Wednesday, October 5, 2016

How to Paint Filtered Light

Forest Light
3" x 5" bound watercolor journal

The painting above is one of many that I have painted in a watercolor journal.  Watercolor journals are a great way to be portable when painting or to just work on a small painting without the usual setup.   The paper in this journal is handmade paper and paints quite differently than my usual Arches watercolor paper.    This painting was done plein air on my deck overlooking a small “forest of trees” with light filtering through. 

Supplies Needed:
Watercolor paper or watercolor journal – your choice of size. 
Masking Tape
Watercolor board
Brushes:  flat and round (size of your choice based on the size of your paper)

White wax candle or white crayon (resist)

Yellow ocher

Sap Green

Ultramarine Blue

Medium Yellow


Burnt Umber

Payne’s Gray

VanDyke Brown

Painting Instructions:
I used masking tape around the outside edges of my journal to make a straight edge.  However, masking tape is not necessary in a journal.  Taping watercolor paper to a board is necessary if you are not using a journal to keep the painting flat. 

Lightly sketch in the shape of the trees and the horizon. 


Area of filtered sunlight:

Using the white crayon or wax candle, “color” a line of light across the trees starting on the upper left side of the paper and moving diagonally cross the page to the lower right.  Refer to painting above for the location of this highlight and other highlights in the painting. 


Note:  The crayon or candle will act as a resist or mask to keep the paint from being absorbed by the paper.  My paper was rough and the crayon stayed on the top of the paper, not in the crevices of the rough surface.  This allowed for the filtered look of the sunlight…..most areas are light with only some of the areas being allowed to absorb the paint.    This method can be used anytime  you would like to mask some areas of a painting.  The wax from either the crayon or the candle keeps the paper from absorbing the paint.  Note:  This will NOT provide complete coverage.  If complete coverage is needed, use masking fluid or tape.

Using a wash of yellow paint across the trees.  While this is still wet, drop in varying shades of green created by adding yellow to Sap Green for the lighter areas of green and adding Ultramarine to Sap Green for the darker areas of the background.      Be certain to leave most of the background a light yellow green.  Notice how the paint is not absorbed in the areas where the wax was applied.  Allow to dry.


Forest Floor/Ground:

Using Burnt Umber, Payne’s Gray and VanDyke Brown and a round brush, paint in the areas of the forest floor leaving some areas lighter and/or darker than others. 



Wet each tree with clean water.  While still wet paint the trees with Burnt Umber, Payne’s Gray and VanDyke Brown.  Vary the colors and keep the colors light on the left side of the tree trunks. 

Use darker shades of these colors to  paint in tree limbs using a round brush. 


Leaves/Shrubs and Undergrowth:

Use Sap Green deepened with Ultramarine and Burnt Umber in varying amounts to paint in the background foliage and leaves.   Allow to dry.



I prefer to paint with few details.  However, review the paintings and add any details you would like such as smaller branches and details on the tree trunks or ground roots.  Allow to dry.

Sign your painting!  Congratulations!

Happy Painting!



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