An Impression of Summer

with Susan Neale

Susan Neale explains how to
tackle trees in the height
of their summer glory



  • Arches Aquarelle NOT 140lbs


  • Winsor & Newton Watercolour Sable Round no 7

Winsor & Newton Cotman:

  • Sap Green

Winsor & Newton Artists’ Watercolours:

  • Ultramarine
  • Cerulean Blue
  • Lemon Yellow
  • Cadmium Yellow
  • Indigo
  • Cadmium Orange
  • Winsor Violet


  • A natural sponge
  • White gouache
  • Assorted soft pastels

Trees in summer leaf can be a daunting prospect to paint, as the sheer jumble of colour, light and movement can be confusing and it is tempting to go for a ‘one size fits all’ tree colour.

As the current Artist in Residence at The Arboretum Trust, Kew at Castle Howard, I am inspired by the unique and interesting variety of tree species that the collection contains within its 127 acres. The secret of successful painting - in whatever medium you choose - is to simplify what you see by painting an impression of the scene in front you, rather than recording all the detail in a specific manner.

This can be achieved by using creative brushstrokes and mark-making. The French Impressionists were ground breaking in simplifying what they saw, from Van Gogh’s vigorous and expressive brushstrokes to the tiny dots and optical mixing of Seurat.

Here I will show you how to paint a section of trees while capturing the filtered light of an evening sun. I chose to use a sponge for this process, to achieve the right mix of colours and texture, and prefer to use a ‘natural’ sponge as it has a lightness of application and doesn’t get too soggy. Tube paints are a necessity for this exercise as you need the thicker bulk and consistency for the sponge to ‘pick up’ and deliver onto the paper. I use Winsor & Newton Artists’ Watercolours, but this technique could easily be adapted to gouache or acrylics.

Squeeze a little paint out and add a small amount of water to it, just enough to moisten the paint. Keep the sponge on the dry side, wiping off any excess moisture, then pick up a little paint and dab it onto your paper so you achieve small dots of paint.

Tip: The wetter the sponge the bigger the marks you will make

I generally work light to dark. However with an addition of white gouache you can add light touches to a darker area of paint. Soft pastels are also an effective way of re-introducing the ‘light’ back into the picture with dots and dashes of colour. It is a good idea to practice first on a spare piece of paper to get the consistency of this sponge technique right.

Using a sponge this way is also great for painting blossom on trees, for hedgerows, herbaceous borders, autumn colour and pebbly seashores!

Let's get started...

1 After drawing a light sketch of the trees using an HB pencil, paint a wash of Ultramarine and Cerulean Blue for the sky, add a little more water to the wash to dilute and paint the sky colour to just go over the tops of the trees.

2 When the sky is dry, mix together some tube paint in Lemon Yellow and Cadmium Yellow and add a little water to the mix. The consistency should be slightly sticky. Apply to the trees and leave a few gaps of the white paper to show through.

3 Now mix a little Sap Green into the previous yellows. You are aiming for a ‘lime green’ colour; remember to leave a little of the yellow to show through to suggest sunlight.

4 The next stage is to add depth and summer richness to the trees, so this time stay with the Sap Green and add a little Indigo.
Tip: Colour mixing is about the correct amounts of each colour and the order of mixing
Try and consider where the darker areas would be, often in the lower half of the tree and the side away from the light source.

Using a small round paintbrush paint the trunk of the tree in Cadmium Orange and while it is damp use Winsor Violet for the shadow on the left. Use the violet to paint in some branches. The trees need a full tonal range - light, medium and dark - which is always applicable to any representational painting in whatever medium.

At this stage I added a small foreground area with Sap Green, Cerulean Blue and the green and Indigo mix for the shaded area.

5 The finished summer tree. If needed, add some white gouache to some Lemon Yellow and sponge that on in places if the paint seems a little heavy or dark.

Tip: Use dots and dashes of soft pastel colours over the existing paint to increase the impression of light on leaves - pale greens and yellows would be a good choice. This technique is also good for the suggestion of rays of sunlight filtering through the leaves.

Finally, experiment, have fun and enjoy your sponging!

For details of Susan’s work and teaching visit call 01423 860859, email [email protected] or visit