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Watercolor in progress…

Here I am describing and show the way I plan and start a Watercolor landscape painting. I usually take lots of reference pictures everywhere I go and I save them on my computer for later when I have time to go through them. Some time, I chose a reference picture that looks promising, although the composition is not quite to my liking but, by applying some ‘artistic licensing’ it could become quite an attractive composition.

By applying ‘artistic licensing’, I am very careful not to alter the picture too much so that it would transform it to a totally unrecognisable landscape (especially if the landscape is a well-known and popular site that everyone is familiar with.

For the purpose of this page, I choose a picture that I took while hiking around Red Rock Canyon in Waterton National Park in Alberta. The original picture (at right) is already quite appealing, but the sky is to plain and one of the prominent features of the picture, the mountain peak is too centered. Never place in the center, vertically or horizontally, any prominent features of your painting!

To make it easier to convey some of the words, I will use pictures which can tell much more than words. This way anyone can see and understand what I am trying to convey.

In order to achieve this, I am using a computer picture editing program where I can ‘draw’ additional features that are missing or erase features that are not necessary (applying ‘artistic licensing’). I am able to do this directly with the mouse or a pen and tablet right on the computer by creating a new picture using the original picture as a guide or reference.

Here, (picture on the left) I am trying to conform to the golden ‘rule of the thirds’ and move the center mountain slightly towards the left third of the picture. Also by adding some clouds on the upper right, will give the composition some interesting aspect. The clouds will complement the painting and the shape and direction of the dark side of the clouds will direct the viewer’s eyes towards the focal point on the left and upper third of the picture. At this point I am pleased with the composition. Now, I can print a copy of this picture on a regular letter size paper and enlarge it using the ‘grid’ method.

The height of the printed picture is 9 inches and I will enlarge it to the height of the stretched watercolor paper which is 27 inches. I am doing this on several smaller sheets of drawing paper. After I finished, I am using several sheets of tracing paper to trace the enlarged drawing (excluding the ‘grid’). When the tracing is done, I retrace with a medium soft (2HB) pencil on the reverse side of the same tracing paper.

 When all that is done, I tape the tracing paper with the freshly re-traced side down on the watercolor paper. I tape it like a ‘hinge’ (picture below) on the right side so it can be lifted occasionally to check if all the lines have transferred to the watercolor paper. I trace all the sheets this way until the whole drawing is transferred.

When transferring, I use a glass rod that I filed and polished at one end flat (about a quarter of an inch area; to see a larger picture of this, please click on the picture), so it will not leave groove marks on the watercolor paper (like a ball point pen). If you use a ball point pen to trace through the tracing paper, do not press hard. If you leave any groove marks on the watercolor paper, it will show through the watercolor paint (the paint will pool in those grooves and leave darker lines). While I am tracing, I keep on lifting the tracing paper and checking underneath to make sure all the lines are transferred (picture below).

Once the whole drawing is transferred, I start planning my painting strategy. By studying the reference picture, I have to decide where to apply masking fluid. In this case, some of the foliage of the trees is much lighter than the background, so I have to mask those areas in order to preserve for lighter values. Also, the water in the creek has a few bright ripples that reflect the sunlight. Those need to be preserved as well. Some artists use white gouache or will scrape those areas after the painting is finished and dry. Since in watercolor there is no white paint, I was taught never to use any other medium (gouache). Scraping is ok, as long as you are very careful not to damage the paper.

The rocks and boulders are also of a much lighter value, but I can manage to use a negative space painting technique here. So, in this case, there is not too much to mask (picture above). The watercolor paper now is ready for painting.

I always start with the sky. The sky is a very important aspect of a landscape painting and in watercolors it has to be well planned ahead to avoid unwanted hard edges and have the clouds just the way you like it (picture on the right).

In this painting, I started with the bottom of the sky from the horizon upward using a very weak wash of Yellow Ochre to give it a warmer feel of a still partly sunny day. Next, I use a gray color of the clouds starting from the top down. In the middle I insert a combination of Cerulean and Cobalt Blue mixture.

While the paint is still wet, I use a bunched up tissue to blot out the white areas of the clouds. All this has to be done quite fast while all the painted sky area is still wet. As it starts drying, I keep on blotting certain areas where hard edges tend to form. In some parts of the clouds, one can get away with a few hard edges, but not too many. Hard edges tend to create unwanted focal points.

In the next step I start to paint the mountains. I use the same color value as the dark part of the clouds. On the far mountain peak, I use a touch of red on the sunny side (left side), to show the Sun shining on it. At this time, I paint the whole mountain range the same color. Before the paint is totally dry (still a little damp) I darken the value of the closer mountains by having a wash of the same color thus darkening it to achieve the correct aerial perspective. The reason I do this while the paint is still damp, is to create a softer edge between the mountain tops. I carry on with this color value all the way down through the tree line. The bluish grey color will help the green integrate better with the mountain colors.

I still keep the paint slightly damp when I start painting some tree silhouettes, carefully using negative space painting technique around the closer and lighter colored trees and bushes. (To see a larger version of this picture, please click on it)…

Even though in the reference picture, the leaves are green, I change them to a fall color so the overall aspect of the painting becomes warmer. Once the foliage of the trees is painted and the paint is totally dry, I remove the masking to show the brightness of the leaves on the sunny side. Against the background, the foliage is way too bright, so I paint over with a few glazes to blend them in with the rest of the background and soften the edges. The tall evergreen tree on the left I will leave it only started because at this point I am not sure how tall I will want it. Also, I have to make sure that it will look as it belongs there perspective wise.

Next… I am jumping to the foreground and work on the creek and some of the rocks. I am trying to put in as much color as I can and stay as light as possible. I can always darken the values by overlaying several washes of the same color. The reason I am placing as much of the colors as possible is to have an overall feel of the whole layout. The colors tend to influence each other. Often, I have to go over previously painted areas and change the color values to keep the painting’s harmonized look.

Towards the foreground the colors get more vivid, darker and objects will have much more detail. On the rocks and boulders, I improvise with colors, but I will still stay in the same harmonized color scheme of the whole scene.

Once the water in the creek is painted and dry, and I am pleased with the look, I remove the rest of the masking to reveal the sparkling reflections on the ripples. I will touch up some of the ripples in order to achieve the illusion that the water is flowing downstream away from the viewer (into the painting, since it is a down-stream view). 

At this point, I will have to re-trace some of the lost pencil lines of the Rock face close on the left and have it painted darker because it is in the shadow. I want to make the viewer feel as if looking downstream at the creek, standing by the rock face on the left.

In the reference picture, the evergreen tree on the left goes out of the picture because it is closer to the viewer. In the finished painting I reduced the size of the evergreen tree and by doing so, I pushed it farther away. This way it seems to belong in the picture perspective wise. I also re-worked the sky a little, making it darker and the clouds are a little more prominent. Finally, I signed and dated the painting at the bottom, on the left side this time. I usually sign my paintings on the right side, but this time I didn’t want to disturb and spoil the large bolder in the right lower corner. After all the paint is dry, I go over it with a “fine tooth comb” and erase all the visible pencil lines.

And with this, the watercolor landscape progressive presentation concludes. If you have any questions or need more explanations, please feel free to leave a comment or contact me by e-mail or telephone. I will be more than happy to answer your questions.

Thank you for visiting this page.


E-mail: wood_art@telus .net

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Dawn Cooksley permalink
    February 19, 2016 3:33 pm

    Lovely…and so informative…

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