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Create Tree Silhouette Paintings

Updated on July 30, 2014

Do It Yourself - Tree Silhouettes

The process that I've outlined below can be applied to drawing as well as painting.

Silhouettes of trees have always fascinated me. I've often lost myself in the crooked shapes of dusk, following contours with my eyes until they were inevitably swallowed by complete darkness.

I have been making tree silhouette paintings for a few years now. No two have been the same as they're always freehanded and I don't do them very often because I have a tendency to obsess and drive myself crazy however, the process its self is very simple.

Within this lens I will outline the step by step process that I use for making a tree silhouette painting including all of the materials (which are pretty minimal).

I will caution that the procedure requires patience. India ink is very unforgiving and can be extremely frustrating to work with sometimes however saying that, there is no substitute for it and if you have any crafty interests at all it is a really useful material to familiarize yourself with.

Materials Checklist

1. Black India Ink

2. Caligraphy pen

3. Watercolour paper

4. Watercolor paint

5. 2 Paintbrushes

6. Masking tape

7. Water (small bowl)

8. Paper towels

About Your Materials

All available in any decent art and crafts store (even Walmart)

1. Black India Ink

India ink is completely waterproof when dry. I use it often when painting with watercolour because it doesn't bleed into other colours and it creates a blackest black which I love to work with.

It is essential that you use India Ink with this tutorial because you will be applying a wash over the entire drawing when you are finished and it is essential that your black stays put and doesn't turn all of your work into mud.

2. Calligraphy Pen

You will need a calligraphy pen with a sharp pointed nib to apply the India Ink to your paper. If you have never used one before take some time to practice to get a feel for the varying degrees of pressure that need to be applied to achieve different effects.

3. Watercolour Paper

Watercolour paper is a special type of paper that can take a great deal of abuse. Expensive does NOT always mean better with watercolour paper however the dirt cheap stuff is usually too soft and falls apart in my experience. So you're better off considering your options and going for the mid price range paper whatever that may be.

4. Watercolour Paint

Watercolour paint comes in two forms, in tubes and in pans. There is no right answer when it comes to which is better, you achieve different results with either depending on how you use them and what you want to use them for. I have an ample supply of both types however for this particular exercise I prefer to use the tube kind.

5. 2 Watercolour Paintbrushes

Watercolor paintbrushes are quite soft. You will need one fat and one thin. (see photo below)

6. Masking Tape

Any kind of masking tape will do, just make sure that it is masking tape so that it will not damage your paper. Taping your paper down helps to keep it flat while you're working on it and gives you nice crisp edges as well.

7. Water

This is pretty self explanatory. You will need a small bowl of water even when you're working with the India ink in order to keep your small brush and nib clean. You will also need a fresh small bowl of water later on (think dipping sauce size) to mix your coloured wash.



Step 1

Setting up your workspace

If you plan to frame your work you should probably work with a standard size. I've chosen to work with a 5x7 piece of paper however I have left a thin border (roughly 1/4 to 1/2 inch) around the edges to enable me to tape it down flat and to matt it later on.

I've used a clipboard to tape my paper to. You can use anything really. I have several boards that I've cut out to various sizes strictly for watercolour painting. Just make sure that you don't use anything that will absorb the water through the paper, which would make things difficult to say the least.

Note that I have put an extra scrap of paper to the side of my main project space. This is not essential however it is extremely useful for testing the calligraphy pen before applying it to my work.

Example 1

Example 1
Example 1

If you're not comfortable freehanding your branches, sketch them lightly with pencil first.

Step 2

Trunk, Ground and Base Branches

Now I use the thin paintbrush and India Ink to black out about an inch of the bottom of my paper.This is the ground which the tree is growing out of. It should not be 100% flat.

I make sure that the ink is only laid down to one layer. Unlike watercolours, India Ink does not like layers. If it is laid on too thick it will not dry properly and there will be shiny spots.

To add some grass fluff I apply the ink with a nearly dry brush in upward strokes from the blacked out area. (If this is your first time using India Ink you may want to practice on scrap paper first.)

Occasionally the paintbrush will gunk up so during this process I'll rinse it off a few times.

I continue using the thin brush to paint the trunk of the tree and a few main thick, weight bearing branches. (see photo below)


*DO NOT allow the ink to completely dry on the brush. When you are finished rinse it immediately or else it will be ruined. Dry the brush with a paper towel to make sure that all of the ink has been rinsed out.

Example 2

Example 2
Example 2

When drawing secondary and detail branches try drawing with the paper upside down to gain perspective and balance.

Step 3

Secondary Branches

Next I elaborate on the primary branches by drawing secondary branches using the calligraphy pen.

Branches do not grow in straight lines which is why I make them slightly wobbly using the dips to indicate where the next branch will split out from.

