Stream in the Woods

Stream in the woods:

Photo of stream in the woods

Photo stream in the woods.

I enjoyed walking by this stream, down in the valley of the Kendal farm. It’s secluded under wattle trees and willows.  It’s so quiet and peaceful, away from the city with its noisy traffic and towering buildings.

I love trees. Their character is formed by the climate and weather. Some trees are bent and twisted by the wind and some trees stand tall and proud against all elements. Some trees are hit by lightning and some trimmed or chopped down. Some grow wild and carefree. Just as our characters are formed by the circumstances and environments we live in.

When you sit down and soak in the atmosphere of your surroundings and listen to the trickle of the water, as it sparkles in the sun and meanders down and over rocks and moss, it brings peace, hope and joy to the soul.

Watercolour: stream in the woods

Watercolour painting of the stream in the woods

Composition considerations:

Painting with oil paints and painting with watercolours requires different technique approaches. Photographs and painting also have different identities! Because this photograph is basically cool colours and has similar tone levels, I translated and transformed the scene by:

  • By considering what mood I intended and how I was going to go about it.
  • First I blurred the woods in the background, because I expected the foreground to be leafy.
  • I also wanted the stream to look like it was going deep, back into the background trees. So I selectively strengthened the tones in the background trees, especially where the stream disappears into the background.
  • Contrasting colour and tone between the background and middle ground, also helped to give depth to the stream.
  • Also used contrast of colour in the composition to bring the painting to life.
  • The reflection in the stream was done wet-in-wet and darkened both sides of the sparkling ripple to draw the eye up the stream.
  • As to the young leafy sapling wattle tree, growing out the foreground bank on the left, that was tricky. It consisted of different colours and shades. Wow, you may say, how do you do that? Well, to show it up against its background, I `push and pull’ the strength of the tones. That is, used chiaroscuro, alternating tone levels to differentiate the sapling from its surrounding background.
  • Also contrast the colours of the sapling to rhythm with the colours on the right hand side of the painting.

If you want to see more paintings from photographs check out Introduction to Photo Demos page and category.

I’ll be away during the month of September in Durban. I’m looking forward to spring and the warm barmy days down at the coast.  I’ll write as soon as I get back. In the meanwhile I hope you enjoy painting and that this blog on the stream in the woods has been interesting and informative.

Field of Wild Cosmos Flowers

Field of cosmos flowers:

Field of cosmos flowers

Photo of cosmos flowers on a farm on the East Rand, Transvaal, South Africa.

This photo was taken of a Kendal farm. That is, the farm next to the one our family owned on the East Rand, South Africa.

As you can see the outbuildings were neglected and occupied by vagrants who hung their washing on the fence between the two farms.

As to the watercolour I painted from the photograph:

I obliterated the obstacle of the fence and the farm machinery that was crowding the composition. Instead I added a lot more cosmos flowers to the scene. My intention was to create an impressionistic impression of a field of cosmos flowers and a make-shift line of washing, blowing gently in the last summer breeze.

`As artists we train ourselves to feel the quality of our environment, see beauty and movement in everything. To catch a vision we see beyond the harshness of reality’.

When I lived out in the country, I liked to feel the joy of the day and the impact of living in the country, by making a point of listening to the birds singing and tweeting as I hung my washing on the line. And feel the breeze has it whispered through my hair, and saw the velt (grasslands), seeds of weeds and wild flowers waving in the breeze.

Watercolour of cosmos flowers.

Watercolour: Artist’s translation of the field of wild cosmos flowers.

How I painted the watercolour:

The painting may seem somewhat spotty close up, but if the painting is seen from a distance, you’ll see, it no longer looks spotty! But rather a contented homely ambience!

I blurred and lightened the hillside in the background to reduce spottiness, so that definition and highlights would be held within the middle of the painting format, where the darkest tones would show up the washing and the looseness of the cosmos flowers.

What the painting is all about:

Even though there is fine detail at the main point of interest, the watercolour was painted generally with freedom of expression to create a carefree mood. Because isn’t that what people feel when they see a field of cosmos, a feeling of freedom, light-hearted-ness, hope and joy of being alive.


I don’t like cosmos paintings when the composition is made up of a stiffly contrived posy of cosmos flowers. I like painting cosmos in their natural habitat, growing wild lose and free.

How do you like painting cosmos? And if you are not a painter, what appeals to you? If not a field of flowers growing wild perhaps then, a close-up abstract of one or two cosmos flowers surrounded with atmospheric energy?

