Do you want to paint a quick watercolor sketch using only a few colors? Okay! Let’s go.
Here are my reference photos taken at Hammel Woods in Shorewood, IL on a beautiful winter day.
Step 1: Sketch out your road map. What do you want to convey about your hiking adventure? What did you see? On this particular day, I scared white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) and mallard ducks (Anas platyrhynchos) all within a few minutes of each other! And could you blame them? They must take flight…when a big human is nearing closer. I like the combination of the two subjects. The deer, being larger than life in comparison to the landscape scene of mallards, makes a nice collage and great memorial of the day.
In this first step, I’m using a new pencil to sketch instead of a regular graphite pencil. This is a Prismacolor Col-Erase #20044 blue tinted pencil which completely erases even under watercolors. In the end however, I liked the blue pencil marks so much that I decided to leave them in after all.
Step 2: Wet the deer with clean water and a small round watercolor brush. I’m only using 5 Winsor & Newton watercolor paints for this sketch: Winsor yellow, raw sienna, burnt sienna, French ultramarine blue, and viridian green. While the deer is wet, paint in Winsor yellow all over the body except for the white parts. While this is still wet, touch the outer edge of the deer with a little raw sienna.
Step 3: Add a little more raw sienna to the body, staying clear of highlighted areas where the sun is striking on the right side.
Step 4: Make a mixture of French ultramarine blue and burnt sienna. Paint the shadow areas on the deer. Use French ultramarine blue in the shadow areas of the white sections like his tail and under belly. Do not cover all of the white. Let the paper show through.
Here is a picture of my set up. Unfortunately this sketch could not be painted outside. I needed to study the deer’s flight position from a photo. In the top palette I have many colors, but I made a new palette with just a few. I’m trying to see how few tubes I could use and how many color combinations I can create.
Step 5: We have to let the deer dry completely before painting detail, so let’s move onto the background trees in our landscape portion. Turn the paper upside down and wet the background trees. Using a mixture of French ultramarine blue and burnt sienna with a heavier concentration of the blue, paint the trees as one big area. Dab a little more blue sections and dab a little more brown sections to give it depth.
Step 6: While wet, scratch out some tree shapes with the end of a pointed brush or something sharp.
Step 7: Using the Winsor yellow and raw sienna mixture, paint the grasses making sure not to touch the distant trees if they’re still wet. Paint the lake using French ultramarine blue. While the lake is wet drop in some burnt sienna for reflective shadows. Under the deer’s feet, paint a few grasses using the same yellow mixture and paint a little snow using a mixture of viridian green and French ultramarine blue.
Step 8: Our deer should be dry, so paint in some dark details using a strong mixture of French Ultramarine blue and burnt sienna. As in strong, I mean more pigment and less water. Paint his eye, hoofs, and darkest shadows.
Step 9: Time to paint the foreground tree and ducks. I know I sound like a broken record, but again, you’re using a mixture of French ultramarine blue and burnt sienna. The ducks have more blue about them and the trees have more sienna.
Step 10: Embellish with text. Here I wrote the location with a pink brush pen and the scientific names of wildlife spotted with a fine tip brown marker. I don’t have scientific names memorized, but I’m hoping the more I write them, the quicker I will learn them. I forgot to write the date and temperature, but I can go back and do that later.
I hope you enjoyed this free step by step demonstrations on how to watercolor sketch nature using only 5 colors. Don’t be afraid to try it yourself! The more you practice the easier it will become.
Go take a hike and sketch something!
If you’re feeling low this holiday season, stop for a few minutes to reflect on this…
For even the Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and give His life a ransom for many.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays
Immediately at the start of my hike, a single blue jay welcomes me with a loud reception. Smiling, I look ahead and notice something silver hanging from a branch…something out of place…something not of the woods…
One silver ball.
A simple gesture really, but to me it signifies hope.
I continue my walk in the woods and about a half mile further, another…
This one, so slender, the runners wont notice it. The bikers wont notice it. Only the contemplative walkers looking for little miracles in nature will be observant and slow enough to notice. And when one is deliberately slow, purposefully mindful in the moment, a whole world opens up.
A world of frozen oaks trapped in ice.
A world of delicate weeds, donating their seeds to a frigid gust…
In this world, sometimes you hear things long before you see them, but only if you’re quiet. Like a swoop of sandhill cranes high in the sky.
