Step by step tutorial : Painting a tree and leaves with watercolor

How to paint a tree and leaves with watercolor, a step by step tutorial: Leaves Lace

by Sandrine Pelissier on May 21, 2013

in New work, Painting technique, Step by step demonstrations

Leaves Lace, watercolor on paper

Leaves Lace,
watercolor on paper,
19.5 x 27 inches,

 

Painting trees and leaves can be tricky, you have to decide what level of detail you want to achieve. When painting a tree from a distance, artists will usually look for areas of the same color. In this particular case I wanted individual leaves to be discernible. I didn’t paint every leaf, but did start with a very detailed drawing and stayed as close as I could to my reference picture.

Here is a link to a post that shows you how to build your own light box to transfer a detailed drawing.

 

You will need:

  • Watercolor paints, I used:
    • Daniel Smith Burnt Sienna,
    • Reeves Payne’s grey,
    • Holbein Cobalt Turquoise,
    • Da Vinci Prussian blue, sap green, and cadmium lemon,
    • Van Gogh Madder Lake Light.
    • I also used a bit of black from my Yarka watercolor pan set
  • Watercolor paper ( I used Arches hot press)
  • A system to stretch your paper
  • Masking fluid also called liquid frisket ( I used Da Vinci masking fluid)
  • a selection of various brushes as well as a silicon brush for masking fluid

Watercolor painting palette

stretching watercolor paper

Once your drawing has been transferred onto your paper, stretch it with your favorite stretching system. Here I used a stretching board. Wetting the paper carefully won’t remove the graphite. Let your paper dry.

painting leaves with watercolors

Start painting the leaves, mixing different shades of green from sap green, adding yellow, blue or red, and mixing some of the colors wet in wet. Look carefully at your reference picture to paint the different types of green you see.

painting leaves with watercolor

Painting a big very detailed painting can be intimidating but very manageable if you paint it one section at a time, making your way across the painting.

all leaves painted with watercolor

Once you are done with one element of the painting, it can be helpful to stop for a while and assess what you have done. Here I like the result but find I am missing a bit of contrast to get the effect of the light showing through the leaves. I decide to apply a darker wash of green on some of the leaves to increase contrast.

darkening some green leaves

Mixing sap green and madder lake will give you a very dark green, I am applying it as a glaze on some of the leaves I want a bit darker.

painting some leaves darker

Here is the painting after I did darken some areas on the leaves.

painting the tree trunk

 

To paint the trunk, start by painting light brown washes, that correspond to the lighter color you can see on the trunk on your reference picture. This is the basis layer from which you will start building up your texture.

painting the trunk

 

Working one section at a time, paint darker washes adding texture to the trunk.

Working more on the trunk

 

Keep adding layers of texture until you are satisfied with the result.

removing masking fluid

 

When the painting had time to dry, remove the masking fluid. I usually recommend to  soften the edges after masking fluid has been removed and paint a light wash on the white areas but for this particular painting I want to keep the white areas very crisp to add to the effect of light shinning through the leaves.

close up of masking fluid removed

Here is a close up of an area with the masking fluid removed.

Leaves Lace, watercolor on paper

Leaves Lace,

watercolor on paper,

19.5 x 27 inches,

And here is a time lapse video of the whole process

 

Have you tried painting trees in watercolor? What was the most challenging for you?

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

jhon012 September 10, 2013 at 9:08 pm

I really enjoy your work and am so impressed with your methods and how generous you are in sharing them.

Reply

Sandrine Pelissier September 12, 2013 at 7:20 am

Thanks !!

Reply

Susan July 15, 2013 at 6:29 pm

Thanks so much for sharing. I’m pretty new to watercolor and I greatly appreciate your willingness to share. The step by step techniques are so helpful and your work is very inspiring!

Reply

Sandrine Pelissier July 15, 2013 at 9:48 pm

Thanks Susan, I really appreciate it:)

Reply

mercedes June 11, 2013 at 6:59 am

magnífica demostración. gracias. Phantastic demos.. Thankyou

Reply

Sandrine Pelissier June 11, 2013 at 7:59 am

Gracias Mercedes :)

Reply

Muru May 21, 2013 at 1:36 pm

Thanks for the demo.
The reference – is it a photo printed on big paper?

Reply

Sandrine Pelissier May 21, 2013 at 4:02 pm

Thanks Muru, yes it is I printed a reference picture on super B size paper.

Reply

Christine Holzschuh May 21, 2013 at 8:20 am

I love your work and am so impressed with your methods and how generous you are in sharing them…I learn something every time I look at your work…I don’t even paint in watercolors!

Reply

Sandrine Pelissier May 21, 2013 at 9:48 am

Thanks Christine :) I am glad you liked the demos!

Reply

Meredith May 21, 2013 at 6:09 am

Love the perspective of this painting.

Reply

Sandrine Pelissier May 21, 2013 at 9:48 am

Thanks Meredith!

Reply

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