How to colour realistic tree bark

Achieving a realistic tree bark texture with colouring pencils is no easy task. In this tutorial, originally shared on our YouTube channel, professional colouring pencil artist Jo Barber guides you through the process of colouring the texture of tree bark.

In this tutorial, Jo is colouring a page from our Colouring Heaven Wildwood Witches Special. For more detailed instructions, click the video below and colour along with Jo!

How to colour the texture of tree bark

1 - Find inspiration and references

1 – Find inspiration and references

When drawing something in nature, looking at references can be really helpful! If you can, why not go outside with a phone or camera and take pictures of tree bark near where you live? You can get a real feel for the unusual and unique texture. You can also look for images online that are royalty free.

There are lots of different types of trees and therefore different types of bark. In this tutorial, Jo is using an oak tree and a lime tree for her reference, but you could be inspired by any kind of tree.

2 - Mark any areas of moss

2 – Mark any areas of moss

If you want to include some areas of moss on your design, it’s a good idea to mark these out first, so you don’t accidentally colour over them. Use a fairly light colour just to mark out the initial places where your moss will be.

In nature, areas of moss are fairly random, so you don’t need to be too precious about how it looks, especially at this stage.

3 – Choose a colour palette

Think about the context of your scene – is it winter, spring, summer or fall? Let that inspire your colour choices. Jo’s colouring page is a cold and wintry scene, so she opts for more shades of grey, rather than bright browns.

4 - Emphasis the groves and texture

4 – Emphasise the groves and texture

Using firm pressure and a dark colour, accentuate the lines of the tree in your design. To create a realistic texture, you can also create your own groves and marks on the tree. Pay attention to any crevices, cracks, or exposed areas of the tree, as well as any additional details like patches of snow or moss.

Remember that in nature, the patterns of tree bark can be random and irregular, so be careful not to make yours too uniform or symmetrical.

In the video below, Jo explores how to colour tree bark by creating or emphasising a whirl texture on your tree, so give that a watch for more detail.

5 - Add a foundation colour

5 – Add a foundation colour

Add a foundation colour with your lightest pencil. Trees have a rough texture that tend to run in vertical patterns, so replicate this with the movement of your pencil with zig zags and directional strokes. Avoid small circles or smooth shading.

Go over your darker lines, to start to blend them a little bit. To achieve this subtle blending, Jo recommends using fairly firm pressure when colouring.

6 - Introduce shading

6 – Introduce shading

At the moment, your texture is coming along nicely, but your tree may be looking very two dimensional. Now we need to introduce shading, by thinking about the direction of the light and the light source. In Jo’s design, she considers the light of the candles and the moon, but you might consider any light source in your design, or make them up if you can’t see them.

Think about where your darkest areas will be – where the light won’t be able to get to. You can then start using a range of colours to make these areas darker. Because you want your tree to have plenty of texture, you don’t have to be too careful about your markings.

7 - Add more emphasis to groves

7 – Add more emphasis to groves

Now that we’ve added some colour and shading, go back in with a very dark pencil with a sharp point, to emphasise the groves of your tree. You want to really deepen the centre of your groves and marks.

You can also use this very dark colour to add a small amount of shading to the darkest parts of your tree.

8 - Add highlights and depth

8 – Add highlights and depth

If you feel it’s needed, you can add highlights by using a rubber or eraser to lift some of the colour.

To add some depth to your tree, you can try bringing in a warmer, slightly brighter colour to some areas. Add it gently and randomly to add depth, warmth and texture.

9 - Colour your moss

9 – Colour your moss

The last step is to add more colour to your moss. Using a warm green, go in and add very small, round markings to create a mossy texture, but leave some of the lighter green showing through in the lightest areas. Continue to add darker shading using the same technique.

If you want to, you can merge your moss with your bark by subtly blending your dark green into the brown texture of your tree.

Now you know all the secrets to achieving a realistic tree bark texture on your colouring pages! We hope you enjoyed colouring along with this how to colour tree bark tutorial – don’t forget to watch our video tutorial for a more in depth guide by our colourist Jo, and you can also watch a full speed colour of this design by Jo here.

PS Take a look at our last tutorial about how to colour translucent fairy wings!

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