The walnut is a native of the Balkans, but has been planted and become naturalized in most of Europe and North America. It is a deciduous tree, growing up to 30m (97 feet) high, with a tall, domed crown. The wood, hard and with a beautiful, patterned grain, has for centuries been much prized by furniture makers and wood carvers, while the edible nuts are widely enjoyed in winter. They are also ground to make walnut oil, while the husks yield walnut juice, used for staining. The leaflets, growing in opposing pairs from a central stalk, are 6–12cm (2–4 inches) long, and dark green in colour.

The main challenges when painting winter trees, especially this one, are to capture the sinuous quality of the branches, and to give the impression of the overall rounded shape by making some branches and twigs recede and others advance.

Branches and twigs in winter


The haze of green that appears at the ends of the small twigs in late winter to early spring presents a challenge to the artist, as the delicate effect can easily be spoiled by putting on too much colour. Dry-brushing is a useful method in this context.


When dry, paint the branches with Raw Umber, Burnt Umber and a little French Ultramarine, starting with a No. 10 brush and changing to a No. 2 for the tiny twigs. These can be reinforced with fine pen lines, but use these sparingly.


Wet the area at lower right, allow to dry slightly and paint more branches, letting some of the colour run downwards (don’t use the paint too wet). Allow to dry, and add darker tones on the branches that come forwards in space.


Trees in winter clothing can be a very dramatic painting subject. But it is very useful to paint and sketch branches and twigs in winter so that you can build up your overall knowledge of the shape and structure of the tree.

DEMONSTRATION: Juglans nigra, Black Walnut