Let’s Paint an Easy Winter Landscape Free Step by Step Watercolor

This is Let’s Paint Nature’s 500th post! To celebrate, let’s post a free step by step watercolor demonstration!!! And let it be an easy on at that. Here we go….

This scene was taken from Knock Knolls in Naperville, IL. It will be a very simple watercolor sketch. When I want to do a quick and easy sketch, I sometimes squint my eyes to get an overall idea of color and shading on large sections of the painting. I also eliminate a lot of tiny detail. Here is the reference photo:

2.5.17 KnochKnolls16Stream
Reference Photo

Knock Knolls watercolor step by step

Step 1: With a pencil, draw a simple sketch. The horizon is 1/3rd of the way down from the top of the paper. To simplify, the background trees will be grouped together as a lump. Next we will only sketch 3 individual trees instead of all the ones we see in the photo. The stream is skinny at the horizon line but broad and wide at the bottom of the paper.

Knock Knolls watercolor step by step

Step 2: Using cerulean blue, paint the sky and the stream. While the stream is wet, touch the bottom of the stream with cobalt blue. Let the colors blend by themselves. Don’t keep brushing. Just drop the cobalt blue by touching the bottom half of the stream and let the blending take care of itself.

Knock Knolls watercolor step by step

Step 3: For the background trees, mix sepia and cobalt blue. Paint one big solid chunk of color. Let dry completely.

Knock Knolls watercolor step by step

Step 4: We will paint the grasses. In winter when there is no snow, the grasses take on a beautiful golden amber color. For this step, paint the grass closes to the horizon yellow ocher and lime green. While wet, continue down with pure yellow ocher.

Knock Knolls watercolor step by step

Step 5: While the grass area is wet, touch the sides closest to the stream with a mix of yellow ocher and cobalt blue. Let it do its job and blend into the grasses. This effect represents a bit of shadow.

Knock Knolls watercolor step by step

Step 6: The two trees on either side of the stream was painted with a thin rigger brush and sepia watercolor paint. The left tree was painted with a mixture of sepia and violet. Don’t over stress about these trees. Start from the bottom, the large trunk, then work your way up with thin branches.

Knock Knolls watercolor step by step

Step 7: Using a weak mixture of cobalt blue and water, paint the tree shadows streaking across the grass.

Knock Knolls watercolor step by step

Step 8: In this step I used sepia to paint reflections in the water. I wish I used cobalt blue because the sepia looks too brown to me….so you use cobalt blue not sepia…okay? 🙂
I also used cobalt blue to make thin horizontal lines in the stream. This helps the viewer understand that this is water and not frozen ice or land.

Knock Knolls watercolor step by step

Step 9 Final: In this step, using your fine rigger brush, paint some grasses only on the bottom of the painting using yellow ocher. When that is dry, paint grasses using sepia. Take that same sepia color and paint a line where the grass touches the stream to define a separation. Next, paint some reflective grasses in the water, only on the bottom of the paper. Why? Because we only want to define a little bit of detail closest to the viewer and not the whole painting. If we detailed the whole painting it would be too much for a quick watercolor sketch. There are some things we just need to eliminate to reach our goal. Our goal is quick and simple. And I think we reached our goal with this one!

I hope you enjoyed this free step by step sketch of an easy watercolor winter landscape!

Male and Female Common Goldeneye Watercolor


Yesterday I went on a birding adventure at Red Oaks Nature Center with the DuPage Birding Club. Red Oaks is located adjacent to the Fox River and has an observatory deck right over the river, perfect for viewing waterfowl and migrating birds.

When birding, it is helpful to go with a group of knowledgeable people who know their birds. The Dupage Birding Club has such individuals who can identify birds by sound alone! That is very impressive.

A few pairs of Common Goldeneyes were entertaining us across the river. I enjoyed watching them submerge their entire body underwater to catch their meal. One birding member caught a picture of a female. I took a picture of her picture, which inspired my sketch.

Fox River Birding

Common Goldeneyes remain in Illinois for the winter. Do you see the female’s bill? The tip turns yellow for spring/summer…….. Shhhhh we wont tell her it’s not spring yet! Soon, probably in March, these ducks will leave and not return until late October/November.

