How to Paint Trees With Pastels

Pastels are nearly pure pigment that is ground and formed into sticks. They produce a wide range of opaque colours which can be laid on top of one another, creating depth and texture. These properties lend themselves well to painting nature. You can easily capture the lighting and the colours of the tree that you have chosen to paint with pastels.

Draw the outline of your tree with a neutral-colour hard pastel. This will provide you with a basic guide, when you apply your colours and will not be visible in your finished painting. Hard pastels have a firm texture that will not fill the tooth of your paper. They are used under the layers of soft pastels.

Shade the darkest shadows of your tree trunk, branches and leaves with your hard black pastel stick. This will establish where your deepest colours will be painted.

Choose a deep brown from your palette of soft pastels and paint over the top of the black on the trunk of the tree and its branches. Apply a medium brown for your middle tones and a light brown where the sun is shining on the tree. Pastels are opaque, so light colours can be painted over darker colours. Very gently smooth your colours a little with your finger for blending.

Choose a deep green soft pastel and apply the colour on top of the black that defines the deepest shadows in your leaves. Next, apply a medium green where the middle tones appear in the top of the tree. Choose a light yellow green to use for the lightest tones. Lightly smooth the colours with your finger to blend them slightly. Do not be afraid to overlap the lighter colours on top of the darker ones.

Pick up a yellow-white pastel stick to use sparingly for the highlights in the trunk, branches and the leaves. This will provide high contrast and make your tree painting appear to be three dimensional on your paper.


Experiment with your colours and strokes on different types of pastel paper. This is no right or wrong way of applying the colours. Discover what works best for you.


Do not over blend your colours or they will become muddy. Some artists prefer not to blend their colours at all. You can apply acrylic fixative over your finished drawing for protection, but it will darken your colours. Some artists do not use a fixative but instead use a piece of glassine paper to cover the drawing, until it is framed.

Things You'll Need

  • Pastel paper
  • Neutral colour hard pastel stick
  • Black hard pastel stick
  • 3 soft pastels in shades of green
  • 3 soft pastels in shades of brown
  • 1 yellow-white soft pastel
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About the Author

In 1982, Mary Love's first book, "Shakespeare Garden," was published. She also authored professional brochures. Love was the subject of a PBS special profiling Northwestern Pennsylvania artists, highlighting her botanicals and birds. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in art education from Edinboro University in Edinboro, Pennsylvania.