Watercolor Birds & Branches | Using various watercolor techniques to paint a lovely winter scene | Katrina Pete | Skillshare

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Watercolor Birds & Branches | Using various watercolor techniques to paint a lovely winter scene

teacher avatar Katrina Pete, Watercolor Artist

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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 Birds and Branches


    • 2.

      Supplies Birds and Branches


    • 3.

      Masking Fluid Tips


    • 4.

      Where I applied Masking Fluid


    • 5.

      Brush Techniques


    • 6.

      Background Wash Part 1


    • 7.

      Background Wash Part 2


    • 8.

      Detail Foreground Branches Part 1


    • 9.

      Painting the Birds part 1


    • 10.

      Bird Detail 2


    • 11.

      Birds Detail 3


    • 12.

      Finishing Touches and Branch Detail


    • 13.

      Closing Thoughts


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About This Class

Hello fellow artists! Thank you for taking my class. Although this class is best suited for those who have had some watercolor experience, all levels are welcome! We will cover many different watercolor techniques in this class so you may want to watch some of the videos before starting your painting. I will be demonstrating this watercolor Birds & Branches painting from start to finish while showing various techniques in order to achieve texture, flow, depth and fine detail in watercolor. I've included a few short videos on the supplies I use and a quick review of various brush techniques.

This painting came together through a series of layers using transparent watercolor. 

  • First, we start by using masking fluid in specific areas to keep small details white. We will use different tools to 'spatter' masking fluid such as a toothbrush. Using masking fluid gives us more freedom to get wild with our background wash.
  • Once the masking fluid dries, we start with a background wet-into-wet wash with shades of blue and white. We will paint soft and diffused background branches while the wash is still wet.
  • We will use salt in the background wash to add texture and 'snow effects'
  • Once the background wash dries, we will add foreground branches using dry brush techniques.
  • As we add more layers and move into the foreground, we will achieve more contrast by increasing the 'value' or (darkness /intensity/saturation) of our paint while keeping the highlights in surrounding areas white and bright.


  • "Thirsty Brush" means softening an edge while it is still wet. I use a damp brush and remove excess water to 'lift' some of the pigment from the edge to soften it.
  • "wet into wet" means applying paint to a damp surface. It is important that your paper is not too wet. It should have an even coating of water and should not be pooling on the paper. You should be able to hold it up to the light and still see the texture of the paper. 
  • "Dropping in color" When I apply paint into a wet wash and letting it spread naturally.
  • "Dry brush technique" Painting on a dry paper. This is great for detailed work and texture.
  • "Masking fluid" Applied to dry paper in order to preserve white areas. Once dry, you can paint over it. When your painting is completely dry you can remove it with a rubber nib or eraser to reveal clean white paper below.
  • "Value" The relative light or darkness or saturation of a color. A light and dark value next to each other creates contrast. 


  • Waterford cold pressed 140lb paper in a block. Arches is wonderful too. I use both!
  • Blick Studio Natural Blend No. 12 Round Brush
  • Silver Black Velvet Round No 6,8,10
  • Antwerp Blue, VanDyke Brown, Buff Titanium, Payne's Gray
  • Masking Fluid 
  • Salt (table salt is fine)
  • Ultra Fine Mist Sprayer (Master's Touch Fine art studio) from Hobby Lobby or Blick's
  • Coffee :-)

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Katrina Pete

Watercolor Artist


All of my paintings and illustrations are dreamed up in my happy little home studio in Minnesota. My painting career began with my Etsy Shop, and soon turned into commissioned work and illustration for a large card company. I love teaching, and I love helping other artists improve their skills and techniques. Please contact me if you have any questions. I hope you enjoy my video tutorials!

I love the way the colors blend into one another, hard and soft lines on textured paper, the luminosity of the pigment and the meditative state that happens with good coffee, sunshine and a paint brush.