When drawing secondary branches I always (try to) keep the thought in the back of my mind that as a result of gravity the thickest parts must always be closest to primary branches to support their weight and will thin out as they reach skyward.

If I accidentally make a branch thicker at the top than at the base all is not lost. To fix this I need to thicken the base of the branch and perhaps extend it to mask the error. This is a tricky area which can lead to extreme frustration. Sometimes I need to walk away and come back to it later to give my eyeballs a break.


*You can end the branch drawing at this step and still achieve a very attractive overall effect. If this is what you would like to do then skip straight to the watercolour wash (step 5).

Example 3

Example 3
Example 3

Take frequent breaks to allow ink to dry and prevent smudging.

Step 4

Tiny Branch Details

Now I draw the very small branches using the calligraphy pen. This can also be an extremely frustrating tedious process so I usually put it down and pick it up several times.

The procedure is the same as it is for the secondary branches, just on a smaller scale. I fill up the spaces and try to keep the tree balanced (though not symmetrical) until it looks finished.

Example 4

Example 4
Example 4

Allow ink to dry overnight to ensure that it is 100% dry before you add the watercolour wash.

Step 5

Watercolour Wash

*Before you even think about applying your watercolour wash make sure that any and all pencil marks that are on your paper have been gently erased because once the colour is down you will not be able to uplift the pencil.

Next, after the ink has had sufficient time to dry completely I apply a thin coat of water all over the paper. (It will warp slightly)

Then I mix a bit of tube paint into some water until I have a lightly coloured translucent puddle.

Depending on which effect I want I apply the wash then add more paint to the wash to intensify colour saturation. Usually I'll allow it to dry completely and then enhance areas later on with a second wash.

I find watercolours to be very forgiving in that if the paper is wet enough colour can be moved around quite a bit once applied. If too much is applied it can be soaked up with a handy dandy paper towel.

In this painting I've used Burnt Sienna. A single colour is probably the best option for someone who is inexperienced with watercolour however multiple colours can be used.


*A normal hair dryer can be used to aid the drying process but take care not to hold it too close to the paper or else the colour will move around.

You may wonder why I didn't apply the wash first and THEN draw in all the black. there is actually a very good reason for this. Unless you're experianced with both watercolour and India ink it is very easy to destroy your entire painting by doing it the other way around. Once a layer of watercolour is down the ink will bleed into it accidentally with the slightest misjudgement of pressure on the pen. To avoid this problem in some of my other paintings, instead of using India ink I have been known to load up my pen with very consentrated watercolour paint but I think that's another lens all together!

Example 5

Example 5
Example 5

Finishing Touches

Sign, date & frame

Remove the masking tape slowly and carefully just in case it decides to stick and rip the paper.

Always sign, date and take pride in your work! (I've signed this one on the back so as to not distract from the silhouette)

I've used a black 8x 10 photo matt on my finished 5x7 painting so it is ready to be framed. The photo that I took of it is sort of horrible but you get the idea. :)



Image Credits

All photographs on this page were taken by myself or my husband (unless otherwise stated) and I do not give permission for them to be used elsewhere.

Have You Found This Tutorial Useful Or Interesting?

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    • profile image

      Doc_Holliday 3 years ago

      I've been doing a bit of painting lately so I'm going to give this a go.

    • sierradawn lm profile image

      sierradawn lm 3 years ago

      Beautiful lens! I love silhouetted trees. Very nice tutorial!

    • lesliesinclair profile image

      lesliesinclair 4 years ago

      Yes indeed. It's a good reminder of not to apply India ink in layers. It's been years since I've used it, but I love the black. Nice tutorial.

    • tfsherman lm profile image

      tfsherman lm 4 years ago

      So beautiful! The only thing I've ever enjoyed drawing is trees. I'd love to take it u a notch and use watercolors too.

    • PlantNerd profile image

      PlantNerd 4 years ago

      Wow! This looks great. I think I've found my new project for this winter!

    • smine27 profile image

      Shinichi Mine 4 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      Wow, this looks like a fun project to do and simple enough. Very beautiful too.

    • profile image

      Ruthi 4 years ago

      I am fascinated by trees, silhouettes, and shadows. I have never worked with watercolors but you sure have me tempted to try your great directions for painting myself a tree silhouette.

    • DougB101 profile image

      DougB101 4 years ago

      Thank you so much for the step by step instructions. I am a tree person myself and have done some drawing both with pencil and using a Wacom Tablet. I am looking forward to trying directly with India Ink.

      Thanks again.

    • profile image

      TommysPal 4 years ago

      I love drawing trees with pencil but I've never used indian ink. I actually have some so that means I'm going to give it a try. Thanks for sharing this great lens.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Liked and Pinned! Nice lens..

