Friday, November 2, 2012

Step-by-Step Watercolor Painting: "Autumn Glow"

It was one of those absolutely perfect fall days when I grabbed my sketch kit and headed out across the fields. The sky was a brilliant blue, and the trees in the woods fairly glowed in the sunshine. Fall was almost over, and I was determined to hold onto it the only way I knew, by capturing some of those gorgeous autumn colors in my sketchbook

Walking along the edge of the woods, kicking at the piles of crunchy leaves, I moseyed along searching for just the right spot to park myself and sketch. When I glanced downhill and saw the scene below, a brilliantly colored beech tree framed by oaks and maples, I pulled out my sketchbook and started drawing. Just for kicks, I took photos as I worked, to show you the progression of this little sketch.

With a Noodler's flex pen and Lexington grey ink, I quickly drew the scene in my everyday sketchbook, an Aquabee Super Deluxe 9" x 12". Then I splashed on a rich layer of cadmium yellow to give the woods their glow.

Feeling almost giddy with happiness to be painting outdoors on a perfect fall day, I flooded a flamboyant orange into the yellow and flung spatters of the same across the page. Whether the picture turned out well or not, I was having fun!

Then I got so engrossed in my painting that I totally forgot to take photos! That whole right-side-of-the-brain thing really took over as I added the muted background colors, the foreground trees, and more glazes to the beech tree foliage.

When I "woke up" from my watercolor dream, it was time to head home. I'd made a good start - the finishing touches could be added later in my studio.

I realized later that my tree shape had gotten all out of whack when I was painting in the woods, so I tried to tone down the upper left of my huge orange blob of a tree to make the shape more pyramidal. I added a bit more variation in the leaf tones, too, and darkened the shady side of the trunk. The blue I used in this sketch was Pthalo, instead of my standard ultramarine blue.

I worked on the tree trunks a bit more and added a few dark touches in the background.

The fallen log was finally painted, along with the small sapling in the foreground. The carpet of dried leaves were indicated with a brush and a sponge.

Spattering suggested more forest debris and leaves.

Here's the completed sketch...

(Click to enlarge)
8" x 5-1/2", watercolor and ink on 93 lb. paper

There are things I would do differently if I painted it again, but I like it. Can't you tell how happy I was sitting out there under the trees, just me and the chipmunks, and the big, blue sky, and the whole forest aglow around me?


  1. You've really captured the autumn glow.Thank you for your step by step details. I'm very much self taught from books, but seem to have lost the touch of letting the colours run into each other in the way you achieved the glow on the beech foliage.You mentioned a glaze, does that mean a wash of colour?
    The way you described your time sketching & painting, I could imagine you sitting on a fallen log, with Molly running around scuffing up the leaves searching out the smells in the woods, a lovely time spent doing what you certainly love. Enjoy your weekend.

    1. Yes, Barbara, a glaze is simply another layer of watercolor. Glad you enjoyed the post.

    2. Just trie your method of glazing, hhmmmmm!!!! I think I need to read my art books again, it looks a lot like a muddy wash !! But I'll try again.
      I have just been tagged to join in for some fun, and have just tagged your lovely blog, hope you will join in too. Best wishes Barbara

  2. Such a wonderful feeling of autumn joy from your painting and your commentary. I could just feel it. It turned out beautiful. There is nothing like plein air painting.
    So wonderful of you to share your process.

    1. I always enjoy the sketches you post on FB, too, Teri. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Oh this is lovely. I can smell the trees and fallen leaves in it. Do you take something to sit on? I always see pretty things to paint but take photos and then paint them. But this looked like fun sitting out there.

  4. I usually just find a log or something to sit on, but this time I carried along an old folding camp stool so I could sit anywhere I chose to. It worked out well and was much more comfy than the ground or a log. The only trouble I had was when I was grabbing some things out of my back pack and I dropped a couple of paint brushes on the ground - they were swallowed up by the leaves! I had a moment or two of panic as I searched for them, but thankfully I found everything.

    I, too, paint from photos sometimes, but feel that my sketches have a lot more life to them when I draw and paint on location. There isn't always time for that though, so I at least try to complete the drawing while I have the scene in front of me, even if I have to add the color later. But sketching outdoors or on location is so much fun! Have you tried it?

  5. Yes I have painted on location once, when another blogger friend came to visit & we sat at a River sketching while her husband serenaded us with his singing & guitar playing. :) The music helped while I sketched & painted. It was fun but hard for me. I couldn't decide where to start and what to put down. I ended up taking Artistic license and ad libbing the scene.:)I always feel out of control like its going to show me up to be a phony Artist or something for some reason.

  6. That scene you described sounds so idyllic! But I agree that it's hard to filter things out when sketching outdoors. I think that's one reason my autumn woods sketch looks so busy - there was so much there in front of me! I think working smaller helps a bit. You have to simplify. And it's always hard to decide where to start - I do a rough pencil sketch just to get proportions right, then begin inking in the foreground, usually on the left, so I don't smear my lines. That seems to work for me.

  7. What an amazing post, amazing scene in the woods, and amazing painted image. I really enjoyed reading about this painting adventure. I could feel the sun out highlighting the trees and probably falling on your shoulder as well. Thanks for pointing out how you put in the initial background color and also used spattering and even a sponge. Great post!!

  8. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Nothing helps me more as a newbie than posts like this.


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