Watercolor Basics: Layering with Trees | Caitlin Sheffer | Skillshare

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Watercolor Basics: Layering with Trees

teacher avatar Caitlin Sheffer, Watercolor Artist & Designer

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.

      Introduction and Supplies


    • 2.

      Two Ways to Paint Trees: Flat Shader and Round


    • 3.

      Practice Layering Exercise


    • 4.

      Project: Wash


    • 5.

      Project: Row 1


    • 6.

      Project: Rows 2 and 3


    • 7.

      Project: Gift Tag


    • 8.

      Project: Hand Lettering


    • 9.

      Project: Wrapping Up


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About This Class

Layering watercolors is a simple watercolor technique that is essential for creating depth in your paintings. This class will teach you the basics of layering washes to create a foreground and background - without you even realizing it!

We will cover two different ways to paint pine trees using a flat shaded and round brush, as well as how to compose your forest painting. We will create a stunning forest by adding darker trees on top of a previous layer - and then cut our painting into beautiful gift tags! It’s a fun and practical class that will be a hands on experience. This class is great for beginners, but all levels of artists will enjoy participating in the gift tag craft at the end! 

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Caitlin Sheffer

Watercolor Artist & Designer



I'm Cate from Emerald Ivy Studios, and I'm just a little in love with flowers, watercolors, and Diet Dr. Pepper. I'm a mom by day, artist by night, and a proud Hallmark Channel movie enthusiast. This is my happy corner of the internet where I will share with you my latest tutorials, tips, and tricks. Follow along on Instagram (@EmeraldandIvyStudios) for glimpses into my process. 

Website: www.emeraldivystudios.com

Questions/Inquiries? You can get in touch by leaving a comment or by emailing: hello@emeraldivystudios.com

Based in Virginia, United States.

