Monthly Archives: May 2010

Let’s Paint a Summer Tree!

Yesterday I visited Papoose Lake in Palos Park, IL., part of Cook County’s protected Forest Preserves. I fell in love with a scene just across the lake; a water spout and an elm tree.

Can you just imagine all of the peoples past, that went to this spout for relief under that beautiful old tree? It seems like a story I want to preserve. So let’s get going and learn how to paint this story in watercolor and pastel paints…

Step 1: I am using an Ampersand pastel board because I’m going to get it really wet and I do not want it to buckle in the future. Sketch a rough tree and spout with charcoal. Don’t worry about perfection, just get a shape down and think about composition. My horizon line is 1/3 from the bottom.

Step 2: Spray the board with clean water. Using watercolors, paint the sky manganese blue, paint the distant trees manganese blue and sap green mix, and paint the grass lemon yellow and a touch of sap green mix. Your watercolors have to be very dark or a strong pigment concentration with less water because the watercolors will dry really, really light. Also, they bleed fast, so just tap the board a little for the distant trees, do not make large sweeping strokes or the trees will bleed and take over in the sky. Keep them in their place.

Step 3: When everything is completely dry…(if you have no patience like me, use your hair dryer on the board)…paint the trunk in watercolors. I used a mix of payne’s gray and burnt sienna. I painted the trunk in chunks, leaving space open for leaves. I’m not concerned with how the branches look, I probably will cover most anyway, right now I just want a road map.

Step 4: When everything is dry, using watercolors paint leaf cluster shapes. Did you see I said “shapes” not leaves. We are not painting leaves! I think a lot of artists think if I’m painting leaves, they have to look like leaves…NO! We are just getting shape and contrast down. Here I used a watercolor purple mix of alizarin crimson and cobalt blue, and a mix of that purple plus sap green. Paint a shadow under the elm tree using payne’s gray and cobalt blue. Under the water pump paint the concrete with a little burnt sienna.

Step 5: We are done with watercolors. When everything is dry, using pastels, paint more leaf cluster shapes on top of the watercolor shapes. I used a dark green, and a mid green pastel stick. Don’t cover everything let some purple show through.

Step 6: Highlight the leaf cluster shapes with an ochre green and lemon green pastel paint. Keep in mind which direction the sun is coming from. Paint the lightest highlight on the top and left of the tree. For excitement I added a touch of fun colors. Here and there I used an orange pastel just to complement the blue sky. That really makes it pop!

Step 7: Using Gioconda soft pastel pencils, or whatever brand pastel pencils you have, re-define some twigs using dark brown or dark blue. Also highlight the bark with some yummy orange colors. That is where the sunlight got through to light up the bark. On the other side of the bark I painted the trunk an electric blue to give it some pop. For the grass, I used various green pastel sticks and held them on their sides to get a nice blade stroke. I didn’t go crazy with the grass, I didn’t want to fill the whole bottom and take the attention away from the tree.

Step 8 Final: Using my pastel pencils, I filled in the water spout using various gray shades and a touch of red-brown (there was a little rust on my water pump). Also some blue for shadow. Looks good!

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

Sell Art Online


Backyard Sketches

Staying close to home, I decided to head out into the backyard for inspiration:

Peony Bush watercolor sketch

My peony bush was just about to blossom, it had big juicy round buds, ready to explode! Next to the peony bush I have two tree stumps for the birds to rest on and a shallow water dish for them to bath.

Plant Sketch watercolor

Next we have one of my favorite plants, I love the pink inside the green. Here is the original:

When practicing your art, you do not need to go far to find inspiration. Go out and have fun.

Storm Clouds and Sketch

Oh how I LOVE thunderstorms! I wait for them, I track them on radar, and welcome them with wide eyes!

I’ve been trained from a child you know, my Dad would take me outside at night before a storm to watch the lightning come closer. What excitement. Today, I would LOVE to go on a tornado chase for one week before I turn 40 years old. There are tours, but very expensive. If any tornado tour owner wants a lot of free tornado paintings, please sponsor me for one of your tours!!! Please!

Can you tell I’m excited?!?

Anyway, today at work right before closing time I caught a storm front:

This is not a tornado. This is a low cloud, which was not swirling but was accompanied by a storm front. How happy I was to see this though, my little pretend tornado. I encouraged all the people I work with to race outside.

As the cloud passed by, I stood right underneath with mouth hanging open, looking straight up. A co-worker said it looked, “biblical”. How lucky I was to stand below.

After the storm I went to Lake Katherine to do a little sketching…

After the Storm - watercolor sketch

 I am very pleased with this “after the storm” watercolor sketch. The storm clouds still remnant in the sky, and the background very misty.

How awesome a midwest thunderstorm can be! If you can just experience one in your lifetime it will be well worth it!

Something Different

Clematis - graphite wash and watercolor


Needing a change or maybe a challenge, I decided to try something different; graphite wash pencils and a little bit of watercolor. I have always wanted to try graphite pencils that are water-soluble and thought that adding color would add some interest. 

I love how singling out one individual flower can show how it is related to all the other flowers. When you look at a group or mass of them your brain sees a purple lump, but coloring only one instantly jumps out at you. 

Change your art mediums and styles once in a while, it can be a much-needed boost. Who knows, you may find something you love. 

clematis in my garden photo

Let’s Paint Woodland Phlox!

One of my all-time favorite wildflower is the Woodland Phlox. In many photos you usually see this plant as a blue cluster, however the ones I see in the woods are purple not blue. Here is my reference photo: 


Isn’t it a beauty? OK here we go, let’s capture this wildflower in watercolors… 


Step 1: Make a sketch in pencil. I am using hot press watercolor paper, very smooth. You might want to pull your hair out when you see all those petals as you’re sketching, but don’t worry, here is a tip: draw every flower in relation to the flower next to it. What does that mean? Well, when you draw the first flower ask yourself a few questions before drawing the next: Is the next flower behind the first? Is the next flower lower than the first? Do the petals touch? Do the petals overlap? If you go slow and think of everything as a simple shape you will be successful. 


Step 2: I am using a mix of cobalt blue and perm. rose. The petals in the front will be lighter than the ones in the back. The darker petals will have a little more cobalt blue in them as well. Make sure to leave the center white. 


Step 3: The petals in the back and under are a little more blue. A few flowers in the top back do not even look like flowers. You have to stay away from what your brain knows of a “flower” and stick to the shapes you can actually see. 


Step 4: When your painting is dry, mix a deep purple using indigo and rose and using a small rigger brush, paint the center (it has a star shape). Some of the centers are more rose than purple, so I repeated that in my painting. 


Step 5: Deepen the color of petals with a mixture of much cobalt blue and less rose. Do not cover the entire petal, only the edges. You can soften harsh lines with a clean damp brush. Make sure the brush is not too wet or you will mess up the dry layer below. Paint the leaves and stem with yellow and green. 

Woodland Phlox watercolor


Step 6 Final: I like to outline with a Micron black pen. It really gives it definition, however you do not need to outline if you do not want. I added more shadow where the petals overlap to give it a 3-D look. 

I hope you enjoyed this step by step demonstration on how to paint the woodland phlox in watercolors!