Masking Tape Birch Tree Paintings


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Having seen this lesson done with younger students, I wanted to “take it up a notch” by introducing some more advanced watercolor painting concepts alongside this fun masking tape technique.

We began by planning out our tree shapes with the masking tape, using the torn pieces to create  natural and organic forms on white watercolor paper. (Tree reference pictures are very important here!) We used watercolor washes to paint the sky, background, and foreground, —right over the tape! Students used a mixing tray to control the paint tones and a proper watery consistency. Wet-into-wet blending of different colors directly on the paper was encouraged to create a natural look. In the witer-themed paintings, students used specialized techniques such as adding salt or plastic wrap to areas of wet paint to create unique textures. After the paint was dry, we carefully peeled away the masking tape to reveal the pure white trees.

Using a black colored pencil, we added small branches and horizontal textures for our birch bark. Again, reference pictures help! We added pale watercolor shadows on the trees to help give them form, and, —depending on the desired “seasonal” effect,— other personalized details such as splatters, fences, grasses, animals, footprints, etc.

Examples shown here include “fall themed” paintings, which were 8.5″ by 11″ and completed in four 47 minute class periods, and “winter themed” versions which were 11″ by 14″ and took approximately five or six 47 minute class periods. The winter themed students had already completed a landscape lesson earlier in their trimester, (see “Winter Windows”) and were thus more familiar with the concept of creating the illusion of depth on a two dimensional plane.

Here’s a breakdown of the fall version of this lesson, class by class:

Day 1: Create your tape trees

Day 2: Paint the basic background elements of ground and sky. OPTIONAL: Mist liquid watercolor here and there before putting to dry.

Day 3: Remove tape CAREFULLY. Add bark texture and branches with black colored pencil

Day 4: Add pale tree trunk shadows, thin grass blades and/or leaves on trees. One last optional misting, if you desire!

The students were so proud of these paintings! Watercolor can be tricky, but I encouraged them to embrace its loose and independent personality rather than trying to control it, assuring them it was OK to let the paint “do what it wants to do”!


For more images of how this technique is done, be sure to check out my “Spring Birches, Step by Step” page, as well as My video tutorials!

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