After we stumbled on Amy Cropper’s Inverse —ash and hawthorn branches painted bright red —we wondered why more people didn’t simply paint dead trees and branches to tranform them, and turn them into…something else… form/artwork with a mysterious story.  It sent us hunting for examples. And we found lots of inspiration…

Artist Henry Bruce painted an oak tree suffering from decay vivid pink:

Henry Bruce

One Earth Day several years ago, the Chicago Park District presented a multi-colored “Living Forest, ” in Lincoln Park: seven 30-foot trees were painted orange, yellow and blue. The trees, which were either damaged or deemed invasive species were, in effect, made into art before being removed.

Contractors with the Chicago Park District paint trees along Lake Shore Drive just north of North Avenue in Lincoln Park, Tuesday, April 20, 2010. The trees were targeted to be removed by the end of the year because they were dead or were damaged in some way. (Alex Garcia/ Chicago Tribune) ....OUTSIDE TRIBUNE CO.- NO MAGS, NO SALES, NO INTERNET, NO TV, NEW YORK TIMES OUT, CHICAGO OUT, NO DIGITAL MANIPULATION...Daniel Hernandez, a contractor with the Chicago Park District, paints a tree along Lake Shore Drive just north of North Avenue in Lincoln Park, Tuesday, April 20, 2010. The trees were targeted to be removed by the end of the year because they were dead or were damaged in some way. (Alex Garcia/ Chicago Tribune) ....OUTSIDE TRIBUNE CO.- NO MAGS, NO SALES, NO INTERNET, NO TV, NEW YORK TIMES OUT, CHICAGO OUT, NO DIGITAL MANIPULATION...
Alex Garcia/ Chicago Tribune

We discovered that dead and dying trees are not the only ones humans occasionally paint.

In China, the roots of live trees are sometimes painted white to protect them from invasive insects. We find them to be very beautiful.

In Algeria, poplars, ficus or eucalyptus are often painted reflecting white at the bottom for night time drivers.

During World War 2, it was common practice in England to paint white marks on trees, curbs and other things that could be seen from ground level – even in dim light – but not by the Luftwaffe flying high overhead.

white striped trees England ww2

Dig these striped trees!

white striped trees London 1939

Now that we see these images, trees – especially dead ones – seem like a perfect artist’s canvas, ready to transform.


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10 replies on “Trees Painted Colors + Transformed

  1. Sally, I do think this looks really cool (that hot pink one is amazing), but, all things considered, in my book, it’s got to be a no-go. Dead trees (in their natural state) are such important parts of the eco-system! The gentle rot provides habitat for all kinds of insects and feeding areas for birds. And, as fun and pretty as a fluorescent painted trunk looks to our human eyes, paint is environmentally nasty stuff. Slathering habitat with it results in a loss.

    Benjamin Vogt, a wonderfully disruptive garden writer I read, really hit home for me when he wrote that we have to stop looking at gardens as places intended just to look pretty for people and make decisions based on the needs of all the living organisms that depend on those spaces for their very existence. It honestly changed the way I garden, While I was already adamantly organic, now, for every decision I make on my own little patch of just a few acres, I also try to take into account not just my own aesthetic desires but the needs of every creature that uses the space, This required me to, as Vogt urges, retrain my eye to what is “beautiful,” be slow to “clean up” (leave those leaves! leave those seed heads! get rid of that worthless lawn!) and accept every stage as not only beautiful but necessary. That extends to dead trees.

    But in this case, since the damage is already done, I will enjoy the photos in this post – they really are striking. I’ll pretend the color was added digitally!

  2. Yes, I do understand. And I think your point is great. Perhaps some ecosystems are expansive enough to accomodate painted trees, or perhaps there is a paint we’re not thinking of…like old-fashioned milk paints, that would not have such toxic elements. Food for thought.

  3. Beautiful tree photos! About 20 yrs ago, after the death of our wonderful Great Dane named Ziggy, I decided I would paint a dead dogwood tree that stood just outside our screened porch, in scarlet red. We buried Ziggy’s cremains under that painted tree. The tree color and his collar color were the same. It was a wonderful reminder, every day of the beautiful dog we had. Our neighbors weren’t too sure about just why we had painted our tree, but word got out and everyone enjoyed seeing it as well.

  4. What a wonderful thing to do. Enduring life/memory for both tree and dog. I hadn’t thought of that…Thank you!

  5. Be very clear, NEVER paint anything on a live plant, they breathe through their skin (bark).

  6. I discovered your site few minutes ago. I tried to find out who the blogger is, and to navigate a bit so I could see what is offered. I did not have a chance to actually read anything I looked at, and never found out about the authors. Imagine my surprise when I received a notice over the page informing me that I had ALREADY used my monthly allotment of “articles”and had to now pay to find out what the site offers! I couldn’t even pay for one month without being required to give credit information and be subjected to automatic withdrawals.

    Is this how you try to attract “customers”?

  7. Hi Jackie, Thank you for your feedback. Please know that I’ve tried very hard to find the balance between attracting new readers and surviving financially through our paywall, and without annoying advertising. At $1.99/month, cancelable anytime, Improvised Life is a bargain. You have the option to click “do not auto-renew”.

    None of the regular pages are included in the five free reads per 30 days, only the published posts ‘About’ tells what Improvised Life is and something about me. Scrolling down the Home Page, you get to see thumbnails and synopsis’ of 16 articles; clicking on any of the dropdown menus will give a good sense of the array of content.

    I welcome your thoughts as to what you think would make this a better experience?

  8. Any idea what kind of paint is recommended for painting dead trees? We have a dead tree outside our family cabin and I’d like to paint totems of each family member on it. I plan to remove the bark, sand it, and then paint detailed work on it. I assume acrylic will be fine, but if you have any tips, please let me know. Thank you!

  9. Sorry, I don’t know what paint was used. I would do some tests to see what holds up. Send photos!

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