Let’s Paint a Winter Branch with Watercolors!


Hi Folks! This is going to be a fun lesson and very easy! No really, I’m serious, very easy!! Have you tried painting with watercolors but were frustrated because you didn’t know why it wasn’t doing what you wanted? Well, this lesson will take some of the guess work out what’s happening.

Here is our subject: a winter willow branch.


Step 1: Using 140lb cold press watercolor paper and a pencil, sketch in the shape of the branch. Now at this time, I like to really study my subject inch by inch and review the details. I say things in my head like, the bark is really smooth, mostly blue with some gray, the shape of the twigs are wavy, I see twig and leaf scars, and on and on. Write these things down if you like. The more intimate characteristics you pull out of your subject, the better you will paint.


Step 2: My willow branch has some peeling bark. When the bark peeled off, it turned slightly yellow in color. Under the bark was a nice red/brown flesh. Normally I would apply masking fluid here and do this step last but yours truly left her masking fluid in the car during sub zero weather and ruined her masking fluid! Learn from me, don’t leave masking fluid in the car. Lol.

Using a small round brush paint in cadmium yellow and burnt sienna wet on dry. That means do not wet the paper first. Just paint right on the dry paper. Try not to touch them as the colors will bleed together. Let dry.


Step 3: Using a mixture of cobalt blue and sienna paint in the branch. While it is still wet, on your palette, mix a little more sienna to your mix and paint the bottom of the branch darker. This is the part of the branch in shadow. The light is coming from the top. Because the branch is still wet, the darker color with melt into the lighter for a nice transition. That’s called painting wet on wet. See that tiny little twig on the bottom right of the picture? See how the two colors are separate and have great contrast? That’s because that part of the paper was dry by the time I painted in the shadow color.


Step 4: While the branch is still wet, mix some sienna and Payne’s grey and paint in some dark spots on the branch. These spots are here and there. Because the branch is slightly wet the edges become smooth.


This is not a step, but a brief break to meet Oscar Mayer…it’s Oscar Mayer time!!! Oscar Mayer time!! My dog likes to hang out and watch me paint. 😀


Step 5: Okay, back to work. With the smaller branch on top we are going to do the same steps as before using the same colors, except the very small twigs were more of a red/brown color so I painted them burnt sienna. I do this in sections so it doesn’t dry too fast to work with.


Step 6: As before, we are going to add some sienna/Payne’s Grey spots to the branch when slightly wet.


Step 7: When everything is dry, using a rigger brush and Payne’s grey, paint some thin curved lines on your branch. Remember the branch is round not flat, so your thin lines are rounded too. This is a very important detail for your branch. Next, with burnt sienna, paint a few leaf buds on the tiny twigs (like dots). In this step I also softened the color of the yellow peeling bark by painting over it with yellow ochre using the rigger brush. Looks great!!!


Step 8 Final: Now this step is optional and kind of cheating. To make the white marks on the branch, I used a white Conté Crayon. Remember to draw following the shape of the branch in a nice curved angle. Lastly I drew with a black Micron pen #03.

You’re done! Not bad!


Oscar Mayer Weiner is pretend ignoring us as I stick a camera in his face…but he hopes you enjoyed this free demo of how to paint a winter branch using watercolors!!


  1. Ha! You are still goofy. Love it! You named your dog Oscar Meyer Weiner? Does Jill know about this? You’re never going to age, are you?

  2. Fantastic tute, Christine, beautifully laid out and explained, with an absolutely gorgeous result– excellent! My eyes were bugging out in admiration– tho perhaps not as much as Oscar Mayer’s!!

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