Watercolor in the Works

It’s just a late November tree on a street corner in Queens, NY, a few blocks from my house. Though it will be completely leafless imminently, it was still hanging on to its remaining leaves as of two days ago. I was on my way to work but had to stop and take of picture of it. My plan is to do a watercolor πŸ™‚

I think what inspires me here is that even though the leaves are sparse, they are still gorgeous and vibrantly colored. That’s one of the many intriguing occurrences of autumn – trees entering a stage of winter slumber, but going out with dazzling brilliance right up until the very last minute, until the final leaf has fallen to the ground. Autumn is sometimes misconstrued as a time of shriveling and withering, but it’s not. The transition from autumn to winter is vigorous, active, and dynamic. Nothing moribund about it at all.

So here’s the deal; I have Alizarin Crimson, Permanent Rose, Cadmium Yellow, Sap Green, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna, and a few others. What I’m not sure about is how to approach this. Should I sketch it first then do colored details, block it in, diagram it, or just wing it from the get-go and let loose and see what happens? I welcome all suggestions!

12 thoughts on “Watercolor in the Works

  1. Andrew says:

    Not that I can draw or paint, but it seems like the biggest challenge in watercoloring autumn leaves is the colors running together and blending, rather than remaining small bits of distinct colors. I imagine that’s a lot more tricky than painting dark and light shades of an evergreen green, for example. I wonder if you have to do one color at a time and then let it dry before adding the next one.

    • artmodel says:


      Yes, it’s important to let colors dry before adding new ones. Although I think it can look nice when colors run into each other here and there, in little “accidents”. Of course, the “accidents” that happen to accomplished watercolorists generally look wonderful, unlike mine which look like a sloppy mess!

      Thanks for your comments, Andrew.


  2. Ron Anticevich says:

    It all depends on what you want. Either a wash effect or more detailed by sketching it out lightly and then lay in your color and as always with watercolor, work from light to dark. Allow the color to dry before working with a different color.

    • artmodel says:


      Thanks for this advice! I hadn’t given serious consideration to the wash effect in this case, but now that you brought it up I might try it and see what comes of it. Good idea!


  3. Fred says:

    The great thing about painting is that anything goes! That’s not to say that anything you might try will work, but if you keep trying, you will find a style of your own. But I’ll make a suggestion, how I’d go about it.

    You could look at the photo of the late autumn tree and let it be completely abstract. Forget it’s a tree, and it becomes interspersed spots of red, yellow, orange, green and brown, and maybe some spots of blue sky showing between. Load your brush with one of those colors and then look at the tree or at the photo and see how frequently that color appears among the spots, and start dabbing. Do that for each color in turn, and you might have something that captures something of that tree. If not, compare the painting with the photo and ask yourself what’s missing.

    Happy painting!

    • artmodel says:


      That sounds like an interesting approach, and one that I might actually be able to do! You’re right about finding my own style. I should work intuitively, at least until I develop technique with watercolors.

      Thanks for the advice and suggestions!


  4. Jennifer says:

    I was intrigued to read the comments on this, because my first reaction was ‘buy some acyrilics!’ This is speaking from experience, that we all start off with watercolours, only to discover they are one of the most technically demanding paints going – they allow for no, or very few, errors. The subject matter you have chosen is inspiring but will be very difficult for a newcomer to render in watercolours. Fred’s suggestions would certainly be worth trying. But I am serious about buying those colours in acrylics and then having a go – they will allow you to be spontaneous and expressive and delve into the subject. Every so often I return to trying to use the watercolours I own but am constantly stymied by how hard they are to use – but one day …

    Happy painting πŸ™‚

    • artmodel says:


      I have acrylics! But I assumed I would use watercolor for the tree because watercolor, as you know, is ideal for conveying luminosity. When I first saw the tree, watercolor popped into my head immediately. But what you say about the medium being demanding and unforgiving is definitely true.

      Since acrylics are also water-based, and easier to handle, perhaps I should try those as well. I can thin them with water to get a wash effect.

      Thanks Jennifer!


  5. Cliff says:

    This will be heresy to some – but I would use masking fluid flung on to the paper before starting (using the cheapest oldest soap-filled brush you have) and then use some masking fluid to define a few pale branches. Let it dry.

    To get the background to the points of interest – wet the paper and mingle a variety of dark colours (reds blues and oranges) into the wet paper – keeping maybe pale blues to the top to suggest sky (I am talking about your second image but a similar approach would work for the first).

    When dry, but before removing the masking – put in some interrupted branches with different dark mixtures.

    Wait till completely dry then remove masking fluid and with joy and intense colours dot in the bits where you want them. If too many or poorly arranged run a final wash to dull down any unwanted patches and smooge them with a moderately stiff brush – beautiful.

    Have a go Claudia. Anyone else like to try?

    (This spelling corrector keeps trying to take the ‘u’ out of colour – can you believe that?)



    • artmodel says:


      Wow, that sounds like an interesting process. Do you think a beginner like me can pull that off? Your enthusiastic endorsement has me intrigued! Thanks for your advice and support.


      Also, I found this video demo about masking fluid by Cheap Joe’s:

  6. david says:

    Definitely try one using masking fluid. Put some color down first. You can apply it gesturally, letting the brush create the leaf shapes, then put your darker background in. Continue to work on it after it’s removed (don’t leave it on until the end – the edges are too sharp). I did this painting that way:

    Sierra Woods (2002)

    Have fun!

    • artmodel says:


      Wow, that painting looks fantastic! I’ve been discovering that this masking fluid technique is highly regarded. I just hope I can do it right!

      Thanks so much for your comments and tips.


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