Autumn Bloom Tree – Watercolour Experiment

watercolour tree -- autumn bloom

I have no real talent (or learned skill) when it comes to painting.  However, I’m a fan of art and creativity in general, and I want to foster an appreciation of such things in my children.

We use watercolours more than any other paint because it’s relatively mess free and easy to clean up. I’ve done many painting activities with the kids over the years, like zip lock bag painting, basic brush techniques, finger painting, body painting and general project painting.  Now that my children are a little older, I’m looking for ways for them to extend and combine the mediums we have (like watercolours plus texters).

While browsing the Internet, I came across a Triad Tree painting by artist June Rollins and I put it in my pretty-to-look-at-but-not-doable pile. That was until I read the relevant post.  The tutorial looked so achievable I immediately decided to give it a shot with the kids.

What I love about this project is that it uses the three primary colours to achieve the autumn bloom look so there’s the mixing-colours learning aspect too.  This tutorial is quite long, but don’t be fooled by all the pictures: it is achievable and the outcome is amazing!  I went into more detail here (compared to June’s tutorial) because I learned things while doing it that will help in instructing the activity for children.

I am STOKED that I painted that picture above. It’s a fun activity for all ages and I love that. LOVE. Love when we all do an activity together, and I’m not merely a facilitator or observer but participate and enjoy it as much as the kids.


You can get these materials from discount shops, K Mart, Big W, Target, Officeworks and art shops.

Watercolour paper

Watercolour paint – Primary Colours: Yellow, Red & Blue


Water spray bottle

watercolour painting tutorial

You only need two brushes for painting and one to aid in splattering.

watercolour brushes

Step 1

Set the water bottle to a fine mist, and spray the blank paper (just so it’s slightly damp; just a few sprays)

watercolour painting tutorial

Step 2

Saturate the small round brush with yellow paint, and hit the brush against the handle of another larger brush (or other suitable instrument) to splatter paint on the paper.  Dots of paint will flick over the page.

autumn watercolour tree


Keep in mind a rough triangle tree shape (allowing for the trunk) on the page as you flick paint.  You can’t completely control where the flicks go but you can adjust where to hold the brush over the page to distribute the flecks.

watercolour painting with kids -- tutorial

The children practiced on regular paper before we started our trees.

watercolorus and kids

Step 3

The idea is to keep splattering paint until you have the general shape and enough spots.

FIRST: Start with Yellow

NEXT: Then Red

LAST: Finally Blue

watercolour painting with kids -- tutorial

Step 4

Next is where the colours mix.  This is important: you need to adjust the water bottle spray nozzle from fine mist to somewhere in the middle.  The water needs to come out in droplets.  Too fine a mist and it won’t work as well, and if the spray is too direct, the colours won’t mix so delicately.

watercolour painting with kids -- tutorial

We experimented a little and found it best to hold the bottle directly above the paper about 10 cm.  Then gently pull the trigger in a controlled way, distributing the paint and mixing the colours.  Do this in sections on the page until you’re happy with the result.  We only had to spray about 3 times. Don’t over spray because you want to keep some definition there.

watercolorus and kids

Step 5

Don’t touch the painting, or use a brush at this point.  Leave it and allow the paint to air-dry naturally for the colours to mix and settle (takes about an hour).

Step 6

Once dry, paint the branches in.  I found this a bit tricky, and did two attempts; much better the second time around (pictured below).  I’ll break down what I learned and how I instructed the children.

watercolour painting with kids -- tutorial


LOOK FIRST.  Draw an imaginary mid line with v like branches going out in your head.

watercolour painting with kids -- tutorial


PRACTICE: Using the square brush, practice on a piece of paper first.  I found it best to wet the brush with paint (using less water) and press down with the top of the brush rather than stroke.  So press down, move the brush, press down.  This gives a more rustic looking branch.

primary colours -- watercolour mixing

This is my seven-year-old working on some branches.

primary colours -- watercolour mixing


After a few practices, start on the tree.  The children and I studied June Rollins’ tree for inspiration and then got to work. (Isn’t it gorgeous!?)

triad tree

1. Paint in parts of a trunk peeking out from the leaves (leave the tree base/trunk part to last; that way you won’t smudge paint as you work on branches).  The trunk gets a little smaller each section until the top.

