Near the airport there was a beautiful wildflower patch – all purple and golds, with bits of white and light blue. (I got tons of photos and will be painting it for years to come.) Here’s my process in finishing, fixing and changing to improve my watercolor composition.
Painting an even flat wash of color seems simple, but it can be tricky. Here’s a video demonstration with 3 tips for painting a beautiful flat wash of color quickly and easily. Reference photo for this lesson is below the video.
Letting the paint mix on the paper can be SCARRRRRY, but never fear, the next wash will turn your pumpkin paintings into a real treat!
An artist will never love any of their paintings completely. We always have parts we like and little bits or places that bother us. That’s because artists are picky, and most (extremely?) picky about our work.
*NEWS FLASH* – You can use this quirk to your great advantage in your art career.
The easiest way to paint fog with watercolor is to just add water! In this post, I have a video on my fog painting technique, this photo of the Smokey Mountains you can download and practice on, and links to another longer lesson with fly fishing and fog.
Just now, I’m heading out a cabin in the woods to hunt more great nature and fog photos!
Trees can be difficult, but in this lesson, I’ll demonstrate simple, easy ways to ‘see’ and paint trees while avoiding the common problems.
3 Most Important Parts For Watercolor Trees
1. Color – mixing believable tree colors and they don’t have to be green
2. Texture and edges – add natural looking texture with the dribble method, sponging and/or salt
3. Values – Simplifying an object to it’s light, medium and dark layers makes any subject paintable.
Premixed greens are rarely the best choice. Here’s a quick guide to some common greens, and remember, trees can be a lot of colors besides green.
Green – Is It A Color or Mixture of colors?
Most greens are mixtures of a blue + a yellow or brown. Viridian, Green gold and perylene green are pigments and not mixes. I mix my own greens and use Perylene green ( a black green color that works well in landscapes.)
Thalo Blue – Most Common
Most tube greens (sap, hookers, etc.) are made with thalo blue, which stains. (Some tubes of paint list the ingredients on the side.)
The light blues, cobalt blue and cerulean blue, plus a yellow, make more silvery, grayed greens that look lovely, especially in the distance.
The dark blues, like ultramarine, Prussian, and even Payne’s Gray, plus a yellow, make more muted greens that can be very believable in a landscape.
Experiment with mixing the colors you have to see how many different shades of greens you can make. Use those colors for a dribble tree.
Trees are a combination of hard and soft edges, with holes for the birds to fly through. This method will give you everything a tree needs. Start smaller than you want, as trees tend to grow bigger as you paint them.
First: Dribble water onto dry paper in random patterns inside the area where you want the tree. (I’ll dribble yellow so it’s visible. You can start with clean water or yellow.)
Second: Paint some tree colors randomly into the dribbled wetness, painting some color into the wet and some on the dry, but leaving some of the dry areas unpainted.
Third: Sponging edges. Use a small piece of natural sea sponge. Wet your sponge and squeeze out the water so that it’s just damp. Dip the edge of the sponge into your green mix and sponge the outside edges of the tree (where the paper is dry) to create a realistic tree shape.
Fourth: While the tree area is still damp, mix burnt sienna with a purple (thalo blue and permanent rose) and paint in some branches. The paint needs to be fairly thick, more actual paint and less water, so it will stay where you put it with only some soft spreading.
Results: This method will leave you with a tree that has lots of random areas, mixes of color, appearing and disappearing branches, hard and soft edges. That may be all you need for a great painting, but next we’ll look at combining these skills with darker values for even more realism.
Do you have watercolor paintings that you want to ‘do something with’? Go slightly abstract for a different look.
Basket weave is a unique way to recycle or create new images with your watercolor paintings.
First – You need two similar paintings with a fairly simple composition. You can do another version of a painting you already have, varying the colors or values, but keeping the shape outlines and sizes the same, or you can create two of something new – like a big flower or a bird’s nest.Continue Reading
Washing Off Is A (Useful) Skill
Would you practice painting more if it were free?
For me, learning to paint involved A LOT of practice. Often I would rinse the day’s efforts under the sink. This would leave a ghost image of my composition, so I could have another go without using new paper or redrawing the scene, or use the paper for my next project. As my painting skills slowly improved, I also got good at washing paint off.
