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I have had the photo reference for this painting for about a year after seeing it on wet canvas.  I have always wanted to try it. I hear so much about not making muddy colors with pigment and agree that they are not “pretty”.  However, there are some subjects that  almost beg for some degrees of  ” mud”.  That was my first challenge. The second was that I wanted to try to work something textural on the Arches 140lb hotpress watercolor paper I have been experimenting with.  I have not done many night paintings so this seemed like an adventure to me.

In the first step, I wet the entire surface of the paper and fed in my background colors of magnesium blue, permanent rose, a little lemon yellow in the center, and a mixture of halloween orange and magnesium blue to make the gray for the sky and strip of gray in the foreground. I dried that with a hairdryer prior to starting to paint the trees.

In the second step I mixed colors like hookers green, burnt sienna or ultrmarine blue and olive green to make the greens and warm tones I saw in the trees. I painted trunks, branches and  fir trees moving my brush in a way to create textures throughout. This was a very lengthy process as I had to move from lighter tones into darker tones. Oftentimes my strokes looked too defined so I would blot, while still wet, with a non-lotion tissue.  This created the effect of some of the trees being in the foreground and others distant. It also helped to make this appear more like a night scene that blurs together.

In the next step, I softened all the trees by taking a wet 2 inch flat and lightly blurring all the tree shapes together. I then darkened the night sky with ultramarine blue mixed to a blue-gray with a little halloween orange and washed a very light wash of  permanent rose through that gray while it was still wet. I softened all hard edges in the sky, as I went, by tickling their edges with a thirsty brush. I built up the darks under the trees with burnt sienna and hookers green allowing them to mix together on the paper.  I was careful to leave the little path you see leading into the woods in the lower right quadrant. I felt that created a little interest and mystery as did the warm light behind the trees.

In the final step I mixed sepia with hookers green and darkened the foreground firs. After that dried,  I used titanium white to indicate snow on the foreground firs and the trunks and branches of the deciduous trees.


  1. lovely work. The blues of the trees really speak to me. It seems that this depicts evening or even night. Nice work, Leslie.

    • Oh Jay, thank-you for your comment. I stared at the image and the painting and realised I had become lax in my resoluting. I re-took the picture and went into levels, like you taught me eons ago, and re-posted the final painting because it did not look like night as you said evening, above. Thanks for that. I saw the blues in this too. I must pay more attention at night…….My naked eye sees so many grays when I stare out into the night. This was an interesting paint.

  2. Thank you for the trail, Leslie. I seem to need ways in and out. Really love the sense of the day closing and all its tones. When I read that orange went into the sky, I nearly had my nose on the monitor. I was thinking, “I just don’t have the eye!I can only see pink.” *Sighs and carries on* Lo and behold, when I go back now to the finished product, I can see the orange. I can hear the HALLELUJAH chorusing through the trees.

    • 🙂 I’m smiling. I needed that trail, also. Do you think it leads to that light in the distance?
      I should have explained the orange furthur. Halloween orange is a magical orange sold by Cheap Joe’s. It is namebrand, American Journey. When this color orange is mixed with a blue it creates all shades of gray that can be enhanced with other colors. I did not paint orange in this piece, but gray from my mixture of it with various blues in order to tone them down to appearmore nightlike. You do see “pink” as I fed that into the foreground snow and the light in the sky. The burnt orangey color you see in the top of the large evergreens is actually an earthtone called burnt sienna. Good observations, Amy!!!! …and I love the idea of “HALLELUJAH chorusing through the trees. Thank-you!

  3. I have seen beautiful winter nights that almost seemed to be day. The illumination of light reflecting off the snow and trees, make it magical. Leslie, you have captured this magic beautifully!

    • Thank-you, Ryan! Have you ever tried to paint night? If so, did you find it challenging? I need to look into this some more as I would like to discuss it with my more advanced students.

  4. Beautiful landscape, Leslie! What amazes me in your “process-progress” posts is the surety with which you move forward to your final image. This is a wonderful mini-tutorial here, and you have posted a dozen like this already. Which brings me to the thought I shared with you before: it looks like a book in the making to me. Would you please think about it again? There is goodness in your artistic and teaching talents that needs to be shared.

