leaning towards brown) and cool greens (Leaning towards blue).
Below is a color chart that you can use for creating natural looking greens. These were created with Winsor and Newton artist series and the Cotman range. These are Lemon Yellow, Cadmium Yellow, Cerulean Blue, Cobalt Blue, Ultramarine Blue, Prussian Blue, Paynes Gray, and Raw Sienna. Other brands with the same name may vary somewhat in the pigment. Use the chart below as a starting point for your own experimentation.

Mixing Your Own Enables You to Create a Huge Range of Harmonious Shades of Green

Personally, I like to mix my own greens rather than buy pre-mixed greens. The advantage of mixing your own greens is that they will have a consistency that will be missing from an “Off the shelf” approach. Pre – mixed greens often tend to be rather unnatural looking for some reason but if you do want to use them, be prepared to calm them down a bit by mixing in a bit of complementary red, earth colors or a neutral tint. As a general rule you will need a light, medium and a dark green to create the full range of foliage tones.

Tree SketchClick to download this color chart as a PDF file

Bark Texture And Colors

As with foliage, bark isn’t just one color. Again, observation is key but bark can range from pale gray through greens, to warm neutrals and including reds blues and purples.

If you’d like to learn more about painting trees and landscape painting check out my online course Successful Watercolour Landscapes

Related Post: How To Mix Perfect Greens in Watercolor
Related Post: Paint A Vivid Forest Watercolor Scene
Related Post: How To Paint A Glowing Autumn Watercolor Landscape

How to draw forests, forest backgrounds in pencil step by step

Step 1. Therefore, as a rule, forests are basically a mixture of trees, ranging from evergreens to maples, all sticking together. (In most cases) there is little light entering the forest bedding. The most common trees that fill the forest area are evergreens, tall trees that look like Christmas trees. They can be made in many ways; some with slanting - drooping branches, erect - straight branches, or towering branches reaching in all directions. In other words, these type of combo trees are called 'coniferous forests'. Other combinations of trees are 'Deciduous', which are basically trees that shed their leaves every cold Season (Autumn). All in all, create your forests with an 'edge' by adding unexpected tree sources. Experiment!

Step 2 Here we are exploring different types of stumps for our trees. Typically, we'll be drawing these landscapes in 1st person view level, which means you'll be seeing the forest at human eye level. So with that said, we must draw the stumps to either stick together (depending on the type of forest), or smash to shreds. However, sideways woodland usually means that the acre is close to the clearing plains. Also, to beautify your landscape, add flowers, fungus(s), and other natural leaves that would normally decorate a forest. I would recommend looking into various links. Maybe your landscape will be a fall of decayed trees or so many trees that it's a dim and dark corner. Experiment

Step 3. Now, if you are going to digitally color your drawing, (either through Photoshop or any other vector program), I would recommend knowing your limits with color. If you google a lot of forest links, you will realize that colors (depending on depth, perspective, and lighting) often change with distance. For example, (the picture on the left) shows that the main color becomes less saturated, muted and darker, the further it extends into the background. Because the trees are somewhere in the distance, the colors will become hazy and dimmer, creating depth and contrast. If you have a very dark forest with many trees and hardly any light, the colors will probably be a mix of navy blues and purples.

Step 4. Here are just the color combinations you can use for your trees. Please note that the darker the shade of green, the more obstinate the similar shade begins to show (green sides with blue on the color wheel, as well as yellow on the green side). It is important to know your color wheel and how colors contrast with each other. Similar color schemes are the most common forest art schemes. The 3rd example is the ‘dark forest’ color combination.

Step 5. To start the slope or ground line for the scaffolding floor. Once that is done draw out the guidelines for the two trees.

STEP 6. Start sketching or drawing outside the bushy or twisted shapes, looking at the trees like you see here. The formation should be random and not uniform.

STEP 7. Draw the tree trunks like this, then draw in the thick roots that are above the ground. On the left you also need to draw out a thick bush. I added a cute little squirrel or bird hole in the center of the tree on the left.

Step 8. Add some flowers to the bush, then draw in more wooded landscapes which would include mounds or hills on the ground. Draw in a biog pine tree in the foreground of the scene, then add more bushes or treetops that peak across the sides.

Step 9. The guys are almost done. Draw in more trees until the forest looks very full and fluffy. Of course, you can paint in your forest landscape to resemble an autumnal setting.

Step 10 Don't forget to include thin lines to detail the tree trunks which you will be doing in the next step.

STEP 11. Lastly, sketch in the trunk detailing and defining the trees, then draw in some flowers, herbs and distant pines. When you are done you can erase your mistakes if they were made.

Step 12 Here is how your forest will look like. Now you can color the whole thing. Have fun doing it!

How to draw a tree step by step with a pencil: easy instructions for children

Author: Semeyniy Ochag Publishing House

Many beginning artists face the problem of depicting nature. Especially often the image of trees becomes a stumbling block.

Such objects familiar to the eye are actually very difficult to draw, since tree crowns do not have a clear geometric shape, but consist of many small details: branches, leaves, fruits and flowers. To achieve realism of the image is possible only with the correct arrangement of light and shadows.

