Near the airport there was a beautiful wildflower patch – all purple and golds, with bits of white and light blue. (I got tons of photos and will be painting it for years to come.) Here’s my process in finishing, fixing and changing to improve my watercolor composition.
Letting the paint mix on the paper can be SCARRRRRY, but never fear, the next wash will turn your pumpkin paintings into a real treat!
An artist will never love any of their paintings completely. We always have parts we like and little bits or places that bother us. That’s because artists are picky, and most (extremely?) picky about our work.
*NEWS FLASH* – You can use this quirk to your great advantage in your art career.
Trees can be difficult, but in this lesson, I’ll demonstrate simple, easy ways to ‘see’ and paint trees while avoiding the common problems.
3 Most Important Parts For Watercolor Trees
1. Color – mixing believable tree colors and they don’t have to be green
2. Texture and edges – add natural looking texture with the dribble method, sponging and/or salt
3. Values – Simplifying an object to it’s light, medium and dark layers makes any subject paintable.
Premixed greens are rarely the best choice. Here’s a quick guide to some common greens, and remember, trees can be a lot of colors besides green.
Green – Is It A Color or Mixture of colors?
Most greens are mixtures of a blue + a yellow or brown. Viridian, Green gold and perylene green are pigments and not mixes. I mix my own greens and use Perylene green ( a black green color that works well in landscapes.)
Thalo Blue – Most Common
Most tube greens (sap, hookers, etc.) are made with thalo blue, which stains. (Some tubes of paint list the ingredients on the side.)
The light blues, cobalt blue and cerulean blue, plus a yellow, make more silvery, grayed greens that look lovely, especially in the distance.
The dark blues, like ultramarine, Prussian, and even Payne’s Gray, plus a yellow, make more muted greens that can be very believable in a landscape.
Experiment with mixing the colors you have to see how many different shades of greens you can make. Use those colors for a dribble tree.
Trees are a combination of hard and soft edges, with holes for the birds to fly through. This method will give you everything a tree needs. Start smaller than you want, as trees tend to grow bigger as you paint them.
First: Dribble water onto dry paper in random patterns inside the area where you want the tree. (I’ll dribble yellow so it’s visible. You can start with clean water or yellow.)
Second: Paint some tree colors randomly into the dribbled wetness, painting some color into the wet and some on the dry, but leaving some of the dry areas unpainted.
Third: Sponging edges. Use a small piece of natural sea sponge. Wet your sponge and squeeze out the water so that it’s just damp. Dip the edge of the sponge into your green mix and sponge the outside edges of the tree (where the paper is dry) to create a realistic tree shape.
Fourth: While the tree area is still damp, mix burnt sienna with a purple (thalo blue and permanent rose) and paint in some branches. The paint needs to be fairly thick, more actual paint and less water, so it will stay where you put it with only some soft spreading.
Results: This method will leave you with a tree that has lots of random areas, mixes of color, appearing and disappearing branches, hard and soft edges. That may be all you need for a great painting, but next we’ll look at combining these skills with darker values for even more realism.
Washing Off Is A (Useful) Skill
Would you practice painting more if it were free?
For me, learning to paint involved A LOT of practice. Often I would rinse the day’s efforts under the sink. This would leave a ghost image of my composition, so I could have another go without using new paper or redrawing the scene, or use the paper for my next project. As my painting skills slowly improved, I also got good at washing paint off.
I could wash off the whole thing or just one problem area. I found I liked the soft edges that washing off left and I started lifting simple shapes with stencils instead of masking them or trying to paint around them.
Washing off led me to be fearless in painting, use more paint for bolder compositions and be more creative in adapting my compositions to the happy accidents that can be the best part of a watercolor painting.
NOTE: This works with cold pressed watercolor paper (140 lb. Arches). Other types and brands of paper may have different results.
Washing Off The Entire Painting
Stick your painting under the running water in a sink. It is easier if you can lay it on a firm surface. (I used a piece of gator board in the video.) Wet Mr. Clean’s Magic Eraser and gently rub the surface of your painting. When you pick up paint on the eraser sponge, rinse it out and repeat. Don’t rub lifted paint back into your paper. Don’t rub hard enough to damage the surface of the paper. If you only want to wash off a section of the painting, only rub that area and don’t leave the part you want to keep under water very long or some of the paint might lift.
Lifting With A Stencil
You can make your own stencils by drawing or tracing your outline on an old photograph or any other surface that is firm enough to make a stencil, then carefully cutting it out with a utility knife or sharp scissors. Hold the stencil in place or tape it so that it doesn’t slip. Rub the area with a damp Mr. Clean’s Magic Eraser, lifting the paint.
To improve your painting skills, you need to practice what you’re not good at. Being able to reuse paper can help you practice more. Washing off and lifting are valuable skills to add to your toolbox of watercolor techniques.