    • You are so kind, Alex. Thank-you. I suppose, right now, I’m a little timid about taking on a project of that nature, but will not rule it out, maybe? I use many of the progression photos for handouts for my students. Much of what I do is experimental, taking ideas from things I have read. I hope, in sharing what I try, others might be helped as they embark on this journey in art. I have noticed that my sequence posts, like this one, receive a lot of attention and can only assume that others find them helpful. Thank-you so much! You have made my day!!!!

  5. Leslie, this is just beautiful. I love the depth in the trees and the highlights on the trees in the foreground. The light in the background is mysterious to me.

    How do you like working on hot press? I notice Stephen has been using it now.

    • Thank-you, Carol. I don’t know if I like hotpress paper, yet. I really have never given it enough time because my paintings on it, at first, were horrid. I compared what I rendered on hot press to what I could achieve on coldpress paper. They respond a lot differently to water and the pigment. Hot press is challenging. It can be painted on as Charles Reid recommends in “one go” with minimal layers or as I am attempting to do in layering, using brushtrokes to contour forms and texture areas. The washes seem to dry lighter and sink into the paper a lot quicker. It can more effectively show brushstroke work because of this. Blooms look different on this paper. Salt looks different. What I like about it is it challenges me to take my drawing skills furthur into the actual painting. On coldpress paper, my washes layed next to one another mix and mingle more rapidly and smooth out quicker. It is easier to soften an edge on coldpress. One thing I “really” like about hotpress is the ability to see layers even in the finished product. I would not start my beginning students on hotpress paper but, over time, would encourage all my students to try it. It is an honest paper. It shows my faults as well as my improvements. There are some lifting properties to this hot press paper but not back to the white of the paper. I like Arches hot press because it seems to allow for more layering. I will share more as I experience more. I hope that helps. Stephen’s talking about working on it is what caused me to try it. Thank-you for a good question and a wonderful comment!

  6. Beautiful work, Leslie! The whole forest just pops right out. I love this one.

  7. An amazing work Leslie. The forest looks sooooooooooooooooo real, you have captured this magic really nicely! love it ::)
    Marinela x

    • Thank-you so much, Marinela. I have driven past and walked past woods like these, all my life, here in the midwest. It was important to me to get that feel.

  8. Leslie, this might sound odd, but I find each stage of this painting, as you’ve presented them, compelling in its own way. Also, after viewing Whistler’s night paintings at the Freer (sp) in DC, I can appreciate the difficulty of making a night scene work well. I’m not sure which is more difficulty–conveying a real sense of night or trying to bring to life a landscape of blazing whiteness. Lovely piece you concluded with. Hi.

    • You saw Whistler’s Nocturne paintings? That must have been an awesome experience! I could have stood in front of those for hours. He built up the night so well.
      The real difficulty, for me, was developing that muted gray look with just a hint of color. I like what you said about the stages. Many times I sit and look at a stage and ponder where to go from there. It can be frustrating, at times, but more often than not, I find it amazing that each stage allows for many directions. I feel like a “kid in a candy store” having so many choices! Thank-you for this comment, Eva! 🙂 Hi!

      • Hi Leslie. I did indeed spend a great deal of time with Whistler’s Nocturne paintings. Kept coming back to view them from different perspectives around the gallery room. Each time I found them more intriguing–for their subjects and for artistic rendition of what is almost unseen in the night time. If you ever get the opportunity you ought to view them in person, Leslie. They were quite a surprise to me.
        Oh yes, so many directions in which to take any art at any stage in its creation. Sort of like knowing WHEN is the right place/stage/time to Stop, isn’t it?

      • I googled his nocturnes and drooled, you lucky person you!

  9. Wow! What else can I say! what a great way to start the New Year off! A lot of thought and care went into this painting – and it shows! Mysteriously beautiful – those muted colours speak volumes!

    • Thanks, Lynda! I have wanted to explore this kind of scene for a long time with just how you put it, “muted colors”. Now, to find some more subject material to inspire me furthur!

  10. I like how you developed it with beautiful sunset colors to the darkness of the night.. And then the lone tree standing to begin with! 🙂
    Tonight is when the snow fall will end on our blogs, so I guess, once again, perfect setting for the painting, Leslie!

    • This piece was as much a learning experience for me as my viewers, Rachana. I really tried to build a base to work from and build from the background. You are correct, I wanted to get this up before the snow stopped falling on the blog. I wish they would let that extra continue a little more into January. 🙂 Thank-you!

  11. This painting is a WOW! You were able to achieve a nice balance of evening light and light reflected off the snow, of warm and cool color, of softness and hardness. This is a really remarkable work and thank you for walking us through the process.