And an angry squirrel’s screeches above a frozen stream…
While one unhappy squirrel screams, another quite a distance away cries too. Is the second cry a warning call? A sympathy cry?
If you’re still vigilantly observant and look down low, you might even find a hawk’s lost dinner…
I continue my hike to observe the mute colors of winter…
And I stop a few times just to hear nothing at all. The forest is generous with its gift of silence.
The ink in my pen refuses to flow…too cold. I switch to a more trusty device – a pencil.The cold air is exhilarating as it enters deep in my lungs. My nose is wet, but that’s what my gloves are for…wipe…wipe. Winter’s subdued colors do not make this hike drab. On the contrary! Beauty still illuminates in the woods in just about every inch, high and low. Don’t let the cold keep you indoors. You’ll miss out on winter’s elegance.
I know of a trio of trees. Of this trio, every autumn, the middle one loses half of its leaves. Exactly half and always on the right side.
Today the rain comes down hard and with it a handful of leaves, scattering them to the ground – future free fertilizer.
Inside dry and warm, vanilla green tea steams from my cup, warm apple crisp sits nearby on a porcelain plate. The aroma of hot apple and cinnamon hangs in the air. Raindrops heard from an open window, takes the form of a musical instrument as Gregorian Chant plays on my stereo.
I watch the rain pelt the pumpkins outside.
The trio, they watch too. They witness the rain, the hawk that landed on one of its branches, the squirrel that ran up the another trunk. They witness time, seasons, me, and souls coming and going.
Does anyone else see them?
The trio reminds me of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Always watching. Sacrificing. Always there.
Does anyone else see them?
Sacrifice. Life for life.
How do we survive on this planet? We cannot produce our own food. We do not have the ability to photosynthesize. We must take a life. Even if one does not eat meat, the plant that is eaten must die to give that one life.
So, is it any wonder that a life would be required for eternal life? No. It all makes sense now. Jesus sacrificed His life as he took the form of a man, did no wrong, yet suffered for all who will accept. A free gift. Forgiven, because of a sacrifice on a cross, a tree really. Free fertilizer for the soul.
Yes, I’m obsessed with trees. Especially in autumn, my favorite season. Each with its own character, saying something different, they draw me in closer. On this day, I decided to paint the Little Leaved Linden (Tilia cordata), aka Little Leaf Linden. This tree has heart shaped leaves just like its relative, the American Linden (T. americana) aka Basswood, although the leaf itself is smaller.
Nuthatch calls ring out in the midst of those heart shaped leaves, which are just beginning to turn yellow. The trunk is healing itself. Where a branch was cut off, wound wood grows, bubbling over the cut, like scar tissue.
I hope you are enjoying the beginning of autumn. Hurry! It wont last long.
The purpose of a nature journal club is to inspire others to enjoy nature through art and journaling. Today we have 3 new artists. Please visit their blogs:
Aneta from Pennsylvania
Aneta states: “I want to honor the Lord in all my nature related art.”
That sentiment and her nature artwork is beautiful!
Aneta’s blog: https://nature-sketches.blogspot.com/
L.Riddell states: ” Painting nature truly is a reflection of my devotion to and admiration of my God who created everything and called it ‘very good’.”
You can find more beautiful artwork here:
Marches Country Lady – Welsh Marches, UK
I enjoy following Marches Country Lady and her gorgeous artwork.
You can explore more of her artwork here:
I would like to thank all of the lovely artists who contributed their artwork and blogs!
Good morning! I’m still not sure how our Nature Journal Club will materialize, but until then, I’d like to introduce you to my friend, Gene from Illinois. Gene loves nature, art, poetry, and writing. Gene doesn’t let obstacles get in his way of loving nature.
His work is beautiful! Unfortunately, Gene battles with Parkinson’s disease but that doesn’t stop him. He’s even written a book about it.
You can find more of his work here: https://meltedanswers.wordpress.com/
Gene inspires me! And I hope he inspires you as well.
The purpose of a nature journal club is to inspire others to enjoy nature through art and journaling and hopefully through this, become closer to God, the Intelligent Designer and Original Artist.