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Level: Intermediate

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1. Introduction Birds and Branches: Hello, everyone. My name is Katrina Pete's, and today I will be teaching you a course on painting birds and branches. Now we'll be starting with a background loose wash, using wet into wet techniques to get these soft, hazy branches and halo effects using sea salt. We'll also be doing some dry brush techniques once the background layer dries to achieve detail on the fathers and the faces of these little birds. 2. Supplies Birds and Branches: So these are just some of the supplies I used for this class. I'm working on Saunders Waterford watercolor paper. It's £140 cold press, and it comes in this really nice found padded block so that when you are finished with your painting, it dries really smooth and flat, and you can just remove it with a palette knife. As you can see, I've got another one underneath and the colors I'm using Now this is a fairly limited palate. Um, I'm using Antwerp Blue by Windsor and Newton. I'm using Van Dyke Brown. Buy hold line. I know both of these colors are fairly transparent, which just means that when you apply them to your paper, you concede the white of the paper coming through. They're not opaque, like some other colors. Buff titanium is pretty opaque, but I use it just sparingly. In this painting, I'm also using touches of Payne's gray mixed with my van dyke brown for the birds paces and the darker portions. If you don't have pains, great, you can also use a neutral tint or any other really dark color would work now for the masking fluid I'm using a Windsor and Newton colorless masking fluid, and you can use any kind of masking fluid. I just happen to like this one, and you can try it using different types of techniques. But what I like to use often is just a old brush or a toothbrush, and you can spatter it on your dry paper just like this. And when you remove it using a rubber nib or a, um, an eraser would work, then you're left with these little white splotches which look like snow. So I use this quite a bit whenever I paint. Another product I really love is this ultra fine mist sprayer. I use this all the time because I paint a lot of wet into wet washes, and I use this to what? My palate before I start painting. Um, but I love this because if some parts of my background wash start to dry and I'm not ready for it to dry, then I could just missed this on, and it applies a really even missed. It doesn't have very big drops. They're very tiny. So anyway, I really recommend this. It's from Hobby Lobby, I believe, come for the brushes the ones I really like using for glazing on just Clearwater before I start working wet in a wet are just really soft mops style brushes. This is a 3/4 mop brush that I used, and you'll see that in my video, but you can use any soft, fresh will work and another brush I really love for adding in color. Using wet into wet techniques is this number 12 natural haired brush by Blix Studio. It holds quite a bit of water because it's a natural blend, and it just works beautifully for dropping in color all over. So I recommend this brush. A few others I really like to use for detailed work are these silver black velvet round brushes. I have a six and eight and a tent. What I like about thes is, though they don't hold as much water as 100% natural hair brushes, they do hold quite a bit because they are a blend of natural and synthetic cares. So they do hold a really fine point for detail work, even the number 10 which is big. I can still get a really fine point when it's wet, so these are great brushes. If you want to just buy one. A number eight is what I would recommend 3. Masking Fluid Tips: So before we begin painting, I just want to show you some areas that I'm asked out before I started with anything. So what I used for my masking fluid is this Windsor and Newton colorless, masking fluid. And I used an old brush, and I also used a too fresh to apply this batter above the birds that looks like snow. So the areas I masked out with this brush were just the white parts of their faces and just the highlight in their eyes and parts of their beaks. I also masked their feet, so I carefully masked those out. And I left with their bodies just unmasked because you'll see later why I chose to do that . If you want, you could mask out the birds entirely and even the branch they're sitting on, um, but then some of the techniques I use later won't apply. For example, the background soft, hazy colors you see around their heads were achieved using wet into wet, while just parts of their faces were masked. But it's up to you now. When I'm asked the snowy areas. What I used was a toothbrush and another old brush, and I just applied this batter like this, so I just dipped it in there and I just kind of hit the brush, and I turned it in different areas so that this matter was random. If you hold it in the same angle than your spatter won't look very random. So I just recommend turning your brush as you go and flicking on little drops. I would practice on a separate piece of paper first. No, you'll see. I didn't get any drops on the bird's bodies, and that's because I used a piece of paper just toe loosely block them out. And then I applied it. And then I turned my paper and I spattered some more down here, too, so you can do that as well. So another tip on using masking fluid, and you probably already know this. But if it's new to you, you need to apply it when your paper is completely dry. So before you start painting and then you have to let it dry completely, and then once it's try, then you can paint all over it, and it just dries to ah, robbery finish. Once you're painting is completely dry, then you can remove the masking fluid with an eraser or a rubber nim. I like to use this rubber nib from Blix because it picks it up. You can see it's all pretty gross, but that's because I use it quite a bit and it works perfectly, So that's a little tip. So this painting was done in three phases. Will be starting with the loose, wet into wet background wash to achieve these soft, hazy branches and snow. And then once that layer dries, then will be adding and more detail work with darker branches, and we'll get progressively darker to add more contrast. 