Free Demo | Autumn Garden in Vivid Watercolor

Free Watercolor Demo: How to Paint an Autumn Garden with Vivid Colors
an excerpt from:


Visitor in Garden
Watercolor on Arches 300-lb. (640gsm) cold press
20″ x 28″ (51cm x 71cm)

Arches 300-lb. (640gsm) cold press

Daniel Smith: Quinacridone Sienna • Quinacridone Violet
Da Vinci: Cadmium Yellow Medium
Winsor & Newton: Cadmium Red • Hooker’s Green • Sepia • Titanium White • Winsor Blue (Red Shade)

• masking fluid
• nos. 4, 8, 10, 12 and 16 rounds
• 21/2-inch (64mm) and 31/2-inch (89mm) hakes
• table salt
• old chopped brush
• spray bottle

Reference photo

Make a rough, simple line drawing as a guideline for the shape and placement of the compositional elements.

1. Apply Masking Fluid
Start with an extensive application of masking fluid on the water’s highlights, the leaves, the trees and the crane. Apply masking wherever the painting will benefit from lighter values.

2. Apply the First Washes
Wet the entire surface with clean water using your larger hake. Then, apply highly thinned Winsor Blue (Red Shade) on the sky and water areas with your smaller hake. Using the same brush, apply a thinned mixture of Cadmium Yellow Medium and Quinacridone Sienna on the leaves with a fully loaded no.16 round. Let the colors mingle freely. Sprinkle some salt on the surface, anywhere needed to create texture. Let this dry then remove the salt with your hand.

3. Add Glazes for the Leaves and Reflections
Alternating Cadmium Red and Cadmium Yellow Medium, apply red and yellow on the leaves’ reflections in the water with a no. 12 round, feathering out the colors after cleaning the brush to reduce hard edges. With an old chopped brush, randomly apply Cadmium Red for the red leaves in the maple trees. Apply a thinned bluish mixture of Quinacridone Violet and Winsor Blue (Red Shade) on the bottom half of the water, and drop thicker paint on the lower left, stepping back now and then to see how the color interacts with the surroundings.

4. Add More Red
Using Cadmium Red and Quinacridone Sienna, continue working on the reddish leaves by tapping on the paint with an old chopped brush. Extend the bottom bush toward the right with the same brush. Glaze the same reddish mixture on the water reflection. After it dries, apply the bluish mixture from step 3 to the bottom right corner with a no. 12 round. With the thinned bluish mixture, farther back but close to the center, create the pale tree using the old chopped brush. 

5. Add Blue
Using thinned Winsor Blue (Red Shade) and Quinacridone Violet with a no.16 round, gently glaze the water and the sky. Sprinkle some salt on this blue while it is still wet to create a random texture.

6. Remove the Masking Fluid
Remove the masking fluid everywhere except from the crane, its reflection a0nd the trees on the small island on the right. With a no. 10 round and using Cadmium Red and Cadmium Yellow Medium on the palette, sometimes mixed and other times separately, start to paint over the white spots where the masking was. Add Sepia to the palette for a wet-on-wet application on the small island.

7. Develop the Shadowed Areas
Glaze thinned Winsor Blue (Red Shade) and Quinacridone Violet on the bottom half of the painting, primarily on the water, with your smaller hake. Apply Cadmium Red for the bright red leaves and thinned Winsor Blue (Red Shade) to create the shadowed areas of the leaves, all with a homemade chopped brush to avoid an application that appears flat. As you complete each section, sprinkle some salt on it before it dries to create more texture. After the painting’s surface is completely dry, brush off the salt.

8. Apply a Calming Green Wash
Rather than use a brush, which would disturb the undercoat, spray a mist of clean water to wet the entire surface. Then, using your smaller hake, gently wash thinned Hooker’s Green on the entire surface, except for the sky area, to calm the overall appearance. This process relaxes and softens the painting by allowing the existing colors to bleed together slightly.

9. Work on the Water Details
Use nos. 4 and 8 rounds and existing colors on the palette to start defining the details of the water generally, and the reflections specifically. Continuously switch colors and brushes to accommodate the ever-differing reflections of autumn colors. Be free and have fun creating colorful water! Use some of the same dark colors to develop the tree trunks and leaves.

10. Continue Defining the Trees
Use the same brushes and colors to continue defining the leaves and tree trunks. Use thinned paints to lightly layer over the existing leaves and the trees to avoid creating too many dark details. Using very thinned reddish color and a touch of yellow from your palette, create very pale trees in the center distance. Develop the water in the distant background with a thin wash of the darker colors on your palette. Remove the masking fluid from the bird.

11. Fine-Tune the Details
Finish the blue crane with a mixture of Winsor Blue (Red Shade) and Quinacridone Violet, using a no. 4 round. Use Cadmium Yellow Medium for the beak. Correct the shape of the bird by adding feathers, using Titanium White to draw thin feathers. Glaze diluted blue over the light reflection in the center of the pond from the rear forward to draw less attention to it. After studying the painting, the red maple leaves in the center seemed too dominant compared to their surroundings. The tree leaning toward the center further accentuated my discomfort with that area. To solve this problem, I lifted off red pigment from the bottom of the leaves and created a reflection with a dark bluish mixture using a no. 8 round. I lightened the edges of the red leaves by lifting off pigment first, then applying Titanium White randomly to bring out the light. This invites the viewer’s eye to travel around the painting rather than stay fixed on the red maple leaves in the center. To finish the painting, use a no. 4 round to apply the leftover dark colors from the palette to the interior of the red maple trees, giving them more depth.

For more great instruction on painting vibrant watercolors, check out Soon Warren’s
Painting Vibrant Watercolors. The book includes 27 demonstrations of stunning watercolor paintings from start to finish, and how to apply the concepts and principles necessary to create successful watercolors.



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