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Art Masterclass - 62

November 2011 


Door County, WisconsinFrom The Artist, the monthly magazine for amateur and semi-professional painters, giving practical instruction in painting and drawing in watercolour, pastels and oils, as well as news of art events, exhibitions and competitions open to leisure artists;


How to paint autumn colours

By Steve Hall.

My reference photograph

My reference photographI selected a photograph of a quiet corner in the grounds of Westonbirt Arboretum in Gloucester. At first glance a subject such as this can appear quite daunting as the viewer is confronted with a vast array of colours, tones and shapes – all of which seem to intermingle and confuse. The secret is to stand back and take careful stock of what is going on and then attempt to capture the essence of the scene. With a composition such as this it does not matter if we do not portray each shrub or tree exactly, it is more important to capture the impression of a crisp autumn day and the emotions such a scene arouses within us. It is also worth remembering that the whole scene changes daily as leaves fall and other woodland vistas are continually revealed


Stage oneUsing a large squirrel mop brush, I started by washing great swathes of colour across the paper to capture the lightest tones within the picture. Mixes of cadmium yellow/orange, burnt sienna, raw sienna, light red and ultramarine were allowed to swirl around the composition wet-in-wet. Some initial thought was given at this stage to design, but it was very vague


Stage twoI began to firm up the basic shapes representing the tree trunks, bushes and foreground. To achieve this, it is important to take some time to consider the scene before you and observe edges where light shapes meet darker shapes. Notice how the foreground is formed, not by painting it, but by placing the dark bases of the shrubs above. Notice also how the trunks are formed – some light against dark, others dark against light. This constant counter-change of tonal values is our big weapon when describing form in watercolour


stage threeI continued the process of shape making, using my detail and reservoir brushes to describe the finer forms and branches.
For my darkest tones I used various combinations of ultramarine, light red, burnt sienna and burnt umber.

There had been very little initial drawing work and most of the trees were drawn freehand directly with the brush. By adopting this method, as opposed to colouring in a pre-drawn picture, you will achieve more natural-looking shapes and also a looser rendition of your subject. You will also notice that I have only used my reference photograph as a source of inspiration and have not laboriously copied every tree and detail exactly as presented.



Westonbirt Arboretum, watercolour, 15x22in. (38x56cm)

Westonbirt Arboretum, watercolour, 15x22in. (38x56cm)

Finally I painted the foreground, taking care to ensure that the path was changed so that it did not run off the left-hand side of the picture. Shadows were drifted across the grass and path with the side of the mop and these were ‘tickled’ with the tip of the brush to hint at tufts of grass and other foreground textures. A few marks were also made with the tip of the mop to indicate the path edges. Notice how the shadows dip slightly as they cross the path – helping to give form to this part of the picture

The full feature on autumn landscapes can be found in the September 2011 issue of The Artist


Information about Steve’s courses, his brushes and his DVDs can be found on his website: Steve can be contacted by email at or by telephone on 01225 868086

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