Watercolor Landscape Tutorial

Watercolor landscape painting is difficult! Even for the most experienced artists things can go wrong even though much thought has been given to it before paint hit the paper. But, when that happens it’s best to use inferior works as a learning tool!

That’s what this watercolor landscape tutorial is all about. I’ll walk you through how I critique a bad painting and prepare to recreate it. Watch the video below and then we will recap what happened and look at the new finished landscape.

Let’s Dive In To This Watercolor Landscape Tutorial

If you watched the video then you will know how easy it is to make common mistakes. AND, many of them have to do with design and composition. The original painting wasn’t executed poorly, nor did it showcase bad watercolor technique. It was all in how the shapes were put together and a lack of consideration to color harmony.

Many artists are curious about the materials I use, so let’s answer any questions you may have about paper, paint, brushes and such. Then we can have a look at the step-by-step process for approaching a new painting.

Suggested Material Checklist

Materials can make or break the outcome of a watercolor study. Watch the video that covers the best watercolor materials if you need more specifics about color choices, brush sizes and such. Basically, it’s exactly what I use and recommend for all levels.

Watercolor Paints: Opt for artist-grade watercolor paints in a range of colors. Choose a basic palette that includes six primary colors (one cool and warm hue for each one including red, blue, and yellow) along with earth tones for a versatile collection.

If you aren’t aware of the six primary palette, then check out our in-depth article on how to mix watercolors for beginners. It has the exact hues I use for every painting. And, if I make changes, I always update the article so you know the exact hues that get the best results.

Brushes: Invest in a set of good-quality watercolor brushes with different shapes and sizes. Round brushes are excellent for detailed work, while flat brushes are great for larger washes. I’d recommend one medium and one large pointed round. Then get a large mop brush that will handle those initial washed that are applied in the very beginning.

You only need three brushes to do most of the heavy lifting! However, I do recommend having a dagger and possibly and Motler on hand as well. Check out the article I wrote on how to choose the best watercolor brushes if you have questions on the exact brands, sizes and such.

Paper: I highly recommend selecting watercolor paper specifically designed for this medium. Look for papers labeled “cold-pressed” or “hot-pressed” to suit your preferred texture. Experiment with different weights and brands to find the one that suits your style. Most beginners choose 140 lb. cold press to start their journey. Hot press tends to be a little slick and most used for highly detailed work and portraits.

Avoid cheap, wood pulp papers as they don’t react properly to washes and other techniques. These cheaper papers tend to break down quickly and don’t age well either, basically yellowing over time. Be sure to read the how to choose the best watercolor paper article when you have time.

If you aren’t aware of the six primary palette, then check out our in-depth article on how to mix watercolors for beginners. It has the exact hues I use for every painting. And, if I make changes, I always update the article so you know the exact hues that get the best results.

Palette: A palette is essential for mixing and diluting your watercolors. Choose a palette with wells to hold different colors and a large mixing area. Small palettes tend to get dirty too quick and I found it difficult to have enough free space to mix enough colors without having to stop everything to clean up. The Masterson Pro palette works great and available at Amazon and Blick Art.

Water Containers: Have at least two containers for water—one for rinsing your brushes and another for clean water. Make sure the containers aren’t too small, and I would recommend plastic over glass. I’ve had plenty of studio accidents and cleaning up shattered glass isn’t ideal when in a creative mode.

Masking Tape and Drawing Board: Masking tape helps secure your paper to a drawing board, keeping it flat and preventing it from warping. The tape is optional and depends if you prefer the clean edges. In the beginning you will most likely focus on sketches and studies, so maybe pass until you determine later on if you need it.

A smooth, firm board is a must! I recommend Gator foam board as it’s very sturdy, smooth and durable. Fairly inexpensive and light weight to boot. That covers materials, let’s move on to skills you need to start watercolor painting.

Step 1: Planning and Composition

Start by selecting a reference photo or visual inspiration for your landscape. Spend time studying the composition, identifying the focal point, and analyzing the light and shadow patterns. It’s helpful to make a quick sketch to determine the placement of key elements in your painting.

Avoid the common mistakes such as symmetry, placing focal points in the center, cropping issues and so on. I’ve written several articles about this in the how to design and compose watercolor paintings.

