Let’s Paint an Autumn Tree!

Did I ever tell you how much I love Autumn?!? I love it, I love it, I looooove it! Maybe you have heard me say it a million times, but Autumn is the most glorious, mysterious time of the year. Beautiful aspects of nature are revealing itself right now and its victory time is very short, so we have to savor it now.

Let’s enjoy autumn by learning how to paint a basswood tree before all of it’s leaves disappear.

Here is our reference photo:

Notice most of its leaves are already gone. No worries, we are going to celebrate the stage this tree is in right now. I am going to show you how to paint this tree with watercolors as a background and pastels as a foreground to create a 3-D effect.

Step 1: I am using Ampersand’s Pastelbord to paint my subject. Why? It’s not cheap when you consider that this is your “paper”, but Pastelbord will never, ever warp on me. I like to use a ton of water on my underwash. I love to splash it, and drip it, and squeeze the watercolors out, all that water tends to buckle my water “acceptable” pastel paper. Using Pastelbord, I never have to worry about buckling.
Using a charcoal vine, I sketched my basswood tree.

Step 2: This is SO much fun! I sprayed my board with clean water to wet the surface. Next, using a wide brush I mixed ultramarine blue and a touch of burnt sienna watercolor paint and painted the top of the board and above the horizon line. Notice I left the middle open. With clean water and a brush I touched the two layers so they can meet. Let the watercolors drip if they want to, don’t be in such “control”. Half the fun is watching what the paint wants to do, let it flow where it wants to flow.

Step 3: Next, I painted the ground green gold, blue, and alizarin. Don’t worry about exact color, remember you will paint over this with pastels. When the background is completely dry, use a mixture of blue, sap green, and sepia watercolors and paint in the skeleton of the tree. I like the “S” pattern of our tree, I noticed it right away.

Step 4: We are still using watercolors. With alizarin, paint in some leaf groupings. On the bottom of your groupings, paint shadow color, mixing your alizarin with ultramarine blue. On the ground paint some sap green. While wet, take a sharp edge and scrape in some lines. Really dig in…this is fun. I had no preconceived idea of where my lines were going to be placed. I just started scratching. This step creates nice texture.

Step 5: Oh BOY! Now it’s really going to POP! When everything is dry, we are going to start using our pastels. I am using Unison pastels the orange variety box. Paint right over the watercolors, leaving some peep holes. I used 4 orange colors. The lightest is almost yellow, the darkest is almost purple/red.

Step 6: Now paint the grass and the dirt mound. I used a yellow/green pastel to scrape in some shapes. I used a brown for the dirt mound highlights and a blue for the shadow.
Do you see this painting taking on a 3-D shape? Can you just almost touch it!!! I LOVE IT! This is the benefit of using watercolors as an underwash and pastels as the final touch. I feel as if I am sitting right in front of this beautiful autumn tree.

Step 7 Final: Let loose and throw in some color! I used a bright green in the grass and also some blue colors to match the sky. Don’t forget to place some leaves on the ground. I added a touch of purple for an electric shadow and now I’m done.

I hope you enjoyed this free step by step painting demonstration on how to paint an autumn tree!

“Almost Gone, Autumn Basswood”

This painting will be on display at the LaGrange Art Gallery in November and December.


  1. Oh, my, but you are so willing to share your teaching. I am a retired secondary teacher who decided to be a director of a Bible Preschool-ages three and a half to just before a child goes into kindergarten. We have experminted with water colors and with tempra. Any ideas for us to make a picture for the parents? I really like your Bible references. Thanks for you time. Sincerely and in His love.

    1. Wow tiny children! Watercolors are hard to handle even for the big people. Maybe you can paint butterflies in tempra; it’s just in time for spring, not too difficult, and you can tell the little ones how the butterfly needs to strugle out of its cocoon to be strong enough to fly…and relate it to how sometimes we must go through difficult times as well to be stronger, but that doesn’t mean God isn’t right there with us! If the paints are washable maybe they can make the spots on the butterfly with their fingers…oh how much fun!
      Thanks for writing!

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