'Winter Rowan' a watercolour by Carole Robson

This painting is based on a Rowan tree that I see every day from my window. It grows next to a large pond, but here I have imagined it in a Wintry landscape next to an icy stream. I hope you have fun painting it!


I have used four SAA watercolours, Tropical Phthalo BlueFrench Ultramarine, Permanent Rose and Burnt Sienna. You could, if you prefer, substitute either Quinacridone Magenta or Alizarin Crimson for the Permanent Rose.

I have also used SAA masking fluid, a size 12 round watercolour brush with a good point, a 1” flat brush, palette knife or ruling pen, a strip of credit card, water sprayer, a twig and a little table salt.


1. Sketch the design onto watercolour paper, I use sheets of Bockingford 300 gsm NOT surface which the SAA conveniently provides in various sizes. Tape your square of paper onto a board all the way around using 2” brown paper tape.

2. Apply masking fluid to represent the snow on the tree, grasses and vegetation at the edges of the stream. I recommend using either a ruling pen or palette knife to get fine lines as well as some splattered marks.

3. While the masking fluid is drying, mix up some washes for the sky, trees on the horizon and distant fields. For the sky washes we will need some pure Permanent Rose and then using Tropical Phthalo Blue, Permanent Rose and Burnt Sienna, mix up a blue grey and a purple grey to a wash consistency that resembles semi skimmed milk. Make a few more mixes of a slightly stronger consistency for the distant trees, colours as illustrated.

4. Wet the sky with clear water first, using a large round watercolour brush in easy horizontal strokes, sometimes using the side of the brush to leave odd gaps and speckles of dry paper. Apply the washes to the wet areas using some Permanent Rose first and then the greys.

5. Prepare to paint in the distant trees while the sky wash is still shiny. Using slightly stronger paint mixes, vary the colour and shapes of the trees as you go. Use the brush on its side making round movements to shape the trees and aim to make an irregular tree line.

cr-blog-pic-36. The distant fields need to look nice and snowy so the aim with this area is to leave lots of white paper showing. Using a watery mix of the blue grey and purple grey, again use the brush on its side to create a dry brush effect, use a little of each wash to create shadow effects.

7. Next tackle the stream edges using washes of soft purples and blues followed by stronger darks including some Burnt Sienna. While the wash is still wet use a variety of marks to represent grasses and foliage with both the point and side of the brush. Also use the edge of the palette knife or the point of a cocktail to incise grass like lines into the wet paper.

8. Change to the flat brush and bring down some vertical and horizontal brush strokes first with clear water followed by paint, working wet in wet and using the water sprayer to diffuse some of the hard edges. Tilt your board and let the colour flow. While these washes are still wet sprinkle on a little table salt to add texture.

9. The foreground stream edge is tackled in the same way as the further bank but add French Ultramarine into the mixtures to warm up the greys and achieve stronger mixes.

10. Now we are ready for the exciting prospect of tackling the tree, which I painted appropriately with the pointed end of a broken twig as you can see in this photo. Mix up a strong dark by combining all the colours together to a full cream milk consistency, I mixed them in a water container to create a bit of depth of liquid to dip into. Start by drawing the twigs as finely as you can manage getting gradually thicker as they approach the trunk. Remember to draw underneath the masking fluid so that when removed the snow will be on the top. Make your tree full of branches and allow the twigs to go right out off the sides of the paper for the best effect.

cr-blog-pic-511. Change to your brush for the thicker branches where they join the trunk. Then begin painting the tree wet in wet, varying the darks from deep purple, through to brown and perhaps dark green if there is Ivy growing on your tree! While the paint is still wet, use a strip of plastic credit card to both incise some grooves and on it’s edge to scrape away some paint for a bark effect.

12. Now dry your painting thoroughly using a hair dryer, making sure it’s completely dry before carefully rubbing off the masking fluid. Does your snow effect look realistic? it may look a bit stark if you applied too much masking fluid. If this is the case, adjust some edges with either a a damp clean brush or a very weak grey mix. You may also need to strengthen up the vegetation with some wet on dry marks and perhaps some very satisfying extra flicks in the foreground with your palette knife.


Here is an alternative If you prefer not to use masking fluid. You could instead complete the painting without it and then use either white acrylic or gouache as shown in these before and after details. In the right hand one you can see some horizontal smears that I made with the edge of the strip of credit card for an icy effect.



Carole’s paintings explore the natural landscape, especially meadows, verges and wild or neglected areas. She paints loosely and experimentally, combining watercolour technique freely with other media and also uses her paintings to produce digital art.

Working from her studio in Kent, Carole exhibits her paintings regularly and is also an experienced art tutor, keen to share her expertise with her students to improve their enjoyment of art.

See more of Carole’s paintings as well as information about courses on her website.