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Riverbank, how to paint trees and leaves with watercolor

Trees of Riverbank

Trees of Riverbank
Watercolor and mixed media on paper mounted on board
24 x 30 inches


This is a 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”

I wanted a larger version of it, mounted on board and also I wanted to try a different composition. I did mount my paper on board before starting to paint as this is the way I like the best but you could also mount your painting after it is done.

For more details about my technique to mount paper on board, go to this post: Mounting watercolor paper on board.

mounting paper on board

To mount the paper on board, I am using big rocks (that I did cover with crochet) as weights as my paper was in a roll and needs to be flattened.

painting palette

This is the painting palette for this watercolor painting. Daniel Smith: Burnt Umber, French Ochre and Payne’s Gray, Holbein Horizon Blue, Van Gogh Madder Lake Light and Phtalo Blue, Da Vinci Cadmium Lemon Yellow and Sap Green, Rembrandt Perm Lemon yellow.


Porcelain flowers trays are great to use as a palette ,  start by adding a bit of paint and then will fill the wells with water. You can also use a butcher tray to mix paint or you might, like me , not be able to resist the temptation of mixing colors directly on your table :)

drawing on watercolor paper

Once your drawing has been transferred to your watercolor paper, the first step will be to reserve a few whites with masking fluid. You then have to wait for the masking fluid to air dry as you can’t dry it with a hair dryer, it would make the fluid adhere strongly to the paper and become almost impossible to take off.

painting the leaves

Start painting the leaves. They are thousands of shades of green in nature and finding the tight mixes for your greens can be tricky. An easy way, and this is what I am doing in most of my paintings is to start from a green basis and then modify it by adding yellow, blue, red, brown… I like sap green  as a  basis color as this is a natural looking green a bit on the warmer side.

Most greens in nature are warm green, if you paint your leaves with cold green only like Phtalo green, they are going to look unnatural.

painting leaves

Paint the leaves using a mix of wet in wet technique leaving soft edges and wet on dry techniques leaving hard edges.

working on the background

Then work on the background using your reference picture to decide what color to paint.

masking leaves on the trunks

When you are done with most of the leaves and the background,  mask the leaves that are situated on the trees trunks so you can focus on painting the trunks without having to paint around them.

first layer on the trees trunks

Paint a first wash that correspond to the lighter tones you can see on the trees trunks.

painting the trees texture

Then  start painting the trees bark texture using a scrumbling painting technique.

watercolor crayons

If  you like to use a bit of splatter on top of your paintings, you can try using some watercolor crayons to draw on some parts of the painting so that when you will add water, their water soluble pigments will move and hopefully make interesting textures.

adding white pencils on the trunks

You can also add  lighter tones by drawing with white pencils.

splashing the painting with water

Time to splash! I used a spray bottle to get the whole painting wet and then I also splattered some paint (blue and yellow) with a dropper.

splattering with white china gouache

I am also splattering with white china gouache diluted in water with a dropper.

after splashing

After splashing, you can take a bit of time to assess your painting. At that stage my painting looks like that, I decide that I need more contrast and darker colors on the trees trunks as they became too light with the splashing.

removing the masking fluid

Don’t forget to remove the masking fluid, you can carefully pull on it with your fingers or use an eraser.

softening edges

After the masking fluid has been removed, they are usually some hard edges that are very visible on the painting and could make it look almost like a collage. You can easily soften those edges with a stiff brush and some water. Here is a picture of a before/after softening edges of a leaf.

scrubbing off some lights

You can also scrub off a bit of paint with a stiff brush and some water where I want to lighten a bit the painting, mainly on the left side of the trunk as this is the direction the light is coming from.

Trees of Riverbank

Trees of Riverbank

Original sold- Prints available here

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{ 6 comments… add one }

  • CG February 4, 2014, 10:14 am

    is there a video to go with this? I love the step by step done here, but really need to see some specifics, for example, after putting down the light color, do you mask those large areas over to paint a wet on wet dark area in and around it? Would be neat to see it as its being done, would be such a help, thanks!


    • Sandrine Pelissier February 4, 2014, 10:21 am

      Hello CG,
      Unfortunately I didn’t shoot a video for this one but am happy to reply to your questions.
      For this painting I did paint the area around the trees trunks first without masking the trunks as their shape was straight enough to paint around them. I only used masking fluid in a few tiny areas that I wanted to keep white, and also before painting the trunks on the few leaves that were overlapping this area as it would have been a bit tricky painting around them.
      I am trying to avoid masking very large area, first because it is time consuming and second because I find that when you remove the masking, it is lifting a bit of paint and it is also changing a bit the texture of the paper underneath.
      Hope this help, feel free to post any question you would have in the comments :)

  • Anne Haynes January 7, 2014, 11:36 pm

    Hi there,
    I just love the way you paint trees with water colour. I work with oils and I have a problem with watercolours. I have tried but I struggle with it. Oils are just so forgiving. I do however use acrylics too from time to time. For my modern paintings. Just for a different media.

    I am blank at the moment, so waiting for my nex insperation to do my next painting. I am busy with a semi nude male at the moment for a friend. And am so enjoying it. And a modern take on roses on a paletted backround. I get all my insperation when I should be sleeping. Then I jump up and run to my studio and then write down what I am thinking of. Then start it the next day. I do go to classes. but I also paint at home.My art teacher says can I please give my brain a rest for a whie and finish one painting at a time. I can’t I have to have projects at home. I do some scrapbooking painting on wood frames doing them up. and do kids paintings for their rooms too. So different but so interesting. I would love to try watercolours again sometime though. I love different media. I love mixed media paintings too.

    Keep well and keep up your amazing work.

    Anne Haynes.

    • Sandrine Pelissier January 8, 2014, 5:30 pm

      Thanks Anne :)
      You might like working with watercolors as they dry fast and for some techniques you have to be fast as well, you might enjoy that feeling:) Once you get the basics it is a much more easy and forgiving medium that we usually think it is.
      I see you are very creative, keep up on painting :)

  • Barbara Tibbets January 7, 2014, 7:04 am

    Love your method of painting and you are brave with mounting on boards! Thanks so much for sharing.
    Barbara in AZ

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