Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 13 April 2014





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Painting a landscape with trees

The difference between a photograph and a painting is just the surface appearance. With each stroke of the brush, the artist expresses his own personality and feelings about the subject. This applies particularly in a watercolour painting, in which every brush stroke remains valuable and therefore becomes an intergral part of the finished product.

Beginners have a tendency to be rigid and flexible in their brush work due to lack of confidence. Do not be a slave to your subject and let your enjoyment of it come through in your painting. Remember you do not have to paint a masterpiece every time. Sometimes it is good to experiment with new ways of manipulating the brush and paint.

Shady trees

Trees can have many shapes, but they are easily represented with a simple combination of shadowing. A watercolour must always be painted from light to dark. After outlining the area where the trees must go, a light green wash is applied and then the contrasts are put in.

Expressive brush strokes

Various effects can be achieved with a dry brush. A dry brushstroke on a dry background brings out the grain of the paper creating an interplay with previously applied coast of paint. A dry brush can be used to paint over a white surface or one previously tinted with a wash. The technique of using a dry brush is one of the most interesting ones that can be performed with watercolour. Naturally it is not something to be used at all times. Some areas of a painting will inevitably demand techniques involving the blending of colours or creating gradations.


Take the landscape painting I have done titled 'Shady Trees'. The exercise that follows is a landscape with a group of trees in the foreground. The greens in the landscape are fresh and vibrant because the artist has built his colours and tones with lively strokes of dark green blue and yellow. The painting is sufficiently rich in shades and textures to allow it to perfectly demonstrate the technique of using the dry brush. The tree trunks are precisely sketched and the twisted branches are clearly shown.

Instead of trying to paint individual leaves I have used small flecks and dabs of paint which indicate clusters of foliage without appearing stilted. Trees are three dimensional not flat, as they are so often portrayed. Notice that the trees and foliage are massed into groups of light and dark tone so that each one registers strongly against the other.

Warm and cool green built up with transparent glazes give the effect of sunshine through the leaves. Finally, when all the paint is dry, the tall grass in the foreground (on the right) is added. Soft flowing brushstrokes are made at an inclined angle to trace the stalks. The brush should not be too loaded with paint to allow broken brushstrokes.

The eye is always drawn to human figures in a landscape, and their inclusion can turn an ordinary subject into a striking picture. Here the tiny human figure on the left (a woman with a heavy load on her head) forms the anchoring point for the whole composition. It gives life to the painting. Harmonious colours and tones give clarity and strength to the image.


Shadows are marvellous devices for conveying an impression of bright sunshine. Here the pattern on shadows cast by the trees activate the composition and create a buoyant spring like feel. The area corresponding to the road is minimally but clearly outlined. Care is taken to draw the area that differentiates the road from the earth and its vegetation.

A light purple mixture is used to show the shadows fallen on the road. Shadows can be used to help build or strengthen a composition.

The pattern of values is well suited for landscape painting. The sky is very light in value. All horizontal planes, since they are perpendicular to the source of light, are also very light in value. All planes that are parallel to the light source do not receive the full intensity. And there are middle and dark values. So a typical landscape scene consists of middle values and dark against light values. This is only a generalisation.

Sky and clouds

When painting the sky it should be planned beforehand-what sort of weather conditions you are going to have, whether it's a windy, sunny day with lot of fleecy white clouds, or an approaching storm, or a rainy day or even a clear blue sky.

My painting shows now the clouds too obey the laws of perspective appearing to get smaller as they reach the horizon. Even a clear blue sky should graduate in tone with the colour at the horizon being weaker. Note how the sky softly graduates from blue at the zenith to pale and white clouds to the horizon.

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