Sunday, 22 November 2015

Surprising Birches

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a picture of a Silver Birch exercise that I had taught in class. To my surprise it received some lovely comments and so I promised that I would write up how it was achieved. Sadly, I wasn't able to take any photographs of it in stages, but hopefully the instructions below will make sense. If for any reason they don't please feel free to email me at and I will be happy to help. If you have a success, please send me a picture of it, I love to see what people have achieved! Happy Painting, Ali

1. Take a larger piece of watercolour paper than you need and using masking tape, mask off a square/rectangle well within the borders of the paper.
2. Taking a long strip of masking tape, tear it length ways down the middle. This can take a bit of practise and can be easy or difficult depending on the age of your masking tape. I found it easier to tear down about an inch and then stick this end to a table which anchors it while you tear.
3. Turn the masking tape back to back i.e. that the straight edges butt up to each other and the torn edges are on the outside and lay the two down on to your paper, just to the right of centre.
4. You should now be able to see where the truck shape is going to come from, make sure that the masking tape is well burnished down to prevent leaks when you add paint over the top.
5. Choose two colours of watercolour and one dull colour of Brusho (a powdered ink). Wet the paper with clean water, all over the area and drop in the top third, the two colours of water colour and sprinkle a very, very small amount of the Brusho on to the wet surface.
6. Make this more subtle by rolling a piece of kitchen towel across and this should give you a dappled look to the foliage.
7. While the area is still damp (or if it has dried, spray it with a fine mist of water) use a toothbrush to spatter either/both of the colours you used in the background to add to the texture of the foliage. Let all of this dry naturally.
8. When it is completely dry, very carefully and gently, peel off the tape that is masking off the trunk. If, for any reason the paper lifts, continue to peel as carefully as you can and then burnish the surface back down with the back of a spoon.
9. Using a waterproof ink such as Bombay or similar, first practise on a separate piece of paper, how to achieve the trunk texture. This is done by dipping a palette knife in to the ink and then scraping (using the edge) horizontally across the trunk. It takes a little while to get the 'knack' but you will know as soon as you get it! This method can then be used on the truck in your picture, making sure it hits and misses to resemble the texture of the Birch.
10. Use a rigger and a combination of the ink and watercolour to pop in just a couple of branches. There are lots of ways that you can paint realistic branch shapes. Personally, I prefer the 'wiggle and flick' way of using a rigger so you might want to practise this first. As daft as it sounds, I say "wiggle aaaand flick" in my head as I'm doing it...seems to work for me!
11. To finish the piece off, use a brighter colour of Brusho lightly sprinkled over the top (in this example I used Leaf Green) to give stronger foliage in the foreground but you could use more colour or even an ink if you prefer.
12. Carefully peel the masking tape from around the edges and, viola! A Birch tree!

These instructions are obviously a pared down version of how to achieve the painting but the more important part is that you find your own way through the project and if you have any tips or tricks to share, email me or post them on my facebook page - Alison C. Board.