Category Archives: Art Tips

How to Paint a Tree

I received a very nice email from a gentleman who was soon to be retiring from a 35 year career as a teacher of horticulture, who wrote:  I have long admired trees, shrubs and the out of doors, thus my love for painting.  However I have never been able to illustrate them correctly on the canvas. When I saw your work I realized that I had found an artist that understood tree morphology and got it correct. Additionally he said regarding my painting of trees: “Yours are far superior to any I have seen. Museum quality! The masters would be proud.”

Whether or not the masters would be, I appreciated the comment, but he’s not alone in his struggle with how to paint a tree. Those new to painting often start by painting in a tree trunk, limbs, branches and then on top of that place little green dobs of paint to represent leaves. Invariably the outcome is less than what they hoped for. So how do you go about painting a tree? What I shared with this individual and now with you, and using as simple of an illustration as I can will perhaps help you with your own painting of trees.


A key to effectively painting any tree regardless of the type is getting the appropriate values put in the right place on the underlying geometric form. For example a fir tree is essentially a cone shape. If you can paint a cone with a single source of light and get the light, middle, and dark values in the right place, then you’ve achieved the greatest hurdle. Other trees have an underlying large spherical shape, broken up into smaller spherical or round shapes each having a light, middle and dark value.
Perhaps the following illustration will help. Click on the image for a larger view.

tree illustration by William Hagerman copyright 2013

Here is a basic shape for an oak tree. Do you see the 3 larger value areas of light, middle and dark on each form that makes up the tree? Notice I have not added any detail. The values are laid in as a large mass. Not individual little “leaf” strokes.
Below is the same tree with added “leaf” strokes and some negative shape painting for sky holes and a few drawn limbs, but notice that the underlying value (light/dark) structure is still there. A problem that can destroy the look of your trees is if you put light values or colors that are in the sunlit areas in the sections that are to remain in shadow. Shadow areas can also receive light, only not direct light, but reflected light. This reflected light ( coming from the sky ) is not going to be as light as the sunlit areas so obviously they will be darker in value as well as being cooler in color.

how to paint a tree illustration 2 by William Hagerman copyright 2013

As an exercise, try painting the first illustration making sure you have definite light, middle and dark values and not just color changes. Because if you only have a color change, and not a value change as well, this will result in a flat looking tree with no depth to it. Once painted let it dry.
Then try adding the details as in the second illustration with smaller little strokes on top, making sure you don’t loose the value structure. Don’t put those sunlight colors over in your shadow and vice-versa and be careful not to paint out the middle values as well.
Problems in painting trees is often a problem of incorrect value placement. Be mindful of this as you paint, and it should help you achieve a more satisfactory and pleasing result.

After sharing this, our gentleman horticulturist said: “I realized that I have been going about painting trees the wrong way.”

Perhaps this short and simplified overview of how to paint a tree will allow you to improve your own painting of trees by identifying the underlying structure and the light and dark patterns that fall upon it’s shape.


Some Do Not Do’s When Selling Art

Another title for this post could be “Prairie Dogs Can’t Sell Art.” Please read on.

My wife and I attended Septemberfest in Midland, Texas, which is an annual outdoor art festival on the grounds of the Museum of the Southwest to enjoy an afternoon of art and music. We also enjoyed watching a young child of about 6 dancing his little heart out in front of the stage. He wasn’t a scheduled performer, but he still took a bow and received clapping from the audience. That held our smile longer than anything that day.

As we made our way through the booth exhibits I couldn’t help but think about some of the Do Not Do’s when it comes to selling art that I learned from two marketing books written by Jack White, titled: “The Mystery of Making It” and “The Magic of Selling Art.” Before I elaborate on these books let me first tell you about what we experienced at the art festival.

One of the first booths that we went to was by an artist working in graphite pencil with western subject matter. We said hello to the artist first. My wife asked if she was the artist. I asked where she was from. The conversation was one sided. I took a liking to one of the small works of a well drawn horse head located at the bottom edge of her exhibit. I said out loud how I liked it. My wife also mentioned out loud which work she liked. I continued to look at the other artist’s work and then went back to the horse head drawing and said to my wife again out loud and pointing with my arm extended and finger pointing “I like that one!” The artist never got off her perch she was sitting on, nor offered to pick the work up so I could see it better, nor told me anything else that would tell me about the work, or why it was created or if it had any special meaning. NOTHING!! Helloooo, anybody home?? I can just imagine the artist saying in her mind “Oh I hope he buys it.” My wife did buy a set of $5 note cards from her to send to her brother. Actually she didn’t buy it from her, she just selected something off the card display rack and handed it to her to purchase it.