2. Place branches sporadically up and out from the trunk (using an imaginary V as a loose guide).  One thing I noticed and implemented the second time around was the effect of drawing a section of branch, leaving a small space (of leaves) and continuing the branch.  This way, it looks like the branch is weaving its way in and out of the leaves. Here’s a close up of what I mean.

watercolour triad tree

3. Study the paint droplets, and use them as a general guide to where you want to run the branches up the tree.

4. Using the small round brush again, paint in the trunk and the ground.  After painting it in, I wet the brush with water (no paint) and ran it over the painted section.  I used a lighter brown over the top of the root area, and again, used a wet brush to disturb the paint.

One thing I learned while doing this is to try NOT to make the lines too perfect. Feel it. Relax. It’s awesome.  Right at the end, I used the square brush again to line one side of the tree and add a few finishing details.

watercolour triad tree

Here’s the children’s finished pictures; we are all rather thrilled with the result. How cool is Mr 6’s blue tree with the cute branches sticking out the side!

watercolour trees


I have also done this with a class, and I had trunks already printed to make it easier. There’s a template below and you can print this directly onto watercolour paper. Then you use the foliage splatter pattern over the top.

Tree Trunk Templates - Watercolour

Autumn Triad Tree

So that’s the long tutorial…or here’s the short version. And then just go for it, make mistakes and learn as you go (like I did). Check out June Rollins’ tutorial and artwork too.

watercolour tree -- autumn bloom tutorial

Variation for Young Children

A variation of this idea would work as an activity for very young children: do the dots and then let them loose with the water spray on the grass outside to see what colours they can make. And then make your own tree and feel proud as punch at such a gorgeous creation. I did! And if I can do it, anyone can! It was good for the soul! Oh, I adore trees!

Miss 7 did a few different trees, and to this one, she added to the scene.  What a happy looking picture!

watercolour paitning with kids


Posts about trees

Activities celebrating Autumn

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Kelly loves life at both ends of the spectrum: wearing high heel shoes one day and hiking boots the next; sipping tea out of a pretty cup and slurping hot coffee from a camping mug; challenging herself physically and stopping for quiet unhurried moments to feel the wind on her face. Kelly and her husband Matthew seek to live a fun and adventurous life with their four children and pet bird.

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  1. says

    SENSATIONAL! What a brilliant activity to do with children and they must be so pleased with what they have done. They are absolutely frame worthy. Children could also make these and raise money for charities etc.

  2. says

    I don’t have any great talent either so I understand what you are saying about wanting to foster creativity in your children. I would have to disagree with you though, I’ve seen your little scribbles and they are lovely :) This tree is gorgeous. Really beautiful.

  3. says

    Yours looks amazing!! Brilliant in fact!!
    And the children’s art looks equally as impressive. I love that you all worked on them together. How special!
    I’m pinning this and really want to try something like this with Miss Daisy. She’s great at following instructions so I think we’ll get the splatter part just fine… then the trunk/branches will be her unique 3yo spin on it! :)

  4. Raluca says

    Very good idea. I used only red and white and after the colors dried, I sprinkled some green. It came out a very beautiful tree in spring.

  5. Cary says

    Just found this tutorial on pinterest! I decided to try it out with my leftover coffee from this morning… it came out beautifully! It made a perfect fall color. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Bethany says

    l also found this on pinterest and I am very excited to try it…maybe different colors for different seasons and making a foursome of prints…something to do with my grandsons. Anyway…I haven’t tried it yet but your tutorial sure has given me the confidence to go ahead. Thanks you.

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