How to Scrape Watercolor Trees for Beginners

how to scrape trees in watercolor painting - finished painting by Deb Watson

Scraping watercolor means dragging a firm edge across an area of wet watercolor paint to move the paint and change the surface of the paper. Scraping is an excellent technique for watercolor trees. Learn how here with a painting or card.

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Materials Needed for Scraping Watercolor Trees

Flat Firm Scraper

A firm, flat object is needed to scrape wet watercolor paint. Here are some commonly used:

different types of watercolor scrapers from how to scrape trees in watercolor tutorial by teacher Deb Watson
  • Plastic credit card – usually cut in half or pieces. The stiffer the plastic, the better.
  • Paint brush with flat end – some paint brushes are flat on the end for use with scraping.
  • Palette knife – many artists are comfortable with palette knives and like to use those.
  • Safety razor blade – I often use a razor blade, but be careful not to cut yourself!
  • Kitchen scrapers – the plastic scraper used in kitchen sinks also work very well.

Watercolor Paper for Scraping

Arches watercolor paper works well for scraping, but your paper may work just as well.

Different types of paper will react differently to scraping. Test your paper by practicing scraping on a piece of scrap paper to see how it does.

Paint Colors for Scraping

scraping watercolor trees card example 2

Most paint brand and pigments (colors) will scrape with no problems. Staining colors, such as any blue paint made with Phthlo Blue, will leave a faint hint of color on your scraped areas.

Best Colors or Pigments to Use for Successful Scraping

Ultramarine or Cobalt Blue and are good blues to use when painting and scraping trees. Avoid Cobalt HUE as that is usually made with Phthalo Blue pigment. Areas of Burnt Sienna (or any brown), black and opaque white can be added for more realism.

How To Scrape Watercolor Birch Trees Step by Step Tutorial

Scrape a watercolor tree card with one, three or five trees for a beautiful card. Or, scrape an 8 x 10 forest of trees for use as a stand along painting.

Video Demonstration of Scraping Birch Trees in Watercolor

Suggested Watercolor Paint Colors:

  • Blue – Ultramarine or Cobalt Blue
  • Brown – Burnt Sienna or any brown
  • Black – tube black or mix Ultramarine + Burnt Sienna
  • Red (optional – to add cardinal) – any red
  • Opaque white – any opaque white (Bleed Proof White by Dr. Martin recommended)
Outline page for scraping watercolor trees tutorial by award winning watercolor artist and teacher, Deb Watson
Draw your tree shapes before scraping for a better design.

Step 1 – Apply Your Background Color

  • Wet your paper with clean water (for soft edges).
  • Mix a thick puddle of paint. Wimpy color will fade out and not give you good results.
  • Lay the thick color on the damp paper WITH AS FEW BRUSHSTROKES AS POSSIBLE and let the color spread.
  • Let the color dry just a bit – until the shine leaves the wet area

Step 2 – Scrape out trees.

Watercolor scraped birch tree card from watercolor tutorial scraping birch trees by artist and teacher, Deb Watson
  • Push down hard on your paper with your scraper and continue pushing down as you pull across the width of the tree. Lift the scraper, place it below the newly scraped area and repeat until your tree is as tall as you like.
  • The wet paint will be pushed out of that area of paper and pushed to the side. That bit of paper left will be roughed up a bit, adding texture.
  • For the card, scrape three tree trunks, one large, one medium and one small.

Common Scraping Problems and Solutions

  • Not Pushing Hard Enough – if nothing happens, push down harder and continue pushing down as you pull across. Don’t go over areas more than two or three times.
  • Too Wet – Color fills back in immediately. Your wash may still be too wet. Try letting it dry for another minute or so and try again. Even if some of the color seeps back in, you can still get great results by adding paint to the roughed up tree area in the finishing part.
  • Too Dry – scraping on dry color won’t give you any results, even if you rewet an area of dry color. The paint needs to be freshly applied for scraping to work.

Step 3 – Paint or Scrape on Watercolor Paint for Color

No matter how your scraped trees turned out, adding paint will bring them to life!

Three options for adding colors:

  • Paint color on with a brush.
  • Then you can leave it or scrape the wet color for more scraping effects.
  • Or, Scrape on paint. Rub your scraper in paint on your palette or paint color on the edge of your scraper with a brush. Then scrape the new color across.
  • Combine these techniques – scrape some white on first. Then paint or scrape on a few areas of black or brown.

This video shows how adding color creates a nice card, even when your scraping wimped out!

Other Uses for Scraping Trees – Distant Tree Lines

Landscapes can often be improved with this quick and easy technique.

Original watercolor painting from Yellowstone by award winning watercolor artist and teacher, Deb Watson

Scrape while still wet – If you have a soft, wet distant tree line that could use some interest, scrape out a few (odd numbers are best) tiny white trees.

In this older painting, I scraped the distant trees above the waterfall AND the ones in the left pine trees. It helps break up areas of trees.

Scraping can give you realistic and believable trees, whether you’re a beginner of an experienced artist. It’s an excellent watercolor technique that can be mastered in a short time, then used for a lifetime of watercolor painting.

Scraping watercolor means dragging a firm edge across an area of wet watercolor paint to move the paint and change the surface of the paper. Scraping is an excellent technique for watercolor trees. Learn how in this post.

Every good painter paints what he is - Jackson Pollock