    • Thank-you so much, Linda! This one was a super challenge to attempt, especially on hotpress paper.I am slowly becoming more comfortable with it. For a long time, I pushed hot press aside. I actually thought about all that you mentioned in your comment, especially the hard and soft edges.

  12. Great work on the night scene. The colours of the trees and the composition are just marvelous. I like how you did the snow on the trees, they look so fluffy.

    • Thank-you about the snow on the trees, Francis. I deliberated for quite some time about including it as I know watercolor whites don’t always look so good.

  13. I don’t understand any of the process, lol, having not painted anything in my life but it looks beautiful. 🙂

  14. Hey, Leslie!
    I’m continually amazed by what you are able to do with watercolors. This is just lovely and really feels like winter.

  15. this painting looks wonderful, and seeing the process involved makes it even more stunning. Great work, Leslie… xx

    • Hi Pen! Thank-you! I have often wondered what all the stages of writing a poem or story looks like. I know, if I try to write, there are re-writes. Sometimes I go back and move something I wrote on the first take to the third take. Building up a watercolor can be very similar.

      • Well, first of all I have many starting points, for example for poems
        It may be a picture, which I try to imagine a storyline that fits, or just a wisp of an idea takes form in my mind out of the blue.
        I use Live Writer, and sit there with maybe a couple of lines, and primp it here and there ..adding a word or two and if I’m lucky it takes off and there’s a happy ending… in that I get something I’m satisfied with. A story is completely different…Once I have an idea, a basis, well I can’t stop, the story just flows..Thank goodness, all I need is the time and the first idea. Sorry for going on so, just I do like to ‘talk’ and share 😉 xPenx

      • Hi Pen!
        Thank-you for sharing how you create. There must be so many different ways for writers, also. You really started me thinking of the myriad of ways that ideas can come to both writers and painters. I thank you for that! Write on! 🙂

  16. You know, i’ve yet managed to successfully capture that nighttime feel in my artwork.
    Hats off to you for being so good at them

  17. Hey – there you go pushing the Hot Press – well done. I like this painting too. I loved the first background wash – it takes a lot of courage to put down the values so you don’t have to build up later. And I like the darks in the trees. Night paintings are a whole new thing – is that ice on the branches?

    • I am finding this hot press quite challenging to get where I want to go with a painting, Stephen. I do think color behaves differently on this surface and I like the attention I have to pay to the shapes of things. I like to build layers in my work. What I do like is that, as I add other layers, the original layer’s brush stroke is still mostly evident. It was supposed to be snow on the branches but it does look more like ice. Thank-you for that! Paint on!

  18. Very evocative and effective painting Leslie! Looks like a keeper. Doing a night scene is a great challenge and I enjoyed watching your process. Happy New Year to you! May many wonderful paintings cover your hot press paper!

    • I love that you said this looks like a keeper. The longer it sits on my mantle, the more I wonder what it would look like framed. For some reason this painting dramatizes the changing of light more than any of my paintings as the sun moves across the sky. At night, you can barely see the distinction between the trees as it becomes more and more monochromatic. I like it when I see differences in a painting in different light. I wonder if it has to do with it being a low key painting…. I don’t know. Thank-you, Al, for this comment. I’m working on another right now. 🙂 Happy New Year dear River Man!

  19. Lovely painting Leslie. I followed your progress with this painting and was very interested how you kept it so clean. This bit is where I often go wrong> In the next step, I softened all the trees by taking a wet 2 inch flat and lightly blurring all the tree shapes together<. That's where my paintings become too overworked. I've read this post several times, it's very useful and I'll come back to it again. Beautiful painting and such strong colours.

    • You are a gem, Keith! I actually was quite muddy with this. I learned something from Don Andrews this summer about mud. If the last pigment you applied to the paper was a warm color, that made it muddy, immediately add another warm color and the mud is usually eradicated. If the last color was cool, add more of it or another cool color. Interesting things happen and it usually is no longer mud.
      The two inch brush. I “lightly” touched the surface and skimmed. The brush was wet but not streaming water off the bristles. There was so much paint that I did not have to worry. Also, the flat surface allows you to see what is happening right now. Otherwise, these trees would have looked more like those pointillistic ones I do and they would have been too defined for a night scene.
      Many watercolorists would consider this painting overworked….. 🙂 I wanted, so much to do this. I’d risk it to say that I kind of like over working, just not until I have a raw puddle and damage the paper. Your comment makes me feel good, Keith. Thank-you.

