‘Lilac Tree’ | a watercolor with work-in-progress shots

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'Lilac Tree' | Watercolor | by Cynthia Maniglia
‘Lilac Tree’ | Watercolor | by Cynthia Maniglia

What comes after the late night sketch of a lilac sprig in my watercolor journal? Why the actual watercolor painting, of course! I took a reference shot of the lilac tree (this wasn’t a bush, but a tree that sits on the edge of my neighbor’s property, right by the sidewalk). After my little “study” of the lilac branch – it’s buds and flowers, shapes and colors – I decided to get down to it on 140 lb. cold press paper, using watercolor pencils for the initial shapes (no graphite) and watercolor transparent tube paint (no pan paint, which has been my usual “fav” formerly preferred over tube and pencil).

Watercolor lilac tree painting in progress
‘Lilac Tree” watercolor painting – work in progress

Below, you can see the reference photo and the my painting, side by side. Notice the photo has been digitally manipulated (in iPhoto, nothing fancy) and prints out watercolor-y on my printer due to the fact that I need to install a new color ink cartridge in it. I just loved how this was turning out from the start.


I came away satisfied with today’s efforts.

Lilac Tree - stage 1
Early stages of the “Lilac Tree” painting. I could never re-create it. It just “happens” – the way the paint reacts with the paper…the gesturing and flicks of the brush. Very in the moment.

In this piece, my intention was to bring the same looseness and “gesture” (as Brian puts it in a recent post) to the painting that I like to use in my sketching.

Another one of the people who paint here in watercolor (Joan) referred to letting the paint take over – in her work, the paint created a river where one was not intended – this is also a wonderful concept to keep in mind. See her blog post “A Stream Runs Through It.”

I just finished Marcia Moses’ book called “Creative Watercolor” about painting watercolor from the heart.

Finally, an interesting tidbit: I’ve learned that Rochester, NY is one of the lilac capitals of the U.S. and the city’s 117th Lilac Festival begins tomorrow, May 8th, and runs through the 17th of this month. You can read all about it here.


17 thoughts on “‘Lilac Tree’ | a watercolor with work-in-progress shots

  1. Beautiful – dreamy – wonderful! Are the words that come to me when I view your lilacs. Your painterly approach makes this look easy but for me it is not. Does this come natural for you or does it require hours of practice? Just curious! ❤️

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  2. Oh, and I think that is my blog posting you referred to, A stream runs through. I am thrilled that it inspired you and the beauty you have created and shared.

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  3. I do like the initial sketch and the in-progress one the best of all of them. That very “in-the-moment” feeling you mention in your caption is, to me, perfect for the breeziness of the subject and of the way you treated it in all of your work here. Love your color choices as well. I also can really identify with your comment: “I could never re-create it” under the Early Stages photo. I tried to redo a rosebud I did last week and it turned out completely differently. For me, this is a downfall of the medium, but it’d be good if I could let go of that, I think. Anyway….once again, I enjoyed your work.


  4. You could knock me over with a stick! WOWSERS! Love it. I’ve been dreaming about painting lilacs! Waiting for ours to bloom. I’ve been told a fun method for using a photo is to use the Waterlogue app on your iphone. I might try!

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  5. I’ve been kind of lilac-crazy since I was a kid. The smell. The look. So you post is fantastic. I really appreciate your skill with the colors. I hope to achieve that one fine day.

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