Watercolor Painting Exercise Three: Landscape

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For the third and final watercolor painting tutorial, Christine Oliver will walk you through completing a landscape using watercolor paints.

Here’s a list of the tutorial videos in order:

Part One: Prep And Sketch

Part Two: Color Blocking And Initial Painting

Part Three: Midtones And Shadows

Part Four: Completing The Painting


To begin, download this photo of the landscape for the tutorial by right clicking it with your mouse and selecting “save image as” and print it out (if you have a printer available):

WC landscape

Make sure your painting space is set up properly and you have all the items you need, including some Kleenex or facial tissue (used to make clouds in this demo!). Download and print our Watercolor Recommendation List to make sure you have all the right materials for this tutorial if you haven’t already done so. Plan on taking at least 8 hours over a number of days to complete this lesson. Be sure to refer to our Nourish & Flourish section in the Student Resource Center if you plan to work for several hours at a time.

Watch the video for each part in its entirety first, then paint that part. It’s also helpful to read our text for that part before watching the video. You can view the videos full screen by clicking on the box in the lower right corner of the video, then click on the same box after you are finished to minimize the video screen and return to the text. See here:

 full screen annotation

Once you’ve finished watching that part’s video, go back and follow along with Christine as you paint your landscape! Don’t forget, you can pause any time you need by clicking on the two vertical lines, then restart by clicking on the triangle.

We have broken the painting process into 4 parts and suggest convenient stopping points in Parts 2 and 4 if you need them. Students should plan on spending a minimum of one hour (including first complete watch-through and cleanup) on Parts 1 and 3 and each section of Parts 2 and 4.


Part One: Prep And Sketch

Once again, Christine mentions as she’s working on her value sketch that you do not have to put everything that’s in the photo into your painting. This is called artistic license. If there’s a tree branch that you don’t feel like painting, that’s fine. If there’s a building you’d like to remove because it disrupts your idea of a “natural” setting, go ahead and remove it! The value sketch is a good time to think about these things and eliminate any pieces of the photo you don’t want to include. You can see how Christine has left out certain elements of the photo by comparing the finished painting with the reference photo at the beginning of this lesson.

Here is Christine’s value sketch:


WC Landscape Value Sketch

Remember to start your value sketch after the first time you watch the video. You can continue to work on it while you watch the video for a second time as Christine is drawing her value sketch, or you can complete your value sketch before watching the video the second time, then skip ahead to around 7:30 when you’re ready to start painting. Another thing Christine points out is not having your trees just touching the horizon line. For a discussion of what a horizon line is, see Thinking In Space. She also talks about the use of odd numbers in composition. If you need a refresher on this, see the section “The Rule Of Odds” in our lesson Composition For Beginners.

After Christine has made her value sketch, she moves on to making a light sketch of her landscape on the paper she’s going to be painting on. Don’t forget to draw this out with light pencil lines and no shading! You’ll do all that with paint a little later on.


Part Two: Color Blocking And Initial Painting

If you need to pause for the day in the middle of this video, we suggest doing so at 10:45. We’ll remind you in the video.

Now that Christine has her drawing laid out on her paper, she’s going to start painting.Remember to work from large to small, using Christine’s Four Step Method to complete the painting (Light Color Blocking, Medium Tones + Textures, Darker Tones, Shadows).

The first thing she’s starting to paint is the blue sky. She gets a clean mixing brush and some clean water and adds Cobalt Blue to the water on her palette to mix the blue for her sky. Next, she switches to a large, flat brush to pick up some of that blue color. Christine reminds us that the sky is darker at the top and lighter closer to the horizon, so start with your fully loaded paint brush at the top of your paper and work the paint down towards your horizon line. She’s painting around her trees so she doesn’t have to try and cover up the blue in her trees later. Once the sky has been painted in, she uses a crumpled up kleenex to remove paint and create clouds. Don’t use a paper towel for this part–it will leave funny patterns in your clouds!

Now it may seem odd, but clouds have shadows in them. Christine mixes a nice neutral grey paint and adds it into the bases of her clouds to help give them dimension.

To paint the hills in the background, Christine mixes up a grey-purple paint to paint the hills in the very back. She mentions that as hills come closer to us, they get darker, so make sure this back row of hills gets the lightest paint color.

Now it’s time to start painting the trees! We’re painting a lot of green in this tutorial, and greens can be difficult to mix. Experiment with mixing different greens on a piece of scrap paper. Take notes if you like so you can remember what you mixed in order to achieve that specific color. While you want to “color weave” and use the same green in more than one place, you don’t want to use the same green in all the places. Try to use different greens for the trees, grass, and weeds–no two greens are exactly alike in nature and you don’t want them all the same in your painting either.You may want to have a separate piece of paper nearby to test your green mixes. Here are some combinations to try:

  • Cobalt Blue + Aureolin
  • Cobalt Blue + New Gamboge
  • Prussian Blue + Aureolin
  • Prussian Blue + New Gamboge
  • Winsor Green + Aureolin
  • Winsor Green + New Gamboge
  • Winsor Green + Cobalt Blue
  • Winsor Green + Prussian Blue

Remember that to tone any of these down and neutralize them (make them move back in space–good for shadows in the leaves) you can add a touch of either Alizarin Crimson, Quinacridone Red, or Grumbacher Red.