  20. Not only is that very pretty, but I also love all the images on the way to it!
    I’ll be back another time to read some of your comments, I’m too sleepy at the moment.

    • Thank-you, Val. Many said they liked the other images, also. It made me take a second look at them. What I noticed was how each of us, as artists, have multiple directions we can go with our work at many different stages in a painting. I find this amazing and have never really thought about it. I suppose it is not unlike Monet and all his studies of how light would fall on the same subject or how weather affects the same subject. I’ll bet some of the images you create digitally are super interesting in all their various stages. What you do is fascinating to me. Thank-you for taking the time to comment.

  21. What a wonderful post, Leslie! I learn so much from your blog. I love the way you do trees, too, as they have always been very challenging for me! Have a good weekend!

    • Hope your flying went well this week! Thank-you for this comment, Beth. It has taken me quite a while to learn “how to” trees. 🙂 I finally decided to paint them like I see them and that made all the difference.

  22. Very nice Les, I have missed quite a few paintings, it has been a very long time, was fun to browse around and view them. Always fun to come here Les….

    • Hi Tracey! I had not heard from you, here, in so long. Thank-you for this! 🙂

  23. The finished painting really needs to be clicked on and viewed large to truly be appreciated. It’s just lovely!! Lots of depth and I love the shadows and colors cast on the snow as well as the dusting of snow on the evergreens. I always find reading and viewing your steps fascinating as well 🙂

    • Thank-you, Amber. Thank-you for noticing the depth, the shadows and the dusting of snow on the evergreens. Comments like this keep me trying to improve my skills. Those were three things I worked on while creating this image.

  24. The original photo is absolutely ethereal, I want to hike through those woods to get to the light. This painting is really lovely.

    • Now that you mention it, me too! Thank-you, Meg! I was so involved in the painting that I did not think of the hike. I thought of myself where I seem to always be, standing back and wondering. 🙂

  25. OOOOHHHH this is so beautiful!

  26. I like the darkness with the delicate textures & the huge light glowing behind- it’s a little bit magical feeling.

    • Oh, Sonya, thank-you for this. I was trying to capture that something magical in a night view. I have not tried this before and had wondered about it. Last summer I read something about painting a night scene and sat on my patio taking in the values I saw around me in the dark with just the slightest tinge of color. I don’t know if I have captured this, totally, here, but it is a start.

  27. Nice.
    I looked at step one and saw a completed painting. It has a feel all its own. Made me think of haiku. Step two looks like another piece of art with a different mood. So many beautiful phases within your completed work.

    • Hi Sister, Kim!
      Thank-you for this. It is so hard sometimes to know when to push on and when to stop.I saw the same thing as you did. This has happened to me several times as I have snapped these photos as I work. I think it is helping me to understand that there are times I could stop and call a painting done. Step 2 spoke to me, too! Must be because we are sisters. I have seen the woods like that.

  28. i love this…naturally, i see the trail going into the woods because these woods make me want to go there even more. the blues in this are so powerful and the depth just takes my there. i smell it… such a wonderful work here!

    • What a wonderful comment that you can smell the woods from this image. I think I have mentioned, in previous replies to comments, that this was a unique challenge for me because I have often stared at a woods at night and wondered if I could ever do such a sight justice. I will experiment more, in the future, with night images. Thank-you JRuth. Then I took a trip over to your blog and read your wonderful poem about the moon:

  29. I love this painting. I’m working up the nerve to open the watercolor kit I recently bought.

    (I found you over at Val’s Absurd Old Bird blog.)

    • What is that famous slogan, “Just Do It”? Thank-you, Maggie!

  30. what is that wonderful glow? beautiful moon?

    • Many of the photos I use for reference come from a site for artists titled Wet Canvas and they have a photo reference library that is copyright free for other artists to use. This was from one of those reference photos. I wanted to try to capture that feeling of night in the woods. I likened the glow to the moon but one of the viewers commented earlier that they thought it looked like a barn light glowing in the distance. I liked that because of the little break in the woods that looks like there is a path there. I think that glow makes this scene and I just wanted to see what it would look like in paint. Thank you.

      • it’s wonderful how you’ve managed to capture that wonderful emanating glow. so alive.

      • 🙂 Thank you.

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