Another exhibitor was talking on her cell phone. She momentarily stopped to make some mention about her jewelry work and that it was done in sterling silver (I think) at which point she went back to her conversation on the phone.  OK. Bye, Bye.

Then we came upon an exhibitor with handcrafted wood boxes with different inlays of wood. We like boxes. Boxes with lids and drawers oh my! You can’t help but lift one to see what’s inside. The artist was sitting back in his booth. Never said a greeting, hello, welcome, thanks for stopping by, get out of my booth, drop dead. NOTHING!! However, I did learn he wasn’t mute because before we left his booth I did over hear him say to another artist, “Well, it looks like things are slowing down.” Good grief Charlie Brown.

Another exhibitor exuberantly popped forward and said “If there’s anything I can help you with, let me know,” and then quickly retreated into the recesses of their exhibit booth. Kind of reminded me of a Prairie Dog, who popped his little head out of his hole in the ground, sensed danger and retreated. Prairie Dogs can’t sell art either.

The above examples are of what NOT to do if you want to sell your work. My wife bought the note cards and I also bought a necklace for my wife at the festival, but that’s because she already has a good eye for jewelry, when it’s well made, at a good price and even better when it’s at a bargain price. I like that. But, the sell didn’t happen because of any special assistance on the part of the artisan.

I wonder how many of the above artists belly ached over how awful sales were and that they’d probably never be back to this festival because of people who have no appreciation for art. Where’s the appreciation of those who paid their fee to attend the festival, have to park a considerable distance and then walk some more through the maze of tents on a hot afternoon and then when we do come to a particular booth, we’re ignored? I know it costs artists to go and do these kind of shows, and it’s a lot of work to set up, but they decided to be there, so drop the attitude that those who attend should all bow and hail booth number 10 in the southwest corner. (Don’t know if there was such a booth, but sometimes you get that feeling of attitude floating around in the air although you do get some pleasant breezes by artisans who at least try.)

Perhaps this comes from artists who are gifted at their craft, but terribly lacking in knowing how to sell or jump-start a conversation. We’re not talking high pressure used car salesman tactics. No one likes to be sold. No one says, I’m going to go and be sold a car. Or I’m going to go and be sold a painting. No, they say I’m going to go and “Buy” a painting or I’m going to go and “Buy” a car. Effective selling is helping a person to buy what they want and be happy about doing so while giving them reassurance that they’ve made a good decision and that the art is going to enrich their life.

That’s where the above mentioned books were eye opening and instructive. The author, Jack White is a professional artist and was selected as State Artist of Texas in the 1970’s. He’s also husband to artist Mikki Senkarik. The first book I read was the Mystery of Making It. The heart of the book is the story of how with his guidance he catapulted the sales of his wife’s paintings starting in 1990 and went past three million in retail sales for her before the year 2000.
I also learned something about how much work to show at a time that actually helped to increase sales and what number of works caused sales to drop.
Then I read his Magic of Selling Art.  This is where he teaches you how to ‘soft sell’ and do so without ever resorting to lying to your customers. Basically it’s how to engage visitors to your exhibits or shows by asking them questions that can’t be answered with yes or no. Too many artists and even gallery personnel will greet a customer with “Is there anything I can help you with?” The general reply is “no we’re just looking.” They cut you off so as not to be sold. But if you ask them a question such as “Where are you folks from or with so many attending the festival where did you find a place to park? That’s a lovely necklace or handsome watch, where did you get it? Essentially people like to talk about themselves when someone else genuinely wants to know. A dialogue is started and in the process you may get to know their likes. They see you smile at them. They start to like you. Ask another question. What kind of art do you collect? If they linger looking at a piece ask: What do you like about that piece or where are you thinking of hanging this little gem? Essentially you’re working them towards closing a sale without their being “sold.”

I liken the advice from Jack’s books, not to that of a bald headed man trying to sell amazing hair growth tonic, but to someone with true to life examples in the art of selling. His and his wife’s experiences and what worked for them, written by an artist for artists. By the way, Jack also has a full set of hair.

Here’s the link to review his series of books on his wife’s website that if you’re an artist or in any field in which you have to sell something, you’ll benefit from reading.

In an upcoming post I will write about his book “The Mystique of Marketing Art on eBay” and my own recent experiences following the advice I learned in this book.

An Experiment in Color

Lakeside Cabin 9x12 oil painting by William Hagerman for eBay auction

This new little 9×12 painting listed on my eBay auction ending September 8, 2013 was a fun little experiment. Not that the subject matter was unique as it’s a simple little scene of a lakeside cabin at night. What is different is the color scheme of which is not generally associated with a night scene. Nor is it one that I have ever used before.