4. Where I applied Masking Fluid: 5. Brush Techniques: so I'll show you some glazing techniques I use often when I'm painting, and what I'm doing here is doing ah, wet into wet technique. Often, when I'm painting feathers and a bird, I'll paint just small sections with a clean glaze of water, and then I'll just drop in my pigment and let it flow naturally. This way it's contained within the area that's wet, but it still has some definition on the outside while being soft and diffused in the middle . So keep in mind when you're putting down your clear glaze of water, you don't want to create a huge wall of water. You just want a soft sheen glaze so that you can still see the texture of the paper. You can even pull out some of the color and create some dry brush. Work alongside your wash. Another term you'll hear me uses the thirsty brush or a damp brush, and what this is is when you want to soften. Ah, hard edge. You just take your brush and you stop up the excess water under a tissue, and then you just pull that color along and soften that edge 6. Background Wash Part 1: - all right, So now that are masking fluid has dried. Let's get started with our background wash. So I'm using a 3/4 mop brush. It's a very soft brush, so I'm not worried about leaving marks in my paper. Sometimes when you use a stiffer brush, you risk leaving lines in your paper so you can use a soft round or a mop, or any sort of soft brush will work for this. I'm just brushing on a clear, clean glaze of water all around my paper. But I'm being careful. Toe, leave the birds dry. I'm working fairly quickly. Teoh, get this page covered with water because I don't want areas to dry around it. I want it to be about the same level of dampness throughout the whole page. Now, I only masked out the beaks and part of the birds faces and part of their feet. Um, you'll see here. I'm getting close to the birds, But not I'm not super worried about being perfect about getting my water right up to the edge of their bodies. Um, so you'll see as we do our wet into wet washes. I'm leaving some areas soft. So once you have your paper completely and evenly covered. Just pick it up and give it a good look under the light. You don't want it to be sopping wet with water. You just want it to be to have a nice sheen to it. Okay, so for our background wash, I'm using a number 12 squirrel blend brush from Blix. It's a public studio brush. I use it quite a bit for these background washes because it holds a lot of water and a lot of pigments, and it's very soft and smooth, and it it doesn't really leave hard edges when you're working wet into wet. So I'm using some Antwerp blue right here. It's a really beautiful blue color. It's very transparent, so in lighter areas you can really see the white of the paper through it. So I love using this color for background washes because it's a good mid toned glutes, pretty neutral, and then I just apply it very quickly while my paper is still damp. Um, you want to do this within a matter of minutes. It just depends on how dry the climate is, where your painting, Um, where I'm at right now, It's wintertime and our heat is on. So the air is very dry, very low humidity. So I just wanted to get this paint on very quickly, very loose again. Don't be concerned where you're applying it too much. You just want to get it on quickly. Um, I'm also adding a little bit of buff titanium in some areas and letting that mix in and mingle with the blue and the wet of the paper. Now you'll see me tilting my paper back and forth, and that's just to encourage the flow of color. I really love doing this. It's a really dynamic way of painting, and oftentimes I'm standing up at the table rather than sitting, Um, so this just gives you a really beautiful flow to your background wash. 7. Background Wash Part 2: now I'm going in while my paper is still wet with some more saturated Antwerp blue. And I'm being careful to leave the area on top of the birds heads that lighter wash. I'm not. I don't want to drop in dark color right above their heads because these birds have their black capped chickadees, so the tops of their heads are dark. And so I want to make sure I have that contrast between a later background and a darker head. Now, this method of painting can get messy pretty quickly, so I always have some clean rags nearby to stop up the excess water. You can use paper towels, too. Um, and you just want to make sure there aren't any puddles sitting on your paper, because if there are, they're gonna leave some unsightly blooms. Unless you want that added texture. Look at your paper. Make sure it's evenly damp and let's add in some branches. So I'm using my the same brush that number 12 round and these branches, when they dry, they're gonna just look very soft and they'll be in the background. I'm using this, um, amusing Bandic Brown because it's ah, beautiful, transparent brown when it also just blends really well, with this this blue color. Now, when I use this brush for these branches, I just want to be careful that I'm not, um, touching my brown into the birds because I didn't mask them out. But if you have masked out your birds, you don't have to worry about that, that I left the twig, that the birds are resting on white and what I'm gonna be doing is adding in a touch of brown, I wanted to keep part of the twig white just to leave a little highlight in there. But I'm gonna be going over just the bottom of it while my paper is still damp with my brown and just just skim over it to create a shadow on that twig. Now, in some of those dry areas where the birds are, I want to soften that with the thirsty brush. Now, I've felt like this area needed another branch, so I just added it in while my paper was still wet. And you can do this to, um, if your paper starts to dry, then