Maple tree: step-by-stepPosted: May 19, 2016
In the comments from yesterday’s sketch of a maple tree, Fred asked, “Could you tell us the sequence you used to paint this? What part and color came first, what did you reserve for last.”
Coincidentally, I was planning to do a step-by-step post today, so Fred, here you go…
(These photos were taken outdoors, on my easel, with my iPhone, so please excuse the trees shadows and the wonkiness of the images)
I sketched in a Handbook watercolour journal, 8″ x 8″. The first step is the pencil lines. You’ll notice that the most important shape is the big tree and placement of the smaller trees in the distance. I’ve also indicated a few places where I wanted some leaves to overlap the tree so I drew those in as a reminder to myself to leave white shapes while painting the trunk. At this stage it would be a waste of time to draw a lot of details that would end up also being painted (things like small branches and leaves, or details on the trunk).
The next step was an overall light wash behind the tree. You’ll notice that sky flows into foliage. I do this when the trees are not well defined against the sky and I don’t want to create a hard edge. I used lots of Green Gold pigment for the bright spring trees and I warmed up the colour with some red as I moved downward with my brush. British painter David Curtis calls this the “ghost” wash, and he uses it to indicates general shapes and colours.
Next step was to paint the lightest wash of the tree. In contrast to the warm background, I wanted the wash for the tree to be cooler. I mixed up quite a bit of paint so I could move all the way down the tree without the brush going dry. Also, even though some of the tree was in both sun and shade, I wanted to have a light colour on the brightest part of the trunk.
Once the first wash on the tree was dry, I was able to go back in and define some of the darker branches with a finer brush, as well as add some definition to the foliage and shapes in the background. You’ll notice that all the detail and most of the contrast remains in the centre of interest, which is the tree.
The last step is to define the light and shadow, as well as the detail on the tree trunk and branches. I used a bit of red foliage as a contrast to the overall green that dominates the sketch. The darkest darks are created from Phthalo Green, Alizarin Crimson and Indanthrene Blue, painted quite thickly and without much water to dilute the mix.