The technique although not a new one, but one that I seldom employ in which an under-painting in orange tones was first applied. This underneath layer influences the upper layers. I primarily wanted the effect to appear in the sky. After the first layer was dry, I over-painted with a yellowish green of low intensity. It was brushed on in a somewhat translucent application. I did not want to obscure the tone underneath. The result is it created a great mood to the painting. I hope to explore this color scheme more in depth in the future and apply it to one of my gallery or studio paintings once I hit upon the right subject and composition.

Again, you can catch my eBay paintings at: will try to have some painting offered each week, depending on my schedule. If nothing is posted, check back.

Also I will be teaching a full day art class in oil painting in Lamesa, TX at the Ginger Lily at 316 N. Austin Ave. I’ll share that experience in my next post.

Art Tips: A Minor Change and Major Effect on Painting Composition

This post is a short note about painting composition.

Ever play those visual games where you look at two similar images but they’re not exactly the same and you have to try and find the changes?

Well, here’s a comparison of one of my paintings. The top image has something that is missing from the bottom image. It doesn’t have anything to do with any color shift caused by my using a different camera, but some object in the landscape was removed. Can you find it? Secondly, why do you think it was removed? (Sorry that the image is a little out of focus but you can see the finished painting here:

Painting Comparison showing composition change

If you still don’t see it, look at the foreground area on the left. Notice a difference? The cactus is missing! Why did I remove it? It was distracting and interrupting the movement of your eye. Notice how you want to look at it and your eye sorta stays there. By removing it your eye movement flows easier throughout the painting.


For an artist, it’s wise to review your painting and try and catch anything that does not support the overall composition. Even minor changes can have big effects and big improvements on your art work.

Art Tips: When the Wrong End of the Brush is Right



When the wrong end of the brush is right.

I saw this old barn in Canada and I’m assuming it’s an old dairy farm barn. At least it reminds me of one. I was attracted to the look of the barn and its texture. If you read down you’ll see how I achieved the look of the wood on the barn. Be sure to click on any of the images for a larger view!

First I started with the door opening of the barn and worked out from there.

barn and silo painting in progress by William Hagerman. Image copyright 2013 all rights reserved

Simple enough. However, when it was time to start on the side of the barn, I wondered how to achieve the texture of the grayish black wood on the barn. To get the look I wanted, I first applied a thin mixture of a blackish gray tone to the white canvas. I then over-painted it with a heavier paint application. This is where the wrong end of the brush was right! With a T-square resting on the top edge of my canvas I placed the “wrong” end of the brush, (end of the wooden handle) next to the T-square and scored vertical lines into the wet paint which resulted in it removing the paint and exposing the lighter tone underneath. I then softened the effect with the “right” end of the brush.

Using this simple “trick” I was able to effectively capture the look and texture of the old barn!

The following images reflect the painting’s progress.

barn and silo2 painting in progress by William Hagerman. Image copyright 2013 all rights reserved

barn and silo3 painting in progress by William Hagerman. Image copyright 2013 all rights reserved

barn and silo4 painting in progress by William Hagerman. Image copyright 2013 all rights reserved

After this stage I begin to work back into the distance adding detail as well as in the foreground.

Barn and Silo 5

From here I paint in the chickens and continue with my detail work in the foreground adding more grasses.

Barn and Silo 6

Finally I make adjustments in the sky and finishing details.

"A Cheerful Day in Gray" 24x30 oil painting of a barn and silo by William Hagerman. Copyright May 2013



How to Enjoy an Art Museum or Gallery Visit

The number one way of enjoying an art museum or gallery is actually going to one. Another way is to take some art classes before going. Why?

When you go to a museum or art gallery, how do you look at the art work? Do you see just a painted image or are you able to see beyond the image? Are you able to discern the techniques involved and how they were applied?

This brings me to the idea of how an art class can help you gain a heightened awareness when looking at artwork thus increasing your enjoyment of it. With an art class you learn about painting techniques, composition and mixing colors to name a few. Thus when you look at art work you will likely discern some of the techniques that the artist employed. Did the artist use transparent glazes, impasto, unique brush or palette knife work or a pleasing color scheme? When you know or understand some of these artistic techniques, you will never look at art the same way again. You’ll be able to see beyond the image and understand a little about the creative process.

In addition to or in lieu of taking an art class, check out some books on painting techniques or if your community has an art club. Often these clubs host artists who give painting demonstrations and many are free! If you like you can also visit my learn to oil paint page which will also give you some ideas.