How to Paint a Tree With Snow in Watercolor Pencils

How to Paint a Tree With Snow in Watercolor Pencils

In this week’s tutorial, I want to show you how to paint a tree with snow in watercolor pencils.

The sample piece is the weekly drawing the third week of the year.

How to Paint a Tree With Snow in Watercolor Pencils

How to Paint a Tree With Snow in Watercolor Pencils

This four-step method is ideal for sketching, drawing from life, and plein air drawing. You can, of course, finish your drawing more completely if you wish.

In other words, I can’t think of a drawing method for which this method cannot be used.

Begin with a Warm Under Painting

I began with a layer of earth tone. The intention had been to use an umber color, but I couldn’t find one, so I settled for  red-tone.

As with the other tutorials in this series, I added color to the paper by dipping a small sable round into water, then stroking the wet brush across the exposed pigment core and brushing the color onto the paper.

I didn’t do a preliminary drawing, instead drawing much as I would had I been drawing from life or outside.

The first layer of color was applied only in the shadows and darker middle values.

How to Paint a Tree With Snow in Watercolor Pencils - Step 1

Add Gray Tones to the Under Painting

Next, I added gray, beginning by painting over the red tones. In the darkest shadows, I painted three or more layers of gray. In the darker middle values, one or two layers and in the lighter middle values, I added gray in short, straight strokes to mimic the look of bark.

I developed the tree by painting around the snow. But it was getting difficult to imagine the snowy edges while the background was also white. So I switched to a larger, flat and washed a light gray tint into the background.

I used very wet color for this, but also added water to the color once it was on the paper and before it dried. The result was an unplanned, somewhat mottled tone that gives the illusion of a cloudy day and weather of some kind.

How to Paint a Tree With Snow in Watercolor Pencils - Step 2

Adding Warm Reflected Light and Darkening the Shadows

For this step, I painted the underside of the largest branch with a wash of golden color. The reference photo showed warm reflected light despite snow on the ground, so after putting this color on the paper, I stroked over it a couple of times with a wet brush to dilute the color. I also pulled some of it up around the curve of the branch.

How to Paint a Tree With Snow in Watercolor Pencils - Step 3

Then I added a dark blue to the darkest shadows on all of the larger branches.

For each of these layers, I continued working around the areas that were covered by snow on the tree. Notice how the edge is especially sharp and clear in the place where the snow-covered tree meets the dark shadow on the smaller branch on the other side of the tree.

Adding Details with a Dry Pencil

To finish the drawing, I darkened the shadows by brushing black into them, especially on the larger branches.

Then I drew smaller branches and emphasized some of the bark details by drawing with a dry pencil. I used the same watercolor pencil for this because the pigment core is harder and drier than a regular wax-based pencil and is ideal for adding very small details.

How to Paint a Tree With Snow in Watercolor Pencils - Step 4

And that’s all there is to it!


Painting a tree with snow in watercolor pencil was a lot easier than I anticipated (mostly because I’ve never had much success with water media.) It was also more fun and the random effects in the background were a special delight.

I did this drawing in about two hours, not including drying time between each layer. It’s a great way to do quick sketches, practice techniques, or try your hand at a new subject.

It would also be great for doing half tone or color studies for larger works.

Besides all that, it was just plain fun!

Other Tutorials on This Method

I mentioned earlier that there are other tutorials involving watercolor pencils. Here are the two previous posts talking about how I did weekly drawings.

Drawing with Black and Gray Colored Pencils

Painting with Watercolor Pencils

For a more in-depth tutorial describing how I use watercolor pencils, check out my-part series on EmptyEasel.

How to Draw a Sunrise Landscape with Water Soluble Colored Pencils – Part 1

Drawing a Sunrise with Water Soluble Colored Pencils – Part 2

One comment

  1. Tim Grant

    This may seem a silly question, but considering the amount of brushwork involved, why not simply use block or tube paint and then detail with pencil? After all, the paint is, by its nature, brush-friendly.

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