Merry everything! It’s Alicia with The Pigeon Letters Design Team here to walk you through the magical process of bringing a festive evergreen to life on paper. But that's not all – we'll also dive into the art of crafting gift tags with your new tree-painting skills, allowing you to spread holiday cheer with your own hand-painted creations. So grab your watercolor palette, dust off your metallic paints, and let's embark on a joyful adventure together!
For this project you’ll need:
- Cold press watercolor paper
- Watercolor paint: you’ll need a variety of greens and then a brown/neutral, gray, and pink (or whichever color you want for ornaments)
- Metallic watercolor or metallic paint pens
- TPL round paint brushes in sizes 4, 6 and 8
- TPL liner brush in size 0
- Cup of water
- Scissors, hole punch, and ribbon (optional - for gift tag)
Step 1: Plan your composition
Before we dive in, it’s best to get a general idea of where your tree will be placed on the paper. Using the lightest color green on your palette, draw a vertical line from about ¼ of the way up the paper from the bottom, to about ¼ from the top. This should leave enough room for the basket and the tree topper.
Step 2: Create a base layer for the tree
The first layer of the painting is going to provide the overall shape of the tree in addition to providing a nice light wash as a base.
Using the lightest color green, make a relatively watery mix on your palette. Take a medium-sized paintbrush (I use the round size 6) and load it up with your green. Start at the top of the tree and very lightly begin to dab the brush along the vertical line, moving outward slightly to create branches. Alternate between using the tip of your brush and the belly of the brush and be sure to leave white space on the paper as you dab.
Don’t overthink this part; keep a light hand on the handle and let your brush do the work. Continue down the tree, moving wider as you go further down to create the shape of a Christmas tree. You can make yours dense or keep it more sparse if that’s your style. It may help to reference an image of a tree; I’ve provided some here and here.
While this layer is still damp, you can pick up another color of green and dab it in for a wet-on-wet blended look. It’ll likely be covered up in your next few layers, but if you use a particularly bright shade of green, some of it may peek through and add interest!
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Step 3: Paint the basket
With a very light mix of yellow ochre and burnt sienna, load up your larger (size 8) brush and start to create the basket under the tree. Use the side of the brush and drag it across, allowing the brush to run out of paint and leave white space - this adds a nice highlight texture to the basket.
While this layer is still wet, pick up a slightly darker mix (add a little bit more burnt sienna/brown) and dab it on to the basket under the tree branches. This will create the look of a shadow on the top of the basket.
Step 4: Add the second layer of green
Now choose a medium green and begin dabbing it on top of the base layer just as you did the first time. Keep some of the base layer peeking through - you want to see bits of the light green for dimension and highlight.
Step 5: Add woven lines to the basket
Take a small liner brush (or the smallest round brush you have) and mix up a slightly darker version of the basket color. Follow the shape of the basket and create a series of horizontal lines, letting the brush lift from the paper here and there. Next, create a series of vertical lines across the entire basket.
Step 6: Add the final green layer
The darkest green is your final shadow layer. Just like on a real tree, the underside of the branches will have more shadows than the top side, so be sure to keep that in mind when you dab the green around the tree. Keep your hand light and don’t be too overzealous with the dark green - a little goes a long way!
Continue exploring the wonderful world of nature and watercolor.
Step 7: Add the ornaments
Once the entire tree is dry it’s time to add the ornaments! First, take your metallic watercolor and begin creating small circles around the tree using your smaller (size 2 or 4) brush.. The benefit of using a metallic paint is that it should be opaque on top of the green so you don’t have to worry about seeing through it. If you’d like to add an additional color of ornaments (I’ve added shell pink) you can paint small circles on the ends of the branches. Don’t forget to add a tree topper! I made three circles, each one getting slightly smaller (like a snowman), followed by a pointy triangle at the top. This is meant to look like a mid-century style retro tree topper, but you could go for a star if you prefer!
Step 8: Add in a light shadow
Finally, it’s time for the finishing touch! To add in a shadow, load up your large (size 8) brush with a watery light gray. I’ve used Davey’s Gray, but you can mix your own by blending two opposite colors from the color wheel, such as blue and orange. Use the side of the brush to simply swipe outward from the left side edge of the basket. Bring a bit of the gray down underneath the far left side, as if the shadow is slightly in front of the basket and tree. Hurrah! Your tree painting is done!
Step 9: Bonus! Cut a gift tag from watercolor paper
To make a gift tag, use a scrap of watercolor paper and cut out whatever shape you want your tag to be. I’ve gone for a roughly 2.5x3.5” sized rectangle with two of the corners cut off. Use a hole punch to create a hole for the ribbon near the top of your tag.
Step 10: Add masking fluid for ornaments (optional)
If you want to include watercolor ornaments (that aren’t metallic) on your tree, you can do so easily with masking fluid! Just create small circles in the vague area where you want your tree. Let the fluid dry and then continue painting your tree over it. Once the entire tree is dry, lightly rub the dried rubbery masking fluid circles: it’ll peel off and you now have blank spaces to add your ornaments!
Step 11: Paint a small tree
Use all of the steps you’ve learned above to paint a smaller version of the tree! For the gift tag I’ve opted to remove the basket, but you could keep it in. Besides using smaller brushes, everything else will be the same! You could even create a batch of tags and paint each step on them all before circling around to the next step. This way you’re working on other tags while each layer dries!
Step 12: Tie with ribbon and add to a gift
When your gift tag is dry, simple thread a fun ribbon through the hole and tie it onto a gift! I brightened it up with a hot pink ribbon, but you could choose a coordinating green or even a metallic if you’d like.
As we finish up, you've not only painted a sparkly Christmas tree but also created matching gift tags. Whether you choose to keep your tree painting as decor or give it as a gift, remember that this tutorial is all about having fun and being creative during the holiday season (which we all need to make time for). Have a happy time painting and spreading holiday cheer!
See all of Alicia’s tutorials on the blog!
Alicia is a whimsical artist with a love of color and a refusal to act her age. She favors a mix of pastel and bright colors, reminiscent of southern California and the 1960s, and is inspired by her travels around the world, wildflowers that might have been found in a hippie's flower crown, and lettering that has a little bit of flair to keep it whimsical.