Malcolm's Painting Matters

Providing encouragement, stimulation and development, while having a good time, for the beginner as well as the developing artist.

Leave a comment

Painting Simple Fir Trees

Some notes on how to paint a simple watercolour painting featuring some misty background fir trees.

What follows was featured at my painting class in Barnoldswick Library on Monday. I did a bit of an instruction sheet to compliment the painting and given its reception I thought it might be a good idea to put it on here, albeit in a deconstructed form, for people to access. It also gives a bit of an insight into what goes into a painting class.

First of all came the concept art work. Done when planning the class and sketched quickly on cartridge paper. I like working in watercolour on A4 cartridge (of all sorts of weight) as it encourages bold quick paintings and the initial drawing is easy to copy on my scanner.

fir trees concept

Concept Artwork on Cartridge Paper

The original material for this painting came from some reference photographs taken in SW Scotland in the Galloway Forest. What I was looking for was some nice fir trees with a bit of a road which would lead the eye a bit into the painting and provide scope for people to practice fir trees while resulting in a pleasing painting at the end of the day.

I then made up a help sheet which was photocopied and given out in class as an aid as well as relevant reference material.

The Painting

Materials are Watercolour Paper (Bockingford NOT 140lb), Ultramarine Blue, Burnt Sienna, Cad Yellow, Yellow Ochre and Naples Yellow.

Extra complication – we decided to include Cairnsmore of Fleet in the background in the form of a misty mountain. This made the painting a bit more difficult as everything down to the base of the misty trees needed painting wet into wet in one go so it all needs to be done before the background dries.

In terms of drawing the foreground banking was lightly drawn in and the foreground trees indicated by a single line and the mountain put in just between the trees on the right.

The sky, the mountain and the background trees.

Sky was just done with naples yellow and ultramarine blue after wetting the paper down to the start of the foreground. The mountain was then put in with a thick mix of UB and B Sienna. Then the background trees were put in. All this while the paper is still wet.

The fine print – this is the deconstructed sheet re the misty trees

fir trees w sht 1

Step 1 & 2

1 – wet the paper, this is either with a wash or can be just plain water

2 – add tree wet in wet


fir trees w sht 2

Step 3 & 4

3 – while still wet add more trees and add definition to some that you have already painted

4 – dab out the mist either with a damp tissue or soft brush


Now you can put in the foreground  and do not forget to make things warmer as you get closer to the front of the painting  and to make those foreground trees sit down by adding a bit of dark beneath them.

So now the bit of the sheet on the foreground trees

fir trees w sht 3

Step 1

1 – decide on the type/shape of tree

easy way to visualise the shape is think of a triangle and add the branches inside

Start off the tree with a single line and build it up from there using a nice blue/green mix

fir trees w sht 4

step 2 & 3

2 – Darken the trunk with some very dark brown/neutral mixed from UB & BS and extend the bottom

3 – finally add dead/lopped branches at the bottom of the trees.

Quick and easy fir trees.

Finished Painting

fir trees

Misty Galloway Trees

This is the actual painting I painted on Monday as the demo/paint-along about 20 mins.








1 Comment

Painting Tree Trunks Wet into Wet

This is a brief description of how to paint effective tree trunks using the wet into wet method. It is also a useful guide to colour mixing using a restricted palette.

First the colours we will use – the good old faithful colours – raw sienna, burnt sienna, burnt umber and ultramarine blue.

The easiest of all and the one that gives a nice representation of sunlight falling on the tree is a combination of raw sienna and burnt sienna. I often paint trees without any pencil work but sometimes will use a single line as a guide. I never draw in the full thickness of the trunk in pencil as I find this too rigid. As for shape you cannot beat going out and observing this first hand with a sketch book, but do not get carried away with some of the more weird and wacky shapes – these do have their place in certain paintings – but stick to things that actually look like a tree. Don’t make them taper too steeply and do make them thick enough to support the trees weight, you don’t want it blowing down in the wind.

Wet into Wet - Tree Trunks

Wet into Wet – Tree Trunks

Assuming you have used a single line paint in the trunk using the raw sienna in a sort of a medium thick wash. Next add the burnt sienna (using a thicker wash) to the side of the tree that has the shade and this needs doing while the tree is still wet. A more dramatic effect can be obtained by mixing burnt sienna & ultramarine blue which will give a darker brown. When applying the darker paint don’t forget in needs to be thicker than the first lighter application or else you will get cauliflowers when it dries. Also think about the shading where you get offshoots or where the trunk splits and where the trunk splits try not to get the branches the same thickness or coming off at the same angle or you risk the tree looking like a pair of upside-down legs!

Ultramarine blue and burnt sienna can also give you a grey mix also useful for trees and finally why not use burnt umber for the Brown and add ultramarine blue directly to the painting, mixing the colours directly on the paper. Hours of endless fun and practice, plenty of it, will move you towards perfection. But I heard an interesting comment that suggested that if we could paint perfectly painting would quickly become boring 🙂 Enjoy and any questions please do not hesitate to ask.

