Dive into the Serenity of Landscape Painting with our Guided Watercolor Tutorial

Feb 26, 2024

I know how powerful it can be to get a glimpse into the process of another watercolor artist

Being shown the techniques behind watercolor scenes can push you into new territory. It equips you with new and varied tools for your next painting. It gives you renewed assurance that the skills you want can be acquired with enough time and practice

Full Tutorial to Paint this Landscape: My Exact Watercolor Painting Process

This is why, today, I'm going to walk you through the exact process I used when painting this landscape scene.

In this watercolor tutorial, I will walk you through:

  • how to preserve the white of the paper,
  • how to connect the shapes in your watercolor scene, and
  • how to achieve the watercolor timing that's needed each step along the way.

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Strategies to Preserve the Light of Your Watercolor Scene

Light and luminosity should be a primary concern as you set out to create a watercolor scene. It's certainly a focus of mine throughout the watercolor painting process. 

So let's talk about how to preserve this important light.

Let's start at the beginning. Here is the reference photo I used to paint this watercolor:

We have a few challenges here in this subject matter: we have the light on the road that we need to preserve, the light in the grass, and we have the white building. Clearly, we can tell that this white house needs to be the brightest part of the painting, which is something we need to keep in mind from the very beginning through to the end of the watercolor painting process.

So, let's start by looking at my drawing.

This sketch - although simple - gives me the general outline for my painting and creates visible borders that help me preserve the white of the paper in the places I need it the brightest.

From here, I wet down the paper - first the back and then the front (note - in order to do this, I do not tape down my paper). I wet the whole back of my paper, but was careful about where I wet the front of the paper. Knowing that I wanted to preserve the white of the paper around the house on the hill, I avoided the area where the house will go, keeping it dry. This allowed me to protect the white of the paper from the paint I applied around it.

In my first wash, I laid in a light color for the sky - a simple wash with Cerulean and Ultramarine - and applied a little bit of warmth near the horizon with some Rose Madder Permanent and Raw Sienna.

How to Vary Greens in a Landscape Painting

Next I dropped in some green color for the light area of the grasses around this building. And because I didn't dampen this part of the paper, I'm able to paint around it and preserve those whites, which are really important. And this is one of the reasons I love to work wet into wet as I'm dropping in some of the green for the trees up here while the sky is still damp.

I love to get those nice soft edges, and when it comes down to this part of the painting, I again avoided some of these whites that I wanted to preserve. At this point in the process, I avoided the road too, so I could come back in a few minutes later and lay in some pigment on those areas.

As I worked my way down, I switched from the large mop brush I was using to a smaller synthetic brush that gives me me more control. This gave me the ability to cut around some of the details.

Then I dropped in some light value for the pole on the left side of the painting. In the later stages of the painting, I knew I wanted some of that lighter, warm tone to be present from this first wash.

Next, I transitioned into some warmer colors for the green down here in these grasses. I don't want to just use that same color of green through the entire first wash. I want different shades of green in the final painting, and this vision must begin in the first wash. If I find myself using too much of the same color, the painting can get boring. So, I like to mix that up and drop different subtle greens and earth tones into the painting while everything is still wet. Notice I placed a green with a little more vibrancy around the road. I didn't want a really, really hard line between the edge of the road and where the grass is, so I took a damp brush with some light warm tone and softened up those edge, while putting a little bit of pigment on the road as well.

How to Create a Large, Connected Shape

At this point, I let everything dry, at which point, I was ready for the second wash. My two goals in this second wash are - and most always are:

  • To create that large connected shape that brings a painting together and to
  • Build up the strength in my values. 

As I do these two things, I begin to see the painting come together and the light show up strong.

So, first, I set out to see the massive trees in the background as one big connected shape. When I am at this stage of painting, I don't want to get too invested in painting a lot of little broken up shapes. When you paint that way, it doesn't give your painting the stability and the connectivity that it really needs.

Since I had the light of this pole that I was painting around, I painted trees on either side. And while that shape was still damp, I dropped in some shadow into the form of these trees.

And as I went into paint the trees that are farther back, I lightened up my values so they aren't quite as strong as these trees here. I also introduced some cooler green color because I want to give this scene a feeling of distance. By cooling it down and simplifying the shape further back in the scene, I created that feeling of distance in the painting that it needs.

So you can see I painted these trees as one big connected shape and I'm working into the shape while things are still wet. I added a little bit of variety so that the green of the painting is not all the same pigment and value. As I continued to work my way across the painting, I carefully painted around the house so that it remained the brightest part of my landscape painting.

Strategies and Reasoning to Add Texture to a Watercolor Landscape

Next, I used my fingernail and scratched in a few little branches into the tree. This little bit of detail is so helpful in bringing this middle area of the painting forward and allowing this other area by house feel more distanced.

Remember: Texture brings things forward and the lack of texture pushes things further back.

Then I connected some of the greens of this shape into that background shape, leaving a feeling of light on some of these areas by retaining the colors that I placed in the first wash. That green that I put in my first wash plays a small role but really adds something interesting to the painting. 

Remember: Every wash is a setup for the next one.

 While the watercolor scene was still damp, I dropped in a little bit of shadow closer to the ground, increasing the strength, increasing the value, adding a little more texture (which again brings this area forward in the painting). I shaped this tree to connect right into some of the stronger values on the edge of the road.

REMEMBER: Always look for connectivity.

Next, I worked my way to the front of the painting, working the details around the pole. Then I added a little bit of variety into what's going on in the right side of my painting. We want this area to feel closer to us, so we want more texture and variety. In the background again, I tied some of this texture into this big connected shape of the scene. And while things are still damp, I added a little bit more value to the grass and this field for a little bit of form.

Finally, I tied in the shadow of the pole into that shape as well. And you can see that as I added more value and worked my way through the scene, the light is starting to appear but the shadow across the road in the shadow actually gives us a little bit of shape and form to what's going on down here. 

Final Darks and Details to Polish off a Watercolor Scene

After I completed my big, connected shape, it was time to add in some details. So I used a darker color with a smaller brush, and set out to add a little bit of more detail to ensure that this landscape is reading as strong and as interesting as we want it to.

One goal in this final wash was to add a few little marks to break up any areas that I feel are a little too boring. I wanted to add some finishing touches and some darks to continue to polish this scene a little bit.

When I wanted to do some dry brush marks, I used a piece of scrap paper to get out some of that excess moisture onto a piece of scrap paper and then practiced my brush mark. That way, when I went to put that mark on the painting, I knew what to expect. Adding a little bit of these marks broke up certain areas that were too plain, adding interest. 

REMEMBER: The tricky part about this final part of the painting process is that these details are really fun to paint and we want to be careful not to add too much that it distracts from the main idea of your painting.

For example, each of these trees in the distance have branches and texture to them, but instead of trying to render all of this, I squinted at my reference photo to minimize a lot of that detail and capture just what was necessary to add to the overall look of my painting. Be very cautious and deliberate when you're doing this because you don't want to overwork the painting.

I then added texture to the road - more so on the part of the road that leads into the scene.

Finally, I used a little bit of gouache to highlight and break up key parts of my painting - for example, on bits of the house where I needed a little highlight.

Here is the final painting! I hope this helps you in your next landscape watercolor painting!

Related Blogs

Creating Depth and Realism: Essential Strategies for Watercolor Landscape Artists

Paint this Glowing Landscape in Watercolor 

Watercolor Techniques Tutorial - From Drawing to Final Wash


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