Let’s Re-Paint Gentle Creek!


Yes, a few months ago I painted this picture of a tree next to a creek and I HATE it:

I like the tree, however there was a hill immediately behind the tree which in my painting looks like a wall. A yucky grass wall. See, I can paint many paintings but even after all these years…they don’t always turn out the way I want them to. I make tons of mistakes. I should have used my artistic license and just removed the hill, but no, I thought I could make it work.
I killed the composition. (HAAAA, HA, HA!) Get it…composition not competition!!!! Nobody is laughing…moving on….

When your painting sucks, don’t ever give up, try it again!

So let’s paint Gentle Creek:

Step 1: I’m using my Wallis pastel paper, which allows me to make a wet underwash with watercolors. Here I slightly wet the two sections with clean water. Then I painted a wash of blue for the sky and water and a little brown in the background for distant trees. See all those drip marks? OH I LOVE them! Don’t worry if you’re sloppin’ around some…it’s time to get messy and it also makes for a more interesting painting!

Step 2: We are still using watercolors right now. Scrub in some distant trees. Don’t make one layer, give it dimension. Make the furthest trees lighter or more transparent than the closer distant trees. Do you know how I always preach about tree holes for the sky to peak through? Forget it this time. The trees are too far away for that and we don’t want to over emphasize them. Plop down some color for the land and the foreground. Don’t get too worried about what color you should choose, nature doesn’t and you don’t have to either. Just stick with the shades of the season. My season in this painting is autumn turning into winter, so I chose purples, yellows, oranges, browns, and a little green.

Step 3: I’m still using watercolors when I painted the bones of the tree. I just used every color on my pallet for this rich dark color. When dry, add another layer of the same color to the right side for a shading effect. I was using a reference photo of a real tree that was growing on part land – part creek. Don’t be obsessed with every limb, it will drive you nuts or batty because Halloween is near.

Here comes the fun part! Step 4: Add pastel. Pastel is pure ground up pigment with little a binder. The pigment is so mouth wateringly brilliant it’s hard to contain the excitement. I’m not going to go crazy with the pastel though, I want the watercolor background to show through. Here I added highlight and shadow to the tree, grasses on the field, and a few distant winter tree shapes in the back.

Final: We finish with water marks on the creek, foliage in the foreground, more twig on the tree. Don’t forget the reflection of the tree on the gentle water. Now this is much better!

Gentle Creek original pastel measures 7.5×9.5 for the image, and is matted to be able to fit into a standard 11×14 frame.

Thanks! I hope you enjoyed this demonstration!


  1. Really nice, Christine

    I happened across your blog on my tag surfer. I’m a very imperfect fan of pastel and watercolor–mostly I do pottery–so I find your advice interesting and inspiring. Thanks!


  2. Cindyinsd: Thanks so much! and welcome! Pottery is such a great way to work with your hands….I tried it in school but wasn’t that successful! πŸ™‚ Your words are so kind, I try to inspire all artists of every medium.

    Lana: Thank you!!!

    Dave: Awww, you’re so nice! Thank you Dave πŸ™‚

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