How much wood would a woodchuck paint if a woodchuck could paint wood? Unfortunately, woodchucks can’t paint wood, but that doesn’t mean you can’t either! 

In this tutorial, I’ll be showing some tips and tricks to painting the illusion of a wooden texture, from a tree's rough surface to objects made out of wood. 

Tree Time

While there are over 60,000 different species of trees, we can divide their bark textures into about 3 different categories: rough, smooth, and miscellaneous. 

Rough textures mean that these trees tend to have a cracked, almost scaly or crinkled bark texture. Examples would be the bark of oak, redwood, and pine trees.

Smooth wood textures may not actually be smooth to the touch, but that’s what they look like. The bark these trees have is comparatively smoother than the rough-textured woods, though it can often have spots or other marks on them. Examples would be the bark of beech, banyan, and bamboo trees.

For wood that doesn't quite fit in the other 2 categories, such as palm, eucalyptus, and birch trees, let us classify them as miscellaneous bark. 

We can spend several days or even years studying and painting the different textures of these trees. However, I’ll just show the general gist of how to paint one from each category.

For rough-textured bark, I find it’s best to paint an underlying layer of brown or whatever your tree's main colour is. Then, after it’s dry, use the dry-on-dry technique to brush in either a shadow or a highlight colour for the rough effect. 

This technique is done by picking up some paint with your brush, then wiping your brush on a tissue or paper towel to somewhat dry your bristles. Next, quickly run your brush over the bark area, and the rough texture of the paper will pick up some of the paint but leave random gaps.

Tip: I recommend using cold press or rough watercolour paper for the best rough-looking results!

For smooth-textured bark, you can paint as usual. Don’t forget to add shadows and highlights where you see them or special markings if that’s the type of tree you have! 

The tree trunk should still appear round, so make sure to add that effect by blending in a darker paint colour on the shadowed side. And add any markings in the very end, after the paint has dried.

For miscellaneous bark, it will largely depend on what kind of bark it is. Birch and eucalyptus trees often have bark that’s peeling off, which means you’ll have to paint in layers as this is essentially what’s happening, with the topmost layer(s) peeling off. 

You can add deep groves next to the areas where the bark peels off. Just take your time to observe the bark! These trees also often have more unusual colours and can be pretty stripey and/or spotty, or even have a mixture of both rough and smooth patches. 

Bonus tip: Of course, if you’re trying to paint a cluster of trees from a distance, painting the bark texture won’t really matter, as more and more details get lost the further away you are from your subject. So the above only applies to close-up paintings of trees and their trunks and branches.

Wooden Anything

In comparison, adding a wooden texture to objects is much simpler, if only because of the woods we use to make things look quite similar on the inside.

The steps are as follows:

  1. If needed, sketch your wooden object. Note where your light source is so you know where your tones should go.

  2. Paint the areas in light (likely a lighter version of the base colour of the object). Once your paint is dry, add your mid-tones, then your shadows.

  3. Once everything is dry, add the wooden texture using a small round brush in your shadow colour. Do this by first painting any knots in the wood (i.e. oval shapes that correspond to the surface’s perspective) and then painting stripes around the knots.

That’s pretty much it! The only things to look out for is the direction of the woodgrain and whether it wraps around from one surface to the next. 

Also, take note of the woodgrain pattern. It would be circular if the wood was cut perpendicular to the tree trunk and longitudinal if it was cut parallel to the trunk. Or it could be something that zig-zags around, all depending on how the wood was cut.

Bonus tip: Since most woods tend to be warmer in colour, I recommend mixing in Neutral Tint for your shadows and darker colours. Indigo or Payne’s Grey might be too blue to mesh well, but you can always test this out in your sketchbook beforehand.

Branching Out

Once you’ve got the hang of this, you can try more complex shapes, such as a wooden sculpture or figurine. How does the shape affect the woodgrain pattern and the tones of your painting? 

Different types of wood can also be found, stained, or dyed in different colours other than shades of brown. Why not try painting them all? 

In any case, I hope this tutorial helped you in understanding the material of wood a little better than before! And all without having to chuck wood.

What textures have you painted before? How does the wood texture compare with those? Do you have a favourite wood colour and/or pattern? Let us know in the comments below!

Nicola Tsoi is a practicing graphic designer and illustrator based in Hong Kong. During her downtime, she likes to watch birds do funny things, search for stories, and bake up a storm. She keeps a pet sourdough starter named Doughy. 


  • Candy Kelly said:

    Thank you for posting this free info. It would be nice to have a couple of reference photo’s included. TY

    September 09, 2021

  • Witha Lacuesta said:

    Very nice tutorial. Good start for beginn e rs or journaling artists.

    September 09, 2021

  • France Labonté said:

    Thank you so much, very enlightening this info on trees, I will now look at it differently and try painting it with more attention to details.

    September 09, 2021

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