you'll just have to wait until it dries completely to add more branches. So while this first wash is still damp, I recommend sprinkling in your salt. If you want to get those nice, beautiful halo effects, this would be a great time to do that. So I'm just going to pour a little bit of salt into my hand and Sprinkle it on randomly. I'm focusing on the areas where I have some of the masking fluid spattered. I just like that contrast of the halo defects that the salt gives with the crisp white splotches that you'll see when I remove this masking fluid. Now the salt will only work if your paper is still damp, so just look for areas that still have that sheen and Sprinkle away. Then, once you're done, just let this first wash dry completely and brush off your salt, and we'll get on to the next step. 8. Detail Foreground Branches Part 1: Okay, now that we've finished our background wash and our paper is completely dry, you can remove your salt and you'll see it produces this beautiful soft halo effect that looks a lot like snowflakes. Now I'm leaving my masking fluid on because we'll be painting the branches in this next step, and I just want to leave that on until the very end. Now, I just want to show you a quick photo so you can get an idea of how your branches in the foreground will look compared to the ones in the background, which are softer and appear more distant. So we'll be getting started on these foreground branches right now. Now there's a few different ways you can paint thes branches. You can either go wins straight up with your brown paints and just paint directly onto the paper. But what I like to do once in a while is to create variation and tone and texture so you can see I'm just applying some clean, clear water with my brush, and then I'm going in and dropping in little hints of brown here and there. So it's like a modified wet into wet technique because I'm letting the paint do its own thing by spreading into my damp water layer. But I'm also creating little areas of contrast, where there's lighter parts of the branches and darker parts of the branches, but still a nice, beautiful flow. Now, as I get into smaller and smaller twigs, I'm using a smaller brush. This is my silver black velvet. I think it's my number eight from you can use the number 10. Also it they both come to a really beautiful fine tip, which is great for detail work. So I'm just going to continue on with this solid branch that's in the foreground and just continue it over. On the other side of these birds. You'll see that I alternate brushes quite often with my my smaller pointed brush and my my bigger quill shaped brush. No, this branch is already starting to really pop and will continue to do that with some of the other branches in the foreground. 9. Painting the Birds part 1: So I have decided that I wanted to let my foreground branch dry completely, and what I want to do next is established some of the darks in these birds first, So I'm going for a soft wet into what look with just parts of their feathers. So I'm applying a clean, clear glaze of water over the birds and some of the surrounding areas. Now I don't want the paint to spread too far into the background, but just enough so that it gives them a softer look in some areas. Well, sometimes my style of painting involves a mix between hard and soft edges or lost and found edges. And that's why I like to combine different elements, like what in the wet with really detailed dry brush work. Now I haven't removed any of my masking fluid yet, so I still have parts of their faces and their beaks masked out as well as their feet and some of the white splotches in the background. So when I apply my dark paint, you'll see how you couldn't really see the masking fluid then. So I'm using my pointed round number eight brush and my Van Dyke brown and I'm just mixing it to about a medium saturation, and I'm just going to drop in this color into those wet areas. Now, just a reminder. You don't want your paper to be stopping what? Any time we're working with the wet into wet technique, we're going to be applying our paint onto paper that has just a beautiful sheen to it. I'm also mixing in a bit of my Payne's gray. That's why it looks darker. I forgot to add that. But this mixture of Van Dyke Brown and Payne's gray, um, really represents the colors in these birds. Some of the birds I'm adding more on brown and and some of the others I'm adding more great . And that's just the variation that you see in nature. Some of the males and the females just have slightly different coloration, being at darkest and most concentrated where their beaks would be and their eyes because in the end, that's where I want the focus to be. Any time in a painting, you have an area of really high contrast. That's where your eye goes right away. So in this case, I want I want you to be able to see their faces first. Now their bodies air a lot lighter in color. So I'm just adding touches of my buff titanium here and there, where the shadows would be, uh, also be adding in some finer shadows around the wings and the tail feathers. Now, some of the areas air starting to dry. And I'm taking advantage of that by just doing some dry brush work with the tail feathers. All right, No, let's let them dry completely, and we'll move on with even more finer detail in the feathers and faces. 