Watercolor Pine Tree Mystery

Form is a tricky skill for artists. Sculptors have to take an image they see in their heads to a flat drawing and then reconstruct it again using their imagination as aids. Watercolor painters are no different up until the point we use our chosen media.

View these images in reverse order. See if you determine the correlation between the photo reference and the practice sketch.

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The first time I really considered form as a way to solve the dimensional problem was when I was doing watercolor painting and wanted to know how to make my trees look like the branches are coming toward me. Leaves are in groups and branches go in a lot of directions. This was confusing. Not only that, but when you observed the branches they looked strange when they were coming at me. How could anybody interpret such strange shapes as a tree?

Every time you think about a ball or cube you can think about it’s roundness or box shape. Three dimensions are expressed in different ways: Cones, Cylinders, Cubes and Balls.

Any realistic shape will have an infinite variety and combination of these 3D shapes.

Pine trees are not unique in this. Some might argue that pines are easier. By observation, it appears that there is much more to it. Sure you can start with a cone and subtract away. Pines require thinking much more about a hollowed out form.

For many years I worked hard to understand how to translate form from what I observed to what I could paint. I studied things in the round. I used my sense of touch to discern what a form was like in reality. This is a process I have observed.

The Process of Painting Pine Trees:

  • Start with a post drawing
  • Look at the direction the pine needle groups are pointing
  • Where are the branches for those groups?
  • What do the shapes look like that appear closest to you?
  • Draw what you see
  • Draw your background shapes
  • Draw your middle ground shapes
  • Draw the shapes closest to you
  • Paint with anticipation of each of these shape groups
  • Use at least 3 values on the pine tree -White is the closest. Your middle tones follow that, receding into space. Your darkest values are the furthest back or underneath an object.
  • Paint around those whitest spots until you are ready for detail

Thoroughly study your subject before beginning. You may have to redraw it a couple of times to get it right. Observe wherever you go and you will become excellent at this skill.

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