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How to Paint a Weeping Willow Tree

Updated on February 28, 2013

Weeping Willow Tree

Find a good reference photo or paint from life if you have one near you.
Find a good reference photo or paint from life if you have one near you. | Source

How to Paint a Weeping Willow Tree Using Water Colour

The weeping willow tree is very unique in its appearance. With a mass of drooping leaves that can sometimes touch the ground, the tree is named after its distinctive appearance which makes it appear as it it is weeping. They can grow to up to 50 feet tall and their long branches carry long, pendulous green leaves. Weeping willow trees can add an air of mystery and beauty to any landscape painting, however, due to their unique appearance, they can be challenging for the beginner artist to paint. It is tempting when looking at it to assume that a very laboured approach using a very thin bush would do the trick. However, it is entirely possible to paint a convincing weeping willow tree in a very short space of time using larger strokes. This requires some skill with the brush and is an excellent exercise to help beginner painters to improve their skills.

Things you Will Need

  • Half inch flat brush
  • Old water colour brush with separated bristles
  • Water colours:
  • Yellow umber
  • Burnt umber
  • Ultramarine blue
  • Palette
  • Small cup for water
  • Rag
  • Water Colour Paper. A5, A4 or A3
  • Hard tipped pencil. HB should be fine.
  • A good reference photo

Light Gesture Drawing

Observe the reference photo and very lightly sketch out the tree onto the canvas using your had tipped pencil. Be sure not to exert too much pressure. Start with the gesture line of the tree trunk and its branches. A gesture line is simply a line which captures the general movement and line of a subject. Just because a subject is not moving does not mean there is no gesture. Gesture drawings are usually done quickly, while paying more attention to the subject than to the drawing itself. Capture the main outline, the overall shape of the leaves and note the amount of space they take up.


Notice how the leaves of most weeping willows seem to hang in what looks like upside down mop heads- these are separate groups of branches. Avoid the temptation to draw a single mop head and keep thinking about the amount of space that the leaves take up. The leaves of most weeping willows occupy a lot of space. Look your reference photo and map out where the mop heads are lightly with your pencil. Notice where they overlap and indicate these overlaps with your sketch. Be expressive and loose. You don't have to copy the tree exactly as it is. The trunk of the tree will be mostly hidden from view by the leaves in most cases.


If you are an experienced painter and are used to sketching out your subject straight onto the canvas you can skip the step and go straight to the next step.

Prepare your Palette

Make three washes of colour using paint and a little water. The greens you mix for your particular reference photo ultimately depend on the final look you want to achieve. Wet your old brush and mix a light green with yellow umber and a touch of ultramarine blue. Next to that, mix use the same yellow umber with a little more ultramarine blue for a darker green. On the far side of the palette, wet your new brush and mix a little burnt umber with some water.


Begin Painting

Using the old flat brush, lightly dip the brush in the light green colour. Do not saturate the brush as the point of this part is to lightly apply the paint in such a way that the brush strokes are clearly evident. These will represent your hanging leaves. Looking at the way the leaves droop from the branches of the tree, with a very light touch, stroke the brush on the canvas following the direction of the leaves as indicated in your light sketch, first slightly up, then down in long, sweeping strokes to illustrate the way the leaves appear to drape the branches. Keep doing this across the width of the space that the leaves occupy with the same brush until the paint wears off completely. Reload the paint in the same way and continuing where you left off. Remember to note the individual mop heads. Paint each of the mop heads, or clusters separately to give dimension to the tree. Paint first in one direction and then the other. Remember to lightly stab just the tip of your brush into the paint. You want to see the individual brush strokes with some space in between them to indicate the drooping nature of the leaves.

English Weeping Willow Tree Reference Photo

Notice the trunk in this photo is almost completely obscured by the drooping leaves. The mop heads or clusters of leaves each have form which should be indicated in your painting with volume, light and shadow.
Notice the trunk in this photo is almost completely obscured by the drooping leaves. The mop heads or clusters of leaves each have form which should be indicated in your painting with volume, light and shadow. | Source

Paint the Trunk

Using the new flat brush, pick up some burn umber and begin to paint the trunk of the tree. The trunk only needs to be hinted at since much of it will be obscured by the leaves in most cases. Holding the brush so that it can create thin vertical stripes when stroked up and down the canvas, begin creating thin lines in the space where you indicated the trunk with your initial gesture drawing. Gently use small strokes to indicate the trunk, so that it appears as though the leaves are in front of the trunk, obscuring thin sections of it. The trunk only needs to be hinted at, but fill it in properly where it is not obscured by with the leaves.

Observe the Light

Notice the way the light makes some of the leaves on this weeping willow appear a bright yellow- almost white, while the other leaves are a bit darker. The trunk of this weeping willow is more exposed than the trunk of the tree in the previous photo.
Notice the way the light makes some of the leaves on this weeping willow appear a bright yellow- almost white, while the other leaves are a bit darker. The trunk of this weeping willow is more exposed than the trunk of the tree in the previous photo. | Source

Observe the Light

Really look at the reference photo. What direction is the light source coming from? Assuming the light source is coming from your left hand side, pick up the old brush again and dip it in the darker green. At this point, you want to indicate shadow by adding dark green to the right hand side of the painting. Lightly brush over the clusters of leaves or mop heads on the right hand side of the tree in the same way you did with the light green. Drape the dark green paint lightly over the leaves and drag the brush down to the bottom- where the leaves stop, with each stroke. Again, keep going until the paint runs dry to create the effect of the leaves with small spaces in between. Keep going until you have added some dimension to all of the shadowed side of the tree. Don't worry about it not being perfect and apply some just in front of the trunk as well.

Indicate the Branches

Pick up your new flat brush again and re load with burnt umber. Indicate the branches very lightly towards the tops of the mop heads or clusters and in between the little spaces of the leaves. Keep going until the tree starts to look like it has some form underneath the leaves. Notice how some of the branches go to the top of the tree and to the top of each mop head and curve around, drooping down.

Add Light

Clean your flat brush with water and stroke it down the left hand side of the tree trunk to lift out a line of colour. This will add form to the tree and make it look as if light is shining onto it. Enhance this effect by carefully lifting out some paint on the left hand side of the tree with a clean brush or a rag.

Looking for an Instructional Manual on Painting Trees?

Finishing Touches

Weeping willow trees usually live next to water. Add some life to the painting by painting a nice lake in the background with some other trees in the middle distance. For trees which recede into the distance, don't worry about capturing individual leaves in the same way. Just sketch out the overall shape with your brush and add in the light and the dark on the same sides as the tree in the foreground.

Weeping Willow Tree by Claude Monet

A  willow tree at the edge of Monet's water lilly pond. Completed in 1918. The medium used is oil on canvas.
A willow tree at the edge of Monet's water lilly pond. Completed in 1918. The medium used is oil on canvas. | Source

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      chris 3 years ago

      die please

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