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 Comments on “The Things We Take for Granted

    • Thanks Jodi– I’m happy with how it turned out. The initial wash didn’t look like much, but there is an inherent spontaneity on this type of painting and what you don’t control turns out to be as important as what you do.

  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. Absolutely stunning. I could gaze at this all day. Thank you for your words, too.

    • Hi Missy- Thanks. I’ve done a couple of drawings and paintings of leaves this fall and this technique was most satisfying in terms of capturing the beauty of the light and color.

  3. 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’!

  4. 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. 🙂

    • Hi Lisa- I sort of wish I had taken photos at various stages. It changes so dramatically from start to finish. Glad you finally saw the instruction!

  5. 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.)

    • Yes. I love the way beeches hold their leaves so long, adding a touch of gold to the woods even into the winter. They’re starting to curl now, which also makes for good drawing. Glad you liked the piece!

  6. 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.

    • Hmm- good to hear from you. We are seeing changes here too, though not as dramatic. But you are right, a changing climate puts at stake many things we take for granted.

    • Thanks! Give it a go! It’s a fun way to paint– more pulling the image out of the paper than putting the image on the paper. Be sure to let each layer dry before adding a new one.

  7. I can never get enough of the beauty of fall leaves….whether in person or in beautiful artwork such as yours! Love your work!

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