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For anyone who wants to pick up watercolor, or anyone who is just curious, I thought I would do a tutorial. This will come in two parts, painting the background and painting the focal point. I will say that my technique is rather spotty at best, but there are some definite rules that I have found to be useful. (please bear with the images. They were taken from my phone and didn’t show up as clearly as I had hoped. I think if you click on them, they will get bigger and you can see them a little better.)

So this is just step-by-step instructions on how to do my latest painting, Amber Wolves. These are creatures that I made up for fun. I actually got the idea from my blog name. I had to name it something, so I came up with that. Then I started thinking about what an amber wolf would be, and here we are. They may or may not someday show up in one of my books. Probably will at some point but as of now, I have no plans for them. They are pack-oriented creatures that live in conifer forests. Although they are primarily carnivores, they also favor eating resin from the pine trees. due to their high consumption of resin, amber spikes grow from their tails. Extremely territorial creatures, they use these spikes to defend their territory and to fight for dominance among pack-mates.

The techniques in this tutorial can be applied to any piece of artwork you happen to have; they are not exclusive to this drawing. Obviously, some things will have to be different for each piece you paint.

1. Start with your drawing.

I know. It’s earth-shattering. Who would have thought. When drawing, try not to get too caught up with detail for the background. Leave that for the focal point. You’ll notice my background consists of tree trunk outlines and a hill. That’s as detailed as it needs to get.


2. Color in the background and trees with a first layer. Add Shadow to the trees.

When doing watercolor I have come to find that, above all, one thing is extremely important: do the background FIRST. Trust me. I wish someone had told me this when I started out. I know that you’re excited to get working on the focal point of the piece, but the background must come first. If you do it out of order and spend hours working on the subtle details of your wolves before anything else, a lot of your hard work will be ruined when it comes time to do the background.

In watercolor, it is very easy to erase something you’ve already done just by running a wet brush over it. If your brush gets anywhere near your wolf, the edge lines will become blurry and need to be re-painted. When you do background first, you get better uniformity of ground and sky, and you won’t have to repaint anything. Also, if you happen to bleed over into the wolf, it can be easily masked or erased when it comes time to actually paint the wolves. Plus, doing the wolves last makes them pop and draws your eyes to them.

This picture, especially, shows that even if your painting starts out looking terrible, there really is hope if you keep on plugging. My paintings almost always start out looking washed out and horrible. The key is to not stop and call it done until you love what you have.


These are light washes to start out, wet-on-wet. That means you wet the paper, and then wet your brush with paint and apply it to the paper. It makes the pigment spread out easier. You will have to work fairly fast. Don’t worry if your colors bleed into places you didn’t intend for them to go. First of all, that’s part of the charm of watercolor. Second, that can be taken care of later when you are working on detail. Make sure you don’t wet your paper too much, by the way. It is easiest if you work in sections.

Once you’ve done the initial washes, determine where you want the light source to be coming from, and paint your shadows consistent with that. At this point, I also added some pines to the background, painting wet-on-wet to make them appear distant.

Brushes used: 3/4″ 4626 Grumbacher wash, 1/2 7400 angular, 1/4 S52 Sapphire

Paints used: Mixtures of Burnt Sienna, Indian Red, Brown Madder, Olive Green, Indigo, Hooker’s green, Ultramarine blue, Payne’s Gray

 3. Add shadows to the ground and define ground of first hill.


Deepen the colors on the first hill by adding more washes of burnt sienna and Indian red. Add patches of olive green for grass poking through the pine needles. Use a mixture of indian red and indigo to create shadows on the ground behind the trees and wolves. Again, make sure they are all consistent with the direction of sunlight.

Brushes used: 5 round, 2 round,

Paint used: Burnt Sienna, Indian Red, Olive Green, Indigo

4. Define the background pines and the hill.


The good thing about watercolor is that if you paint something that you just don’t like, you can fix it (within reason). I kept looking at those spindly pines in the background and thinking ‘that looks terrible!’ So I changed it. I decided to make the pines fuller and more numerous. This was done by painting over what I had with a 5 round wet-on-wet, and a mixture of ultramarine blue, indigo, and hooker’s green. Then I defined some of the closer ones with a 2 round. While painting the repeated washes, I sprinkled salt in several places to give the pines texture. (sprinkling salt onto wet pigment creates a starry pattern. The salt absorbs the pigment around it, which is how it gets that pattern.)

The hill was further defined with repeated washes of burnt sienna and Indian red until I liked how it looked. Then I added some patches of olive green for hints of grass.

Brushes used: 3/4 flat wash, 1/2 S52 sapphire, 5 round, 2 round

Paint used: hooker’s green, Ultramarine blue, Indigo, Olive Green, Burnt Sienna, Indian Red

5. Further Define tree trunks and hill.


Further definition of pine needles and ground were created with a 0 round and a mixture of indian red and payne’s gray. Deepen the shadows with the same mixture and a 5 round.

You will now want to turn your attention to suggesting tree bark. In this image, only the tree in the foreground is finished, so draw your attention to that. What you want to do for a pine tree is take a 0 and/or 2 round and paint vertical stripes all along its length. For these trees, I used a mixture of indigo and payne’s gray to paint the bark in the shadows and a mixture of brown madder and indigo to paint the bark in the direct path of sunlight.

Once you finish defining all the bark on the trees, then your background will be done. You can keep laying washes and defining shadows until you feel that your work is finished. make sure you are completely satisfied before you start on your wolves.

Brushes used: 5 round, 2 round, 0 round

Paint used: Indian red, payne’s gray, indigo, brown madder

And basically, that’s all there is to it! If you have any questions, feel free to ask. It worked out rather well splitting this into two parts. However, the real reason I did it is because the rest of my tutorial pictures are on our camera, not my phone. The camera happens to be on a four day trip with Adam while he’s at work, so I can’t get to them. I believe it is currently spending the night in Miami 🙂 better it than me. I’ll take the cold any day!