How to Draw a Tree

How to Draw a Tree

By Aaron Rutten

Learn how to use Painter’s Particle Brushes to paint a realistic tree trunk and leaves. In this tutorial Painter Master Aaron Rutten starts by creating a simple background of a sky and field of grass. Next, he paints a tree trunk with many forking branches. The branches get smaller in diameter each time the tree forks. After painting branches, Aaron adds leaves to the tree using a custom leaf brush he created using the revolutionary Particle Brush technology found only in Painter. As a final touch, he adds shading to the entire tree to make it look more realistic.

This illustration was created with Painter and a Wacom Cintiq, but you can use any drawing tablet. Many of the digital painting techniques in this lesson can be applied to Photoshop, ArtRage and many other digital art applications.

Welcome to another episode of Draw This. In this episode we’re going to be learning how to draw a tree.

When drawing trees we’ll first need to create a simple background. I’m going to do that by choosing a light blue color for the sky and I’m going to choose fill. If I don’t like the color I chose I can always hunt around for one that I like better. Then I’m going to choose the airbrush to make a gradient. You’ll want the sky to be a little bit darker and a little bit more indigo towards the top, so I’m going to use a big brush so that I create a nice smooth gradient I’m going to use less pressure as I move toward the bottom and more pressure at the top. I think that looks pretty good.

I’m going to hold Alt and sample that original blue color that I used and make it a little bit lighter and add some light color. Now, this is going to define where the horizon is. I’m going to add some light yellow and we’ll have our horizon right about there. I’ll create a new layer and let’s call it “horizon”.

You’re going to want to turn Preserve Transparency off and we’ll use the rectangular selection tool to draw a nice straight horizon across the bottom of the canvas. We’ll pick a nice grass green color and we’ll choose fill. If you don’t like the green color you can always hunt around for a color you like better, so don’t always expect that you’re going to have to get the color right the first time. I don’t usually get it right. We’ll choose select none to get rid of that selection and we use a darker green with the airbrush to create a gradient along the bottom of the horizon to create a sense of distance. We’ll sample the lighter green color. We’ll make it even lighter and we’ll lighten near the horizon. And we’ll make a smaller brush and we’ll give a sense of perspective by having these lines that kind of converge over at the right there on the horizon. That makes this look like it’s a little less flat and more in perspective. I’m going to use the diffuse blur to blend that a little bit.

Now, you’ll notice that if you blend near the edges of the canvas sometimes it pulls in some weird color, so what you can do is use the distorto brush and push that stuff back off of the canvas. We’ll turn preserve transparency off and we’ll use the diffuse blur to blend the edge of the horizon so it’s not so sharp. If we blend it, it’s going to look more distant. The more we blend it the more distant it gets and that goes for pretty much anything that you’re painting. We use a light pressure to soften it and then we use the airbrush and turn on preserve transparency and use that light green color to paint over the edge because a little bit of fringe might’ve been created when you blended there.

Let’s create a new layer for hills. We’ll select a light blue color that’s a little bit muted and the mountain knife. We’ll make sure that that layer is below the horizon and we’ll start painting, and we’ll paint in a nice distant mountain or hills. We can use the diffuse blur brush to blend that too to set it into the distance. That helps it look nice and far away. And of course we’ll need to use the airbrush along with preserve transparency to paint over any potential fringe. And we’ll add a little bit of atmosphere by adding some of the background color, and we can even add a little bit of a warm tint to the right side of the mountains. That just gives it a little more of a flavor. We’ll turn the preserve transparency off.

We’ll create a new layer for trunk and we’ll use the jitter scratchboard, which has a nice, rough edge, along with a dark brown to draw in our trunk. You should be getting something like that. You want to make sure you have pen pressure so that you can draw thick to thin, a trunk. And then you want all of your branches that fork off to be slightly smaller, more or less, than the last branch that it forked off of. So each time you fork you want to use a little bit less pressure, and you want your branches to taper off at the end. So you want them to be wider at the bottom where they join the branch and then thinner at their tip.

It may take a couple tries to get this right so be very patient with this. Resize your brush if you need to. If you need to paint over the whole trunk to widen some areas, do that. It’s okay. You’ll see here I’m just going to modify this a little bit and thicken it up at the base. That way it looks like the trunk is the thickest part. And we’ll go add new layers as we need to for the smaller and smaller branches, so the next smallest set of branches I’m going to create a layer for. We’ll use the rough ink for these branches and I’m just going to do the same thing where I’m going to do the same brush stroke that tapers off at the end and I’m going to make sure my branches are smaller and smaller as they fork. And as I need to I’m going to create separate layers for the smaller branches. This just makes it a little easier to work sometimes.

