Our Guide to Painting Trees in a Landscape

When you’re learning how to paint, you probably want to capture the beauty of the scenery around you. If you wish to recreate the lush green trees, tall mountain peaks, or the clear blue sky, you’re likely wondering how to mix and match colors to achieve the unique, rich hues of the vista in front of you. 

There’s a lot that goes into painting a landscape filled with trees and foliage. With enough practice, you’ll become fluent at mixing paint and applying it to create a beautiful painting. Here’s a guide to get you started:

All About Composition

First, you’ll have to create your composition, which should show unity among all the elements in your painting. You should also have a focal point that serves as the main interest in your artwork, dominating all other aspects around it. When you’re painting a landscape filled with trees, the greenery will be your focal point. 

You may want to create your composition using a pyramid or triangle composition as it adds stability while slightly resembling trees. Put your triangle to the right or left of the center of your painting and never in the middle, as this is predictable and drab. Add your supporting elements, and you’ll have your composition.

The Brushes You Need

When you’re just starting with oil painting basics, you won’t need a whole range of brushes. You may end up feeling overwhelmed about the best kind of brush to use to add a particular detail. However, if you find yourself making gestural brushstrokes, you’ll want to have flat brushes, filberts, and dagger brushes with you. The more popular ones are the no. 6 flat, no. 2 flat, no. 4 flat, no. 2 filbert, no. 1 round, ¼” dagger, ½” dagger, and 3/8” dagger.

Knowing Where the Light Is

The next step is determining your light and dark values or knowing where the light is. It will help you establish the painting’s overall tonality.

In a landscape painting, objects far away, such as the mountains, have a narrow tonal scale. That means darks don’t look as dark, and lights don’t look very light. The closer you are to the front of the painting, the higher the tonal scale, where darks and lights look deeper and more vibrant, respectively. 

The Blocking-In Process

Now you’ll have to start the block-in process. If you want a more traditional look, you can apply a thin layer of burnt sienna to the canvas, adding a warm look to your painting. Then, sketch out your composition with a darker shade like burnt umber mixed with liquin. Figure out where your darkest tones should be, like the shadows of your tree, which you can then use to estimate the rest of your tones. Use loose brush strokes and keep them gestural when blocking in your painting, which is where a no. 6 flat brush comes in handy.

Establish your darks first by painting the shadows and other dark colors. Use the same color combination for shadows all over the painting, which will harmonize your colors even more. You’ll want to put burnt umber in the shadows of all your other elements.

Adding the Details

Once you’ve finished the blocking in process, let your painting dry before adding more details. Start by polishing the clouds and use the same colors you used in the blocking in phase. Since the sky isn’t the focus of your painting, you’ll need to make sure they don’t stand out too much, so be sure to darken its tone.

If you have objects in the background behind the trees, like a mountain, be sure not to add too much detail, as it will confuse the viewer and remove some character from the painting. Instead, pour all your detail into your trees and foliage with your dagger brushes to give the illusion of various leaves. It’s also a good idea to change the color of the vegetation between the trees, breathing more life into them. 


Learning to paint trees in a landscape can be intimidating, especially if it’s your first time. However, by referring to this guide and our oil painting classes, painting trees will soon become second nature to you. 

For more oil painting basics, be sure to browse online painting classes at E. John Robinson. We are the instructional shop for his oil and watercolor teaching courses, where you can buy instructional classes in DVD format. Check out our classes today!

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