Watercolours: A Walk in the Autumn Woods (demonstration)

The other day on Facebook, one of my friends posted a photo she took of her daughter and her German Shepherd walking through the forest. I just loved the composition of the photo and the way the trees and foliage framed the two figures against the sky at the end of the path, so I decided I’d turn it into a painting. I had some new watercolour paper I wanted to test so I figured this would be a good opportunity to do so.

M Graham Watercolours:
-Azo Yellow
-Pyrrol Red
-Cerulean Blue
-Ultramarine Blue
-Quinacridone Rust
-Burnt Umber

Winsor & Newton Artists’ Watercolours:
-Raw Sienna

You can use whatever you have, but I do find that natural hair brushes are easier to work with than synthetics. I used the following:
-Alvaro Castagnet Neef Squirrel Mop Size 2
-Raphael Squirrel Mop Size 3/0
Silver Black Velvet Round Size 10
-Creative Mark Rhapsody Kolinsky Sable Round Size 4
Creative Mark Ebony Splendor Round Size 2
-Artist Edge Series 2224 Taklon Round Size 20/0
-Princeton Neptune Liner Size 1

Canson Heritage Watercolour Paper – 300gsm Rough (148X210mm)

Step 1
Transfer the line drawing to your watercolour paper using tracing paper (or draw it on directly if you like to live dangerously). Dab it gently with a kneaded eraser to lift any loose graphite, but not too much (you don’t want to erase it so much you can’t see it). Mix a diluted puddle of Cerulean Blue and wash in the sky, making it a little darker at the top of the page. Bring the wash down to the line that marks where the footpath is (it doesn’t matter if you wash the colour over the two figures). Let this dry.

Wash in some Raw Sienna from the path line down, keeping it mostly to the centre of the page. Pick up a little Quinacridone Rust and wash this outwards from the path to the edge of the page.

Step 2
Mix Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Umber into a fairly dark wash and ill in the lower left and right corners, bringing some of it up on the left to indicate dark tree trunks and more dark foliage in the top left corner, as well as two thin trunks on the left. Mix some Burnt Umber and Pyrrol Red (maybe a little Quinacridone Rust) to make an earthy red-orange and blend this out from the lower left dark area towards the path. On the right side of the path, blend a light green made from Azo Yellow and Ultramarine Blue from the dark area towards the path. Use more of the red-orange (slightly weaker) and, with a dry brush, dab in some foliage on both sides of the path. Do the same with a pale wash of Burnt Umber, and the light green. When placing the foliage, make sure the gap in the trees is not perfectly round; it you keep it uneven, you’ll avoid having it look like a weird tunnel.

Add a little texture to the path by dabbing in some pale washes of Burnt Umber, and Burnt Umber plus Ultramarine Blue (taking care to not completely cover up the Raw Sienna undercoat).

Step 3
Continue building up the foliage using the same colours from Step 2, but in darker/more concentrated washes. Try to keep your brush even more dry than in Step 2, as this will give you a convincing leaf texture when brushed lightly over the watercolour paper (this is also why a rough-textured paper is recommended, as dry brush techniques are not as effective on smooth surfaces). In general, there should be more red-orange on the left and more green on the right, but bring some of each colour into the opposite side to help unify the painting. Mix up a darker wash of Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Umber (it should be a dark grey, leaning slightly more towards brown than blue) and lay this over the lower corners and into the upper left corner, darkening them further. To avoid ending up with odd-looking blobs, flick this colour up in places to represent dark grass or undergrowth. Water it down and use this to paint some little rocks and irregularities in the footpath (try to make the rocks larger as they come towards you).

Step 4
Using a slightly more brown-grey mixed from Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Umber, paint in the tree trucks on either side of the track. On the left they should be thicker and between the trunks and the foliage, very little light should show through on this side. Paint these in with a round brush (I used a size 4). The trees on the right are thinner and can be painted in with a rigger or liner, along with their branches and twigs. Vary which way the trees are leaning (you don’t want them all standing straight up), and make sure that some of the branches and twigs overlap each other. After you lay in the trees, add a slightly darker wash along the outside of their trucks to indicate a subtle shadow (since the trees are in the shade, this should not be overly noticeable). Using a very pale wash of this colour, lay in some shadows over the bottom half of the path to create a sense of perspective.

Using combinations of this brown, your red-orange and the light green, use the liner or a small round (size 0 or 2) to add some detail around the centre of the path, like little flower stalks or long bits of grass. Dry brush over one or two of these to add leaves.

Step 5
Time to paint the woman and her dog. Fill in both shapes with plain Raw Sienna, using a small round brush. Before this is completely dry, add a little Burnt Umber to the figures, leaving just an outline of Raw Sienna on the right side of each figure (this is to show where the light is hitting them). Let this dry, and then add some of your dark grey mix from earlier to the left side of the figures to create darker shadows and give them form. Finally, sign your name with this dark grey along the bottom of the footpath.

And that’s it for today’s watercolour demonstration. I hope you had fun painting it 🙂

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