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Bringing Your Watercolor To Life

Dec 27, 2007
To paint thickly wooded areas, after the pencil drawing is completed, paint in the light general tone of the entire area facing you before attempting any of the trunks or structures. The next step is to indicate shadows from the trees with blues and Indian red blended together, sometimes accentuating the blue, sometimes the red, but never making it obvious.

The Effect Of Light On Form

Just as there is no color without light, so there is no form. No surface vegetation grows without light, and the direction of the light determines the direction in which vegetation will grow. The sun's journey is from east to west, from sunrise to sunset. As the sun casts its changing rays on the little acorn through the years, it gradually grows into a majestic oak, perfectly proportioned and in full bloom. However, if the sun were to remain stationary, branches and foliage would grow only on that side of the tree exposed to the sun's rays.

To make the tree appear natural, draw it with shaggy lines, as few trees grow with absolutely smooth edges. Start drawing from the ground up, as the tree grows, and twist pencil from side to side as you draw the line. To give the trunk and branches roundness, keep edges soft. Another phenomenon of the tree growth not generally known is that the roots will grow to the same width as the width of the widest spreading branches.

For authenticity, paint one tree limb with foliage on the top and none on the bottom, which is further evidence of the effect of the light's direction on growth. Don't stick the tree in the ground as if it were a telegraph pole. Paint it the way it grows, rhythmically and proportionally.

To paint tree trunks and branches, first complete the composition and planning of the picture. Carefully draw the tree by pushing your pencil upward, rolling it between your fingers as you push in order to get the bark-like irregularity of the tree's outline.

Then use a very thin wash of ivory black and use it quite wet. While paper is still wet, add orange in the warm areas of the tree but do not cover black paint completely. Now use darker color notes where shadows are necessary, thus giving the tree dimension and character. These shadows are soft because the painting is still moist.

After paint is dry, complete tree textures such as bark, nodules around knots, etc.; then paint in the background in a diffused manner. This will make the tree the prominent part of the picture. Try the same method on other trees, using other colors, such as green (mossy effect), blue, and sepia. The results will be fascinating as well as instructive.

To paint summer leaves and foliage, first put a wash of lemon yellow over the area where the sky does not show.

While this is still wet, lay on a wash of orange and Hooker's green for first value, showing the light coming from the left.

Now put on your third value of sepia, orange, and Hooker's green while painting is still wet.

When all color is dry, add the trunk and twigs in the slots where the sky appears and also add a few leaves on the outer edges.

In painting a tree, always try to identify it by its general structure and indicate the time of year by its foliage or lack of it.

Soon painting a tree will become second nature to you.
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