In total we spotted:

  • 12 Canada Goose
  • 2 Mallards
  • 6 Common Goldeneye
  • 4 Common Merganser
  • 1 Great Blue Heron
  • 1 Bald Eagle
  • 2 Red Tail Hawk
  • 4 Sandhill Crane
  • 4 Gulls
  • 1 Mourning Dove
  • 1 Belted Kingfisher
  • 3 Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • 1 Blue Jay
  • 8 American Crow
  • 6 Black-capped Chickadee
  • 2 White-breasted Nuthatch
  • 8 American Robin
  • 2 Northern Cardinal
  • 1 Red-winged Blackbird

Fox River Birding

The cold did not put a damper on our birding adventures. This day it was overcast, windy, and 35°F. Birding is quite fun and almost like a game…. you win when you spot a species and add it to your list. Every season has new birds. It’s a great way to get out of the house, not spend money, and enjoy nature!

Black Squirrel White Snow Watercolor


Black squirrels are not common in Chicago. I’ve only seen two in my lifetime, so you can imagine how jubilant I was to find one running in my own backyard. Happy like a little child.

Nature has that way about it….to make you young again when you least expect it. To catch you off guard and uplift your heart for simply being nature.

I want more of that.

The black squirrel is an Eastern Gray Squirrel or Fox Squirrel, with a genetic mutation called melanism. Melanin is the black pigment in the skin and fur. They seem to be more common in the north, in cold climates. So, not impossible in my area but certainly not common.

What a pleasant surprise!

Quick! Downy or Hairy?

If you’re lucky enough to live in an area where you have both downy and hairy woodpeckers, you may be hiking in the woods and see one of them. They look identical except for the fact that one is small and one is large. But how can you quickly tell who is who if they are not next to each other? If you do not have any type of scale for comparison?

Check its bill.

If you pretend to take the bill off and place it on its head, does it only cover a little portion of its head as in the downy woodpecker? Or does the bill almost cover the whole entire head as in the hairy woodpecker?

The downy woodpecker has a very small bill and small body. The hairy woodpecker has a long bill and long body. So if you see one in the wild, quickly look at its bill and compare it to its head size. There is your secret answer.

Happy hiking and painting!

Snow on Sage Watercolor


Snow is softly falling and I have the privilege to watch without interruption, to watch without keeping track of time, to watch without any obligations for the remainder of the day. For once in a long time I can be instead of do.

I do not have much experience being. I am only familiar with doing.

And so when this rare gem of a time was allowed, suddenly everything became so important. The way the tempo of the falling snow quickened and slowed, quickened and slowed…The way a thin blanket of snow covered last years sage leaves that I was too busy to harvest…The way the sage quaked with a gentle breeze…The way soft purples and deep blues hid in the snow… All of it became so important!

What else do I miss on a daily basis?

My grandmother used to sit at the window for hours and just look outside. For hours. I used to feel sorry for her, thinking she was bored. But now I understand. This is necessary for a contemplative life.

I need more of it.

Incomplete Pine Watercolor

Incomplete Pine

There is something sad about this incomplete pine. Or maybe it’s not sad at all, but I’m looking through sad eyes. I’m still processing the loss of a friend and I’m not going to lie, it does not get better with time. Especially when I pick up a paint brush and do the very thing we loved to do, paint.

This pine sits in my backyard. When I feel the desire to paint a tree, it’s usually because there’s something unique about it. Some characteristic of the tree calls out and wants to be noticed. Maybe this tree called me. Maybe I am this tree at this point in my life.

It is so easy to slip on a downward slide emotionally. There is no effort involved. But I have two choices: I can free fall into a pit or I can use my arms and legs, press into the wall of the slide and stop my descent.

But how?

I run to scripture.

There is power in the Word. The very Word itself is alive. It has the authority to uplift and heal because it is of God. So when I become low, start to cry, I cling to these:

“I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Heb 13:5
I am not alone.

“…being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Phil 1:6
Even when I am incomplete, He will sustain me.

He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds. Ps 147:3
I will be healed.

Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Heb 4:16
He hears me.

And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying; and there shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away. Rev 21:4
We win in the end.

