How to Color Bright and Beautiful Fall Trees with Colored Pencil
Learn to replicate the gorgeous, fiery hues in fall trees in eight simple steps.
By Thea Voutiritsas
Fall is in full swing, and that means fiery trees and maple brown tones will be gracing the skyline (and your coloring pages, we hope) soon. These bold colors aren’t always the easiest to work with, especially when it comes to detailed landscapes and flourishing forests. Don’t let the many shades of fall intimidate you. Here are seven steps to help you translate the beauty of fall trees to your coloring pages with ease.
Coloring Tip 1: Use a real tree (or a photo of one) for inspiration.
Find an example of a fall tree that you want to emulate in your coloring page. Notice how the colors change across the tree. Are any parts still green? What other colors do you see? Autumn trees often begin changing colors on one side first, and then slowly graduate to the other side. Has the tree begun to lose its leaves yet? Some fall trees will have sparse spots where the leaves have fallen off. For this example, we're using the Thomas Kinkade painting that the coloring page design was based on.
Coloring Tip 2: Choose your color palette.
The most striking part of autumn leaves is their fiery, golden hues, but most trees have a much wider variety of colors if you look closely. Check your coloring tools for hues like earthy yellows, terracotta, light browns, gold, and greens ranging from olive or evergreen to chartreuse. Arrange your colors from lightest to darkest to help you stay organized as you color.
Coloring Tip 3: Identify the highlights and shadows.
Take note of where the sun is coming from in your reference photo. Trees often begin to change colors and lose leaves on the sides that get the most sun exposure. So leaves closest to the sun should show the most color change, fading to green as the leaves get further from the sun. Leaves usually come in clusters, and each cluster will have a highlight and a shadow. If you’re coloring a whole forest, some trees will cast shadows on each other, too. You may want to outline where the highlights and shadows will fall on each leaf cluster to help you stay consistent as you color. In the example shown here, red outlines indicate highlights, while green hash marks indicate shadows. See how the trees cast shadows on themselves and the leaf clusters nearby?
Step 4: Pay attention to the branches.
If the trees in your coloring page don’t include many branches, use reference photos to help you lightly sketch in imaginary branches as a guide as you fill in your tree. Your leaf clusters should surround these branches.
Step 5: Fill in the major areas of color.
When you look at a tree, you don’t see every individual leaf; so don’t focus on drawing each one. Instead, lightly scribble sections or patches of color to represent a cluster of leaves. If your color palette ranges from green, to yellow, to orange, to red, start with a color in the middle of the range — like a yellow-orange. Center your leaf clusters around the ends of the branches, where leaves would be in real life. Leave some areas empty for shadows and highlights. If your tree still has some green spots, those will usually be closer to the base of the tree. Use an appropriate green shade (depending on the type of tree you’re coloring) to fill in these areas.
Step 6: Add shadows.
Once you have a layer of color down, start using your darker tones (like reds and browns) to create shadows within the tree. The darker values will lie underneath the clusters of foliage. To depict shadows in any green spots, use a deep forest green.
Step 7: Add highlights.
Adding highlights with lighter hues like yellows or golds will really help your trees come to life. These will sit at the top of the clusters of foliage where the sun hits the trees most. The more sparse your tree, the more highlights you’ll need to add. The denser the tree, the fewer highlights.
Step 8: Make your coloring page more realistic with details.
Now that you have a nice base layer of colors, go back and add detail in several thin layers to help liven up your colors and add more depth and dimension. Start by making short, thick lines with your pencil to help mimic the way the individual leaves lean and move. This technique is great for sparse areas of the tree, or areas where the leaves are closer to the viewer. Don’t make those lines all over the tree, though! Just use them to add emphasis to certain areas. You can also go back and darken the shadows and branches of the tree to make things pop even more.
At this point, your autumn trees should look alive. Keep tinkering with the hues and deepening your contrasts until you’re happy with the look. Most importantly, relax and have fun with it! Don’t worry about making it perfect. Imperfection is part of what makes autumn trees so beautiful.