Painting trees and leaves Watercolor Demonstration

About Sandrine Pelissier

I grew up in France but have been living in Canada for the last 12 years, I am currently located in North Vancouver and work from a studio on Pemberton Avenue.

Watercolor is my medium of choice because of the unique way it allows me to render light. The transparency of this medium can make it look like the painting is lit from behind and the light is shining through the paper In my portraits, I like to tell stories about the people around me. I am very interested in childhood fantasy or fairy tales (I wish it would snow Flowers, Hair Balloon, Georgia, the Spanish dress and the Eclectus Parrot). I also like to induce a dialogue with the viewer in some paintings dealing more with introspection and mood (Mixed, In the studio).

Those portraits are not about likeness or knowing the people that are being painted, as I see my models as actors in a movie, they are the faces that will allow me to tell a story or to show emotions. Those faces are a source of endless fascination and I find the subtlety that can be achieved with watercolor well suited to the complexity of the human face.

My technique involves the accumulation of many transparent layers of watercolor. Then I like to incorporate mixed media in the background, work sometimes with some contouring. I also sometimes like to add some drawing on top of the painting or some graphic elements…

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Art Prints

Painting trees and leaves: On either side of the river, watercolor on paper

(click images for larger views)

On either side of the river Watercolor on paper 19 x 27 inches

On either side of the river
Watercolor on paper
19 x 27 inches

This is my latest watercolor on paper, I did paint it for the watercolor biennale coming up at the Federation of Canadian Artists in Granville Island ( Vancouver ). I had a few guidelines to follow : the size had to be 19 x 27 which is the size of the IKEA Ribba frame, most artists will use that frame so the exhibition looks more uniform. The painting had to be framed, these days I really like to mount my watercolors on board and varnish them but well, most watercolor societies and exhibitions won’t accept varnished or mounted watercolors.



I am using a limited palette, Yellow Lemon and Yellow Ochre, Burnt Umber, Viridian green, Ultramarine blue, Cobalt Turquoise light, Permanent Alazarin Crimson and Paynes grey. With those colors I can mix an array of green, blue, and brown tones that will make most of the picture.


My favorite brush is an angular flat brush as I find it very versatile. I will also use a small brush for details like tiny branches, a large flat brush for larger washes like the trees trunk first layer of painting.
Finally I will use my old stiff brush for scrubbing off paint, it is a flat brush that i did cut shorter to make it very stiff.


Once I have my drawing on the paper ( Arches 140 lb, hot press), I start by reserving a few whites with liquid frisket. I then start painting the background around the trees, starting from light yellow to darker greens. I also paint the few leaves in front of the trunks.


Working one section at a time I paint the background looking at my reference picture reproducing the tones of yellow, green, browns and the blue.


For the next step, I apply liquid frisket on the leaves I painted that are located in front of the tree trunks. Then I am applying a first wash on the trees trunks.


I then work on the bark of the trees, rendering the textures by scrumbling the paint.


I am removing the liquid frisket, and will now paint the tiny branches


The next step for me is to soften the edges that were around the liquid frisket areas. Those areas will often have very hard unnatural edges. I soften most of those edges with my stiff brush and a bit of water


I am keeping some edges very sharp on the lower part of the painting to represent the light shining on the river water.


On either side of the river
Watercolor on paper
19 x 27 inches

Watch the whole process on this time lapse video, in about 3 minutes.

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