When Christine begins painting the large tree, she puts down a base coat of green, then demonstrates with a second layer of paint how wet paint will gently roll down the page (because it’s at an angle on her tabletop) and pools at the bottom of the tree. That’s what we want. The tree is being lit by the sun above, so that means the leaves on the underside will be in shadow. There’s no need to “fix” these puddles–leave them where they are!

Once Christine has laid in the different greens of all the trees, she starts to work on her meadow. She begins by mixing a bright yellow-green in order to maintain a bit of “life” in this section. Painting it with a cool, dark color would make it appear more dull. Remember, this is just the first pass–you will add more paint later so don’t get scared if this looks too yellow–you’ll work on it more later. Christine adds a bit of green near the top of the meadow (where it’s darker in the reference photo) and when she does, she notices it’s a bit “too green”. To combat this, she adds a touch of red to neutralize the green and make it appear as less of a bright green and to push this area further back in space as well. She says that mixing paints this way keeps your colors from looking like “crayons out of a box”. That means that in mixing your own special combination of paints, you’re coming up with an interesting color that’s unique to you. Using paints straight out of the tube–just like using crayons out of a box–limits your options and can make the painting seem lifeless and uninteresting. It’s always better to mix your own colors!

There’s an area at the bottom of the page (the “front” as Christine refers to it) that’s a darker green because it’s in shadow. She reminds us at this point that shadows are not black. Shadows are transparent and show the color of the object in shadow. In most cases, shadows are the opposite color of the sun–so violet (if we think of sunlight as being yellow). She mixes a violet and paints it into the shadowed area at the bottom of the page on top of her darker green. At this point, she begins adding in some of the weeds that are growing around the fence posts (she hasn’t painted the fence yet). She mixes an olive green color and using the tip of her brush, makes a sort of flicking movement to create thin, spiky weeds. There are some pink/red spots on the tops of the weeds, so she adds those in next. This is going to be the same pink/red she uses in the barn in the background because remember color weaving, or using the same color in more than one place in your painting, will make your finished piece more cohesive.

In the middle of the meadow, Christine notices she’s got a little “blossom” of paint from it being too wet. Remember, we talked about these “blossoms” or “blooms” in Watercolor Painting Exercise One: Lemon–these are little areas of paint that get too wet and push the pigment out to the sides of the puddle of water, causing a sharp ridge on the outsides.

From: http://birgitoconnorwatercolor.blogspot.com/2013/07/lesson-tree-lined-mountain-ridge.html

She fixes her blossom just by smoothing out the paint with her brush.

After finishing the first layer of the meadow and adding in the weeds, Christine goes back to her hills in the background and adds a bit of variation with a deeper violet. At first when she lays in the paint, it’s too stark of a variation for her taste, so she softens the paint by washing out her brush and putting a little clean water on it, dabbing it off on her kitchen sponge first so she doesn’t end up with puddles of water on her painting. She lets us know she’s using her size 16 round brush right now because she doesn’t need small details just yet–all she needs now is to be able to cover big areas.


Part Three: Midtones And Shadows

At the beginning of this video, Christine reminds us that you can move pigment around on your painting if you decide you don’t like exactly where you’ve put it by using clean water on your brush.

Now Christine is going to start building up her trees some more by adding a second layer of green to them. She’s going to start to darken some of the threes. To add the darkest parts on the bottoms of the trees, Christine is using a touch of Alizarin Crimson in with her pre-mixed green in order to get a nice, neutral dark green.

Remember from Basic Color Theory that dark colors come forward while light colors tend to recede. So when Christine works on the big tree on the left side of the painting, she’s adding darker colors in order to make it appear to come forward in the painting. That being said, you don’t want to make the entire tree dark because it is still being hit by sunlight on the right side, so leave some lighter spaces to indicate the direction of the sun. Adding darker areas on all the trees will make them look more dimensional.

After adding in some of the darker shadow areas, the paint starts to dry and leaves hard edges on the shadows. Christine says she wants to soften these areas so it doesn’t look “like a popcorn tree”, so in order to do that, she’s dampening a clean brush and gently going over the edges of the shadow parts to soften the edges a bit.

To add in the trunks of the trees, Christine reminds us that the paint should be dry, otherwise the trunk won’t remain as trunks but rather as dark blotches or bleed into the leaves!

She’s adding more texture to the meadow in the next step. To make the hill more prominent, she’s adding a deeper shade of yellow-green to it.

This second layer of paint has all been done with medium tones–not your darkest colors. We’ll start working on the darkest colors coming up here in a minute. To remember where your darkest areas are, either refer to your value sketch you completed at the beginning of this exercise or simply squint your eyes at the reference photo. Squinting your eyes helps you to pick out prominent areas of light and dark easier!

