My niece is married! I’ve been to the wedding and back, and what a lovely trip. Not just watching her and her fiance tie the knot, but seeing family, and getting my first vacation in many many years under my belt. The project today is one that I completed weeks before her wedding – this is a painting from one of the happy couple’s engagement photos. Size is a half sheet of watercolor paper – not my normal size, so there were lots of challenges!

Tutorial: Watercoloring the redwoods

The clips here are in realtime, but there’s not much of the figures; the painting was large enough that my normal camera setup wasn’t working well, so most was just my phone. 

Watch the video below and scroll to the end to leave comments or questions — or click HERE to watch it on YouTube and leave comments over there. I read both dutifully!

The process

My first concern was in whether I could render the figures so they’d look like who they were; Ive achieved the “looks human” level a bunch of times before, but not always looking like that specific person. This painting might have changed my mind about my skills – but I still did a quick painting of the faces only on the back of a scrap sheet of watercolor paper, just to see if it was worth starting on the large paper or not. I use way too many layers to be able to tell you what color was used for the skintones, sorry!

Painting the redwoods background

The background is one I feel more competent to explain, even if the figures weren’t! First step here was using masking fluid for outlining the figures as well as painting some of the leaves and a bunch of little dots to make it all magical. Let that dry completely. Go for a walk and make it a long one since the panic is setting in about whether the forest will ruin the work I already did!

Plan out where you’ll start and end a background like this. Leave as few ‘leading edges’ as possible – because that’ll be less to dry! I turned the painting upside down so at least those first strokes wouldn’t be a problem and I’d only have to deal with a leading edge on the left as I moved across the painting. 

Once the right column was done, I made sure the left edge of that section was VERY wet and kept checking while painting the lighter middle section. Don’t dry! To finish the last column I turned the painting right-side-up again and painted from the top (so I could keep edges wet) and then ended on the bottom right fern area.

Back to flipping the painting around furiously: while still wet, I lifted color for bokeh dots using a baby wipe. A bunch worked well, but as it dried, some had funky edges, so a baby wipe over the dry paper softened those.

Then I had to address all that white that was reserved by the masking fluid; in sections like the fern, I painted the entire section with lighter green and dropped other colors in. That left some highlights in those areas underneath that color but softened and blurred the whole section.

The other white sections were not painted as above – I used very very thin paint over the white leaves, and that will disappear into the background while toning the white. Then after drying, the dark green was mixed thick enough to give solid coverage to the graphic shapes. 

To create smaller but more subtle details, I painted another set of leaves with thinner, more transparent green paint.

Last but not least, the redwood branches! In the photo they’d had sun sprinkling highlights on them but I didn’t want it looking like snow. So again, I toned down the white masked areas, then painted the dark redwood leaves, bringing the color up over the highlights so they were broken up.

Have you ever tried portraits?

I may start trying more again; my figure drawing group has started up again at a time that I can’t attend, but I might look for a different group. Maybe 2023 will be the year I make more serious attempts at figurative work, who knows!


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  1. Kathleen Oylear

    Sandy that is just beautiful, just beautiful I’m sure they were thrilled with the picture. How awesome thank you so much for sharing.

  2. Gab

    This is just amazing!

  3. Sonia

    I love the email you send each day. My mother has been painting in oil most of her live. She turned 90 and still paints. She said you do beautiful work. I miss the card class that you used to do. I loved the stump Sandy. Keep up the great work.

    • Sandy Allnock

      Plenty of card-friendly classes are to be had if you want the small projects. 🙂 We all change and grow over time, and I keep evolving as my students grow and push for ideas far beyond the limits of cardmaking 🙂 Tell your mom hi for me!

  4. Nancy

    Sandy, your painting is gorgeous. Your niece and her husband will love it. What a precious gift for them.

  5. Win

    It is an incredible painting and an even more incredible gift. I am curious as to how large your puddle of green paint was when you started working on the background. Did you mix up enough for the entire background at once? I know you had different shades of green as you worked in different areas. Congratulations both to your niece and to your success in achieving this very personalized gift!

  6. Traci Maia Starkweather

    Sandy, this is extraordinary! I first thought it was a photo that you painted around! Just amazing! I know this gift will be treasured by the happy couple and the future generations of your family!

    I love the tip about using the baby wipes to soften the hard lines

    I hope you feel the full weight of what you did here! Just spectacular! (Like YOU!)


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