Monthly Archives: December 2009

Winter Gray Fun Sketch

The most magical time in winter is when the sky is darker than the snow on the ground in the middle of the day. Yessss. I love it. I love looking at snowy rooftops against a gray sky as well. I remember as a kid looking out the window on late afternoons in December at a snow saturated dark sky, counting all the white rooftops on the next block. Oh how much fun I had!

Well, I’m still having a bunch of fun, painting is the best way to document a moment in time. A moment you may love.

Winter tree sketch #1 has the truth stretched a little bit. As you can see in the photo, there really was not any snow sitting on the limbs. However, I love snow resting on my limbs so in my world that’s how it looks. Also, I eliminated the distracting houses in the background. As an artist you can do whatever you want. If you want green snow instead of white, then darn it, paint that snow green.


Winter tree photo #2 is a little hard to make out. I don’t know what kind of tree this is but I just like its character. It’s like the underdog. Not very sturdy, nor tall, not very handsome at all, but I have a soft spot for it. Go little tree, go.

Winter tree #3 does not really look like the photo at all, but that’s okay. This was the last sketch I did and I think I was rushing it a bit, getting a little tired. I never count branches and get too technical, that would be just torture. You are supposed to have fun sketching not get frustrated with too much detail.

I only used three colors for these sketches; ultramarine blue, sepia, and sometimes burnt sienna. With different concentrations of paint mixture, you can get many variations of color. I left the white of the paper to show through for the snow. I love the stark qualities of these sketches.

Even though winter can be gray, there still is so much beauty about this awesome season.


Let’s Paint a Winter Tree!

One of the most beautiful structure in nature is the skeleton of a winter tree. It is only after the leaves have all disappeared that one can appreciate its unique form. But doesn’t the tree’s leaf tell its character? Not really, I don’t think so.

So let’s have fun by painting a winter tree with watercolors and pastels…

Here is my reference photo. I took this picture in November at the Little Red Schoolhouse as I was walking to the Black Oak Trail. There are many things I am in love with in this picture: the misty background over Long John Slough, the blue hues in the background, the red and amber colors in the field, and that wonderful winter tree standing solemn in the midst of it all.

However, I wasn’t 100% happy with the layout, so I cropped it…

OK, good. This is what we are going to work from.

Step 1: I am using an 8×10 Ampersand Pastelbord in white. I like the board because I use a very wet underwash and I never have to worry about warping. Other papers that claim they can take a wet underwash sometimes do not hold up to their promise and 6 months later I see buckling under the glass in the frame. Grrrrr. In this step I made a rough sketch with charcoal vine. Make sure your horizon is not smack in the middle of your board, but it is 1/3 of the way from the bottom.

Step 2: Spray the board with clean water. With watercolor paints, I mixed ultramarine blue, a touch of sepia (to tone it down), and lots of water and I painted the sky. It is an overcast foggy day, so I do not have to worry about clouds. With a less concentrated water mixture and the same paint colors, paint the distant trees, flicking the paint brush upwards to suggest tree top twigs. You will have to repeat painting the distant trees a few times, my board was so saturated with water that the color would almost disappear. You do not want to wait until the board is dry however because you will not get the effect of trees fading into the distance.

Step 3: While every thing is still wet, skip a section of board to represent Long John Slough and paint blotches of field color. The colors I used were: raw umber, burnt sienna, sepia, yellow ocher, and light red (Winsor Newton watercolor tubes). Notice I do not have hard edges but all of the colors are blending well. This is due to the wet on wet painting technique. If the board was dry I would have solid, hard edged splotches.

Step 4: Now, for the main attraction… When everything is dry, take ultramarine blue and sepia and paint the basic skeleton of the tree. Using a rigger brush and ultramarine, paint fine twigs and branches. The ultramarine branches suggest that they are in the back and the sepia colored twigs look closer to the viewer. We are done with using watercolor paints. Let everything dry.

Step 5: Take your pastels and go over your tree. Keeping the darkest color as shadow, paint the highlights of the tree with browns and oranges. I use a tiny bit of purple in the shadow for some pop. Don’t go crazy here, a little goes a long way.

Step 6: Now we can paint the field. I used brown, yellow and purple/red pastels for the grasses. Pick a color that is contrasting to the watercolor underwash. Use the side of the pastel stick (you may need to rip off the paper) and go up and down for grasses. Do you see how 3-d this is starting to look? I LOVE it!

Step 7 Final: Last but not least, in my reference photo I noticed these lovely weed heads shooting through the grasses. It is so easy to paint these; just a stick and a few dots above and you’re done!

“Silent Yet Strong”

This painting will be on display and for sale at the LaGrange Art Gallery after January 4, 2010.

I hope you enjoyed this step by step demonstration on how to paint a winter tree.

Woodland Birds

Last weekend while hiking, I came upon some benches that had walnuts on them. I did not put them there. Feeding the wildlife is prohibited in the Cook County Forest Preserves, it’s a definite no-no. But boy did I get to see some up close birds!

My favorite of the bunch: white-breasted nuthatch.

Hey…Look at me when I’m talking to you.   Ha ha.
This male downy woodpecker wasted no time fleeing from the scene.

Chickadee-dee-dee-out-of-here! Isn’t that what they say?

Be nice gals, there is enough to share. One female downy woodpecker (bottom right) and one white breasted nuthatch (top right).

Here is a close up of the white-breasted nuthatch. This bird is so tiny, maybe a whole 5 inches. I love this picture because I can see the pink inside his beak. The nuthatch makes a funny, short, deep, beep beep beep sound…it reminds me of being at a carnival standing next to the toddler car ride that goes round and round and all the little tikes are beeping their car horns.

I was very excited to study these woodland birds. Maybe soon we will make a painting!

No More Squirrels

My hubby bought me an early Christmas present. Weeeeee! It’s a squirrel buster feeder!

Oh you’re going down now squirrels! DOWNNNNN

Now I will have unlimited birding enjoyment for hours and hours and hours. My feeder will not be completely dumped within the first five minutes and I will sit back with a smile on my face every time a tree rat tries to steal some seed. Go on squirrels, give me some entertainment.

Just think of the variety of birds I might get now too! With an ample supply of seed, I might just attract more birds! More birds, more pictures, more painting…

Swamp Rose Mallow Seed Pod Sketch

Just because something is a weed, doesn’t mean it can’t be beautiful and even though the height of its beauty has faded, the swamp rose mallow (swamp hibiscus) has something to offer in winter…its beautiful seed pods! 


What a lovely structure! On schedule, the rose mallow seed pods open up and expose their seeds. Whether wind or natural decay, these seeds will find their way into the soil on the edge of a wet area to grow a new generation. What a plan. Just a random plan? What’s a random plan? No, but to everything there is a season… 

Swamp Rose Mallow Seed Pods in December watercolor

So I must sketch this weed in the month of December, to see and learn how the next generation gets its beginning. 

Even though it is winter and your surroundings seem dormant, weeds are in action right now as you read this text. 

I hope you enjoyed this sketch of the swamp rose mallow seed pods in December.