So you’ll see here I added a layer for small twigs and I’ll add a layer for even finer twigs. And like I said, the more big branches that you add the more, smaller branches you’re going to have to add, so this did take me quite a long time to do. It doesn’t look like it in the time lapse but it took quite a bit of time to draw in all these branches.

I’m going to add some lumps on the trunk, just so it’s not all perfect, just some little knots and things. Then we’ll go back to the fine twigs layer and we’ll merge all the twigs and trunk layers down to one layer, and we’ll use a dark brown with the airbrush with preserve transparency on to add some shading. We’re going to decide that our light is coming from the right side so I’m going to shade the left side of the trunk. I’m just going to worry about the big, main branches here. I’m not going to worry about all those small twigs because that would take forever to shade them this way and they don’t really have to be that shaded because we’re going to cover them with some leaves. If you were going to leave these branches uncovered and this was going to be a dead tree drawing then of course you would want to go through and shade some of your branches.

I’m going to add a little bit of reflection which is just the grass color reflected onto the left side of the tree. I’m going to add a little bit more shadow when drawing to give the tree some form. Then I’m going to sample the brown color, making it a little bit lighter and I’m going to add a little bit of highlight. The brush I’m using here is the smooth palette knife and you have to do kind of short overlapping strokes because the brush runs out of paint with each stroke, so each time you pick up your brush it’s like adding more paint to it. It really gives it a nice bark texture. If we pick a dark color and we use the sponge we can add some more texture.

So we’re just painting over the whole thing and then we can blend it a little bit with the coarse oily blender which works along with our paper texture so make sure your paper scale and contrast are set pretty high here. I’m just using strokes that follow the contour of the tree. Next we’ll brighten the highlight side of the trunk. We’ll get a selection from the trunk layer and we’ll turn off preserve transparency.

We’ll create a new layer that is a screen composite method and we’ll call it “lighten”. Use a lighter brown to lighten the highlight side there to give it a little bit more form. It makes the lighting a little more dynamic. So just lighten all the major branches there and then we’ll use the chalk to conceal a little bit. If you paint with black on a screen layer you will basically erase, so it adds a little more texture. We’ll add a little more lighter color and we’ll use the organismal texture, polypay wool. That adds a few bright spots and makes the trunk look a little more rough.

We’ll add a new layer for darken. And for this we’ll use a slightly larger paper texture. We’ll paint in some dark brown. We’ll reduce the opacity of that layer and we’ll merge all of the trunk layers down by doing ctrl E.

And now we’ll create a new layer. We’ll call this “leaves fill”. This is going to be the bulk of the leaves. We’ll use the impressionist leaves brush with a dark color like dark brown or dark blue, and really just fill in this. This is going to be the background leaves. This is going to be the back side of them so they’re not going to be getting any light.

We’ll create a new layer that’s called “leaves mid”. We’ll use the veiny leaves particle brush. You have to pick two colors for this so pick a light green that’s a little more yellow and a dark green that’s a little more blue. Then you have to use kind of the right arched stroke here to fill these in. I’m going to time lapse this because it’s going to take me quite some time to fill in all these leaves, but really you just want to fill in the areas where there’s already a dark patch. You can leave some gaps here and there. You really just want your leaves to go all kinds of different directions but you want them to generally look like they’re hanging in clumps. This helps make it look more real when drawing trees. I’m going to make a selection from the leaves mid layer and I’m going to show hide marquee to hide the selection.

I’m going to create a new layer for darken. Make it a multiply composite method and use a dark blue along with airbrush to create a sense of a shadow side. All of these leaves together create kind of their own shape, so you want the shadow side to look a little bit darker overall. If you overdo it it’s okay because on a multiply layer if you paint with white you’re going to erase. So I’m just going to conceal a little bit of that shadow on the highlight side. And now overall the mass of leaves looks like it’s a three-dimensional shape itself.