If you would like to participate in the nature journal club, comment below. The theme has to be nature. It does not have to be painting, it can be nature journaling, nature poetry, or nature journaling/hiking through videos. I will visit your site and choose a picture to post or a link to your nature journals/poems/videos. Please provide a first name and the state or area you are from. I will not open attachments from email. If any site has inappropriate material, like swearing or nudity, it will not be posted. Also, I may not be able to post for several weeks or a month at a time. I’m going to school full time and working, so I’m rarely able to devote time for posting. Maybe in the future, when time allows, this nature journal club can materialize into outing events.
Have fun nature journaling!
You can hear the wheels of photosynthesis grinding slower. With every breeze carries with it a handful of leaves. They swirl past my ears.
Mr. Bee, would you like to visit the goldenrod resting peacefully on the edge of a quiet pond? Or in the middle of a blowing prairie? Your options are many.
A scold of blue jays call in the deep oak forest, while the rain escorted me through. Did I mind the rain? Oh no! On the contrary, I quite like the unexpected rain in the woods.
Come on a hike with me and see the sketch in process in my nature journal:
I would like to start a nature journal club but I do not know what that will look like yet. It doesn’t have to be paintings, It can be just text. Or text and a pencil sketch. Well, for now, I’m throwing it out there. Let’s see what materializes.
On its own this particular journal page is not that significant. It’s a recording of my encounter with a cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) in my front yard. But when you look closer, taking the time to create this page not only caused me to ask questions, but it forced me to look closer to details enabling me to record a moment in time.
One day, this record in time could be important.
Do you remember going outside in the summertime as a child and encountering hundreds of bees? I do. Do you remember insects galore? Yep. Well in our lifetime, for multiple reasons, we may be witnessing a decline in species. Some scientists think we are in the beginning of mass extinctions simultaneously. In just my own recollection, I do see a change in nature.
Keeping a nature journal is my way of documenting my interactions with nature. I can look back through the years and remember. On this day, the cedar waxing caused me to recognize its call: Zeet, Zeet, Zeet! I’ve heard that sound before outside my bedroom window and did not know what it was. Now I do!! So writing in this journal taught me its call. Not only did I learn its call, but I noticed it was alone. I thought they traveled in groups. My question excelled me to do some research. Evidently, it’s only winter time (in my area) that they travel in groups possibly for protection and knowledge of food resources. I learned something new!
Keeping a Nature Journal:
Some people may be intimidated to start a nature journal. They think: But I don’t know how to draw!!!
No fear, nature friends!
Keeping a journal is not about beautiful, well drawn art. It’s supposed to be messy. It’s supposed to be done quickly as you encounter nature. And it could be for your eyes only if you wish. Nobody has to see your journal. Plus, who said you had to draw in it???
You can keep nature journals with only text. What do you write? Start with some stats: Date, time, weather conditions, temperature. Next, move on to your 5 senses. What do you see? What do you smell? Feel? Taste (it better be an edible and not toxic…ha ha ha)?
It’s easy to keep a nature journal. Don’t stress about the quality. Soon you will be filling books and fondly looking back at great memories. Plus, it’s a great feeling in the dead of winter, when it’s below zero, to read about your previous summer days.
Happy nature journaling!
One day when I least expected it, I had a visitor from nature. I was sitting on the floor of my porch when I looked over to the siding on the house and noticed a giant, juicy, green caterpillar. Upon closer inspection I discovered that I had recognized this visitor from my work, for we had raised some and released them. It was none other than a Polyphemus caterpillar (Antheraea polyphemus).
What are you doing on my house, Mr. Polyphemus?
Feeling sorry for it because it was at least 40-50 feet from the nearest tree, I decided to try and feed him maple leaves. I know he likes them.
Sure enough within seconds, he was munching away on some tasty maples leaves.
I was happy to help and went on with my outside tasks. I don’t know why I checked on him so soon, but literally 20 minutes later I did. To my shock he had already spun a silk cocoon.
No, no! This is not a safe place! It’s too close to the ground!
I tried pulling him off the house, thinking I could raise him inside until he emerges, however his construction was properly made and his silk cocoon was like superglue.
Now I faced a dilemma. Would he have spun his cocoon had it not been for my maple leaves? Did I do more harm than good? A racoon or skunk can easily walk up to him and consume him! Sometimes our best intentions are blindly made.
