Let’s Paint Tree Roots!

Today we are going to paint a picture of an awesome tree I spotted on one of my hikes at Starved Rock. I fell in love with this tree the minute I laid eyes on it! The root structure of this oak tree made a natural step on the trail. It has stopped the erosion of dirt and sand to the best of its ability.

What character! What a good job this tree is doing. Let’s celebrate it by painting its picture! Here we go:

Step 1: Draw a loose sketch with a charcoal pencil on wallis pastel paper. You don’t have to commit to every shape when you paint so be free and enjoy.

Step 2: Turn your sketch upside down. What?!? Yes, upside down.
We are going to do a wet on wet wash of the distant background. The reason why we are painting upside down is because when your watercolor paint drips, we don’t want it to drip all over our subject. I used 4 colors in the background; yellow, green, blue and pink. Paint vertical stripes of solid color. Let them touch each other and blend nicely. While wet, take a smaller brush with dark brown/blue and make skinny little trees. REMEMBER, you are painting upside down so paint your little trees upside down branching towards the bottom (upside down top) of the painting. Let completely dry or use a hair dryer if you are impatient like me.

Step 3: Turn right side up and make a nice drippy wash of the ground ignoring the tree, roots, and patch where the leaves collected. You have to do this wet on wet and quickly so your colors can bleed into one another. Oh it’s so much fun. The water goes where it wants…don’t be a control freak and manipulate the paint…let it go where it wants. The watercolor will do wonderful things for you when allowed to.

Speaking of wonderful, look what the water did! This is a close up picture just to the right of the tree. This is called a bloom. Many watercolor artists hate it…I LOVE IT! It is the result of excess water spreading and pushing pigment around. To me, the water has created fine tree roots all by itself, without me asking or forcing it to do that. This will not be covered up with pastels, but left alone. It was meant to be there. It wants to be there.

Step 4: OK moving on… There’s a lot to do here. With watercolor, paint in the tree and roots using a blue and green mixture, variegating between strengths of color. Remember where your highlights will be, leaving the top of the roots lighter. Paint the leaf patch a crimson color with watercolors as well. Dry this with your dryer or go have a snack, you’ve earned a break.
When thoroughly dry, establish your lightest colors and darkest color with pastel. The lightest color is the top of the step, a sort of sandy color. This area of starved rock is all sandstone so the color fits. With the darkest pastel I’m going to use, I make shadow colors beneath the step and on the base of the roots.

Step 5 Final: With your pastels, add some lovely oak leaves of various autumn colors. Add a touch of crazy color for excitement like the electric blue. It really gets your attention.
I like to leave much of my painting alone, allowing the watercolor drips to show through. You don’t have to do that if you don’t want to.

I always ask my kids to critique my painting when finished…they hate to do it! I make them anyway…I like to hear their first reaction, It means a lot to me. Anyway, my son said he really likes the tree…“but you’re missing a lot of sections!” He was referring to my drip marks and white space. HA, ha, ha! I meant to do that, little snot!

This painting is called, “The Thanksgiving Tree”.
When deeply rooted in Faith and Family, you can prevent the erosion in your life even in these uncertain economic times. Here is a fitting verse:

“…that Christ may dwell on your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height – to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Eph 3:17-19.

I hope you have enjoyed this step by step painting demonstration of, “The Thanksgiving Tree”, a demonstration on painting tree roots with watercolors and pastel paints!


  1. lol@little snot. HAHAHA

    omg – I love this. Turning it upside down…very cool. You’re like the queen of watercolours! I found the highlighting interesting, I have problems in that area. It really makes the tree pop … gives it reality.

    The final product is fantastic! Love, love it!

  2. So very awesome. As soon as Xmas is over I think I’ll be investing in some pastels (if not watercolors, as well.) I just abhor going out during the shopping season. Too busy & crazy “out there” in the consumer world!
    Thanks for the inspiration!

  3. Drowsey: You’re too kind! I’m blushing for real πŸ™‚ Thank you so much…it puts a smile on my face!

    Lana: YES! BUY ART SUPPLIES!!! Everybody should, the world would be a more peaceful place! You have such great talent that I have no doubt you would be awesome at it! When you’re closer to buying your supplies, email me and I’ll send you a list of everything I use and where I get it. You go girl!

    Joan: That’s sooooo nice of you!!! Thank you so much!!! I learn a ton from your site as well! Love it! πŸ™‚

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