How do you make a dark green? Christine says to mix your green then add a bit of Prussian Blue because it will make it nice and dark. Before adding in your darkest colors, you may want to let your painting dry so your dark colors don’t bleed too much.

When painting the trees, Christine says that you don’t want them “to look polka dotted” (like a pattern of dots). The way she’s painting the trees is by blocking in a sort of all-over color then dabbing darker colors on top to give them some depth. In order to integrate these dabs of darker colors into the trees better so that they don’t look like polka dots on top of the trees, she is using a clean brush with a little bit of clear water to soften the edges of those darker spots.


Part Four: Completing The Painting

Again, if time constraints keep you from finishing this video all at once, we recommend pausing at 10:22. A reminder to pause (if needed) will pop up in the video.

Christine begins painting in this fourth video adding in details to her weeds under where the fence will eventually be. Keep in mind that even though you’re adding details, you don’t need to use a small brush. Using a tiny brush will only get you too hung up on very small details–you’re better off using a larger brush.

Christine brings up a good point in this video that sometimes as painters we get too caught up in small details. One way to get around this and “trick yourself” into painting looser is to only give yourself 20 minutes to an hour to finish a painting. Putting a deadline on your painting will keep you from worrying too much about tiny details and (believe it or not) make your painting look more professional.

Before Christine puts her fence in, she checks to see if her painting is dry enough. The background she is painting on top of needs to be completely dry so that the colors don’t bleed. She pats it gently with a tissue to blot off some of the extra moisture. She’s doing this mainly because of the inherent time restraints in filming a tutorial video (and the fact that she doesn’t have a hairdryer). You can either choose to take a short break while your painting dries completely, dry it with a hairdryer (as we discussed above), or blot with a tissue as Christine does. Blotting may result in some of the pigment lifting off, but you can always add more later and touch up your paint. If your paper is too wet or even damp when you add paint, it will bleed and not keep a hard edge.

If you’re impatient in waiting for your paint to dry, you can use a hairdryer. Best tips for using a hairdryer: Keep it on medium heat and the lowest setting, about 12″ away from your painting in order to dry your paint but not ruin your painting. Hold it straight above your painting on a flat surface. While this will help speed up the drying time of your paint, there are a few caveats to beware of. First, make sure to keep your painting laying flat as you go over it with the hairdryer. If you shift it to an angle then gravity will win and your drops of paint water will trickle down your page. Second, the same trickling effect can also occur if you have the hairdryer on high, hold it too close to the page, or hold it at an angle to your painting. The wet droplets of paint will be forced in all directions away from the high speed air of the hair dryer. Third, if you use too high of a heat setting too close to the paper, you can wrinkle the page.

Another method for getting your painting to dry faster is to blot it gently with your kleenex. One problem with this is that the tissue can pull up some of the paint and undo what you’ve just painted, so be aware of this unfortunate side effect if you decide to go this route.

Now that the painting is dry enough, Christine is going to add in the fence. It looks to her like the fence has a bit of red in it, so she’s mixing a deep red. If you want for this part, you can switch to a smaller brush. She’s going to use her size 8 brush. When painting the fence, the key is speed. You don’t want your fence to look like it’s composed of a bunch of very small, sketchy lines, so load up your brush with plenty of paint and try to make each of the posts in one long, flowing stroke. You will likely be able to make 3 or 4 fence posts before you need to put more paint on your brush. If you use a light touch, you can get a very thin line. You may want to practice making these quick strokes on another piece of paper before you try it on your painting.

Once Christine finishes her fence, she is pretty much finished with her painting and breaks down the landscape in a summary:

  • Do your sky first
  • If you want big, fluffy white clouds, use tissue to lift them up
  • Put a little grey on the bottoms of your clouds to give them dimension
  • Add your background
  • If you have some diagonals going into the landscape, it works better and is more visually interesting
  • Middle ground comes next
  • Foreground is the last thing to paint

As Christine is finishing up her last details of the painting, she paints in some shadows in the foreground that indicate trees outside of the picture frame casting shadows onto the meadow in front of the fence. After that, she emphasizes the shadow on the hill in the meadow, then softens all her shadows with a clean, damp brush. Then there’s one last thing she wants to do, and that’s to create a bit of dark in the weeds near the bottom of the painting. However, she says this part should have been done before she put the fence in so that she wouldn’t have to go around all the fence posts in order to add the shadows to the weeds. It would have made the painting easier if she had remembered to do this before adding in the fence, but oh well! Sometimes these things happen. It’s a good lesson to learn from and you can see that even professionals make mistakes. So don’t be hard on yourself if you also make mistakes! It’s part of the process. Christine even says,

It’s not a failed painting. You have learned something from it. And that’s all you want to take away from each and every one of your paintings. What have I learned? And what will I not do again or will I do again? And that is the best way to approach painting. Because if you’re trying to figure out and do a perfect painting every single time, you might get disappointed and that’s not fun, and the joy of painting is to have fun while you’re doing it.

Next lesson: Painting En Plein Air With Watercolors

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