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How To Paint Woodland Foliage



The pictures are a little raw, for which I apologise, but they are photographed in the course of my work, in studio conditions and they do tell the story.


Keep it simple - that is the oft repeated mantra of watercolour - but not here. Simplifying can be hard work so dont bother. Just throw the lot in and make it  as complicated as you like - bin the rule book and get lost in the woods. Use these techniques but dont worry - nothing is crucial, just throw in as much texture as possible.


How to get the trees to interweave with the leaves. How to save the labyrinth of light and sky-holes.


Mask lights at the beginning and save a few more as you go. If youve got too many at the end you can always paint them out with leaf colour. Use these methods. Try some or all of the tools shown. Improvise and let me know if you have a favourite tool or trick. Remember the light source - it is to the left, a little ahead. 


Paper : - Whatman 200lb not. (or 140lb not). Phone Daler Rowney : Tel: 01344 461000. Otherwise use Arches 140lb not. Phone 0788 799 8499 or email joedowden@yahoo.co.uk for independent and free advice on all your paper problems.  

Paint : - New Gamboge, Cadmium Lemon, Naples Yellow, Phthalo green, Burnt sienna, Burnt umber, French ultramarine, Crimson alizarin. SAA paints or Lukas from www.lawrence.co.uk. Tel: 01273 260260. 

Brushes : - Sable round no 12, no 2. SAA or www.rosemaryandco.com Tel:  01535 600090.

Fig 1.

Masking tools : - Left to right, Corn Cob stick, colour shaper, two ruined masking brushes, dip pen, tooth brush.


Masking textures.
Fig 2.

Top row : - Ruined brushes, one with a lot of old dried up masking fluid, one with not so much.

Middle row : - Tooth brush spatter and finer tooth brush spray from dragging thumb across bristles.

Bottom row. Dip pen lines. Sweet corn stick lines.




Fig 3.

Sky areas masked  - old masking brush.


Fig 4.

Small sky holes masked with tooth brush spatter - always mask more than you need - you can always touch them in afterwards if there is too much negative space.  


Fig 5.

Just a few leaves masked with kebab stick.
Fig 6.

Fine lines of tangled foliage masked with dip pen nib.

Figs 7 & 8.

A few leaves, sky-holes and Tree trunks masked with colour shaper.



Fig 9.

When dry, spatter water into upper area with a large pointed round sable in a wet and dry pattern, then

Spatter yellow into wet spatter, in the upper trees. This forms three textures simultaneously - wet on dry spatter, wet into wet spatter, and the two combining. It tends to create a labyrinth of negative spaces between the colour - it makes ready made lights for the sky between the leaves, adding to the masked sky for the complexity of the scene.

Fig 10.

Brush some yellow, wet on dry over the lower area, leaving a few flecks of white.



Fig 11.

Use the tooth brush to spatter masking fluid for leaves lining the lane. Use a stencil and move it up as the spatter gets finer so smaller leaf texture appears in the distance.


Fig 12.

Using wet into wet spatter technique, add greens with yellow green mix and add French ultramarine and Burnt umber for darker greens.



Fig 13.

Water feathering technique - Gently criss cross water leaving spaces between strokes, then.



Fig 14.

brush trees through this while still wet. They will diffuse or feather across wet areas but remain hard edged on the dry areas.



Fig 15.

Add darks, brushing them through wet spatter. in wet  with the wet in wet spatter technique. Use stencils for wet on dry spatter along lane edges.


Fig 16.

More wet in wet spatter technique followed by...  

. . Trees and branches, finishing off with a fine number 2 sable.   




Fig 17.

The woodland is progressively built up.

Be careful to leave a few extra lights for leaves. Finish the light green on the ground with yellow and small amount of green and Burnt sienna, using wet in wet spatter. 

Paint the foreground darks with wet in wet spatter.



Figs 18 & 19

The image is built up progressively using these techniques.





Fig 20.

Brush a light wash of French ultramarine, Crimson alizarin, and Burnt sienna in a warm grey colour onto the lane and brush shadows wet in wet a mix of French ultramarine, Crimson alizarin and a little Burnt umber.


Fig 21.

Dry brush the distant fallen leaf texture on the lane edges. Much of this has already been done by now, attention to detail is important to build up the complexity of a forest one piece at a time, making no attempt to simplify.


Figs 22 & 22A.

Remove all the masking fluid.






Fig 23.

Touch in some of the lights created by the masking, being careful to leave those you wish to keep.



Fig 24.

Paint the remaining forest and touch in the horses by wetting them and adding browns of Burnt sienna, with darks made by adding French ultramarine and Cobalt blue, letting it spread into the brown. Leave a few glints of white. Wet the unmasked trees and add browns and greens to the trunks and darks from the right. 



Fig 25.

Touch in the rider. The jacket is dark and trousers a lighter buff colour. Wet the puddles, add Naples Yellow and streak down a few darks while it is wet, not letting them mix in fully.



Fig 26.




Fig 27 Finished image.
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Would you like to learn more?

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