Wednesday, February 6, 2013

How to Paint Birch Trees

I have a confession to make:
My name is Callie and I am not a planner.
I read all these great blogs written by people who have a meticulous eye for detail, who create entire systems just to help them visualize how they'll hang a picture frame, who test thirty paint colors to find the perfect shade of white.
I admire these people. I have dreams of being a little more organized. A little more type A.
But the truth is, I am not one of you. I am not great at planning out designs and really thinking things through before I transform a space. I took a test once that said I was neither a right brain thinker nor a left brain thinker. I landed smack dab in the middle. Perhaps that's why I aspire to be organized and analytical yet tend to drift toward the messy free spirit stuff, never totally fitting in with either side.
Whatever the reason, I don't really do plans or schematics. My strategy: go for it and if it looks bad, tweak it, start over, or move on.
So I guess that's the backstory on how I ended up freehanding a birch tree forest on the wall in my half bathroom.

I did at one point plan to use a stencil, as I mentioned in my previous post. But cost mixed with the desire to just get on with it already lead me to just start splashing paint on the wall.

Plus, when this is the view out the window, how could you not be inspired to paint some pretty white trees on the wall asap?

This is my little step-by-step guide for any souls caught in the middle of the right brain/left brain conflict that would like to paint some trees themselves but maybe want a bit of guidance.

First, let me warn you that my "let's get on with it" urge was so overwhelming that I started painting before I removed the old mirror and had time to spackle over the marks and sand them down. So you'll see that this area is slightly behind the rest of the wall as far as progress goes in each picture. I recommend totally prepping your work space BEFORE you start painting your trees, but if you can't, make the best of it and move on. haha

Step #1 - Paint the wall.
I had already painted my wall white by the time I decided to paint the birches, so rather than painting the whole wall grey for the background color in between the trees, I decided to just go with it and paint the background on top of the white in sections.

It may work better for you to paint your background color first and then add the birch trees. The only issue here is that the grey covers the white in about 2 coats, whereas the white can take 3 or 4 coats to cover even a light grey. It's really totally up to you. This is just how I did it.

Step #2 - Paint a straightish line.
The brilliant thing about trees is that they're not perfectly straight. Nature is wonderful because there are no perfect circles or straight lines (ok, ok, the sun and the surface of a still pond contradict me, but for the most part I'm right).

This means you don't have to worry about getting your lines perfectly straight. Just go for it. Paint a vertical line somewhere on the wall, making sure to have a clean edge on one side. And when I say clean edge, I mean that not only should it be sharp-looking, but also make sure you don't leave a build-up of paint on the edges. Later, you're going to paint branches over the grey, so if the paint is raised up on the edges of the grey, it will make your branches look disconnected from the trunks.

Step # 3 - Paint more straightish lines.
Remember that you're painting the background, so just keep stepping back to see how the white trunks are looking. Bumps are nice because they look like knots in the wood. If you make a trunk too thick, just keep working the grey over until you have the width you desire.

I painted to almost the ceiling and baseboard but left the detail work for later. Once my stripes were in place, I went back and taped off the ceiling and baseboard and used a small bruch to fill in the remaining space between the grey stripes and the tape. By the time I had finished the top and then the bottom, the top was dry and I could keep working around until the paint covered the white. Then I quickly removed the tape so I would have nice straight lines.

Step #4 - Paint the details
While I had my grey paint can open, I switched brushes so I could add the bark detailing to the trees. I picked this fun fan brush because I figured it would mean less brush strokes and more consistency. Then I just played around with different marks. The ones that I liked I made in several places acorss the wall. The ones I didn't like I just left alone rather than painting over and trying again. What can I say, I wanted to get'er dun. Plus, trees have flaws, right?

I also had the picture of the original stencil on my phone, and I reference that from time to time to see what I like about it and what I didn't. This helped me when I was stuck on what weird shape or line to add next.

Again, I urge you to just keep stepping back and looking at the wall from far away. You'll be able to see which areas need more details and which areas are getting a little busy much better than if you're standing right next to the wall.

Step #5 - Add branches
There wasn't a lot of science involved in painting the branches (surprise!) For the most part I allowed the branches to split into two points, which could then split into two point, etc. I tried to only split them into two branches at a time so there was some sort of consistency.

Again, keep stepping back and seeing which branches need to be bigger, where you need more branches, etc.

Also, remember how I said you don't need straight lines for the tree trunks? Well, you shouldn't have straight lines at all for the branches. The branches always came out best (to my eye anyway) when I added a bump or a weird turn to them. Just think withered witches fingers while you paint. Or don't. I guess that's kind of weird ...

You can see from the picture below that one coat for the branches wasn't enough. You can see how washed out they look compared to the trunks. But adding a second and maybe a third coat just gives you more opportunities to clean up your lines and adjust anything that's bugging you.

Step #6 - Add personal touches
This is, afterall, a highly unique, personal creation, so make it your own! I added this pretty yellow bird looking out the window ...

... and the "carved initials" on one of the trunks.

Other cute ideas: a bird's nest with eggs, a squirrel with an acorn, a banner hanging across the trees, a chipmunk poking his head out of a hole in one of the trees, etc. Pretty much anything you like and that will make you happy is the perfect thing to add in. At least that's my opinion.

And remember, you can always go back and add more detail or fix something weird with a little paint if you need to. But seeing how it turns out if half the fun, so just roll with it ... and send me pictures!

Hope this tutorial helps and shows how easy this project is if you break it down into bite-sized chunks. I did the trunks all the grey in one day and then added the branches the next day so it was more manageable (and so everything could dry). But really, I think anyone can do something like this if they want to, so don't be afraid. Just go paint something pretty and then smile everytime you walk by it! (Yep, my bathroom now makes me grin like a fool).