The Treehouse: Process

Here’s a fun fact, the entire time I was making this illustration I was listening to “You’ll Be In My Heart” by Phil Collins. This one was heavily inspired by Disney’s Tarzan. (And also I’ve always wanted a treehouse..)

The Complete Process
The Complete Process

When I finished making Island House my mom came to me and told me she had a request for my next one. She told me she wanted a treehouse. It was a great idea! Although we had a different perspective to the topic (which I still owe her her version) I was excited to make it! I started thinking what I’d want in it, what should it look like, what should it feel like– all those questions when suddenly the song popped up in my head. So I went on and started drafting.

Drafting the Treehouse
Drafting the Treehouse

I decided that if I had a treehouse in the middle of a jungle I would want not just one. So I came up with the idea of having one as a sort of watch house, and one as the main roof above my head. This was also a chance for me to practice perspective. My bestfriend (and partner in crime), Ella, studies architecture and she would always nag me about practicing perspectives. So I practiced on my sketchbook a bit deciding what angle I wanted to do, what could be the best angle for it. After all that scribbling I decided I liked it better with the main house closer to the viewer with a bridge leading to where the watch house is built. The neighboring tree became a fun challenge for me, I wanted to add a few more things like a safety neck dock and a few more decks and ladders around it.

Lighting Notes
Lighting and Detail Notes

Before I really start rendering my illustrations I always put notes around it. This helps me remember what I want to see, this is also helpful in terms of adding details and Easter Eggs. I wanted to study and practice lighting with this one and I realized I usually put the source somewhere around the left side of my subjects. So for this one I placed it behind the main subjects and farther away than what I’m usually used to. It helps to draw a big blob to remind you where it is, and here I wanted it to glow more in the horizon where the sky meets the sea.

After deciding where the light source is I would render my main subjects to where it should be the darkest and the lightest before I continue.

The Main Tree's Process
The Main Tree’s Process

 Rendering the Tree
I knew I wanted the tree to be covered up with moss, but I wasn’t so sure how to get it there. The first thing I did was decide where I wanted it to be dark. I didn’t want the tree to look smooth or cylinder, I remember writing a note on my sketchbook that it’s a big no-no and that I should really show how curved and detailed the bark is. I wanted the texture to overlap each other, almost like waves where in the light and the dark alternates through out the entire tree. After that I placed a bit of yellow, orange and green to make it look more real. And for its final phase I added more black, dark green, and a bit of gray-blue.

The first rendering phase of the bridge
The first rendering phase of the bridge

The Main House, Bridge, and the River
A lot of times the design changes throughout its process, this is ’cause I would notice that it’s either unnecessary or distracting. In this case I removed a few details around the Main House. I wanted to show the wooden texture of it and it was a chance for me to show the darkness of the jungle fading into the light of the sunset. I kept the balcony because it gave the house more angles and more shadows to play with.

The bridge started out as dashes on my notes ’cause I didn’t want to draw it yet, it was just a reminder that I wanted a bridge, but if you’d notice I made the dashes closer to each other at the farther end and farther apart by the Main House. Because of this it made it easier for me to render the bridge as individual planks.

The Bridge and the River
The Bridge and the River

After rendering it with levels of yellow, brown, and green I added the darker shadows of the bridge. I kept in mind that by the neighboring tree it would be a bit more darker than it should because of the watch house, but I wanted the sunlight to still land on it so it wouldn’t completely disappear.

The river was my next priority and this was something very new to me. I wanted to practice with something else besides the sky but I also didn’t want to put too much detail on the background. I rendered the jungle first and made sure the texture looked like trees by dipping the brush instead of stroking it, and I made it uneven but clearing up by the water. The light was found on the very top but towards the center, and shadows were divided per part. (There are 4 parts on the left jungle, and 5 on the right)

The light source note was very helpful. I tried a lot of render on the trees before ending up with this one, it took a lot of attempts but I really enjoyed trying to figure it out.

First Layer pf the Sky
First Layer pf the Sky

Rendering the Sky
This was another experiment for me, but I always have fun doing the sky on my illustrations ’cause it gives me a chance to play around with colors. I wanted it to look like the day was ending, clear skies, and I wanted to set the mood with the sky alone. So I started with the basic colors, blues and adding yellow to the bottom part of it nearer to the sea and a bit of orange. You can’t see the sun anymore, maybe it’s in a different angle, but I wanted to show that it was definitely setting by now so the yellow and orange are placed there.

Second layer of the Sky
Second layer of the Sky

The second layer I placed quick lines of the second set of colors I chose on the palette. This allowed me to really show the mood of the illustration. I also decided to add the waves and highlights of the river by this time using the second set of colors as well as it would reflect it. The Swing Tree is also rendered by this time by also using the second set of colors over the brown bark. This way, the colors helped me show that the Swing Tree was somewhat more part of the background than it is with the main subjects.

And finally I used the third set of colors to illustrate the thin clouds.

Third layer of the Sky
Third layer of the Sky

Adding Notes
Usually when I step away from a design I’m working on I’d add notes to it again, just so I won’t forget it when I do come back and also they’re last minute details I could do before signing it and saying it’s finished. But not all the notes are followed, some like adding the tent on the lower deck seemed crowded to me. During this time I would also circle out some errors to the illustration, like for this one on the lower right next to where I planned to place the signature I noticed I wasn’t able to fully render the texture as there were still spots of white.

Last minute notes in red

Finishing Up
The last bit took longer than it usually does. For one thing I tried several ways to render the leaves, but in the end I decided to make them look like thin vines, it added to the mood and with it I could add another layer behind using yellow and white to make it look like it was reflecting the sunlight. I added moss hanging from the branches, to me it gave a more relaxed look to let it hang a bit instead of it thickening on top it. I wanted the entire design to look light and calm. I added the shadows from the ladders, poles, and vines before adding the highlights.

Later on I painted the sides blue. I wanted the color to go from the blue of the tree covered jungle and then yellow as the image opens up to the treehouse settled by the river, and across it was the open ocean leading up to the colorful sky. I tried to show that the treehouse was placed at the edge of the jungle, that there weren’t just these two trees. The other trees of the jungle were surrounding it, you just can’t see it from this frame so I added the final layer of blue to yellow.

Final Design of the Treehouse
Final Design of the Treehouse

I enjoyed playing with colors and light with this illustration, and I’m hoping I could do more projects like this soon to practice with. Thanks for reading! I’ll be posting more soon.

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Paper Pirate

Paper Pirate (Mary Cruz) is a teacher by day, artist by night, and an entrepreneur in between. Inspiring others to keep making art and taking on adventures. The is the official site and blog of Paper Pirate, showcasing the art and illustration of Mary Cruz.

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