Trees in winter, deciduous trees that is, present a particular challenge to the painter. There is no foliage to cloak those fine lines that define the shape. But its necessary to be able to draw the shapes before you paint them.
Trees in a traditional landscape define the scene. The number, type and placing are important if a particular scene is to be recognised or for a design or compositional purpose. Its difficult enough to place the trees as general shapes but its not good if you have to draw in every branch from observation. So being able to ‘construct’ a tree similar to the one you need, is a worthwhile skill to learn. Remember, trees grow to a formula which is found throughout the natural world from the shape of the air passages in our lungs to the delta of the Amazon River.
The rules are simple. The most important one is, the large branch or tree trunk is equal in volume to the sum of the growth of smaller branches into which it splits. Put simply, the branches get consistently smaller the more they split into smaller growths or the longer the shoots have grown. The next thing to keep in mind is that the branches are presenting the leaves to get the maximum light. Different species of trees have developed their own way of achieving this, so there are different basic shapes. Its not necessary to be a botanist or tree expert to recognise the different types as long as the viewer of painting can also recognise the different types.
Practice drawing from photographs or nature to get the route the lines of the branches follow. Using charcoal or a pencil allows a continuous line to be drawn. Start every line at ground level and let it ‘grow’ upward. As each line is added, and not overlapping previous lines, the trunk of the tree gets bigger and if you draw along previously created branches they also get bigger in proportion to the number of lines added. These individual lines end as a fine branch. The tree ‘grows’. So each branch is the sum of all the lines or smaller branches added. I find this works for me as a starting point with accidents or design changing the shape as I go along.
Painting, as opposed to drawing, using this procedure adds a few difficulties. Paint from a brush is not a continuous line, and a flowing line is needed to give the look of a growing branch. Also the thickness of a brush stroke varies. I use a small long bristled nylon brush which I rotate between my finger tips as i draw. The long bristles hold a lot of paint so you get a longer line. The paint should flow like ink and this works if solvent is used with a little ‘flow helper’ like Liquin. By lifting the brush upwards as I draw the branches, the line gets thinner. This is one of the few advantages of a brush over the charcoal or pencil. Another advantage of brush and liquid paint is to place reservoirs of paint in the thicker branches and use the brush to drag the paint into the finer lines of smaller branches.
I hope this does not sound to complicated but it becomes automatic with practice. This video shows how I used this method on the trees in the foreground. Although the basic principle is followed there are many places where the rules were bent and twisted to achieve the end result. But its good to have some basic guide to follow.
See you soon.