Painted pictures of trees in different techniques differ in color and detail, so inexperienced landscape painters should learn the basics of drawing and little tricks.

  • Pencil technique

  • Black and white drawing

  • Drawing with colored pencils

  • Watercolor

  • Summer landscape

  • Winter landscape

  • Oil Pastels

  • Oil Pastel Basics

  • Autumn landscape pastel

  • Photo of a painted tree

Pencil technique

Pencil technique includes both black and white graphics and more realistic color drawings. How to draw a tree with a pencil is a common question for beginners. The technique has its own nuances and features, without knowing which it is very difficult to make a picture of a non-amateur level.

Black and white drawing

Step-by-step instructions on how to draw a tree with a graphite pencil is a great help for those who want to learn how to draw.

  1. You need to start with a schematic representation of the trunk and outline of the tree, without small details.
  2. After that, you can start drawing the branches of the tree by creating their outlines. You should know well the structure of the depicted plant: the thickness, number and shape of the branches. This is the only way to achieve a realistic image.
  3. Next, you should detail the crown and branches, depicting the leaves along the contour. Closer to the branches of the leaves should be more than from the outer edge. Also, the upper and outer leaves should be lighter than the lower part, since the sun illuminates the top of the tree.
  4. With the help of dark hatching it is necessary to draw the textured bark of the tree and its roots.
  5. The final touch in creating the picture will be adding a shadow on the ground.

The best way to add sun glare to a pencil drawing is with a sharply cut quality eraser. In this way, you can add more volume to the picture.

Drawing with colored pencils

Drawing a tree with colored pencils is quite easy. You also need to start with a sketch - a pencil outline of the trunk and crown. Next, the outline must be shaded with a green pencil, shading the lines so as to get an even green background. Closer to the top, it is better to use a pencil 2-3 tones lighter. In the same way, you need to depict the grass.

Lightly color the barrel with a brown pencil. A well-sharpened dark brown pencil draws branches in the crown, as well as the texture of the trunk.

Use a dark green pencil to draw individual leaves on the tree. In some places, they should overlap the branches to add realism to the tree. Individual blades of grass are drawn with the same pencil.


Watercolor drawings are distinguished by their elegance and light, unobtrusive beauty. Watercolor is a very common material that everyone gets acquainted with in early childhood. However, not everyone learns how to properly work with these paints.

Summer landscape

A step-by-step guide for beginners will show you the main steps and how to work with watercolors.

Start by creating a pencil sketch. Next, it is important to moisten the space inside the circuit with plain water using a cotton pad. This is necessary to create a smooth overflow of one paint color into another.

For the top of the crown and the upper parts of individual branches, you will need light green or olive paint, and for the lower leaves - dark green or indigo. The paint should not be applied in strokes, but in large, bright drops.

With a thin brush, individual leaves are drawn along the edges of the crown - since the paper is dry behind the outline of the sketch, the leaves will turn out to be well-defined.

When painting the trunk, branches and roots, 2-3 colors can be used, smoothly merging into each other. At the same time, the paints from the crown and branches should mix a little.

The ground is painted last - green grass and darker shadows are applied to wetted paper.

Winter landscape

To depict a winter landscape, artists most often use images of snow-covered coniferous trees in their paintings. Drawings of evergreen firs and pines are beautifully executed in watercolor technique.

Work should begin with a pencil sketch, which will show the branches, trunk, outlines of the crown and snow caps on the branches.

Next, you need to mix the colors needed for the image of the needles and paint over all the snowless places on the tree with a thin brush. Strokes should be thin and non-uniform to give the painted needles a natural look.

After mixing paint for coloring branches and trunk. These details are also painted over with a thin brush.

Light blue applied around the tree to represent the sky. You can start drawing the background only after the image of the tree has completely dried, otherwise the even contours of the image may blur and float.

To depict a shadow on the snow, you should add a little dark blue pigment to the paint that was used to paint the sky. So the shadow will turn out much more realistic.

Oil pastel

Oil pastel is a difficult medium to work with, but when used correctly it produces rich hues and unrivaled color transitions. For the best result, you need to get professional advice on how to easily draw a tree with oil pastels.

Oil Pastel Basics

Oil pastel is unpretentious to the material on which it will be applied, so the picture can be painted on canvas, wood, stone, metal, thick paper. Pastel is well applied to any material and does not crumble over time.

To achieve different shades of color, several layers of pastels are used, superimposed one on top of the other. Excess paint can be scraped off with a blade or any sharp object - this makes it easy to correct the image.

Oil pastel works take up to several weeks to dry - the drying time depends on the thickness of the paint layer. If desired, the image can be fixed with several layers of synthetic resin or a mixture of alcohol and vinyl resin.

Autumn landscape pastel

Use a slate pencil to mark the trunk and bare branches of the tree. Blue, gray and purple should be used to paint the sky, shading the colors with a finger or a small piece of paper. Next, in the same way, the grass should be painted in a brown-green color.

Lastly, the trunk and branches are painted over, on which a small amount of yellow leaves can be depicted.

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