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Level: All Levels

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1. Introduction and Supplies: Hey guys, I'm Caitlin Schaeffer from Ireland in IV studios. And I'm so glad you're joining me today for this fun new class. I love Dr. Pepper. I love being a mom and I'm super excited to share my love of painting happy little trees, as Bob Ross would call them. Today we're going tolearn all about layering, washes and watercolor. But you're not really going to feel like you're learning something new because we're going to be doing a really fun project. We're going to make some, gift tags and you're going to be so distracted having fun painting trees, you're going to forget that we're actually learning all about layering. We'll start off learning how to paint trees with a few different brushes in a few different ways. We'll do a quick exercise on how to layer our trees, and then we'll do a bigger project where we paint a huge line of trees, cut it up and turn it into a beautiful gift tag that your loved ones are going to be wowed by. The supplies you'll need for this project are really simple. You just need some water color paints, some water color paper, some round brushes, as well as a flat shader, if you have one and some water and a paper towel. You'll also need some additional materials for the gift tag product, but we'll go over that at a later point. Let's get started. We're going to have so much fun painting these little trees. 2. Two Ways to Paint Trees: Flat Shader and Round: Okay, so before we start talking about layering with water colors, we're going to learn a few different ways to paint these trees with different brushes. The first brush is the flat shader, which is the brush on the bottom right. Then we'll do some with a size six round and then some with a size zero round. I'm mixing up a nice green, I'm using some permanent Sap Green and some olive green and I have my flat shader. When you hold it up and look at it, it looks like a square. I'm going to turn it so it's perpendicular to the page and I'm just going to use the very corner of the brush and start to drag it down and then flip it sideways and just make lines back and forth, back and forth. To make a stem, I'm going to go perpendicular again and make a little tree stump. So you want to just go side to side and you can alternate, turning your brush perpendicular to the page and using one of the corners of the brush and then you can flip it so that it's parallel to the page and go side to side. Here's perpendicular, making the tree top sliding left to right and then I flip it so it's parallel and do the same thing. You can do really tight lines or you can make it loose. You're basically just zigzagging across the paper. I'm going to go ahead and go perpendicular again and make the tree stump. I'll show you another way to do this in just a minute with the round brush. Going to add some fellow turquoise to get us a little bit of a different shade. Perpendicular little tree top side to side and then flip and work your way down. It's really simple. I want you to try this out. You're going to love working with a new brush if you're like me and you only use round brushes, little tree stump and there you go. Those three trees using the flat shader, which is one of my favorite ways to paint these little evergreen pine trees. Now that we've covered how to do these trees with a flat shader, I want to show you how you can also do them with a round brush if you don't have a flat shader, you're going to do it the same way you are going to start at the top. This time though we're going to do a straight line down first, and that's going to be the center of our tree. But we're still going to work our way from top to bottom. So smaller zigzags across the page and as you go down, you're going to get wider and wider just like a tree does in nature. You can move the water around as you go. So it's nice and even you can even drop in more color if you want it to be darker. So let's do a second one, straight line down. Brace yourself by having your arm flat against the page and that will help you get a straight line. If you want, you can even do the left side of the tree and then the right side. But I prefer to go back and forth to get a more even shape. Try mixing up different greens as you go just to get some practice. I like to add in a little blue to get a misty color. Straight-line down, brace your arm against the paper and little swipe back and forth. The more pressure you put on your brush, the wider your strokes will be. If you want really thin lines, then you want to hold the brush straight up and down just so you're getting the tip. Here we go get nice wide tree at the bottom. I like to practice with different shapes. You can always extend the stamp if it's not quite centered once you're done. Now I'm going to do the same thing, but I'm going to switch and use my size zero, which is a really fine thin, smaller brush just to get a little bit of a different field. Changed up my green a little bit, I'm going to go ahead and do the same thing where I go straight down, starting at the top, dragging it back and forth across the center line. Changing how much pressure I put on the brush will help me get some more realistic lines so it doesn't all look super uniform. I like it to look more natural. So another one, you're getting the gist at this point, they're really easy. That's why I like doing these to practice layering because it's not hard. It's not some really complicated shape. It's pretty much just back and forth, back and forth. Getting wider at the bottom, narrower at the top. 3. Practice Layering Exercise: Now that we've learned how to paint our trees, we're going to learn about layering our trees. You can use