The Things We Take for Granted

I take the beauty of fall for granted. That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate it or that I am not awed by its glory. Only that I take for granted that it will be so, year after year. For those of us who live in the Northeast, it is a given that winters will be cold and long, that spring will burst forth in birdsong and flowers, that summer will be prized for its heat and fullness, and that autumn will complete the year with a cloak of gold.

I painted this page on location with a fellow sketcher who grew up in the Middle East. She marveled at leaves the way people who live in warm places marvel at snow when they see it for the first time. It surprised me; I had never given it thought. So here’s to a fine afternoon sketching and a valuable reminder to be grateful for things I take for granted.

Watercolor, Strathmore- 400 Series Sketchbook; click to view larger

Watercolor, Strathmore- 400 series sketchbook; click to view larger

About the technique– This sketchbook page was done with a watercolor technique known as “negative painting.”

  • I first painted a wet-in-wet wash of primary colors (ultramarine blue, alizarin crimson, and Hansa yellow medium).
  • When dry, I sketched an outline of the main leaves and began to paint around them with graded washes using combinations of the same three colors to create additional leaf shapes and patterns. Using a simple palette helps to ensure that the layers don’t get muddy.
  • I continued to add more layers of paint, creating additional detail and a greater sense of depth. It’s kind of a dizzying process and you can easily get lost in it. The trick is stopping before tinkering too much and losing the spontaneous effects of the wet washes.


Watercolor, Strathmore- 400 series sketchbook

32 thoughts on “The Things We Take for Granted

  1. Gorgeous! I grew up in Upstate NY and miss those brilliant fall colors! Our trees change here, but it’s more like one by one. I remember the riot of color that would clothe entire mountainsides all at once. Your sketch reminds me of that.

    • I grew up in Troy, NY and now live in CT. We have fewer maples, more oaks, but great color just the same. More russet/gold/maroon and because the oaks hold their leaves a long time, it’s still quite colorful here.

  2. the lovely variety of seasons is what i love about here! I could never go back and live now where there isn’t like you beautifully said : “winters will be cold and long, that spring will burst forth in birdsong and flowers, that summer will be prized for its heat and fullness, and that autumn will complete the year with a cloak of gold.” Your leaves shimmer like ‘jewels’!

  3. Thanks so much for explaining how you did this amazing work. I stared into it for the longest time, trying to see what you did and wishing you’d filmed it … before scrolling down to see your explanation. Wonderful! Thanks for generously sharing your technique — that’s one thing I love so much about the watercolour community. 🙂

  4. It’s so interesting to read about the process. Your painting perfectly illustrates what you said at the end about not losing the spontaneity of the wet washes – there’s lots of light and life in this piece. Very appealing! (I miss seeing beech trees turning yellow in the fall – the gold leaves against the smooth gray bark – if they’re planted here, it would only be at an arboretum or residence, so I don’t see them like I used to on the east.)

  5. It seems that with the changing climate fall or Autumn will not be as certain as it once was. I live on the island of Malta in the Mediterranean, and Autumn seems to have been forgotten. We go from 35 degrees Celcius to 10 degrees overnight, suffering drought in February and experiencing heatwaves in March.

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