Robert Frost felt the same way in his poem, The Exposed Nest, where he writes about trying to restore a nest on the ground after machinery uncovered it.
Made me ask would the mother-bird return
And care for them in such a change of scene
And might our meddling make her more afraid.
That was a thing we could not wait to learn.
We saw the risk we took in doing good,
But dared not spare to do the best we could.
Realizing that the exposed silk cocoon now puts my Polyphemus friend at risk, I had to help him out.
I constructed a barrier around the cocoon and the maple leaves, then I placed a patio chair in front of it. Hopefully in a week or so I will find an exit hole in his cocoon and he will be safely flying at night in the trees.
I saw the risk I took in doing good
But dared not spare to do the best I could.
I work at a nature center where we recently raised about 20 Polyphemus moths from caterpillar state. They were donated to us. It was a spectacular show. And the children that visited the nature center loved watching them.
Here are some hanging in their cocoons and a few that just emerged.
Here are a pair stretching their wings. The female is on the left (thin antenna) and the male is on the right (thick antenna). The large spots on their hind wings are solely to ward off predators. They look like large eyes staring back!
I’m so very grateful to be able to work at a nature center and learn about these beautiful creatures. I’m thankful that I recognized the Polyphemus caterpillar on my house and I hope my little shelter keeps him safe and on his way very soon.
When I speak with adults who want to paint but cannot seem to start there always seems to be the same reason why….. “It won’t look good.”
Fear is a roadblock. Fear is also a liar. Fear is an active gremlin who convinces people to do nothing.
And nothing produces nothing.
So let’s stomp on fear and do a quick, sloppy sketch. The goal of this sketch is to just put down color so that we can have a recording of our day in nature. We don’t care about the outcome. Sometimes it’s even helpful to say that out loud before you start: “I don’t care what this looks like, I’m just going to do it.”
Step 1: Draw a road map with a pencil. Don’t include detail. I just marked a horizon line, a stream, and a few trees in the background.
Step 2: Fill in the sky with lemon yellow. On this day, the sky was not yellow (as you can see in the reference photo below) but it was very hot. So it felt as if the sky as hot as the sun.
Step 3: Add some background trees by mixing green and blue. This whole sketch was done with a flat brush and very quickly too. I believe it was complete in 15 minutes. I did not worry about what anything looked like as I painted. Just keep going.
Step 4: Add larger trees but make them mostly green, not blue. There are three layers here. Light green in the background, medium green on top (skipping around to let the light green poke through), and lastly a dark green here and there and at the base of all the trees.
Step 5: Add a lemon green to the prairie. This too was painted with a flat brush…..quick and loose.
Step 6: Paint yellow in the stream, and a medium green to the edge of the stream. See that blob of green in the middle? That’s because my stream was still wet and it bled in the stream. Am I upset? No. Am I going to quit? No. Just keep going.
With a dark green/blue and the edge of the flat brush, paint vertical cattail grasses on the right side of the stream. Wet the paper under the cattails and pull some color down as a reflection. Then with a little brown, paint the cattails. On the left make thicker grasses for some summer flowers. Nice and loose…..do not mind the form.
Step 7: I added some green to the furthest point in the stream to represent reflections. Next add some summer flowers. Today I saw purple coneflower, black eye Susan, and purple bergamot, but not in this location. That’s okay….I’ll just add it here to remember what was in bloom on this hot summer day. I added these blooms with a liner, not a flat brush. Next, add some tree branches to your large trees with sepia brown. Finally using light green, make horizontal water lines in the creek.
Step 8 Final: In this step I took a red brush marker and added some text. I’m using twin tip brush markers from Hobby Lobby. The brush tip is good for bold titles and the thin tip is good for details such as the date and temperature. I love including text on my sketches in my journal so that I can remember where I was and what the day was like. Today at Springbrook Prairie the cicadas were loud and the wildflowers plentiful.
Here is my reference photo. As you can tell it looks nothing like my sketch. My quick, sloppy sketch represents what I experienced at Springbrook Prairie. Don’t let fear hold you back. Your sketch doesn’t have to look exactly like your photo or on site location. It can be your interpretation. It can be a feeling/emotion in time…and it doesn’t have to be perfect.
Give yourself permission to play.