2 Nov 2010

Snowy Watercolours- A Simple Tutorial and a Memoir

It's getting awfully chilly around here, and although I haven't seen it myself yet, there are reports of the four letter word. SNOW!
I woke up to a thick layer of frost across our garden and felt that dreaded confirmation that winter is indeed on it's way. Autumn is my favorite season, and unfortunately it always feels so short, especially here in Ontario. If I had my way, I'd still be raking and rolling in leaves in December.

I remember back in southern Illinois when I was little, we went Christmas carolling just the night after we filled our ditches with freshly raked leaves and set them ablaze. Of course, we rolled around in them all afternoon before they were lit. (oh how i love that smell!) And being small, of course, It was easy to bury myself from head to toe.

And then we moved to Canada, to a townhouse with one pathetic freshly planted little maple tree.
My sister and I would wait anxiously for those spindly little leaves to finally drop. We'd make a little pile and attempt to jump in them, but who were we kidding?
If we had actually allowed ourselves to fall freely into this poor excuse of a pile, we would have broken our necks!

And to make matters worse, we usually didn't get a chance to make the pile before the condo maintenance men would come around with leaf blowers and blow what little hope we had right out into the street. (I hate leaf blowers, by the way. They're loud, and pointless! A vacuum would make more sense!)

It wasn't all bad though. We were opening a church that had a lot of property, and a lot of trees. We'd spend many weekends there while my parents were fixing up the building, and we had a lot of opportunity to make use of the leaves there.

 A bit later, we'd move into a house with a massive yard that had a huge maple, and plant even more. Autumn was never boring!

And one thing that Ontario did have that we'd never seen before was more snow than we knew what to do with. We would spend entire afternoons hollowing out the piles that the snow plows had left in our front yard, making forts, caves and tunnels.

For the record, (in case you were wondering,)  I recently walked by the old town house, around this time last year. That itty bitty maple now towers over the house, and then some, and has more than it's fair share of leaves. I hope there are children living there and loving that tree.

 I was just going to post a fun little beginner watercolor tutorial in theme with today's snow, but it turned into a story. So we'll call this part 2!
This is a fun little beginner lesson with masking fluid. It's pretty fast, and doesn't require a lot of skill-making it fun to do with children too!


(the tutorial. I think?)

You will need:

I promise that i didn't steal this tray from Ikea. My friend Pleuntje gave it to me as a gift because she knows I'm obsessed with the place.
I can't guarantee though that she didn't steal it. (However, I'm fairly certain that she bought it, as ikea was selling them for a little while;)

A pencil
An Eraser
something thick weighted, preferably watercolor paper. I have done this with Bristol board though a couple of times back in an art class. It ends up looking a little different because it doesn't hold the paint the same, but it wouldn't be the end of the world if that's all you had;)
Paint brushes
some that you like, and some that are junky, that you don't mind possibly ruining. Dollar store ones will do! Even a Popsicle stick could work, with some determination and a bit of patience.
Masking Fluid
This is available at most art stores, and I've even seen it at Michael's, Joannes, and hobby lobby. So it isn't super hard to come by. Look for it with the watercolor paints.
Watercolor paints
even the cheap stuff will do for this project-of course quality watercolor paints are more rewarding. If you're doing this with kids, use the cheap stuff.
An old Toothbrush for "splattering" (optional.)
The first step is to draw out your large snowflakes. (There's no rule that you have to do snowflakes. If you want, do something else that's white. Like sheep, or stars!!)
I don't have a picture of my snowflakes at this point because I'm a bad teacher.
But basically, I drew out 4 snowflakes across the paper.

 If you wanted you could make paper snowflakes with scissors, and then trace those-and the little detailed cut outs in the centre as well!

Next, take the masking fluid. It smells like dead fish, I know. But it's worth it.

This is where you want to use brushes that you DO NOT CARE ABOUT. Masking fluid is weird stuff, it's a liquid rubber. It is possible to get the brushes clean later by using warm water and soap, but I wouldn't go using any kolinsky sable brushes with this stuff.
Fill in every space that you want to remain white (so, all the "snow") Be sure to leave small detail in your snow flakes blank if you want the watercolor background to show through later. Don't worry about the blue of the masking fluid, we'll remove it eventually.
Make sure that everything is covered with the masking fluid. You may have to look over it and spot touch anything that didn't get coated. It won't be perfectly even, some spots will be thicker. It doesn't really matter, so long as it's covered.
Now, if you like, you can use an old stiff bristled tooth brush to make some extra tiny white sprays around the snowflakes. Just dip the bristles into the masking fluid, and run you thumb quickly over the bristles, over the paper. Of course, you could do this manually with a tiny brush, if you're really bored.

Now for the fun part!

Completely coat your paper in whatever colours you like. (Yes, you can use your nice brushes now.) 
Experiment with different shades,  and blend away. You can make it as dark as you like, or light if you prefer. You don't have to be careful at all to "color in the lines" as the masking fluid is doing all the work for you. You can paint right over it if you like.
Once you're finished, do whatever touch ups you like, a second coat, some different colors, anything. But then let it dry completely. I know, it's hard to be patient, but you really don't want to do the next step until it's fully dry, or it will ruin your work, and your life.

(no, not really, Just your work. AND it will make you sad. I don't want you to be sad!)
l e t      i t      d r y !

Ok, now that it's dry, this is the really really fun part. Remember when you were little and your great aunt had peely wall paper that you were just dying to pick at? Now you have the opportunity to make up for lost time.

With your finger (not your fingernail, but your actual finger) start rubbing the edges of the masking fluid. (you can use an eraser too, if you like.)
It will start to roll back and ball up into stringy little rolls of rubbery fun.
Once you have a decent little edge pulled back, you can start to peel it off.

Peel off the rubber from all your snowflakes.
Next, get out an eraser, and begin to erase the little spray dots that you made with the tooth brush. You could do these all with your finger if you're a real glutton for punishment.

Also, now you can erase any pencil lines that might have been hiding under the masking fluid.
If there are any white spots that you didn't intend to be left white, you could touch them up now with a bit more paint.

And now you're finished! This would make a cute Christmas card, don't you think?


  1. I love this!! and your memoir about growing up... I also love the smell of leaves in the Autumn-- sort of a musty, aged, moist smell. We don't get a traditional autumn here in Phoenix, so it's nice to be reminded of it!

  2. Thanks so much! I'll bet you're not missing our FREEZING weather now!!

  3. I just found this post from craft gawker. What a beautiful card!

  4. What a cute project! I love it so much that I decided to feature it in our roundup of snowy winter crafts! Check it out here: http://www.favecraftsblog.com/snowy-winter-crafts/