Happy Little Trees

I wanted to give my parents a drawing for Christmas, and while I pondered what subject to use, Mom happened to send an email with a request. She had a photo of the woods on their property, beautiful with Pennsylvania fall colors, and would I consider making a painting that looks like a Japanese print. I decided not to learn woodblock printing that week, but watercolor would probably fit the bill. Of course, that meant I needed to learn watercolor, but at least that didn't require sharp tools.

These photos span December 6 to January 20. Watercolor painting involves a lot of watercolor waiting to dry.

This is my workspace. I taped a big piece of watercolor paper to my craft table, taped down to minimize the amount of warping as I applied paint. (I could have pre-wetted and stretched the paper, but I didn't really have the setup to do that well.)

You can see my tablet computer with the photo for reference, off to my right. I've laid in the sky visible above the hill, and the shorn corn field at the base of the hill. To capture the mottled look of the field, I scattered table salt on the wet paint, making the paint pull away from the salt.

The yellow leaves that blanket the hillside and the green underbrush, plus the farthest-away layer of foliage. I worked back to front, imagining the scene sliced into layers and starting from the back. I also had to let each layer dry.

The farthest-away trees, due to atmospheric perspective, are less saturated in color. I used a very dilute ink wash of sepia ink for the faintest trunks, then added a little more ink to that wash for the darker ones.

The next layer of trees. Ink doesn't flow like paint, so I couldn't use the ink for the big trunks. I even struggled with it on the smaller trees from the previous layer. It got a little dicey, so I knew I'd need paint for these big, close trees. Creating brown is stressful when your color vision is hampered by tritanomaly; there's always a risk I'm making purple. This is why I work in charcoal.

The closest trunks need to be dark and opaque, so I used a "burnt umber" watercolor pencil to color them in. Watercolor pencils are labeled, so I could be confident that one was brown. Working from left to right, I've done about half of the trunks here. Also in the middle, I tried a small experiment with very saturated paint to see if I could add leaves on top of the trunks that would really pop.

I finished coloring in the trunks, and then activated the watercolor pencil by painting over it with water. It reminds me of those paint-with-water books I had as a kid.

Cast shadows give you information about the object casting the shadow (tree trunks) and the object onto which the shadow is cast (the undulating hillside). With the shadows, it's starting to finally look like something.