Watercolor Trees David Rankin Watercolor Workshops


I love to paint trees.


Tall trees... small trees... young trees... old trees... all varieties... all seasons... all times of day... in fog... mid-day light... sunset... sunrise... even night time.

A selection of David's watercolors where trees are essential elements.


The ability to paint trees in Transparent Watercolor has been a basic skill set in many Watercolor painter's repertoire for a couple hundred years or so.

In my own case I learned how to paint in Transparent Watercolor by working from Ted Kautzky's now famous "Ways with Watercolor" book that my mom got for me on my 16th birthday.

But I soon was so enamored by Kautzky's style that I eventually bought every book he ever did. And it was his this book - Trees & Landscapes - shown here with the green cover, that I used for a long time as I developed and refined my imaging skills.

Kautzky is the one who first impressed upon me the artistic importance of learning how to Sketch Trees... before Painting Trees. His idea was that by learning how to sketch the basic elemental shapes that you observe in a particular species of tree... that ability to see & sketch the essential "shapes" would translate directly into better paintings.

The Palm on the left is a "Live Sketch", done quickly using a 9B Woodless Graphite pencil in my sketchbook. On the right is my watercolor Gray Study, using only Payne's Gray... working from the graphite sketch as reference. If you compare the brushwork in the watercolor study to the original graphite sketch, you can see how I interpreted the sketched forms into watercolor with brushwork.
"Owl Patrol" - This was done as a watercolor demo at a local artist association. The demo was about how to build a subject using a combination of wet layers & dry layers. The next morning I realized it offered me a perfect location for the addition of an Owl gliding silently up the stream looking for dinner.

This is a practice I have maintained for many decades now. This next image below is a blog posting from my Ganges Himalayas Watercolor Expedition... showing how I work on location when I travel. Although my primary interest on this expedition up into the Ganges Himalayas was focused on the high altitude glaciers of the region... an additional artistic interest arose rapidly... focused on the subject of forests & trees in the Himalayan regions we were exploring.

Sketching is my first effort to process my artistic observations. During my travels in the Himalayas I'd take every opportunity to try out subjects in my Artist Journal using watercolor.

Various species of trees in the Himalayas


Watercolor painters traditionally spend time actually studying trees and learning how to paint them. I refer to this as a "Species Specific" skill... where an artist learns enough about trees to be able to paint various species effectively. Kautzky often made trees the focal point of his paintings, as you see here in this painting below of fall light illuminating Maple Trees in New England.

Trees often came into focus in the paintings of John Singer Sargent. It is instructive to see how he'd often focus his skills on such complex subjects as the now famous "Palm Studies", shown here at bottom. It's as though he simply worked the challenge of such a complex and difficult observation of light, shade, design, and values. There's no particular focal point... such very complex brushwork capturing the play of light & form on this challenging subject.

In my Workshops I try to have at least an initial subject or focus... in this case... Trees. But in fact, whatever focus I am working with, it's always about unique magical skills that a watercolor painter can achieve painting with Transparent Watercolor on Rough Papers. This class training project below was done in about 15 minutes. And although it is a rather simple landscape with trees and vegetation... the lesson here was focused upon developing a unique Watercolor Skill I call "Merged Brushwork". And if you are wanting to paint better... more believable trees... in transparent watercolor, you simply must learn how to work with Merged Brushwork.

Merging Wet Brushwork


Give it a Try

The most crucial skills needed for painting trees in Transparent Watercolor is the ability to Merge Wet Brushwork into coherent & complex shapes quickly. I've assembled 4 pages from a Workshop I did a number of years ago on this subject. These large pages will allow you to actually read my instructive text and hopefully try this subject... and this skill.. in order to better understand what I mean.

Layering Wet Brushwork - Over the years I disciplined my skill set so that I can basically create virtually any species of tree using just two laters of brushwork. The trick in this process is to paint trees lies in sections, working quickly and effectively. Then... learn how to apply additional layers of branches onto top of earlier brushwork... in order to develop the illusion of visual depth.


Poplar Trees - Kashmir, India

Developing an ability to paint 'believable trees" rather than just indistinct tree brushwork, will greatly widen out your subject range... and your self confidence.

Winter Mist
"Old Growth"

Check out David's special One Day Training Session

"Painting Watercolor Trees" at the Euclid Art Association - April 28th, 2018

Christmas Morning


Learn how to create the magical effects of Transparent Watercolor with David Rankin

If you would like to have David come and work with the artists in your group or organization email him directly at davidrankinwatercolors@gmail.com


Created By
David Rankin


© David Rankin 2018

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