Will I Ever Learn?

I love trees. I want to do oil paintings of trees. I struggle with trees.

It’s been this way from the beginning.

When I first began learning to draw, oh, how I wanted to draw beautiful trees. My first trees looked like something a six-year-old might draw, but I kept practicing, and gradually, I did get better.

Then came watercolor painting. Yes, I wanted to paint trees. Again, my first efforts were laughable. But, I persisted. I practiced, and eventually I did improve.

I’ve struggled to draw trees with conte and pastels, colored pencils, and pen and ink. It’s always the same. My first attempts are childish scribbles, and only with a lot of time and consistent practice do I get good results.

That said, I’ve never reached the proficiency I want to have when it comes to trees. Sometimes, I wonder how far I can actually go in my art studies. Will I ever learn to create the landscapes I want? Will I ever be able to paint trees that make me smile? Or will it always be a struggle for me?

Here’s today’s tree practice:



If there’s a mistake to be made in painting trees, I’ve done it. I either have my paint too thick or else it’s too thin. I either mix my colors too much, or not enough. My tree trunks are either too skinny or too fat. My leaves are either too bushy or too scraggly. I tend to do too much highlighting, and I forget where the light is coming from.

This was intended to be a tall tree standing in front of several smaller trees, and while it’s not as awful as some of my trees have been, it’s not all I’d hoped it would be.

On the plus side, I do like the composition of elements in this painting. For the most part, I also like the colors, as well. Not too bright, yet not too dull and monotonous. I guess overall I like the painting, but I’m not satisfied with it…if that makes any sense!


    1. Thanks, Yovy. I like the colors, and the trees are better than some I’ve done in the past, but I still have a lot of work to do. Each practice attempt teaches me something new, so I’ll just keep going. 🙂

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  1. I totally understand liking some aspects of a painting and not others – whenever you paint you are using a whole set of different skills – color mixing, composition, technical drawing knowledge, etc, so it’s easy to both like the stuff that came out well and dislike the stuff that didn’t. Personally, I never like anything I produce right after I’ve done it and have to come back later with fresh eyes to see any kind of merit! This is a lovely picture, Judith – trees are tough and I would say that to take this one to the next level you would have to have a bit more contrast and maybe a sense of a bit more definition of individual leave shapes and patterns in the foreground. Are you working from a reference or imagination? I strongly advise you to spend a lot of time studying real live trees and references of trees that appeal to you – that should help you put your finger on what you want your own trees to look like! Good luck and keep up the good work!

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    1. Thanks so much for the comments. Right now I’m more or less working from imagination, trying to understand the basic techniques of applying the paint to the canvas and how to create depth through using different colors. I do study trees all the time, and this spring I’m planning to take a lot of photographs (and paint en plein air when possible). A lot of what I’m doing now also involves studying trees that other artists have painted and trying to understand how they approached them. Tomorrow’s post features some of the works from Asher Brown Durand, my all-time favorite landscape artist. His paintings are so inspiring. There are lots of others I admire, too, and I love not only looking at their paintings, but also reading about their philosophy of art and landscape painting.

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  2. I agree with Hilda, especially about observing and spending time with trees. I am an absolute lover of trees and yet I still struggle with them. I spend a lot of time looking at them, communing with them and yet I keep tapping away at making my trees come alive. I have set up several Pinterest boards and right now I have 6 boards which I am guessing comprising over 5,000 pins! When I paint trees or landscapes, I am take many breaks and look at how other artists have depicted trees. Also, if it helps do some practice trees on a piece of paper or canvas. I am not an oil painter, so I don’t know what you would use! Keep at it and remember to loosen up and don’t focus so hard on getting it done or perfect. I have noticed that the more I loosen up my attitude, I can achieve what I want so much better. I also envision what I am painting, as though I am in that object or painting, in other words…..I become what I am painting. I know that sounds new age-ish but it works! Anyway just keep at it!

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    1. I agree with all you’ve said, especially the part about communing with and/or becoming one with the trees we love. Every tree is so different. I’m always awed as we drive along and I make note of all the trees. Some big, some very tiny, some crooked, some dead, and every one of them beautiful in my eyes. For practice pieces, I’m buying inexpensive canvas panels (5 x 7). I tried doing a little practice on canvas sheets, but I didn’t care for the sheets so much.A lot of my trees problems still originate with learning how thick or thin my paint needs to be. As I progress in that area, I think my trees will improve, too. And I hope you read the post about Asher Durand and his approach to being a landscape artist. I find his work extremely inspiring.

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    1. Yes, definitely, and thanks for the kind words. I feel fairly comfortable now doing the background, and while reading “Landscape Letters” by Durand, I’ve been encouraged to work on the foreground. Hopefully I can improve there, and then as I move on to the middle ground, maybe it will all come together 🙂

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