Also see my website at

Leave a comment

Painting a Pen & Wash: Capel Hebron, Llanberis

Here I was trying out some new Bockingford Hot Pressed paper for the first time.  I had cut a full imperial sheet into A4 pieces (this size fits better on my scanner) and then taped one onto a drawing board.  (note that you can see some lines marked on the board – I did this so it helps line up the paper when taping it down – it helps a bit but I would not knock myself out to do it to all my boards).

The Start of the Drawing

Using a dip pen with a handwriting nib attached (an old one from the early 1900s – I find them better than drawing nibs which I find extremely scratchy and anyway my grandfather, who liked a good pen, had kindly squirreled away quite a number) I started with the roof and RHS of the building using black Indian ink which is waterproof.  NOTE that there are no pencil marks as I like to live dangerously and draw directly with the pen.  Its quicker and doesn’t feel as rigid as copying over pencil marks and you don’t have to rub out and risk damaging the paper.  When starting your drawing look for a starting point that will allow you to establish the perspective from an early stage as I find this way less terrifying and one can then enjoy the rest of the drawing panic free.  I put in the roof with the roof spars next as this made it easier to place the windows in the next stage.

Next I added the LHS wall and broken down bits and established a base line for the main building.  Once the base line was in (if you look closely you can probably see three as I made corrections but this looks like part of the drawing and helps to add contour) I added the windows. Then the gate was added and style and some bits of reeds and a few more contour lines.  

Capel Hebron: Complete with Washes Added

Capel Hebron: Complete with Washes Added

Finally I added the wash. To begin with I gust contemplated using three colours (Ultramarine, Burnt Umber and New Gamboge) but I added Yellow Ochre as well as I had got some new from the SAA and wanted to try it out and it helps to give a slightly earthier green.  I used in places a mix of Yellow Ochre and N Gamboge a nd Ultramarine and in others just the N Gamboge and U Marine which gives a cleaner and brighter green.  The greys and Grey Blues were Burnt Sienna and U Marine mixed and a good brown can be had with a little blue added to the Burnt Sienna.  The initial wash was applied with a 12 round and the fields above the roof put in adding colour wet into wet.  I wet the paper first down to the roof. The rest of the building was painted using a size 7 round and most unfortunately I ended up with a small cauliflower on LHS of the roof! I could have left it as it wasn’t a proper cauliflower just a lighter patch but I decided to be daring and re wet the area above the roof with a small goat haired flat brush and sorted the problem

Enjoy 🙂

For details of painting classes see


Starting to Paint: Watercolour

This is an introduction to the watercolour painting materials I use in my painting classes. This also provides a good starting point for anyone wishing to take up watercolour painting as a pastime.


Paper, I believe, is the most important thing in watercolour painting – even more important than paint. When starting out it is best to keep paper choice simple by using a good middle of the road paper and branch out a bit when you have a bit more experience at handling the paint otherwise it’s a bit like jumping from car to car when learning to drive. A Ferrari does not drive the same as a Ford and it is the same with paper.

A good all round paper is Bockingford 140lb (weight refers to a ream of imperial sheets). Full sheets cut up at home are cheaper than pads but you need to source them locally. Not (meaning not hot pressed or smooth) or Rough texture paper is good the smooth hot pressed can be a bit fiddly to start with  but we do sometimes use it in class. The size you paint on is up to you – from 2.5”-3.5” ACEO’s to 30×22” full imperial sheets but to start I would recommend between 1/8 imp (7.5”x11”) to ¼ imp (15”x11”). Decent paper will help you rather than fight you which can often be the case with cheap paper.

In my classes we paint on 140lb Bockingford (rough & not), 90lb Saunders Waterford (occasionally), Winsor & Newton Cotman watercolour paper (slightly harder surface than Bockingford and less texture) also various papers from the Hahnemuhle range of papers (these are quite soft papers with some interesting surfaces) in sizes ranging from 1/8 to ¼ imp but often 9×13 (a good size as this can often be found in pads).



From L to R –  Cotman Ultramarine, Cotman Burnt Sienna, Cotman Cadmium Yellow Hue, Sennelier Cobalt Blue, W&N Winsor Yellow and SAA Cadmium Yellow.

Paint comes next to paper in importance.  If you don’t want boring to death with the wonders of student quality paint versus artist quality skip the next paragraph and read it later.

There is nothing wrong with good quality students paints from Winsor and Newton or Daler Rowney if you select them carefully. I recommend Winsor and Newton Cotman paints to start out with as you don’t want to be squeezing out minute bits of paint (often the result of buying horrendously expensive artist quality paints) as this results in anaemic paintings. In my classes we often use a mixture of Cotman and artist quality paints depending on the colour and/or what is in my bag. Earth colours such as the Ochers, Siennas and Umbers are often as good ass or close to artist quality. Ultramarine Blue is good as are most of the yellow hues. For other colours such as Cobalt Blue and the Cadmiums there is no alternative to the real thing and you must buy the artist colour.  The student yellows are different from the cadmiums as they are transparent (Cadmiums are opaque) but I often prefer them because I love the transparency.

