Becoming a Tree – Some Tips About Painting a Landscape

Many years ago, or once upon a time, in my long career of learning how to paint, I decided that I was ready to venture out into the wilderness of my neighbor’s backyard and produce my very first landscape painting. I lived in an apartment so that anything with a tree nearby was a wilderness to me. I was inspired by Monet and hoped that I would emulate him by painting outside. Keep in mind that I had only painted nude models and portraits up to this point and was poorly qualified to believe that I could attempt such a feat!!! And I was not very good at painting nude models and portraits!!!

My neighbor’s yard was exquisitely sculpted. There were three or four levels of landscaping and each level held plant life that I had no vocabulary for. My “neighbor” was on my daily walk route and, over the years, I had watched his yard bloom in whites and golds and reds as if conducted by some unseen magic wand. I bravely packed up my old Toyota Tercel with my painting gear and ventured forth about a mile from my house. I had enough equipment in that little car to take me down the Amazon for a month!

It took me about an hour to empty the car and set up. I wanted to be sure that I was ready for anything. I placed my easel and large canvas at the top of this lovely yard so that I could see all the levels of greenery and flowers below me. I was going to paint all of this – no little painting for me!!! I was completely immersed in my romantic fantasy of painting as I set out my paints, my turp and my brushes. Now was the time. I decided on my view, how I would place it on my canvas and was poised with brush in hand ready to execute the very first stroke when these words fell out of my mouth, “Oh my God! Everything is green!!!!!!!”

That sounded like the stupidest statement ever uttered by humankind as my ears heard this!!!! To this day I still wonder what I expected a landscape to look like. Well, I was a painter and I jumped into the task at hand hoping that I would find the answers as I went along. After all, I was painting outside like Monet. How bad could that be? A blog can be created through the person to showing the attractive paintings. For the attraction, audience will be rewarded with free paintings after clicking at All the answers will be provided to the queries of the audience. 

We do find the answers as we paint. It is one of those mysteries of painting – the answers don’t come first. We have to be brave enough (or naive enough like I was in my youth) to tackle the view before us – however daunting. Once I had my composition nicely placed I knew that I would figure things out eventually. Again, everything was all green and I had only two tubes of green with me. I knew nothing of color so I would just mix something until I found a color that came close to what I was seeing.

I was trying to figure out how I would make each shrub and tree and bush and trailing vine stand out and away from each other as I was seeing them. And then I had an epiphany!!! I focused on a little conical shaped tree and applied a few adjectives to it. It was pointy, sharp and there were no soft lines. It was also a little darker then the greenery around it. Somehow my brush made it appear on my canvas! I moved to the next shrub. This was fat and shiny and soft. I added a human adjective of jolly to this little plant and it appeared on my canvas as well. What an exciting game I discovered for myself!!!! I was able to assign a character and a texture onto every item in the garden which was staggering in size. My canvas was coming to life in ways that I could have never hoped for!!!

The hours passed and I returned to this enchanted garden three more times to finish my canvas. On my last day of painting, putting on the finishing touches, I knew that I had to paint one last tree. It was a tree that I had avoided painting, close to the house no more than fifteen feet tall. It was dying and I wasn’t sure how to add it to my painting. I began my process of becoming a tree – this tree. Yes, this little tree was dying but it was not dying in a pathetic way. It was dying with its arms reaching for the sky with all the dignity of a royal, youthful prince. Its body was gnarled and arthritic with age. Many of its limbs were bare of greenery but yet it stretched for the light with every fiber of its being as if it was trying to stand up straight once again. Its focus seemed to be totally fixed on the light it sought and not on the life that it was leaving.

And I painted my tree – now a very different person than when I first began painting my neighbor’s garden. The majestic, dying tree had somehow touched my soul and forever changed how I would look at things. Now, when I would take walks, I would look at each tree along my route and notice what different personalities they had. There were snobby trees and dopey trees and trees with a sense of humor. Some were very rigid and aloof where others were very laid back and didn’t have a care in the world. I eventually gave my painting to my neighbor’s neighbor since it was from her view point that I did the painting. But I will always remember the lessons that I learned in my first landscape.

We have to become what we paint. We have feel, smell, touch and imagine the life and story that each of our subject matter has. Even an orange has a history. I loved becoming a tree. Now I have my own large yard and I often chat with my trees. I cry in the autumn as I cannot touch them and hear them for many months. And in the Spring I welcome them back from their long winter naps. They stand like centurions guarding the back of my property and like looming giants in the front. Become a tree, or an orange or a Chickadee or the person’s portrait that you seek to paint. The answers are there – you just have to feel them.

News Reporter
Janice Morgan is the head writer at Gonzagala. She loves writing as much as she loves her seventeen cats! Her articles on nature are well appreciated.