Sketching a Sourwood Tree, Autumn
Watercolor Sketching Tutorial

by Jennifer Branch
It's so beautiful here in the fall! I feel like I live in a treehouse sometimes since all I can see out most windows is trees. Off my deck, I have an oak-hickory-pine forest, with sourwood trees sprinkled along the edges.

Sourwoods are bright as fire during the fall. So beautiful and colorful, they're hard to paint. They're a little touch of fall magic at the edge of the woods.

I'm sketching just the top of a beautiful tree off my deck today. Bright red leaves almost silhouetted against a deep woods pine.
Sketching a Sourwood Tree, Autumn Watercolor Painting tutorial

Sketching Tutorial Level

Skill Building

VividColors

Splatter

Negative Painting

Art Supplies

Blick Art Full Bellied Round, no.12

Paints

M. Graham watercolors

Azo Yellow
Cadmium Yellow
Quinacridone Red
Cadmium Red
Quinacridone Gold
Pthalo Green
Cobalt Blue
Ultramarine Blue
Burnt Sienna
White Gouache

Painting Demonstration 1

Sketching a Sourwood Tree, Autumn Watercolor Painting Lesson 1

A bit of a dull photo, but when the light hits the tree, it lights up like a Christmas tree, all bright red and green!

Painting Demonstration 2

Sketching a Sourwood Tree, Autumn Watercolor Painting Lesson 2

A very light quick sketch, just a line or two in pencil, then on with the paint. I start with the brightest, lightest colors, the reds.

Painting Demonstration 3

Sketching a Sourwood Tree, Autumn Painting Tutorial 3

One of the strongest darks is the tall pine tree deep in the forest. I paint it dark and dull in pthalo green, quinacridone red and cobalt blue. I want it to contrast sharply with the bright sourwood tree.

Artist Tips

A sketch is a brief moment in time, it doesn't have to cover the whole page, just briefly say what you want to say and stop painting1
Sketching a Sourwood Tree, Autumn watercolor painting tutorial by Jennifer Branch

Painting Demonstration 4

Sketching a Sourwood Tree, Autumn Painting Tutorial 4

I add a bit of pthalo green and azo yellow while everything is still wet. I love how the green bleeds and dries in the red!

Painting Demonstration 5

Sketching a Sourwood Tree, Autumn Painting Tutorial 5

I start negative painting around the bright sourwood with more dulled colors. The foreground is not as dark as the old pine tree, more of dulled golds.

Painting Demonstration 6

Sketching a Sourwood Tree, Autumn Watercolor Painting Tutorial 6

More golds, purples, and dulled blues in the background. Funny, but the sketch really rests more on the dull richness of the background than the bright jeweled tree in the foreground. The bright colors simply don't show up much otherwise.

Don't forget to just let colors melt into each other. This is not a stark outline. If I feel like more definition, I can always go back with a pen on a sketch!


Sketching a Sourwood Tree, Autumn Watercolor Painting tutorial

Final Watercolor Sketch!

To finish up, I added the bright gold seeds on their delicate fronds in gouache. Always leave gouache until the very end! Nothing can mess up a painting faster!


This is such a fun little afternoon sketch! I love playing with colors and shapes when the leaves form abstract patterns. It's all about color and light and values.

Just go sketch in the woods this fall! There are beautiful leaves, lovely dappled light and bright colors against dull backgrounds.

An hour spent sketching is a way to fix a lovely memory in your head forever. It's not just looking at an image in a photo, everytime you look at the sketch, you'll be sitting there, looking at the tall trees in their autumn finery. You'll taste apple cider and smell the wood fire. Sketching makes a memory.

When it's dark and cold this winter, I'll take out that sketch - and perhaps turn it into a real painting, perhaps just enjoy the memory!

I would love to see some of your sketches of fall!
Happy Painting! Jennifer Branch

Related Art Lessons

  • Painting a Boy and his Dog watercolor painting tutorial
    Painting a Boy and his Dog

  • Watercolor Painting a Green Tree watercolor painting lesson
    Watercolor Painting a Green Tree

  • How to Paint a Hummingbird watercolor painting tutorial
    How to Paint a Hummingbird

  • Portland Head Lighthouse watercolor painting tutorial
    Portland Head Lighthouse