Watercolor Techniques Tutorial - From Drawing to Final Wash

Nov 13, 2023

Today, I'm going to show you the exact process I used to paint this watercolor landscape scene.

First, we are going to lay in the lightest values of the scene - the parts that are brightest. We'll follow up with our middle values, and then we'll paint the darks and the details that bring the whole scene together.

Through this process, you're not only going to learn how to paint this particular scene, but you're going to pick up skills and concepts that you can apply to any other scene you want to paint.

Step by Step Watercolor Art Tutorial - Landscape

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Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Start a Painting

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the many decisions you must make at once when you start a watercolor painting?

Whether you are painting a landscape, a street scene, or an interior, this free printable can help. It takes you through 5 simple steps to take before beginning your painting to ease your stress. It offers you direction and assurance that you're doing the right thing as you complete your watercolor scene.

Click the picture below to download this free printable today. 

What Supplies Do I Need to Paint a Landscape?

Watercolor Paper:

I use Saunders Waterford 140lb Cold Press Paper.

Watercolor Paints:

I use Daniel Smith paints. The colors I used for this watercolor landscape are:

  • Lavender
  • Raw Sienna
  • Rose Madder Permanent
  • Cerulean
  • Ultramarine Blue
  • Cobalt Turquoise
  • Cadmium Red
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Neutral Tint
  • Raw Umber

Watercolor Brushes:

You'll need a large mop brush for the first part of the painting, a medium sized brush for the middle connected shape, and a smaller brush toward the end.

I used:

Drawing - Creating a Guide 

Drawing for watercolor paintings is meant to be a guide for you as you complete your painting, but not as precise as a blueprint. As you lay out your watercolor scene, you'll want to make sure to use light pencil marks in the places that will have lighter colors (so they don't show through), and darker marks where you'll place several layers of paint (so you can still see them toward the end of the painting). 

That means you'll have to start thinking in terms of values from the very beginning. 

We know that the brightest part of this painting is the top of the barn, this little feeder on the right side of the scene, and the sky. So in our first wash, those are primarily the areas that we're concerned about. So what I'm gonna do first is wet down the back of my paper.

If you don't like to paint with your paper sitting loose on the table, that's okay. You can tape your paper down and just wet down the front of it.

Sometimes beginning watercolor artist can feel intimidated by the drawing and not get much further in the process. If it helps you, feel free to take a screenshot of my drawing. You can print it out and trace it, even, if that helps you to progress. 

First Wash - Painting a Landscape with Watercolor

In my first wash, I start off with a large mop brush. What I like to do first when I'm painting the sky is to first add just a little bit of warmth.

If there are some clouds in the scene, some light area of the sky, I like to lay that in first and then paint the darker blue part around that. Here, I'm using a little bit of Lavender and Raw Sienna, and I'm going to add a touch of Rose Madder Permanent. This light little bit of pigment is for any cloud and for the warmth of the sky as it reaches the bottom.

For the sky, I ready for some blue, so I'm going to take some cerulean, some ultramarine blue, and I'm going to negatively paint around some clouds. I'm not going to have a lot of clouds in the sky, but I can leave some brighter areas. It's kind of sweeping down in that direction. So see how you get that nice kind of sweeping cloud effect.

And if that's a little too stark, you can take some blue prints, a little bit of that off your brush and just get some surreal in and you can add a little bit lighter blue at the bottom. Okay. Just adds a little bit of interest up in the sky. What I want to think about next is the top of that barn.

I'm going to get a bit of a little bit of lavender, some real sienna and just put a little bit just a touch of some value on the top of that. It's really light colored, so we don't need a lot just a little bit. Okay, that'll be the top color. That barn. I'm going to use a little bit of Rassi and a light.

And just before I forget about this, there's this little I guess it's a feeder where you would put grain or hay for livestock, put that there and and now I'm going to rinse the blue off of my brush. And like I said, this isn't the final value for this part of the painting, because I'm going to go over the ground again.

It's just a starting point for that. So I'm just mixing some raw sienna, pretty light thin wash, a little stronger across the inner, be a touch of cobalt turquoise, just taking away the white of the paper, starting to think about values and remembering the lightest areas of our painting. So just a mixture of earth tones, greens, as we work our way down.

Okay. And what I want to do is pause right here and throw in some light red on that barn. And this is also not the final value for the barn. This is just to get a little bit of pigment on the barn. And I will go in later and paint more boldly and strongly on the barn.