The above sounds very complex but the short of it is keep your Palette of paints simple and mix your colours also buy what I recommend.

I always use tubes these days unless out sketching where I have a small box of artist quality pans  (student pans are often like trying to get colour out of a brick and result in anaemic paintings) A good pallet of colours to start with is:-

Ultramarine Blue (Fine as W&N Cotman)

Burnt Sienna (Fine as W&N Cotman)

A slightly Orange biased yellow such as Cadmium Yellow (Either Artists or Cotman Cad Yellow Hue is fine). An alternative is New Gamboge (Cotman is fine)

To this you might add Light Red (Cotman OK and an earth colour – its rust really), Raw Sienna or Yellow Ochre and possibly Burnt Umber.

All the above are fine as W&N Cotman paints but I do have a liking for Cobalt Blue as it makes lovely skies and subtle greys BUT you must buy Artist quality with this one and it is not cheap – if it is cheep leave it alone because it is probably poor.

Colour mixing is:-

Blue and yellow get you green

Blue and Burnt Sienna gets you a variety of colours from Red Brown to Dark Brown to Dark Grey to Dark Blue (Blue Black) to Blue

Beware cheap imported colours from suspect places – they are usually very poor. Stick to Winsor & Newton or Daler for the student colours and for the artists I tend to go for Rembrandt, Sennelier, SAA and of course Winsor & Newton and Daler. The SAA do some very reasonably priced large tubes. In class we use a mix of Cotman and SAA paints and occasionally W&N.



From left to right – 12 Round Synthetic, 7 Round Sable, 3 Rigger, 1 Round Synthetic, Chinese style Mop, Squirrel Mop, 1″ Hake, 1″ Flat

Brushes are still important but you could paint with a piece of tissue, sponge or finger and still get results!

Again my advice is keep it simple and stick to just a few decent brushes until you get to grips with handling the paint and paper. If you are painting on large sheets of paper then you need a correspondingly large brush to apply a good wash.  A size 12 or 14 round synthetic is a good compromise – be careful of brush sizes as manufacturers are not consistent especially the cheaper brushes. When I talk about brush sizes I am referring to ProArte sizing which is often about the standard size of the better manufacturers.

Alternatives to the 12 round (and I do not mean additions to) would be a mop brush either squirrel or the Chinese bamboo handled sort with a point.  A 1” hake brush is quite good for washes and can be used for varying techniques as well (see some of the work of Ron Ranson). A 1” synthetic flat can also be used with slightly more rigid results (personally I do not like Flats as wash brushes)

My classes use:

Size 12 synthetic round (washes and general detail)

Size 6/7 synthetic round (detail where a bit more control is needed)

Size 2 synthetic rigger (for painting fine branches on trees and rigging on boats or even wire fences)

Size 1 round (Signing ones name or putting in people or birds – it is not used for anything else as it encourages fiddling with the painting which is always bad)

The above are suitable for paintings up to 11” x 15” with larger paintings I might use a large hake brush or a larger round or mop.  For smaller paintings like A5 cards or even ACEO’S you don’t need bigger than your size 6/7.

 Other Essentials


Bits & Bobs – Large Plate used as a Palette (ready for a wash!) and a Daisy Palette

Palette  – A white saucer or plate with paint squeezed onto the edge and the centre used for mixing washes are fine (I use a large white square plate). Even a disposable plastic or paper plate can be used (some paper plates are to absorbent so try first). In my classes we use either a Daisy Palette or disposable plates depending on what we are doing.

Drawing Board – A3 or 16” x 12” MDF is a good size for home but depending on your space available it can be as small as A4.  We use 14” x 11” MDF in class but recently I got some 16 x 12 plastic laptop stands from IKEA (Brada) which hold the paper at a nice angle but books or even a roll of masking tape can be used to prop up your MDF board to the correct angle.

Pencils – 2B or 4B pencils are good (and you will need a pencil sharpener) Some HBs are OK if soft enough but 2B is a good halfway house. We use 2 – 4B when drawing but often use a good quality HB for detailed work.

Putty Rubber, A large Water Pot, (lg jam jar or pickle jar or even a plastic soup container – preferably clear so you can see when the water needs changing) Masking Tape (Sticky not low tack – for fixing your paper to your drawing board), Kitchen Towel (or anything absorbent for wiping up water, drying brush, dabbing out clouds etc).  There is other stuff but keep it simple to start.

One last bit of advice.  If you read about stretching paper don’t bother – life is too short! There are ways of flattening out a piece of cockled paper after you have painted it but I will discuss this at a later date. The most important thing is to get painting.

Also do buy an A5 sketch book and carry it about with you and sketch (either with a pencil or even a Biro or felt tip – see work of Aubrey Philips on sketching in felt tip) at every opportunity – it will make you a better artist.

For dates & details of classes see