Design and Composition Basics for Landscapes

The world of design and composition has captivated me from the moment I dipped my toes into the waters of learning basic watercolor techniques. It became clear to me that once I had a grasp on the medium, the biggest challenge would be mastering the art of designing and composing.

After pushing through the initial stages of frustration and fatigue that often plague beginners, and gaining a deeper understanding of the unique qualities of watercolors, I embarked on this exciting journey.

Here are a few design and composition tips I’ve gathered from the video.

A big part of design and composition involves avoiding common mistakes like using poor cropping techniques and placing focal points directly in the center. It’s important to break down your subjects into larger shapes and remove unnecessary details. The key is being able to see beyond the clutter and rearrange objects in a visually pleasing way.

Here’s the inspiration image for this project.

inspiration image - rural scene
inspiration image – rural scene

Another crucial aspect is providing the viewer with a clear entry point into the painting, also known as a “lead-in.” This is often something that needs to be added by the artist since most scenes don’t naturally have it.

Additionally, every painting needs a point of interest or a story for the viewer to enjoy. This is where you can incorporate pops of color and create contrast to make certain areas stand out from the rest.

As mentioned earlier, it’s essential to eliminate excessive details. However, there are times when the artist may need to add some specific details in order to fully convey the story. This will depend on the inspiration image and what it entails.

In the case of this particular painting, the original image or scene was quite minimalistic. Therefore, I decided to include some human elements to give it a story and evoke a sense of people dining under an umbrella, as well as figures walking towards or away from the scene. This addition helped bring the story to life and complete the overall narrative.

Design and composition study for watercolor landscape
Design and composition study for watercolor landscape

For this particular painting, the initial image or scene was quite basic. Consequently, I decided to inject some human elements into it in order to create a narrative and evoke a sense of people dining under an umbrella, as well as individuals strolling towards and away from the scene. This addition greatly enhanced the overall story of the painting. Without it, the piece would have been lacking in liveliness and quiet in its atmosphere.

When it comes to the design of the painting, both value and color harmony play crucial roles. However, values take precedence over colors. It is therefore advisable to create a simple value sketch beforehand in order to address any potential issues before embarking on the final painting.

In terms of color choices, my mood often plays a significant role. However, I never strive to match the exact colors depicted in the reference. Engaging in a battle of color matching is futile in my opinion. Instead, I prefer to adopt a different approach by using either a chromatic palette or a tonal palette.

  1. Chromatic palettes tend to be more vibrant and vivid, bursting with an array of colors.
  2. On the other hand, tonal palettes are more subdued, employing desaturated shades and incorporating grays to tone down the overall color scheme.
Design and composition techniques for watercolor landscape
Design and composition techniques for watercolor landscape


To wrap things up, once my students have grasped the basic skills of watercolor painting, I encourage them to focus on design and composition. It serves as a gateway to creating artwork that truly reflects their unique style and vision. I emphasize the importance of avoiding mere imitation of other artists or attempting to replicate what they see exactly. Instead, I urge them to embrace their own artistic voice and strive for originality.