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Painting trees and leaves with watercolor : On either side of the river

Painting trees and leaves: On either side of the river, watercolor on paper by Sandrine Pelissier on ARTiful, painting demos
Forest Paintings / Painting / Painting technique / Step by step demonstrations / Watercolor / Watercolor painting basics

Painting trees and leaves with watercolor : On either side of the river

I did this painting for the watercolor biennale coming up at the Federation of Canadian Artists in Granville Island ( Vancouver ). I had a few guidelines to follow : the size had to be 19 x 27 which is the size of the IKEA Ribba frame, most artists will use that frame so the exhibition looks more uniform. The painting had to be framed, these days I really like to mount my watercolors on board and varnish them but well, most watercolor societies and exhibitions won’t accept varnished or mounted watercolors.

Supplies to paint trees and leaves with watercolor:

watercolor palette to paint a forest and trees with watercolor

I am using a limited palette, Yellow Lemon and Yellow Ocher, Burnt Umber, Viridian green, Ultramarine blue, Cobalt Turquoise light, Permanent Alazarin Crimson and Payne’s grey. With those colors I can mix an array of green, blue, and brown tones that will make most of the picture.

brushes to paint a watercolor forest and trees painting

My favorite brush is an angular flat brush as I find it very versatile. I will also use a small brush for details like tiny branches, a large flat brush for larger washes like the trees trunk first layer of painting.
Finally I will use my old stiff brush for scrubbing off paint, it is a flat brush that I did cut closer to the ferrule to make it very stiff.

Start by stretching your paper on a board so it won’t buckle once you start painting.

You will also need to transfer your drawing. If your drawings is very detailed, you might want to consider using a lightbox.

You might also be interested in: How to make your own lightbox for tracing on watercolor paper

preserving whites with masking fluid and painting the background with watercolors

Once I have my drawing on the paper ( Arches 140 lb, hot press), I start by reserving a few whites with masking fluid, and then I wait for the masking fluid to air dry.

I then start painting the background around the trees, starting from light yellow to darker greens. I also paint the few leaves in front of the trunks. I am looking at my reference picture, trying to reproduce the sequence of colors I see on the picture

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Daler-Rowney Masking Fluid

This fluid is used to create striking white highlights or to mask areas for overpainting at a later stage. It forms a fast-drying, water-resistant film on watercolor paper and board, and is easily removed when dry.

painting a forest and leaves with watercolor from a reference picture

Working one section at a time I paint the background looking at my reference picture reproducing the tones of yellow, green, browns and the blue. I am also paying attention to the quality of edges trying to paint a variety of soft and hard edges as I see them on my reference picture.

first layer on the trees trunks light watercolor wash

For the next step, I apply liquid frisquet on the leaves I painted that are located in front of the tree trunks. Then I am applying a first light wash on the trees trunks. I let that wash dry, before painting another watercolor layer on top, wet on dry, to build the bark texture.

rendering the tree bark textures by scrumbling the paint wet on dry.

I then work on the bark of the trees, rendering the textures by scrumbling the paint wet on dry.

taking off masking fluid

I am taking off the masking fluid, and will now paint the tiny branches

softening hard edges with a stiff brush and water

The next step for me is to soften the edges that were around the liquid frisket areas. Those areas will often have very hard unnatural edges. I soften most of those edges with my stiff brush and a bit of water

keeping some edges sharp and hard

I am keeping some edges very sharp on the lower part of the painting to represent the light shining on the river water.

watercolor painting of forest and trees step by step painting tutorial by North Vancouver artist Sandrine Pelissier

On either side of the river, watercolor on paper

Watch the whole process on this time lapse video, in about 3 minutes.

4/5 - (31 votes)

Comments (21)

  1. Drayton Hamilton

    Dear Ms. Pelissier,
    Many thanks for these demonstration videos; I think that with practice I will find them very helpful in getting away from trees with foliage that looks like vari-colored, flat and textureless cardboard cutout sheets of greens and yellows .
    I have three related questions regarding frisket in your applications here as well as in others.
    1. Can you suggest an alternative liquid to water as a medium for thinning frisket? I find that
    if I want sharp, precise coverage when depicting small objects, especially with detailed outlines, frisket right out of the bottle often results in too imprecise and “blob”-like masks for my needs, and that frisket diluted with water is only marginally better in these respects, but at the same time is more likely to fail to resist the brushed over watercolor paint. 2. Is the alternative frisket- thinner that I wish for water resistant (to the water in the watercolor paint to be applied to it) enough to really do the trick even though it is — I hope — not nearly as thick on the paper as undiluted or water-diluted frisket? 3. If there is in fact such a thing as this non-water diluting and thin liquid for frisket, does one using it ever encounter chemical resistance problems in the mingling of the new diluter and the water of watercolor painting? For example, does the non-water frisket thinner dissolve, as may be imagined, into particles that spread in unwanted places on the paper? (Of course, this is not supposed to happen, but does it, anyway?) ///Thanks sincerely in advance for you knowledgeable responses to my questions. /// Drayton Hamilton, Montgomery, AL

  2. Valerie

    I really like your work and how you blend in the watercolors on the last
    painting above, also enjoy the tutorials.

    1. Thanks Valerie 🙂

  3. […] This is my latest watercolor on paper mounted on board, it is actually a new version of a painting I made a few months ago:“On either side of the River” […]

  4. […] On either side of the riverstep by step painting tutorial […]

  5. […] On either side of the riverstep by step painting tutorial […]

  6. […] On either side of the riverstep by step painting tutorial […]

  7. […] On either side of the riverstep by step painting tutorial […]

  8. […] On either side of the riverstep by step painting tutorial […]

  9. […] On either side of the riverstep by step painting tutorial […]

  10. Neeti Hegde

    This looks so real and beautiful, you make it seem so simple!

    1. Thanks Neeti 🙂

  11. Liz

    Your videos are so inspirational. I really appreciate your generosity in sharing your talent and techniques. Thank you!

  12. Marthie Scholer

    Your demos are soooo incredible good – I just started to paint and I’m so grateful I get your posts regularly, it is a great help and open for me ‘ideas’ or ‘dreams’ what I want to try out!!!

    1. Hello Marthie, it is very rewarding for me to get nice comments like yours 🙂 thanks!

  13. Elizabeth Carr

    Where did you find that music for your video? Perfect! I so enjoy watching your demos.

    1. Thanks Elizabeth, the music is from

  14. Gloria Sharber

    Beautiful artwork, I just LOVE IT…THANKS FOR SHARING!
    You are my inspiration.
    Cheers, Gloria

    1. Thanks Gloria, I am happy to hear that 🙂

  15. Pauline

    Hi, just caught your latest painting On the other side. Congraulations and good luck with it!Really lovely work! delightful you give us so much help and so many ideas
    Thank you, Cheers Pauline

    1. Thanks Pauline!

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