Tag Archives: how to paint a winter tree

Let’s Paint a Winter Storm at Night!

The Chicago area has been hit by two significant snow storms since winter started. I love snow. Not only is it soothing to watch as it descends, but it dresses the winter trees in their formal attire. How beautiful. Each and every one dazzles.

So, let’s paint a winter tree during an enchanted nighttime snow storm!

I do not have a reference photo but the technique will work with any deciduous winter tree.


Step 1: Draw your tree on a 140lb coldpress watercolor paper with a pencil. My paper size is 6×9. The focal point is the tree itself so in the composition law of thirds, I wanted the tree to fill 2/3 of the paper.


Step 2: Using masking fluid, paint where the snow would land on the branches. I covered the tops of almost every branch. Let completely dry. If you do not wait until it is completely dry, you will ruin your brush. You can make sure it is dry by lightly touching it after about 10 minutes.


Step 3: We are going to paint the sky wet on wet. Using a 1″ flat brush with clean water, wet the paper in the area of the sky and the tree. Brush right over the dried masking fluid. Make sure you do not skip around and leave dry spots. When the shine on the paper disappears, paint ultramarine blue on top and bottom of sky and mauve in the middle. Let the colors blend and touch. You’re literally laying down a few brush strokes and stepping away. Do not over work this.
While the paper is still wet, sprinkle a little bit of sea salt on the paper and let completely dry. When dry tilt your paper and discard the salt.


Step 4: Paint the tree starting at the bottom and work your way up. I used a medium round brush. If you look at the base of the tree I started with a mixture of sepia and ultramarine. As I work my way up, I added mauve to that sepia/ultramarine mixture, then viridian green, lastly at the top alizarin crimson.
Using a small round brush, paint in smaller branches repeating the colors we already used.


Step 5: Rub the masking fluid off with your finger. Paint shadows under the tree using the same sky color on top.


Step 6 Final: Using a small round brush paint a light mixture (meaning less pigment and more water) of prussian blue where the snow touches the branches, making a fine line. This is the shadow color of the snow on the tree.
When everything is dry, take a #3 black micron pen and draw tiny branches/twigs coming from the small branches. Outline the trunk and main branches of the tree to make it stand out.

I hope you enjoyed this free step-by-step demonstration of how to paint a nighttime winter snowstorm.

If you would like to purchase a greeting card ($4.95) or archival print click below. Thank you!
Art Prints


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.