a flat shader or a round brush, either works, whichever one you like is what you should do. Now that these last three trees have dried, I'm going to layer on another line of trees. I like to work in odd numbers, so, I'm going to do five, and I'm going to put them in front of those three trees. I made sure to use really water down paints so that they're very faint and very light, and with the second row of trees, I've added in more paint to my palette so that they're a little bit darker. Just like in real life, your foreground, which is the front trees, are going to be darker than the trees further away from you. So in the background the trees should be lighter and as you add more and more rows, you want them to get darker each time. So if you want to have 10 rows of trees, keep that in mind as you're mixing your colors. Now, I love to work in odd numbers, that's just a design principle. I started with three, I'm going to do five, and I like to find places where there are gaps. The first two trees I painted, I'm using my round brush, I like to draw the line down first and then add in my side-to-side motion, and I'd like to find little windows, as I call them. It's where there's negative space in between my first row. Then I can go in once I've filled in those window gaps, I can go in and add in more trees so that it looks really even, I work my way in to outward motion. Make sure when you're using this middle row, that you don't go as dark as you possibly can with your color just because we're going to be adding a third row, so, keep that in mind once again, as you're mixing your colors. I like to change it up a little bit with each tree or due to in the same color and two and another color just because in real life everything's different, it's not all one uniform color. Another thing you need to keep in mind is, when you're doing your rows, so, you don't want each tree to be exactly the same height. You want them to stagger a little bit. So as you see, I did some shorter, some taller. None of them are exactly at the same point, the same line across the page. They're all just a little bit different, the tree stumps are just at different heights on the page, and that just helps create a better flow. Time to add in our third row. I've mixed up a darker color, I've added in some more fellow turquoise and some darker green, found a little gap in my second row, little window, draw my line straight down, and then going side to side, getting wider at the bottom. You can see that it's starting to look just like you're in the mountains with the trees closer to you are darker and the trees further from you are lighter and more distant. Look over here and fill in this gap. Making the top of this tree just a little bit lower than the first tree I did. A lot of times I like to start at the top, go down a few lines and then go back to the top, fill it in a little bit more. It makes it look a little more natural. You can do some trees wider than others to give it some variation. Now, just like with the second row, I want you guys to just fill in these gaps until you feel like the composition is complete and not too crowded. Remember to mix up a little bit of different colors every one or two trees, and find these little windows. It's okay to give the illusion that this tree is behind the first two that I did from the third row. That works just fine they don't all have to have space in between them on the same row, they can bleed into one another, and I actually think I really like that effect a lot. When you're making your composition, at least for this exercise, if it helps you, try to visualize a triangle being placed over top of your rows of trees. You want them to start smaller and work their way down. Just like the trees we start narrow at the top, get wider at the bottom, that's exactly what we're doing with this exercise. So just picture a little triangle over your painting and work your way down. 4. Project: Wash: Now that you have done your practice layering exercise, it's time to get on to the main event. I'm going to start by doing a really light wash on a new piece of watercolor paper. I'm using my biggest round brush that I have. You can really use any brush, it doesn't matter. I just find that the bigger brush holds more water, and makes it a little bit easier to do a wash. If you've never done a wash before, you can check out one of my other SkillShare classes. It's called Creative Self-care. I go over how to do washes in that class. But essentially you're just going to use the wet on wet method. You're going to put some clean fresh water on the page. I'm doing a rectangular shape. This is going to be my sky background basically. So I'm using a very light greenish blue with a little bit of gray in it, little payne's gray. It looks even darker than I want right now but just remember that watercolors dry lighter than when you put them on paper. You can move the paper back and forth up and down so you can get these cool streak effects. But just go ahead and add in whatever color you want your background to be, and watch it burst onto the page. This is what I love about the wet on wet method. It's that you can just see the colors bleed into the water. 