Now I'm mixing the color up just a little bit. I threw in some Lavender along with some Burnt Sienna because we don't want the painting to look completely the same all the way through. I'm going to get a little stronger toward the bottom of the painting with a little more paint, a little more value. And I'm going to paint the direction of those directional lines. Even now. I want to remember that as a lead in for the viewer.

So that was a fairly simple wash, really just thinking about the lightest areas of the painting and setting us up for the next phase. Now I'm going to let my paper dry and when I come back, I'm going to start with the distant hill and use that hill to frame in the barn. When we do that, we'll really see the light start to stand out and come alive in this painting.

Second Wash - Watercolor Landscape

Next we are going to move into adding our middle values into the scene and for this watercolor landscape, that is this hill behind the barn and then down into this area below the barn.

First, we want to mix up a little bit of Raw Sienna, Lavender, and a little bit of Ultramarine Blue and Rose Madder Permanent. I want kind of a more of a dull, yellow - kind of an earth tone - for the part of this hill that is in the distance. With this color, I'll get the shape of that hill in. Then I'll add a touch more lavender. It's subtle, but it's important to have some difference in color temperature in the distance and then in the middle ground of the painting as well. This makes the hill a little more prominent.

Avoid Hard Edges that Cut One Part of the Painting From Another

Something I try to avoid are hard edges that completely cut off one part of the painting from another. An example of this is the line between the hill and sky in this landscape.

So, to avoid this hard line, I'm going to soften it with a damp brush just a little bit - not all of it back there - but just soften a little bit of it. This helps with the transition from the ground up into the sky instead of creating a hard edge that cuts all the way across the watercolor scene.

What I do to soften the hill up a bit is use a damp, clean brush to take out some moisture. I'm going to go up to this edge and soften it with the brush. This way, it's not cutting the painting in half.

After this is finished, we're going to work from this "bead." When I say "bead," what I mean is the wet edge where the paint can be easily spread. I'm going to mix in some more saturation -  more of the same colors: a little stronger wash of Raw Sienna and Cobalt Turquoise.

Then I'm going to mix up some red for that barn. You can use some Cadmium Red. I generally use Rose Madder Permanent and Burnt Sienna, and I am going to use a smaller brush. I don't want it loaded with water where it's going to go everywhere. I need a little bit more control. If you want to leave a little bit of that first wash behind, it's a nice way to imply some of the texture of the wood.


We'll come and do the shadows later, but now we have the red of the barn in place. 

Use Directional Lines to Lead the Viewer's Eye Into the Scene

Let's move down to the ground. Remember those directional lines I was talking about? That's what we want to do next. I'm going to create a thicker pigment of warm gray for texture. Using a smaller brush, I'm going to paint those directional lines that will lead us up to the barn. So we have a good visual pattern leading us through the painting. Of course, you don't want to be super obvious about it, but you can look for things in nature, or in your scene, that can lead the viewer around.

Again, we're going to let things dry and then we will come back in and we will add our darks into the scene.

Third Wash - Painting a Landscape

We are back and we are ready to paint the darks and the detail of the scene and finish it up. So the first thing I'm going to do is focus on the barn and I'm going to use some Neutral Tint and I'm going to darken some of this red up. For the underside of the roof and the windows, I use some Burnt Sienna and Neutral Tint.


Now I start to think about the trees and the fence lines that kind of connect with one another, leading back up this hill. I just mix a darker gray color. You can scratch in a few little highlights in these shapes as well while they're damp. Then you want to add in some shadow. I'm just adding a little bit of Ultramarine Blue. If the edge is a little too stark or dark, you can lighten it with your finger a little bit. So I have this feeder here. I'm going to add some darks onto that. It's a few little fence posts and little things, casting shadows, giving this area a little more interest, some little broken lines to suggest a fence line.

I think one trick to painting watercolor is trusting that the details are going to bring the painting together, knowing what to do on your first wash, your second wash, and understanding that the light will come about. The detail will come about later. 

Now I'm going to use a rigger brush that comes to a fine point for some of the trees, using Raw Umber and Neutral Tint.

Again, when I feel like I've done too much, I sometimes smudge some of it away with my finger and just leave the little bits that are important. To finish off the painting, I am just going to add a little more texture and emphasize these lines, adding just a little more complexity to the painting.


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