I could wash off the whole thing or just one problem area. I found I liked the soft edges that washing off left and I started lifting simple shapes with stencils instead of masking them or trying to paint around them.
Washing off led me to be fearless in painting, use more paint for bolder compositions and be more creative in adapting my compositions to the happy accidents that can be the best part of a watercolor painting.
NOTE: This works with cold pressed watercolor paper (140 lb. Arches). Other types and brands of paper may have different results.
Washing Off The Entire Painting
Stick your painting under the running water in a sink. It is easier if you can lay it on a firm surface. (I used a piece of gator board in the video.) Wet Mr. Clean’s Magic Eraser and gently rub the surface of your painting. When you pick up paint on the eraser sponge, rinse it out and repeat. Don’t rub lifted paint back into your paper. Don’t rub hard enough to damage the surface of the paper. If you only want to wash off a section of the painting, only rub that area and don’t leave the part you want to keep under water very long or some of the paint might lift.
Lifting With A Stencil
You can make your own stencils by drawing or tracing your outline on an old photograph or any other surface that is firm enough to make a stencil, then carefully cutting it out with a utility knife or sharp scissors. Hold the stencil in place or tape it so that it doesn’t slip. Rub the area with a damp Mr. Clean’s Magic Eraser, lifting the paint.
To improve your painting skills, you need to practice what you’re not good at. Being able to reuse paper can help you practice more. Washing off and lifting are valuable skills to add to your toolbox of watercolor techniques.
Dark backgrounds makes your subject pop. Here’s a fun exercise you can practice dark backgrounds and create cute cards at the same time.
Materials – Lemon yellow (or any transparent or semi transparent yellow), Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue (or Prussian, Antwerp or other dark blue), any orange or pumpkin color for the pumpkins, Elmer’s Glue, misting spray bottle
Special instructions: 1. Don’t keep dipping your brush into the water or you’ll dilute your colors. 2. Paint the color on thickly, mopping it on, without spreading and thinning it with your brush.Continue Reading
Fall leaves are like a kaleidoscope – you can move the colors around and they make thousands of eye catching views. In this lesson, I used actual leaves, but I’m supplying lots of photographs you can use instead.
Paint – any fall colors will work – in the video I used Quinacridone Gold, Lemon Yellow, Permanent Rose, Cobalt Blue and Thalo Blue
Misc. – watercolor pencils or watercolor crayons, safety razor
Step 1 Light Background Wash
Wet your paper thoroughly and drop in the lighter colors you’ll be using – lots of yellow and gold and bits of red (or brown, if that’s what you’re using). You want this to dry fairly light and go underneath your leaves, so use thin washes of color and don’t sweat any ‘imperfections’ in your wash. In fact, spatter, splash or add salt to wet areas -make blooms by dropping in clear water – see what happens when you try things. How many different types of ‘imperfections’ can you think of?
Step 2 Arrange and Draw
Grab a pile of colorful leaves from outside and don’t forget to grab a few green ones. If you don’t have leaves available, cut some out of different colored construction paper. You can physically move the leaves around until you develop a pleasing composition, then trace around the leaves with a pencil. (I photographed my lay out so I could print out a color photo of the leaves for reference.) If you have a lot of leaves, you may want to mark the leaf areas with a color, like r for red, y for yellow, etc.
Step 3 Paint
Paint your leaves as demonstrated in the video. Start with one color, then dip your brush in a different color and continue painting. Even if you have a lot of red maple leaves, no two will be alike. Work quickly or, if you aren’t comfortable working quickly, do one area at time. While it’s still wet, use a razor blade to scrape bits watercolor pencil (or watercolor crayon) onto the wet areas. Use lighter or darker colors than the leaf color you’re adding to. Then use your razor to scrape out the veins of the leaf.
Step 4 Evaluate and Finish
If your leaves dried too light, feel free to paint them again. If two or more leaves or areas blend together, you can outline the leaf with color pencil or paint. If your whole painting is too dark, you can rinse off a lot of the color under running water in the kitchen faucet, dry it and paint more. Sometimes lifted up areas will make great weathered looking leaves.
This exercise should be fun and give you hands on experience in letting the paint mix on the paper. If you don’t succeed the first time, try another version with fewer colors. If you have actual leaves, you can also paint on the leaves, on the side with the raised veins, and press them onto your paper. In any variation – have fun!