If you want to see other photo demo blogs, you can start with ‘old willow stumps

How to paint beautiful sunsets

How to paint beautiful sunsets:

Photo of a beautiful African sunset

Photo of a beautiful South African sunset

This particular sunset was over a Kendal farm, on the East Rand, Transvaal, South Africa.

Taking photos of sunsets:

I haven’t a HD camera, so I either focus my camera on the sky or land. In this case I concentrated on the sky – that is why the land part looks so dark! But been dark it allowed me to use my imagination, change things somewhat. Do you see the effect the pull of the sun rays has on the foreground grass and how I beefed up the foreground with contrasting colours? Been a watercolour naturally you don’t get the same quality as an photograph.

Watercolour of beautiful sunset

Colourful watercolour of the beautiful sunset

Here are a few suggestions on how to paint beautiful sunset paintings:

  • Basically contrast of tone and colour.
  • Inter-relationship of cool and warm colours.
  • How to get the glow effect: Allow contrast of complementary grays and fresh clean colours to ride side-by-side, eg: white bright sun area, fresh ‘silver-lining’ and neutral colours of the cloud’s body, in that order.
  • Focus point: Contrast of sharp-edges and contour lines, competing with smooth gradated edges or shapes.
  • Quiet restful smooth areas of gradated colour and tone.
  • Departmental placement of tonal areas:  That is basically one area light, one area medium tones, and one area dark. This reduces confusion and improves perception.
  • Placement of detailed description: Usually set within one of the departmental tonal areas. This dramatizes the scene, sets the theme, introduces the location, tells a story, etc.
  • Simplicity: If there are tiny cloud formations, where possible group them with similar characteristics.
  • Selective pigments: For example if you interlace the blue of the sky and yellow of the sun rays or ‘silver-lining’, you will get green where you don’t want it. Rather use an earth pigment such as raw sienna instead of fresh-chrome yellows.
  • Relax, paint freely. Allow your painting to develop naturally. Don’t take yourself seriously -otherwise your sunset will look contrived.
  • Not every scene is the same: Use some or all of the above aspects.

If you want to see another sunset photo demo, check out Sunset in the bush.

Please let me know in your estimation what you think makes a beautiful sunset painting. Have you any additional tips to share with other artists about painting sunsets?

Art of painting bush from a photo

Art of painting bush from a photo:

Photo of lake

Photos of small lake and surrounding bush.













This small African lake scene was on a Kendal farm, on the East Rand, Transvaal. You can’t call it a dam as such, because strangely enough it’s not in a valley, it’s on top of a hill.


Some years ago a surface coal was mined here, creating a huge deep hole and in time it filled up with water, making it a wonderful place for wild birds to make their nests in the reeds and trees surrounding the small lake.

The farm now belongs to Kendal power station. But at the time of taking the photograph, family owned the farm and often took time out picnicking, fishing, birding and boating here.

As usual exploring with my camera while the family picnicked, I quietly picked my way through the trees and bush to the opposite side of the lake until I came across this beautiful tranquil scene within the reeds and undergrowth, where wildlife activities occur without the intrusion of humans.

When deciding which photo to paint for you, I thought this photograph was too crowded with detail to actually paint. But then been who I am, accepting challenges, thought it was a fascinating scene with the tangle of twigs and undergrowth. I like portraying leafy scenes. I want people to see what South Africa countryside looks like. Feel like they are in the bush too, with me, experiencing what I’m experiencing.

Watercolour of bush and reeds.

Watercolour painting of bush around the small lake.

Now that the painting is complete, can you feel the reality of the bush? And can you compromise your artistic training and forgive me for painting such a busy composition?

How I painted the bushy reed scene:

  1. I must admit I started with rubber masking liquid to reserve the detail of the tangled twigs, reeds, background trees, weeds and shimmer on the water, so that I could paint the background in freely.
  2. When the masking was dry I sprayed the watercolour paper both sides.
  3. Working quickly I brushed in the sky and background trees, dropping in different colours so that there would merge effectively.
  4. By the time I reached the reeds the paper was drying, so I was able to give the impression of grass and reeds.
  5. When I had to start on the water, I re-wetted the paper to create blurred reflections. This created a smooth restful area within the busy composition.
  6. Then I filled in the main tree on the left, dropping in different colours in the hope of giving it bark authenticity.
  7. After the paint was dry I rubbed off the masking and filled in the detail colours. Been a cool summer scene I made an effort to incorporate warmer colours to give it more emotional appeal.

Standing back I accessed the painting to see what I had created. And interestingly, as evening approached I saw how the painting took on another atmospheric dimension. I knew then it wouldn’t ever be boring, always fascinating in its own way, no matter what light the watercolour was seen in.

After also reading another of my bush demos, I hope you try painting bush too.