5. Project: Row 1: Now it's time to add in our first row of trees, just like we did with our exercise, our wash is now dry. You want to make sure that it's a really dry before you add in this first row trees, otherwise, it's just going to bleed everywhere and you're going to be so sad, you're going to have to start over. So make sure that you have a fairly light pink color, so that as you add in the second and third rows you can get darker each time. Same thing as before, I choose to use a round brush, draw my mid line, and then add in my side to side motion lines. But if you want, you can definitely use your flat shader, and you could also skip painting the center line and just go from top to bottom side to side, that's totally fine. Whatever you feel like helps you achieve a better shaped tree is perfectly fine. So I'm just adding in this first row of trees, I'm going to come to the very edge of my wash, because we're going to be cutting this down and when I cut it down, I want the tree to go all the way to the edge. So I'm actually going to go past the border of my wash, just a little bit, because later it's just going to get trimmed up. Just go across your wash, staggering the heights of the trees, and you are just going to fill the whole rectangle or whatever shape you've painted, you're just going to fill all the way across in one row, keeping it really light and varying the size and color, and you can have different widths, different spaces in between the trees. You can have some that are really close, some that are further apart because you're going to be adding in a second row anyways. So just keep in mind that this isn't exactly how it's going to look once you add in more trees on the row below. Now here's a close up view, if you need to see a little bit more detail. Just quickly going back and forth, this is a really light wash layer. It doesn't need to be perfect especially the stump or the trunk of the tree. Excuse me, I've been calling it a stump, the trunk of a tree, those are going to cover it up, mostly by the second row. 6. Project: Rows 2 and 3: Here we go with our second row of trees. Once you've let the first row dry, you are ready to get started. So I've mixed up a little bit of a darker shade of green. Remember, it's going to dry a little bit lighter than what you see on the page right now, but it is darker than my initial row. Remember I'm going to go off the edge just a little bit because I'm going to trim the paper down later. So it's okay that it's going off of the wash. I'm just going to go right down the row, starting from the left side and working my way to the right side. If you're left-handed, you would just reverse it. So you'd work from right to left. You can play around with starting at the bottom and working your way up the tree. That's totally fine. Sometimes I will do this when I want my trees to not all be the exact same. So starting from the bottom and going up to the top helps them look just a little bit different. [MUSIC] You just want to let your second row dry, and just like we've done before, we're going to mix up a darker color and start with row three. This is going to be my last row and I'm purposely have arranged it so that I have about a third of the wash shape left on the bottom, because that is going to be where we write the name on our gift tag. So if you want your gift tag to be completely full of trees, then you can, by all means, just keep adding more and more rows. But because I want to hand letter my mom's name or my husband's name for a gift tag, I'm going to leave the bottom part blank from trees. So you're just going to be able to see the wash at the bottom. Just keep on working down the line, making sure that you fill in those gaps and that you stagger the heights of the trees just like we've talked about before, so that it has a nice flow. 7. Project: Gift Tag: It's time to make our beautiful finished product. Once your painting is dry, we can get started making these cute little gift tags. Now you're going to need some supplies. These are what I used. I used scissors tape, some brush pens, some ribbon, wrapping paper, and then a hole punch and a paper trimmer. I have this handy little slicer that I use to trim down paper but if you don't have that, you can just use your scissors, that's totally fine. Then you might want to find a ruler. I don't happen to have one, so I used just a straight edge from my watercolor paper pad, but if you have a ruler that would also be handy to have. First thing I need to do because I painted on a water color block, is I need to take my paper off of the block, so I'm using my sharp knife and just sliding it down the edge that's glued to the block. If you've used a loose sheet, then you can just skip this step. Now that I have it removed for my pad, I'm going to use the straight edge on the pad to help me draw my straight lines. What I'm going to do is I'm going to use a pencil and I'm going to roughly trace where I want to trim the page. Basically I'm going to be making a large rectangle around where I've painted and I'm going to divide it up into several different gift tags. I think this will give me about four gift tags, but it just depends on how big you want them to be and how big you made your painting. Go ahead and trace out your shape on all four sides. Again, you can use a ruler here, it would be more practical. I cannot find mine, so this little watercolor pad will do. Then once you have your main rectangle shape mapped out, then you can measure how large it is so that you can evenly divide the shape into gift tags. I'm just going to use my little extension that I have on my paper trimmer. It wasn't quite useful for making my rectangle, but it will be helpful to see how wide my shape is, so I'm going to look at this and it looks like I'm going to make each tag about an inch and a half. Just going to make a little line where each one should be and if you know me, you guys, I am not good at math. If you ask me my multiplication tables, I will freeze up, so I'm a little slow at this part. You might be a little faster because you're good with numbers, but I'm a creative person, I'm not a numbers person. Once you have your individual gift tags marked up, use your ruler or your straight edge and line up the two marks you made on the top and the bottom, and just draw a straight line. We're basically just