    • rattie lm profile image

      rattie lm 4 years ago

      Just exactly what I have been looking for! I may just give this a try!

    • Lynda Makara profile image

      Lynda Makara 4 years ago from California

      I love your step by step instructions for making these tree silhouette paintings and I see how they could become addicting. Angel blessings.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      I am not very handy with pencils or colors but can certainly enjoy a good picture. I find very interesting how many people are fascinated with trees. I guess this is the reason trees are connected with spirits, magic and rebirth... Well done:)

    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 4 years ago from Canada

      I used to draw trees but have not for years. You sure give an excellent tutorial on how to draw tree silhouettes. Wonderfully descriptive.

    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 4 years ago from Southampton, UK

      I love tree silhouettes as well, but I'm not very artistic. These look fairly easy to create though. You are very talented.

    • profile image

      Gala98 4 years ago

      Love this lens! I used to doodle bare trees at school just using an ordinary pen so it's nice to see what I could have done with those doodles!

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 4 years ago from United States

      Wishing you a year of many new blessings starting with this one! Happy New Year!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Yes, I have certainly found this excellent page about how to create tree silhouettes very interesting and will be showing it to my very arty daughters :)

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 5 years ago

      I love how you make this seem so easy.

    • Elyn MacInnis profile image

      Elyn MacInnis 5 years ago from Shanghai, China

      I love this lens. This is something I have wanted to do - so it is especially great for me to have found it! Thanks - SquidAngelblessed!

    • craftycollector profile image

      craftycollector 5 years ago

      I came to this lens via the zombie sheep lens, and was totally excited by the way you had, in each lens, provided such clarity in the instructions. Being rather old fashioned, I would have started with the wash, and then moved on to the silhouette, allowing the xwash to be completely dry, but eberyone has there own methods, and yours seems to work well. LOvely lens. Thank you.

    • ismeedee profile image

      ismeedee 5 years ago

      I'd love to try this!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I am not much of a painter, but love the tree paintings and you made it look so amazingly simple. I will enjoy creating my own house decorations for myself and my family.

    • maryLuu profile image

      maryLuu 5 years ago

      Very interesting! I will try myself to draw this way! Thanks!

    • Teapixie LM profile image

      Tea Pixie 5 years ago

      I'm doing this. Your articles are keeping me busy!

    • SheilaMilne profile image

      SheilaMilne 5 years ago from Kent, UK

      This one is going to be beyond my levels of capability and patience. Though it's a shame because I love tree silhouettes.

    • John Dyhouse profile image

      John Dyhouse 5 years ago from UK

      I love sketching trees and this is another technique that I must try. Thanks for the details and the useful tips - blessed

    • Michelle77 LM profile image

      Michelle77 LM 6 years ago

      I Love trees and it is beautiful what you are doing with them :) i may have to try my hand at it!

    • mariaamoroso profile image

      irenemaria 6 years ago from Sweden

      Lovely lens. Really good to see step by step how to do

    • Eighteen18 profile image

      Eighteen18 6 years ago

      gorgeous! I wish I could do it!

    • dc64 lm profile image

      dc64 lm 6 years ago

      I know what you mean by getting lost looking at something so beautiful as a tree in silhouette. You have put this instructive lens together so wonderfully, it makes me want to try creating something magical, as you have.

    • Stuwaha profile image

      Stuwaha 7 years ago

      @Mickie Gee: Thanks!

    • Mickie Gee profile image

      Mickie Goad 7 years ago

      I must try this project. An excellent lens that deserves the blessing I am going to give it today!

    • indigoj profile image

      Indigo Janson 7 years ago from UK

      What a lovely idea and beautifully presented! Thanks for sharing your creative process with us.

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 7 years ago from United States

      This is so wonderful that I just had to return on my first day as a Squid Angel and leave my Blessings!

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      Beautifully done lens, Sarah!

    • jptanabe profile image

      Jennifer P Tanabe 8 years ago from Red Hook, NY

      Awesome - love your trees, want to see more! I'm so not an artist, but my husband is and my daughter has the talent too. Maybe she'll be inspired to try tree silhouettes after I show her this lens!

    • jimmielanley profile image

      Jimmie Lanley 8 years ago from Memphis, TN, USA

      You're officially blessed!

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 8 years ago from United States

      Totally awesome! I can hardly wait to try it. I am not an artist, but you have inspired me to try. Of course, when my tree looks like an elephant I will act like that was what I was going for.


    • Stuwaha profile image

      Stuwaha 8 years ago

      [in reply to Home-Interior-Designer]

      Thank you so much! :)

    • Home Interior D profile image

      Home Interior D 8 years ago

      Excellent! Very thorough guide to creating some beautiful tree silhouette paintings. Great work!