On the Easel: Tree, Dappled Light

I recently put the finishing touches on Tree, Dappled Light. A simple painting with some challenging aspects.

Dan Scott, Tree, Dappled Light, 2020
Dan Scott, Tree, Dappled Light, 2020

Reference Photo

I painted from the following reference photo. I believe it was taken in Tasmania some time ago, but the location is hardly relevant. This is a study of trees and nature rather than a specific location.

Dan Scott, Reference Photo, Tree, Dappled Light


  • Oil on Ampersand Gessoboard. 18 x 24 inches.
  • Main colors: Ultramarine blue, cobalt blue, cadmium red, alizarin crimson, cadmium yellow, cadmium yellow deep, viridian green, terra rosa, and titanium white.

Refer to my supplies list for more details on what I use.


  • Started fast, finished slow.
  • Was careful to stop before overworking it, whilst the painting still appeared fresh and spontaneous. There’s a fine line between finished and overworked. The following quote comes to mind:

“It takes two to paint. One to paint, the other to stand by with an axe to kill him before he spoils it.” William Merritt Chase

  • The main challenge was capturing the tightly woven sky, clouds, leaves, and branches. Do I paint the sky first or last? How do I deal with colors inappropriately mixing on the canvas? How much detail do I use? What should I simplify? I ended up doing a bit of back-and-forth between the sky and the main tree. I started with simple color shapes, then worked on the main tree, then the sky, then the main tree again, and so on until the painting looked right. Another approach might be to meticulously draw the subject then paint piece by piece from start to finish. But I don’t have the patience for that.
  • This is a fairly large painting, coming in at 18 x 24 inches. I find painting on a larger scale to be more enjoyable and more favorable on the outcome. That might come down to simply having more room to move.
  • This is a high contrast painting, with light lights and dark darks. Refer to the grayscale image below. It’s the opposite of Fraser Island, High Key, which is compressed around the light value range. When painting high contrast scenes, I like to think of the lights and darks as distinct areas with their own range of values. In the light area, there are highlights and light mid-tones. In the dark area, there are dark mid-tones and dark accents. These subtle relationships are important. It’s even more important to ensure the lights are all lighter than the darks.
Dan Scott, Tree, Dappled Light, 2020 (Grayscale)

Progress Shots

Step 1: A thin stain of color, mapping the general color shapes.

Dan Scott, Tree, Dappled Light 2020, WIP (1)

Step 2: Work on the foundation of the painting, focusing on the large, dark shapes.

Dan Scott, Tree, Dappled Light 2020, WIP (2)

Step 3: Paint the sky, clouds, and tree in the background. Start painting the branches over the top. To reduce mixing in the wet paint, I used a loaded brush and dragged it over the surface with a loose hand.

Dan Scott, Tree, Dappled Light 2020, WIP (3)
Dan Scott, Tree, Dappled Light 2020, WIP (4)

Step 4: Work on the lights, add dappled light in the foreground, and refine. I used multicolored strokes for the dappled light to give the illusion of nature and detail.

Dan Scott, Tree, Dappled Light 2020, WIP (5)

Step 5. Sign and photograph the finished painting.

Dan Scott, Tree, Dappled Light, 2020
Dan Scott, Tree, Dappled Light, 2020

Key Takeaways

  • For large paintings, use large brushes. Don’t get caught up in the details.
  • It’s important to have a strategy when painting tightly woven objects like this. Think about what you will paint first, how you will paint it, what challenges you will face.
  • If you’re struggling for inspiration, take a look through your old photos. The photo I painted from was taken years ago. (If you need reference photos, you can grab some of mine here.)
  • When painting high contrast scenes, make sure your lights are lighter than your darks.
  • Use multicolored strokes to give the illusion of detail.

Additional Resources

Thanks for Reading!

Thanks for taking the time to read this post. I appreciate it! Feel free to share with friends. If you want more painting tips, check out my Painting Academy course.

Happy painting!

Dan Scott

Draw Paint Academy


Dan Scott is the founder of Draw Paint Academy. He's a self-taught artist from Australia with a particular interest in landscape painting. Draw Paint Academy is run by Dan and his wife, Chontele, with the aim of helping you get the most out of the art life. You can read more on the About page.

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10 comments on “On the Easel: Tree, Dappled Light”

  1. Dan, I have learned so much in the 2 weeks that I have received your hints. Tips from the easel is the greatest. I am 77 years of age and am restarting my painting skills after 10 lazy years, and enjoying my transformation. Thank You New Friend.
    Tom Bolko
    Portsmouth NH

  2. Hi Dan. I am new to painting. Have been sketching since I was a little girl. When I retired, I said I would paint. When I was looking up on how to get started, I signed up for you emails of helpful hints. I have found your emails to be most helpful with my new journey here. Thank you. I have been using pictures from my travels. Since I started here in Jan 2021, I have completed five paintings. I am really enjoying this. Would like to forward my latest that I completed and some photos of my next project(s) that you are welcome to use if you wish. Don’t mind sharing.

  3. I am so enjoying your tutorial and I am a grateful beginner, that said I find your painting too light on the right side. As I see the the photo the pine tree is balanced with the light source to the right but I think the pine branches should be heavier and darker to mute a little of the brighter green tree in the background. My eye keeps going there. I apologize if this is not appropriate.

  4. Hi Dan, I’ve recently discovered your tutorials and enjoy them so much. Showing each step you go through to reach your final interpretation is so helpful. Once I am recovered from hurricane LAURA and able to return to painting (I lost my studio) I look forward to painting with you through your wonderful tutorials and perhaps sending one of my artistic interpretations to you. Thanks for these – I look forward to receiving more of them.

    • Hi Rosemary.

      While I personally paint in oils, I try to keep a lot of the posts I put out, on the fundamentals that can be applied across the board. I don’t have information dedicated specifically to watercolor techniques at this time though.

      Thanks, Dan.

  5. I wish you would have a lesson on what is too much. Do a painting to the too much and show the proper finished side by side. The same with muddy colors. It took me for ever to realize how I could stop muddy painting. Anyway I really love your classes


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