Create Tree Silhouette Paintings
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you're not comfortable freehanding your branches, sketch them lightly with pencil first.
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.
When drawing secondary and detail branches try drawing with the paper upside down to gain perspective and balance.
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).
Take frequent breaks to allow ink to dry and prevent smudging.
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.
Allow ink to dry overnight to ensure that it is 100% dry before you add the 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!
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. :)
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.