How to Paint Watercolor Palm Trees

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Last Updated on January 5, 2023 by Dee

Looking for some tips on painting your own watercolor palm trees or palm tree sunset scene?

We’re heading into our summer season again here in the northern hemisphere…and time for some much-needed sunshine and sea! Those of us in the southern hemisphere will also be craving some beach time – so in that spirit, let’s paint watercolor palm trees!

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So, let’s paint a watercolor palm tree…

Step 1- Collecting your reference photo

It is always a good idea to have a clear reference photo to work from when you are trying to convey something with a realistic or naturalistic feel to it.

Work from your imagination

You can paint a palm tree or beach scene from your imagination, but the truth is that most people’s brains leave out important information about the scene. As a result, your painting may become more stylized or simplified than the plan you had it!

If you want to paint palm trees or a beach scene in a more abstracted or expressionistic manner, and you are not hung up about getting a sense of realism in your artwork then drawing from your imagination can work very well.

My style isn’t super-realistic by any means, but I wanted to get a good reference for accurately depicting shadows, colors and shapes.

Work from your own photos

Drawing and painting from your own photos is a great way to come up with unique ideas and compositions. You also have first-hand experience of what the palm tree and beach scene looks like in a real-life situation. This gives you a better idea of how the subject matter “sits in space” so to speak.

Work from a free stock photo

Because I wanted a level of naturalism in my artwork, I chose to work from a photograph of a beach scene with palm trees that I found on

If you cannot get your own photographs of your chosen subject matter, then you can always use free images from or There are a huge variety of free stock photo sites on the web, but these two are the ones I have used the most for good reference photos.

Step 2: Decide on the size of your drawing

I find that working on an A4 or A3 sheet of watercolor paper is a good size to start off with for botanical art. The hibiscus plant I painted is on an A4 sheet of paper.

I would recommend sticking to at least A4 in size, because if you work any smaller you may struggle to get a good amount of detail in your drawing or painting.

Interestingly enough, working on a larger surface is a lot easier than on a smaller surface.

With a larger sheet of paper, you can accentuate details and there is space to enlarge tiny areas. Your pencil marks and brush strokes can be wider and there is more room for error in a sense.

Step 3: Composition and rough drawing of the general shapes of the watercolor palm tree scene

Once you have decided on the size of the paper you will be working on, you can think about your composition and then draw it out in pencil.

I recommend using a 2B lead pencil to first softly sketch out the horizon line where the sea meets the sky, the line where the sand meets the sea, the palm leaves and the palm tree trunks.

Make sure you are applying only a very light pressure onto the pencil to achieve very light pencil marks on the page.

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Step 4: Put down masking tape

I put down a strip of masking tape to define the horizon line so that I can neatly paint the sky area and the sea area separately. This means the horizon line will be straight and defined.

strip of masking tape on a white page

Step 5: Light Washes

I paint washes of cerulean blue to start building up the sea, and green to start building up the palm leaves.

Step 6: Details on the shore

I add small greenery details to the shore.

Step 7: Layer washes on the palm tree leaves

I then start layering deeper and darker greens onto the palm tree leaves to give them more depth.

watercolor palm tree painting

Step 8: Layering onto the trunk

I layer washes of brown and blue to deepen the shadows on the trunk.

watercolor palm tree painting

Step 9: Add the shadow of the palm tree to the water.

watercolor palm tree painting

Step 10: Lastly Pen Detail

If you would like to take your watercolor painting to the next level you can go over the palm trees leaves, trunk and other details using a micron pen.

I used a size 0.2 micron for the line work in my palm tree painting.

Important Questions About Watercolor Painting

How do you paint a sunset tree with palms in watercolor?

Step 1: Tape down masking tape around the edge of the paper and across the page to define the horizon line.

purple masking tape across a white sheet of paper

Step 2: Using the wet-on-wet technique, paint washes of pink and blue and allow them to bleed into one another.

watercolor sunset palm tree silhouette

Step 3: Add yellow into the washes of pink and blue.

watercolor sunset palm tree silhouette

Step 4: Using a darker blue, an indigo, pink and a tiny bit of yellow, paint washes of color in the ‘sea’ area of the composition. Allow the colors to bleed and blend.

You will see that I have used darker blue and indigo on the right-hand side of the paper, and have allowed the left-hand side to be less opaque.

I also used some of my pink and purple to paint subtle clouds in the yellow part of the sky.

watercolor sunset palm tree silhouette

Step 5: I mixed my dark blue, indigo and orange colors together to create a warm purple-indigo color to paint the first layer of my palm tree in silhouette.

Here I defined the palm tree leaves, the palm tree trunk and the mound of sand that it is rooted in.

watercolor sunset palm tree silhouette

Step 6: I continue to layer the dark indigo color onto the palm tree to create a sense of depth and a silhouette effect.

watercolor sunset palm tree silhouette

Step 7: I altered the shape of the ground in the painting in order to improve the composition.

watercolor sunset palm tree silhouette

How do you do watercolor shading?

To create a sense of volume or three-dimensionality in your watercolor painting, you can layer washes of color over one another to deepen the color and create depth.

It’s a good idea to paint out a range of tonal variations on a test strip of watercolor paper before you begin painting your final piece.

You can also use a wash of the complementary color (colors opposite each other on the color wheel) on top of your color in order to darken the subject and create shadow areas.

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Do you paint the background first with watercolor?

It is a good idea to paint the background first so that you can crisply define the edges of your subject matter and have a good idea of where they start and end.

It is quite common that artists start painting the forms or figures first and then are not too sure about what to do in the background.

How do you paint with watercolors for beginners?

As you begin painting with watercolor you will be using a technique called wet-on-dry. Essentially that means you are putting paint on your paintbrush and then painting directly onto the dry surface of the page. This is a good way to start because you have more control over the areas you are painting.

Once you have defined your shapes using your intitial color you can then work into them using a technique called wet-on-wet.

Wet-on-wet is where you paint your watercolor onto a watery surface. The color then blooms and bleeds and creates interesting washes of color. This is less controlled than wet-on-dry, but I love watching how the watercolor pigment creates gorgeous textures and patterns as it dries.

Should you sketch before watercolor?

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This is completely up to your personal preference.

I like to lightly draw my forms and shapes before I started painting. This gives me a better idea of my composition and how the forms fit together.

Once I have draw out my light pencil outline, then I will use my kneadable eraser to gently go over the pencil and lighten it before I start painting.

Wherever there are areas I want to remain white, then I completely erase the pencil mark because once you have painted over pencil you cannot erase it.

List of materials and supplies needed for painting your own watercolor palm trees

The Best Painting and Drawing Supplies for Artists

2B or 4B Lead Pencil

Kneadable Eraser

Masking Tape

Scrap piece of paper for testing colors

300gsm Watercolor Paper: If you want to add a wash to your drawing you should definitely do your drawing on a good-quality, heavy paper that doesn’t buckle.

Soft Bristle Round or Filbert Brush

Watercolor pans or tubes. I am currently using the Windsor and Newton Watercolor Pan. The colors are rich and are of high quality. The tray itself is portable and easy to use.

How to Paint Watercolor Palm Trees Step By Step with a picture of a palm tree


Painting a watercolor palm tree is a fun and easy watercolor project for beginners as well as more advanced artists. I hope you have found my advice on techniques and materials to be useful as you begin to paint your own watercolor palm trees!

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