I’m going to create a new layer and I’m going to pick a light green. I’m going to use the sponge while that selection is still active to paint in some highlights on the highlight side to brighten everything a little bit. Then I’m going to sample the sky color and I’m going to put in some reflections on the leaves near the bottom there, because sometimes leaves are shiny. They reflect bit of the sky color. I’m going to reduce the opacity of that layer just to find a nice blend and as well as the layer below it, and I think that looks pretty good.

I’m going to create a new layer for shadow and I’m going to rename the other two layers. I’m going to use the chalk brush on the highlights layer to add a few more little highlights on some of those leaves to really help them stand out. You want very few highlights, so something like that looks pretty good. Then maybe a little more sky color for some really good reflections near the bottom there and a few of the darker leaves. I’ll turn preserve transparency on for the leaves fill and I’ll use the sponge to lighten near the highlight side, a little bit so it’s not all black, there’s a little bit of dark green in there.

Next, when drawing a tree, we’ll group all of the tree layers into a group called “tree”. Then we want to drop the background colors individually, so we’ll start with hill. Go to layers>drop. Then we’ll go to the horizon layer and go to layers>drop. Now the background is on a single layer we’ll go to effects>focus>soften and we’ll soften the background just a little bit to put it into the distance so that the tree stands out and is a little sharper. We’ll choose drop all and we’ll choose all, copy, paste in place. That creates a duplicate. We’ll choose effects>focus>soften again and we’ll blur this a little more this time. We’ll create a mask on this layer and we’ll paint with black along with the airbrush to conceal some of that blurring. This is bringing it back into focus. We want to keep the top edge of the leaves and maybe some sides of the trunk a little bit out of focus but you can decide what you want to put in focus.

Let’s create a new layer and make it an overlay composite method. We’ll sample this blue color from the sky. We’ll choose fill. That gives it kind of a color tint. We’ll add a mask. We’ll use black with the airbrush to mask out and conceal some of that. So it’s basically erasing it a little bit there.

So we want just a little bit of flavor. We’ll create a second overlay layer and this time we’ll use a different color. Let’s use this orange color and just like we did before we’ll create a mask and we’ll mask out some of that, but we’ll leave a little more orange on the right side where the light is coming from. So now there’s this kind of nice balance. We’ll drop all. We’ll duplicate the layer again by doing select all, copy, paste and we’ll set the composite method to screen. This time we’ll fill the mask with black and then we’ll paint with white with the airbrush to paint in some light. This is kind of the opposite of what we’ve been doing. It has a really nice effect.

We’ll reduce the opacity of that layer and then we can blend that trunk a little bit using the coarse oily blender just to give it a little more character. You can play with the paper settings just to get some different effects, but really you want to blend along the direction or the grain of the trunk. So up and down the trunk then use a little sponge texture if you need to, very carefully over the trunk and try not to paint on your background. Make that layer a multiply composite method as we normally do for textures.

And finally I’ll add some fine details to the trunk using the detail oils brush. These will be little cracks and crevices and just little, sharp, tiny little details. I’m going to blur some of those details a little bit using the blur brush because we did that nice focal effect that I don’t want anything near the edges in that already blurred area to be too sharp, so we’re just going to blur everything equally until it looks good.

Now I think we have a finished drawing a tree. If you enjoyed this episode of Draw This on how to draw a tree, I hope you join me every Tuesday for a new episode. Click the like button and share this video with your friends and you can also click the subscribe button if you want to get updates on when I release new videos. Thanks for watching and I’ll see you next Tuesday.

Thanks for watching! We hope you found this tutorial helpful and we would love to hear your feedback in the Comments section below. And don’t forget to visit our social media pages and show us what you’ve learned by sharing your photos, videos and creative projects with us.

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Comments (2)

  • Juanita Martinez Reply

    HI, i tried the tree tutorial and instead ended up with amazing snow capped mountains. Hmmm,, You are using an airbrush alt brush that I dont seem to have in my 30 day trial version of Corel Paint. Also I cant figure out how to show the rendering tools you are using I have a trial version because that is what came with my tablet just purchased from Best Buy. Thanks for the great videos here and on youtube. Having fun!

    May 29, 2016 at 11:41 pm
    • Adam Reply

      Hello Juanita,

      The trial version of Painter offers a selection of the available tools in each category, to help get a feel for the potential of Painter. Additionally, using the full version of Painter, you can create your own brushes, find and add ones made by the community, and purchase additional brush and particle brush packs from!

      All the best,
      Corel Discovery Center Team

      May 30, 2016 at 11:29 am

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