Paint the Tree, Not the Leaves!

Published Aug. 19th 2011


I was reading a forum discussion recently about painting trees. . . it stood out to me because the artist was trying to paint each leaf, which reminded me of a time when my son was in grade school.

His school had told me he really needed more art than he was getting at school, so I enrolled him in a children’s drawing class at the museum in Portland, OR. The teacher took the kids outside to the park blocks to draw trees. When my son came home, he showed me his drawing: the tree consisted of just three leaves. He was so caught up in seeing the details of the leaves that he didn’t see the big picture—the tree!

The teacher never did get the concept across to the kids about drawing the large shapes. It was hard and frustrating for me to watch him struggling with this.

When the class was over, I started a drawing class at home with my two kids and some neighbor kids. We worked on drawing large shapes, learning to see the big picture and not all the details. My son is now a landscape architect and does very detailed drawings. But first, it starts with the large shapes.

drying rack 01-04-56

I like to tell my students that painting and drawing are like sewing or building a home. You start with the overall pattern, or design, and large shapes. It is only after you lay your foundation that you can start putting in the smaller shapes and decorations.

If you’re a painter, lay in the foundation for your painting first. Squint until you just see big blocks of light and dark. Paint those large shapes. Look at the lights and darks to determine your shapes. Be sensitive to the shapes you see and try to paint them accurately. Each shape is unique.

Once you have painted your large shapes, then start decorating your painting with details. Keep your values consistent within those large shapes when you are adding detail. Your painting will hold together if you do not break up those large shapes with inconsistent values when adding detail.

111 copy

This goes for everything. . . drawing, painting, sculpting or building a house, always start with large shapes. Then break it down to small shapes on top of that, your detail.

To learn more about Becky or her art classes, please visit her website.

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