The winter season brings about beautiful changes in our landscape. One of my favorite things in our winter landscapes are the tall, stately trees barren of their leaves.
One artist that captures beautiful winter trees is American artist Georgia O’Keeffe. Most known for her enlarged floral paintings, O’Keeffe was also a landscape painter. She painted New York skyscrapers and New Mexico landscapes as well.
O’Keeffe was one of seven children born to dairy farmers in Wisconsin.
She took watercolor lessons as a young girl with her sister from a local artist and by age 10, she had already decided to become an artist!
She studied art in college and also taught art in public schools from 1912 – 1914. In 1916, she was the head of the art department at West Texas A&M University.
In 1918, O’Keeffe moved to New York to devote all of her time to her art.
The inspiration piece for this art project is Winter Tree III, 1953.
We’re going to use watercolors to create our own winter tree.
Supplies needed for this project are:
- Watercolor paper
- Watercolor paint
- Watercolor paint brushes in varied sizes
- Masking tape
- Small spray bottle filled with clean water
- Palette for mixing paint
- Paper towels
For the first step, mix a very light yellow color with a little bit of brown. Use a scrap piece of paper to test your color before you apply it.
*Important Note: Watercolor dries lighter, so remember to mix your color just slightly darker than how you would like it to dry.
Once you have a color that closely matches the lightest color of the background, cover your entire paper with it and allow it to dry.
If your watercolor paper is not very thick, use the masking tape to secure your paper to your table or work surface.
Next, mix a brown to match the main color of the tree. Using your brush, loosely paint in your tree shape.
Take notice the tree branches are larger toward the center of the tree and taper into smaller branches as they grow away from the trunk. Paint the tree from the inside outward almost like your branches are growing from your brush!
This technique will give your tree branches a natural looking taper especially if you decrease the pressure on your brush as the branches get smaller away from the center of the tree.
Use O’Keeffe’s tree as a reference to paint your tree.
While your tree is still damp, use the spray bottle to lightly mist your tree. The light mist of water will begin to dissolve the watercolor paint we’ve just applied to the tree.
You can use your brush to move the paint around and make it even more blurry and soft.
Using your paper towel, blot off any excess paint and water. The harder you press the paper towel onto your painting, the more paint/water you will remove.
Vary your technique so that some parts of the tree are more visible than others.
Our goal is to leave a “ghost” of our tree on the paper. Some parts of the tree will be very blurred and softened while some parts of the tree may not.
Allow your tree and background to dry completely.
An important technique to learn in watercolor is softening your edges.
This is when you apply watercolor paint to the paper and then rinse the paint from your brush and sweep your damp brush along the edge you just painted.
The damp brush applies a layer of water to the paper along the edge and allows the edge of paint to bleed into it becoming soft.
If you leave the edge as you originally painted it, the edge will dry with a more apparent hard edge or line.
Now it’s time to add a little more detail back into our tree. Using the same brown you mixed earlier or something similar, pick certain parts of your tree you would like to redefine and darken with the brown paint.
As you apply the darker paint, soften the edges of the wet paint so that you don’t have outlines around these shapes and they blend nicely into the tree.
Notice that not every edge is softened. Choose to leave certain edges hard while softening others to create variety among the edges of the tree. This will make your tree look more realistic.
After you’ve darkened the areas of the tree, it’s time to add more color to the background.
Mix up a yellow and an orange color and apply them on top of your yellow background and tree. Use water to blend the colors together over the background.
Continue to add more colors that you see in the inspiration painting until you are happy with your tree.
Set your painting aside and allow it to dry completely.
Here’s our artwork alongside our Georgia O’Keeffe inspiration piece.
I hope you’ll see the winter trees around you in a new light and let barren winter landscape inspire you to make some art!
Have fun and be creative!