Step 2: Preparing Your Workspace

Cover your working area with a protective sheet or newspaper. Secure your watercolor paper to a board using masking tape, ensuring it stays flat and taut throughout the painting process.

Here’s a great article for how to setup watercolor workspace.

Step 3: Sketching the Outline

Using a light pencil, lightly sketch the main elements of your landscape on the watercolor paper. Focus on capturing the basic shapes and proportions, rather than intricate details.

Step 4: Wetting the Paper

Dampen your brush with clean water and apply a thin layer of water to the entire paper, excluding the sky area. This step is called “wetting the paper” and helps create a smooth and fluid base for the colors. This is optional and truthfully I rarely do this, but for those that enjoy starting this way, now is the time to do it!

Watercolor Landscape Tutorial
Watercolor Landscape Tutorial

Step 5: Painting the Sky

For the sky, choose a soft, translucent color like cerulean blue or cobalt blue. Start at the top and work your way down, using horizontal brush strokes to create a smooth gradient. Remember to leave areas for clouds or other elements you plan to add later.

Step 6: Layering the Background

Once the sky is dry, start painting the distant background elements such as mountains, hills, or trees. Use lighter and cooler colors to create a sense of depth. Work from light to dark, adding successive layers of color to build up the desired effect.

Step 7: Adding Mid-ground Elements

Move forward into the mid-ground, painting elements like trees, houses, or fields. Use more saturated and warmer colors to bring these elements forward in the painting. Pay attention to details and textures, using both brushstrokes and negative painting techniques to define shapes.

Step 8: Creating Foreground Interest

The foreground is where you can add extra interest and depth to your landscape. Incorporate elements such as rocks, flowers, or a winding path. Use darker and more intense colors to make these elements stand out against the rest of the painting.

Step 9: Enhancing Depth and Contrast

To enhance the sense of depth in your landscape, focus on creating contrast between the foreground, mid-ground, and background elements. Darken the shadows and add more intense colors to the foreground, while keeping the background lighter and less detailed. This contrast will create a visual hierarchy and draw the viewer’s eye into the painting.

Step 10: Working with Water and Pigments

Watercolor is a medium that thrives on the interplay between water and pigments. Experiment with different water-to-paint ratios to achieve various effects. Wet-on-wet techniques involve applying paint to a wet surface, creating soft and blended washes. Wet-on-dry techniques involve applying paint to a dry surface, allowing for more controlled and precise details.

Step 11: Creating Textures and Details

Textures play a crucial role in bringing your landscape to life. Explore different techniques to create textures such as dry brushing, splattering, or lifting off paint with a damp brush or paper towel. Use a fine-tipped brush or even a toothbrush to add details like grass blades, foliage, or tree branches.

Step 12: Utilizing Negative Painting

Negative painting is a technique where you paint around the subject to define its shape, rather than painting the subject itself. This technique is especially useful for capturing intricate foliage, branches, or intricate details. By painting the space around the subject, you can create a sense of depth and dimension.

Step 13: Emphasizing Light and Shadows

Light and shadow play a vital role in creating a realistic and dynamic landscape. Observe the direction of light in your reference photo and use lighter washes or leave the paper white to represent areas of light. Conversely, use darker washes or layering techniques to depict shadows and create a sense of volume and form.

Step 14: Balancing Warm and Cool Colors

Balance warm and cool colors throughout your landscape to create visual harmony. Warm colors like reds, oranges, and yellows tend to advance and grab attention, while cool colors like blues and greens recede and provide a sense of calm. Play with the temperature of your colors to guide the viewer’s eye and evoke specific emotions.

Step 15: Final Touches and Refinements

Step back from your painting and evaluate the overall composition and balance of colors. Make any necessary adjustments, refining details, and adding additional layers of paint if needed. Consider adding small touches like highlights, reflections, or details to bring the painting to life.

Conclusion

Watercolor landscapes offer a captivating way to express your artistic vision and connect with the beauty of nature. With patience, practice, and experimentation, you can master the art of watercolor landscapes.

Remember to enjoy the process and allow yourself to explore different watercolor techniques and styles. So gather your materials, find your inspiration, and embark on a creative journey to create breathtaking watercolor landscapes. Happy painting!