Experiments with Trees

Splatter Tree #1, watercolor, 7″x5″

In the current issue of Watercolor Artist, June Rollins writes about painting with a triad of pigments¹, limiting the paints used to a red, a yellow, and a blue.  This helps create unity and harmony in the work while reducing the confusion and frustration of having too many choices.  She gives a sample project of painting a tree on dry paper by splattering the paint and then lightly spraying it with water to create mixtures of the paint on the paper.  After the “leaves” are dry, the three pigments are mixed together to form a dark hue, from which the trunk and branches are painted, weaving the branches behind some leaf bunches and through the holes.

Splatter Tree #2, watercolor, 7″ x 5″

I like the way the extra splatters look like leaves blowing in the wind.

Splatter Tree #3, watercolor, 7″ x 5″

The grouping of the splatters defines the growth of the branches, which helps these to look like different species of trees.

As I was mentally congratulating myself on each tree looking better than the one before, my husband walked into my studio, looked at the trees, and said that he thought the first one was the best.  He liked the definition of the large clump of yellow leaves.

Which tree do you like best?

¹Rollins, June. “Tried-and-True Primary Triads.” Watercolor Artist December (2012): 59-65.

15 thoughts on “Experiments with Trees

  1. i like the first best as well. red and green are lovely together but when mixed, of course you know this, they made mud. sometimes we want those earth colors and other times we’d prefer a more fresh look. by leaving the mixing to chance, the second image is mostly middle value.

    all of them have appeal; i love the middle one for many reasons.. the way the trunk attaches to the earth, the dreamlike quality of the ground/earth/grass area. the top one is fresh and spontaneous and seems to be stretching from earth to sky!

    of course what is most important is that you don’t let anyone’s feedback affect you in a negative way! paint for the joy of painting and remember that each painting is an exercise that preps you for the next one!


    • Thank you so much for your feedback, Lisa. My husband has a good eye and I think I was too close to these pictures when I was “patting myself on the back.” I was trying to get darker values in the later trees, and yes, the complementary colors mixed together and were no longer bright. I had fun doing it, and it was just an experiment!

  2. ps.. long ago i attended a workshop by tony couch. he said that one can learn more by painting the same subject three times than by painting three different paintings. after a week of practicing new techniques, i was less confident than when i started. i realized that one has to absorb, apply and digest new information and slowly we reject what doesn’t work. embrace what does and slowly evolve into our own styles!

    • I have also found that I learn a lot when painting the same subject several times. The second and third renditions aren’t always better than the first, but I’ve gone through a thinking and experimentation process. I can see how in a workshop situation this might be overwhelming. But what a treat to spend a week learning from Tony Couch!

      • for sure.. i loved that workshop when i was a young mother and wife and had that free time to devote to watercolor. it probably took me six months to incorporate some of what he taught, in order for it to feel right. i can still hear him talking about design and he said if the entire piece is busy….( and then he made the sound of a machine gun….) the eye doesn’t know where to rest!

        it’s great to have instructors to help us with valuable lessons that might take years to discover on our own, but htere’s nothing like hours of practice and belief in yourself…

        oh,– i fear that i don’t remember which instructor, but someone said long ago that you had to paint with balls.. that is so true for many wsomen.. we’re scared to go that extra step of strong darks against the lights, but it makes a huge difference in powerful work.


    • The first one seems to be the favorite. We have a tree just outside our kitchen window that is still holding on to its yellow leaves and I’m relishing the golden sunlight that pours through it in the mornings. Thanks for commenting.

  3. I like the way the first one looks sunlit. Trees in sunlight sparkle, something we seldom realize, thinking we must make them green when really, your yellow captured the glow of a bright day.
    In fact, I like the yellow in each, for the same reason, the third one appearing to be one of several in a small woods, where the morning sun is just grazing the top and the lower branches are still in dawn’s darkness.
    I am particularly glad you added branches where there were not many leaves. Trees often have dead or dying branches and this acknowledgement makes your trees more believeable.
    Great fun.

    • You always have such pertinent things to say in your comments; I really appreciate them. I had not noticed the sunlight sparkle, but there it is! Are your trees bare yet, or do you get a few more weeks of autumn? The hurricane blew half the leaves off our trees, and the other half are soon to follow.

      • My husband is a forester. What can I say? 😉
        Our trees are bare because of drought, largely. Sorry to say many of those probably are dead. The ones that retain leaves, now, are certain species that naturally lose them late, such as dogwood, ornamental pear, and wild black cherry. The dogwoods are a brilliant blackish-red this year. NO yellow! 😉

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