making the shape of our gift tags, just smaller vertical rectangles. Go ahead and do that right on down the line. Now once you have that all mapped out, you are going to grab your paper trimmer or your scissors, and you're just going to cut along the pencil line that you made, really simple. The paper trimmer is really helpful for this because it's quick and you get a very straight cut. You can find these at craft stores, I think I got mine at Target. You can look on Amazon. They're relatively inexpensive. I think I probably spent maybe $15 on mine and I use it all the time. But then again, scissors work just as well. Once you have your tags cut up, I like to take some scissors and just snip off the edges of the top of the gift tags so it has this nice little beveled edge. You don't have to do this, I just think it's gives it a little bit of something extra. After you do that, all you have left is to punch a hole in the top of the card. I'm using one of my three-hole punch slots since I don't have a single hole punch. Just going to go ahead and repeat with the rest of my tags. I only have four. You might have more than that. It's not very time-consuming, just snip off the edges and punch a hole in the top and you're good to go. Once I have my first one done, I like to lay it on top of the next one and use it as a template so that I don't have to keep guessing on what my angles should be when I cut the edge. I just layered one on top of the other and use that as a guide on where to cut. Depending on how thick your watercolor paper is, you could try and punch them all at the same time but I'm a little nervous to do that. I want it to be nice and crisp, so I'm just going to do them one at a time since I only have a couple. 8. Project: Hand Lettering: Before I write on the tags, I just want to loosen up and practice on this little strip of scrap paper. I think I'm going to do my mom, my dad, my husband, and my son. I'm just going to practice writing their names before I write it on the actual tag. There are so many amazing lettering tutorials on Skillshare and on YouTube,so I'm not even going to attempt to teach you lettering. It's not one of my strong points. I do enjoy it, but if you want to learn more about hand lettering or calligraphy, there are so many classes on Skillshare. Now part of the reason I'm practicing is because I'm writing on watercolor paper which isn't smooth, so it can skip a little bit. I just want to get a feel for the paper before I write on my actual tag and then my son's name, maybe I'll just do all uppercase because he's four and it'll be easier for him to read. There we go. There's my practice. Let's start with my mom. I think I want to try this one in all lowercase with the swashes going across the whole page. Let's see how this goes. Is going to be like that. I think I'm actually going to switch pens. I am going to use this, the Mono Twin Tombow Pen. This it does not have the brush tip it's more of just a straight pen. You can see because I want to write his name in just uppercase since he's a preschooler. I'm going to go ahead and use this pen because I don't really need it to have that calligraphy luck. Let's get a better angle, so you can see these. There we go, we have our tags already for our gifts. 9. Project: Wrapping Up: Now that my tags are ready, I am ready to wrap up this photo album I made for my mom with some of our family pictures. I just have some cute polka dot wrapping paper and I just need to measure out how much I need to cover my album. Now, this is not a tutorial or a class on how to beautifully wrap gifts. I am no expert by any means on wrapping gifts beautifully. I'm a basic girl. I fold things in half and I use several pieces of tape. I would check out YouTube if you want to learn how to wrap gifts beautifully because this is not the tutorial for you. I'm just real basic. Now that my picture album is all wrapped up, I have this really beautiful, plaid, green ribbon and I just love how it feels like the holidays, it matches the trees. If you don't want to go for a holiday look, you could pick a different color ribbon, but since I'm going to be using this for Christmas gift, it works just fine. I like to wrap my ribbon around, like it makes a T. It wraps in the back and then it crosses, goes over top and to the front of the package. Then you just flip it over and I like to loop it a little bit. This is where I'm going to go ahead and snip the ribbon off of the roll because I know I have enough now. This can be a little bit tricky and it's not necessary to do it this way, especially with a ribbon this thick. You can use a thinner ribbon. But I just love this how it compliments the trees. To fit it through the hole, I fold the ribbon in half and just thread it through. Go a little bit slowly, all the way till it meets the package, hold it in place, and then I just tie a quick knot making sure to keep the ribbon so that it lays flat. Once you get it tied, I just hold it with one finger and finish the knot. Now you can tie a bow here, but I think this just looks so pretty as is and I like how it just has a nice finished look, a crisp look. I'm not going to tie a bow, I'm just going to go ahead and cut off the edges. To make it a little bit fancier, I will fold each side in half, just like this, then from the center, I will clip up on an angle just like we did with the gift tags and it makes a nice little V shape in the end of the ribbon. Just make sure you cut in the direction where there's the seam. If you cut from the outside towards the seam, you will get an opposite shape. I think that looks so pretty. My mom is going to love it and the little tree gift tag just looks so cute with the hand lettering. It's a really special touch that I know your loved ones are just going to adore.