10. Bird Detail 2: often when I do detailed further work with birds, I like to draw out my feathers with a light pencil first. Then I have an idea of where I'm gonna put down my paint. I'm using a number six round brush, and I'm just putting down a mixture of pains, Great and my Van Dyke brown. Then I'm going to soften the edge with, ah, thirsty brush. Then we'll be painting the bottom of the tail, using some buff titanium and then only dropping in just some Payne's gray right at the part where it meets the branch. It'll be darkest right here and then lifting out just a bit of color at the tip of the tail just to create a soft look. So let's start defining this branch that the birds air sitting on. I'm using a dark mixture of my van dyke brown, and I'm just painting right over where their little toes are because I've masked them out, which is are uneven and color and value. So I'm keeping some parts of it lighter and some dark, and I'm also skipping over some areas and leaving it white completely. I'm pulling out some smaller twigs using the very fine tip of this pointed round brush. So let's define the upper wing of our first bird here. I'm just going to be glazing on some more color by first supply nuclear glaze of clean water. And then I'm gonna be dropping in some darker Payne's gray, just where the wing meets the white part of his head. Now is a good time to remove the masking fluid on the birds faces in their eyes before we move on to the next step. So now that are masking fluid has been removed, will get started. On the third bird, we're gonna be painting his beak and defining his head. I'm using Van Dyke Brown in an even darker value to define his head and paint the area around his eye. Next he'll be to finding his body by first supply in a clear glaze of water and then dropping in color right under his wing. I'm using Bandic Brown mixed with Payne's gray for the shadow beneath the wing, and I'm also going to be pulling up some defined feathers into that wing 11. Birds Detail 3: So let's work on defining the wings of our birds even more. I'm using darker and darker values in tones as I continue and what I'm using here is my pointed round number six. You'll see. As I get more and more detailed, I'm holding the brush closer to the tip. This means I have more control. You'll notice that when I do background washes, I usually hold the brush further away. Now would be a good time to remove the masking fluid on their feet because we're gonna be defining the shadows between their toes and also the shadows that are just above their feet . No, there's highlights on the tops of their feet, and I want those to stay very light and value compared to the bottom of their bodies. So what I'm doing now is just dropping in color where the bottom of their bodies touches the tops of their feet. No, I'm defining the fathers on this bird even more. I want to darken them up because watercolor always dries much lighter than when it's wet. I'm doing some dry brushwork here, really carving out the feathers, really getting some defined fine lines and edges until it's dark in some of these tail feathers and will soften their edges to. I'm using some Payne's gray. As we further refine our details in the birds, you'll see them start to really pop from the background. I'm just darkening up the head on this one just because I wanted to define and even more from the background and then dropping in some more color into a wet glaze I've made on his body. Let's define these birds even more from the background. I'm just going to carve out some of the darker areas between the birds, where the shadows are some, using some Payne's gray and softening those edges with a thirsty brush. So I'm going to add another layer of darker Payne's gray in the shadows of this bird's body , so just laid down a clear glaze of clean water under his wing, and I'm just dropping in some more pains, great and defining that wing even more. I'm also going to be putting some color just above the highlight on that branch to create some more contrast. I'm going to add some more feathering detail in the upper wing of the third bird and just keep in mind, even though their wings air dark. The top part of the wing is reflecting the light above, so it's lighter and value, so just make sure that even your shadows air later, thumb the darker shadows below the wing. I'm adding several lines and feathers into the upper wing right here with this brush, and I'm doing some dry brush work so that I can get a lot more definition in detail. Now I'm going to connect that Payne's gray color and his wing over to the other side of his face with my Van Dyke brown and just blend the two colors together. 12. Finishing Touches and Branch Detail: So now is the time to do some finishing brushwork on our branches. I'm using this calligraphy brush, but you could use appointed round that would work just fine. And I'm holding my brush near the end of the handle in the middle to the end of the handle would be just fine because you get more a looser, freer, more natural line. This way and see, I'm varying the pressure of the brush so that some parts of the branches are wider and summer skinnier. And I'm moving in a diagonal directions sort of from one side of the paper and all the way to the other. I think this just helps to create movement in my painting. Now my masking fluid spatter is still there in the background. I'm gonna be removing that last. So I'm just carrying on with ease. Branches going behind the birds. I'm using about a mid tone value with my van dyke brown. These branches appear closer to the viewer because I'm using dry brush technique so they stand out compared to the branches that are softer and hazier in that background, wet into wet wash that we made earlier 13. Closing Thoughts: now I really got in the water. Color, maybe about six years ago, is when I really started using it as the only medium that I would paint in. I used to do acrylic and colored pencil and regular graphite pencil. But when I love about watercolor is the ability to get these beautiful, transparent washes, and I really love the atmospheric qualities you can you can achieve in water color. So in this painting, what I've learned over the years is combining these different types of effects and watercolor to achieve depth. And I really, really love to combine soft atmospheric backgrounds with more detailed foreground, as you can see in this painting. So I hope you enjoy this class, and if you have any questions, just contact me, send me a message or follow me on Instagram. Um, and I'm always happy to help. I really love teaching and sharing my knowledge. And as I continue to grow as an artist, I I love to share what I learned with all of you. So thank you for listening and happy painting