The only thing required of me is my faith. That is all.
I believe. My belief is that tiny light of hope in the midst of darkness and suddenly I’m not sliding downwards any longer.

Hope defies darkness and gravity.

Reeds Frozen in Time Watercolor


Not only are the reeds frozen, but the animal tracks are too. Frozen in time. They tell a story which I love to read when hiking in nature. I have to put the pieces together from this story… whose tracks? When were they made? Did the animal have the silver moon as a guiding light? Were they seeking shelter from the cold? Were they eating roots? Those are some of the thoughts that run through my mind even while painting.

In this painting the setting sun turned the tops of some reeds a fiery orange. Yet, they rest peacefully contrasted by the blue icy waters. Fire and Ice.

This scene spoke to me in so many ways.

If you would like to purchase the original click here.
If you would like to purchase a greeting card or print click here.

Reference photo:

December Tree Overlooks Snow Crested Bank Watercolor

Watercolor. December Tree Overlooks Snow Crested Bank. Churchill Woods.

Let’s go hiking and painting at Churchill Woods. Come on… I’ll bring Oscar Mayer the dog and you bring yourself! It will be fun.


When Oscar Mayer stops to do his business, I stop to notice nature up close.

Hiking and sketching at Churchill Woods

Here we have lichen growing among moss on tree bark. Very delicate and very beautiful. Delicate? How delicate are you to survive in the cold and snow, then remain pristine after rapid temperature fluctuations? I only wish to be so hearty.

Hiking and sketching at Churchill Woods

Oscar Mayer had a very difficult time sharing the forest preserves with hundreds of geese, but he relented by my firm grasp on his collar and decided to share. Wildlife at peace.

Hiking and sketching at Churchill Woods

Here is the reference photo of the December tree overlooking the snow crested bank. There is an impressive stately peace about this tree, on the edge of a mirror river. I guess that’s what attracted me to it so much. Very placid.

Hiking and sketching at Churchill Woods

Oscar Mayer thinks so too.

May you have wild nature adventures. And may you realize what attracts you to them.


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Difference Between Oil Pastels and Soft Pastels

When creating with pastels, what’s the difference between oil pastels and soft pastels? Let me show you! First off, simple and to the point: oil pastels are like oil/wax sticks, soft pastels are more like chalk sticks.

I am using a white Ampersand Pastelbord for both paintings. The pastel boards feel like sand paper. I tried using colors as close as possible but I did not have exact matches.


The oil pastel left many “crumbs” or tiny wax bits. These crumbs could not be blown away with  my breath. In contrast, the fine particles that were left by the soft pastels were easily blown away with a light breath. Also, the soft pastel covered a lot more ground quickly and efficiently than the oil pastel did.


As you can see in the oil pastel painting, the layers were more difficult for me to layer. Even though I am using the same paper, I cannot add as many layers on top of each other as I can with soft pastels. With oil pastels, the third layer became mud. Even the second layer would change the color. With soft pastels, I was able to layer many more times without the top layer color changing.

Blending oil pastels is only possible with a blending stump, like a tortillion. I could not blend the oil pastel with my finger. You can use mediums to mix and blend oil pastels, but in this experiment I did not.

Blending soft pastels is possible with just your finger. Blending with a tortillion is too harsh and caused the soft pastel pigment to dislodge from the tooth of the paper. You cannot use mediums to blend soft pastels.


When values of color are similar, the oil pastel colors are more vibrant next to each other. Oil pastel colors next to each other retain their clarity. Soft pastels are slightly more subtle. Many people like oil pastels for this reason, because the pigment is bonded with mineral oils and waxes, they look more like oil paints.


In the oil pastel example, I was able to make fine twigs and branches using the blending tortillion stick. The sky was creamy and the twigs faded into the sky easily. I was able to quickly suggest many little twigs.
In the soft pastel example I was able to use a soft pastel pencil to lightly scratch in fine twigs and branches. The soft pastel in pencil form is very convenient for detailed work.

Oil pastels and Soft pastels both have their own pros and cons. Play with both to see which one feels more comfortable to you.

For more Difference Between posts click here:

Difference Between Cold Press and Hot Press Watercolor Papers

Difference Between Underwashes: Pastel VS Turpentine

Difference Between Hahnemühle Watercolor Papers