Every artist has their preferred way of painting trees and plants, and it’s a good idea to learn from many artists and make your approach a combination of many. Unique art styles come from the artist’s background, education, and interests.

TJ Marston’s art style is influenced by her work as a landscape architect, so you might learn new techniques from her! Let’s begin! All you need are watercolours, a round or dagger brush, and some hot press paper.

Step 1: Draw the Structures

Instead of drawing the actual shape of the trees, TJ draws the most minimal structural hint of them. She also draws where the shadows are going to be. The deciduous tree on the right looks like a mushroom, but it will look like a tree soon. The spots on it show branch clusters and remind you where to put the highlights when you’re painting.

Step 2: Starting the Palm Tree

TJ likes to pre-mix her colours, but whether you do the same, mix as you go, or use mostly pan colours and let them mix on the page, you can achieve similar effects. For the highlights, I used some cool yellow and added just a hint of green to it in places.

What you’ll want to do here is make little marks along the branch structures to indicate hints of leaves. This style is all about hinting at the shape rather than drawing it in detail.

Step 3: Shadows

I added some Prussian blue to let it mix in on the page and provide some shadows for dimension. I did all this with the yellow still wet so that the colours could mix on the page.

Step 4: The Tree Trunk

Take some brown and ultramarine, and either layer them over the tree trunk or mix them before painting, depending on your preference. I went with layering this time around.

Step 5: Other Palm Trees

Repeat this process for the other two trees, and don’t be too precise in making them all alike. The one in the back should be a bit washed out to show atmospheric perspective. If you want to add some more texture you can use some reddish brown on some of the leaves.

Step 6: Shadows on the Ground

Using some yellowish-green and some ultramarine, very loosely add the cast shadows on the ground. Don’t overwork this or be too perfectionistic because you don’t want to ruin the texture or make the shadow the focal point of the picture. It can be imperfect and still look good.

Step 7: Deciduous Leaves

Now we’re moving on to the other side of the scene and painting the deciduous tree. You can use the same technique and colours that you used on the palm tree! I used slightly browner green because I think that makes a nice late summer effect.

You may want to periodically use a damp clean brush to lift paint that you don’t want. Remember that value contrast is the best way to indicate three-dimensional form!

Step 8: Blue Shadows

For the tree, a healthy amount of ultramarine with a hint of reddish-brown makes great shadows. Splotch it around to make leaf shapes and watch how realistic the tree gets!

Step 9: Cast Shadows and Finishing Touches

Here I’m going to show you the way to begin a cast shadow in this style. Start with yellow because the grass is green and you’re going to add blue next.

You can see in the finished product here how the blue shadow merged with the yellow and now there’s a convincing patch of green grass with light and shade!
The last two things to do (and these are very easy) are inking and paint splattering.

For the inking, take a black pen and make squiggles to indicate foliage shape and some grass on the ground for both trees. They’ll look so much more treelike after this, and the pencil lines you started with won’t show up so much! It’s unusual to ink last, but TJ likes it because you can follow the shape instead of trying to paint around a predetermined set of lines.

Finally, splatter some blue paint around the picture for ambience. This is optional, so if it isn’t your preference you don’t have to do it, but it does add some atmosphere and interest.

I hope you enjoyed this lesson! I recommend checking out here 30-minute class. Also, for new updates you can subscribe to our email newsletter! Happy painting!

Elsa Wahlstrom is an illustrator/writer living in the south Idaho hill country. She  loves to create cozy, homey pictures and populate them with funny little creatures  having surreal little adventures. Her biggest inspiration is the music and comedy that  came out of England in the late 60s. When she’s not busy making art, she goes for long  hikes, plays a few instruments, and collects vinyl.


  • wendi said:

    Havent done any watercolours before but going to try this

    February 02, 2023

  • Dr.Amrita Basu said:

    I like inking last too.That way I don’t have to colour within the line

    January 16, 2023

  • Ava said:

    Thanks the picture turned out great. It’s amazing to me how watercolors make up such a beautiful picture. I need to be looser with my colors.

    October 17, 2022

  • Geri said:

    Very interesting and helpful
    I love your clear and concise description!
    Etchr Studio replied:
    We’re glad this has been helpful, Geri!

    July 01, 2022

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