Instruction via Photo Essay

A Cuban Rain Forest with Colorful Orchids

This step-by-step photo essay features the dense tropical forests of Cuba. The painting exudes the energy and melodies of the color of the sun filled, steamy niches of dense foliage. Brilliant orchids cascade out of the trees. The scene has experienced a bit of an afternoon rain. Puddles reflect the orchids and the remaining clouds in the cerulean blue sky.


The key ideas to learn from this exercise are:
a. To create puddles reflecting the scene, use the same colors as the sky and while slightly wet, pull in colors in the landscape.
b. As you pick up paint, try to have every touch with your brush be a slightly different color.
c. As you put your brush to your paper, have every brushstroke be slightly different.
d. This is a good painting to experiment using a flat brush.

  1. ne sketched in a few important components of the painting. She noted the “V” of the sky to create interest at the horizon. She drew big looping ovals to keep those as clean unpainted paper until she was ready to put in the orchids in some of the final steps of the painting. She drew the spaces for the puddles on the road in the foreground.
  2. Next, Jane loosely painted in some of the “background” forms of the rainforest. Knowing that more layers were to come, she wasn’t overly concerned about where the masses of color were painted. She added the blue of the sky and left the white of the paper to serve as the clouds in the sky. She avoided painting in the circles she was saving for the orchids. In the circles for the puddles, she loosely painted in some of the imagined reflected shapes as well as colors of the sky and the “soon to be” orchids.
  3. In the third step, Jane added more detail. Note, there are a variety of greens and a variety of brush strokes. She painted a dirt road in the foreground, connecting it to the puddles and to the edge of the forest. With some of the palms, she painted a dark green, knowing that a lighter green was to come in the next steps to help create more dimension in the trees.
  4. Jane continued to add layers, add detail and toward the last steps, added the orchid in the trees. Jane decided to make the cascades of orchids be very loosely painted. Feel free to add more detail to the orchids if that is fun for you. The colors of the orchids reflected in the puddles were strengthened. More darks hues were inserted in the foliage suggesting the deepest, most shaded areas of the forest. This creates movement of the eyes through the painting, a sense of dimensionality, and it’s fun to add these dabs here and there.


"Hope you enjoyed this painting!"

Jane M. Mason

Dew Drop on a Leaf

A step-by-step demo of how to paint a leaf with a couple of dew drops in watercolor.

  1. Jane started with a light sketch with a brown watercolor pencil. She wet the space inside the leaf drawing with clear water.
  2. The water puddled in some places, so Jane removed the excess water with a Q-Tip.
  3. Note the leaf is still wet and Jane "tipped in" some light yellow and some cerulean, which created a light green. The cerulean will "sediment." (The paint particles settle in the low places in the rough paper.)
  4. Jane continues to add the veins of the leaf. Note this leaf has the signs that something has been chewing on it.
  5. Jane is thinking about where she will add the dewdrops. She decided one would be on the upper quadrant of the right half of the leaf.
  6. Then she continues to fill in the texture of the leaf and decides maybe another one would be good in the upper quadrant of the left half.
  7. She continues to fill in the texture of the leaf and she realizes that it will look life two eyes if she has the dewdrops placed in the upper quadrants. That is distracting.
  8. So, she is thinking about how to change the space or the dewdrops while she adds a very wet background. Because the leaf is fairly light on the right side, she adds a dark background.

A Tree with Ivy

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Reference photo below. Quick prelim sketch with a bit of cerulean blue "sky holes" painted in. Closer look at the sky holes. Goal is to have each shape be a bit different; natural. Some edges are feathered.

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Misting clean water onto the page, over the dry cerulean.

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This shows the quantity of water. It is puddled in some places.

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Painting is taped down to minimize buckling.

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Light greens and yellows are painted around the sky holes and gingerly "fed" into the puddles to take advantage of the unpredictable nature of the edge of the misted water.

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When dry, white artist's tape is applied as a resist to block paint in strategic areas--tree trunks, some sky holes, some light passages.

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More water is misted on top of the tape. Note it is puddled in some places.

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On top of the tape and utilizing the misted water, darker colors are "pounced" onto the paper. Leaves in various colors are added. Additional marks for branches, twigs, sticks, small trunks are purposefully but somewhat randomly, "scribbled" on the painting. The marks are made with a green watercolor crayon and a brown watercolor stick.

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The tape is removed, the trunks are painted in. A few adjustments are made in the color masses here and there. The brilliant orange poison ivy is added. As a final "artist's secret" to help the viewer's eye move around the painting, note that a constellation of yellow dots has been added to the top of the painting in almost an oval around the entire scene. This helps catch the viewer's eye and guide it around the painting in a never-ending circle.

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This is another shot of the reference photo, for comparison. Obviously the artist decided to take some liberties, boost up the intensity of color to magnify the "warmth" of the sun and the day. But the overall effect is a recognizable representation of the scene. (C) Jane M. Mason, WatchingPaintDry.com