Crane Couple Tutorial

This is an original painting that I decided to try. The subject matter was inspired by a some daydreams I had that involved my months living in Poland a few years ago, and my grandparents that are still there. I remember looking into the fields as we were driving along a narrow, winding road on which people barreled past on their stick shifts (scary driving there) and my grandfather saying something about the cranes making a comeback. He said that when you see a crane in the fields, it means that the land is healthy and the water is pure and clean. Fertile fields for farming, fertile country for growth. So, I want to dedicate this to my grandparents, and if it comes out well, I think I will send it to them, no matter the postage.

After that little dedication, I will start on the steps I took to make the painting. As always, here are my materials:

  • Arches Cold Press 140lb paper
  • Bamboo watercolor brush (a medium one)
  • Hues/Colors:
    • Prussian Blue
    • Cadmium Yellow
    • Ultramarine
    • Alizarin Crimson
    • Burnt Sienna
    • Yellow Ochre
    • Deep Yellow
    • Sepia
    • Cadmium Orange


Square 1: Line Sketch

Just make it on the paper, make sure the composition is what you want. Try not to press hard with the pencil or you risk gouging the paper and leaving marks that will remain visible through the transparent watercolor. You can see my sketch below.


Square 2: Value Sketch


This is a new one, and something I read about in Tony Couch’s book, Watercolor, You Can Do It! I thought that I would give it a try because I am having a hard time producing nice works with good depth and contrast repeatedly just from a line drawing, so this was a practice run for me. I knew that I wanted the focus to be the two cranes, so I just needed to organize and orient my darks to follow appropriately and keep the interest on the painting. You can see two of my sketches above, in which I just used some old pages in a sketch book to hash out where I would want my dark areas and light areas, to create that depths and interest I was after.

Square 3: First Washes

I just wet the paper and filled in the sky area with a gray mix made from Ultramarine and Burnt Sienna. I painted over the tree area and where the bushes were to be. I also swiped some of the wash on the left undersides of the cranes where some shadow would be. Let it dry.

This time, I made a mix of Ultramarine and Cadmium Yellow and dropped that in the area of the bushes. I made sure to make some jagged edges by dragging the side of my bamboo brush across the tip and bottom in various directions. Then, while still wet, I dropped in some more of the yellow on the top areas and more ultramarine in the bottom. I also added some Alizarin Crimson on the left side to create some interest and more of a brown hue. Let it dry.


Square 4: Ground and Tree Wash

Now I dropped Yellow Ochre and Burnt Sienna in long horizontal strokes to get middle and foreground in, with darker tones towards the bottom, and ‘closer’ to the viewer. I tried to add a little shadow now as well beneath the cranes. Before I left for it to dry, I scraped out some blades of grass.


This time, I wanted a darker green, so I made it with some Prussian Blue and Yellow Ochre and made some tufts of leaves. On the areas where they were hit by daylight, I dropped in some Yellow Ochre to mix, and as it dried (but a wet sheen was still present), I added in some of the mix darkened with some more Prussian Blue to suggest shadows. I was really impressed with the capabilities of creating jagged edges while using my new bamboo brush here. Then I left for it to dry.

Square 5: Second Washes

The bushes took up a larger portion of the scene than I had anticipated, so I decided to add a second wash to give them more depth. This was done with the same type of mix composed of Ultramarine and Cadmium Yellow.


I also darkened the ground with some Ultramarine, Alizarin Crimson and a hint of Burnt Sienna.

I darkened the tree wash and went over it to create some better borders with a mix of Ultramarine and Deep Yellow. Let it dry.

Square 6: Tree Trunks, Branches, and Cleaning Up the Cranes

Then, I added in the trunks and branches of the trees to give them some structure.


During the painting process, the cranes got a little splotchy and painted-on over their areas of white, so I used a sharp knife to scrape away their outlines where they should be white, and to smoothen the borders.

I darkened the division between them and the bushes in the middle ground (behind them), to have them stand out some more.

I then painted in their tail ends with a dark and thick mix of Ultramarine and Burnt Sienna, and spotted in their eyes. I added their legs with some Sepia with Burnt Sienna, and finally their beaks with some Cadmium Orange.

Square 7: Fix the sky


I didn’t want the sky to stand out too much, so I just made it a bit more blue with a light glaze of Ultramarine, once everything else was dry.

You will notice that another tree trunk has appeared, as well as some more branches, because I thought that the leaf tufts needed more of a supporting skeleton.

Square 8: Sign your work!

I didn’t sign it here, myself, because I didn’t have my ink or dip pen, and I prefer signing with that. Also, I wasn’t sure how I would position the mat on this one, so I want to wait until I decided before signing it, so my signature doesn’t wind up too close to the mat’s edge.


As always, I learned a few things while painting this that I hope to bring into my next painting.

  • If you don’t want to have problems with hard edges at the edges of washes, cover the whole painting area with an initial wash before continuing to add details later.
  • Consider using masking fluid for areas that you want to keep white that are more complex than simple straight edges (like a crane), so you don’t get a mess of hard edges around it that you have to clean up later.
  • Make cranes with longer necks, because these look more like some strange geese.
  • Use more sky holes in your trees and foliage to make it more natural.
  • Plan your tree branches before putting them in.
  • Do not divide the paper into equal thirds for land, bushes, and sky, because it is not as interesting as it could be.
  • Chinese bamboo brushes are pretty great for foliage and dry brush.
  • I like cranes.
  • I will paint an improved version to send to my grandparents some time in the future. This one doesn’t make the cut for me. 🙂 (Good thing that I learned the point above this.)

While reading these (if you got this far), you see that not everything is so bad. Also, writing these posts really makes me think more about my own criticisms of my work and what I did to achieve the final result. Hopefully, I will remember these things to produce a better work in the future. Perhaps you will read it and prevent yourself from making such a mistake in the first place. At the very least, should you make some mistakes, you should feel heartened and lift your spirits to see that you are definitely not alone.



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