Plein air watercolor landscape painting

Here is today’s plein air watercolor landscape painting I did with my Thursday plein air group. The location is in Luddenham, a semi rural area just outside of Sydney, Australia. It was a lovely day to be painting outdoors. Warm but not too hot, few clouds so no moving shadows to contend with, and no wind – perfect!

I was immediately drawn to an old shed in the distance and the pattern made by the trees around it. The form of the hills would allow an interesting lead into the focal point – the shed. While the distant hill would add space to my painting.

Here is the scene I was confronted with.

Luddenham landscape reference photo for watercolor painting

Luddenham landscape reference photo for watercolor painting

The steps I took for this plein air watercolor landscape painting are as follows:

  1. Decide what attracts my attention in the vista along with any compositional changes I will make. Remember there are no rules that say you have to try and paint everything you see when painting outdoors. I try to work out what is the minimum I need to put into my painting while still achieving the message I want to present. Too much information can lead to a confusing message.

I set up my plein air watercolor painting kit which you see below. Because the sun was already quite high in the sky I used my umbrella to shade my watercolor paper and as much of my palette as I could.

watercolor painting set up for plein air

Watercolor painting set up for plein air

The umbrella is supported by a lightweight extendible pole and attached to my plein air easel with Velcro tape. I used my carry bag as a counterweight as my plein air easel is very light and the umbrella could have toppled it. The bag hangs on the other end of the aluminium arm that supports my little folding palette.

Now that I am all set up I do a loose drawing of the scene. I am mainly interested in the general layout of shapes when doing my drawing. I do not put in a lot of detail as I want to keep the whole watercolor painting free and loose.

Drawing for plein air landscape watercolor painting

Drawing for plein air landscape watercolor painting

Inital wash for plein air watercolor landscape painting

With the drawing done my next step is to paint the sky and the ground under painting. It is very important that you get your tones right for this stage. The sky is usually the lightest tone in the landscape. The ground should be lighter, cooler, and softer in the distance. It’s tone increases as it moves towards the foreground where warmer colors are used. At this stage of the watercolor painting it should already look like a landscape, with the sky and your ground almost finished.

The greens I used for the ground are made up of various mixes of Aureolin, Raw Umber, Cobalt Blue (only a little) and French Ultramarine. All these water colors a artist’s quality and made by Winsor and Newton.

Under painting for plein air watercolor landscape painting

Under painting for plein air watercolor landscape painting

I take this opportunity to have a coffee and a chat while waiting for this stage to dry thoroughly. If you try to keep painting without letting the watercolor under painting dry thoroughly you risk creating mud.

The painting is now well on the way. Next comes the trees and the shed. I made sure the distant tree line was lighter in tone to those around the shed.

The shed is painted with a mix of Cobalt Blue and some Burnt Sienna to create a grey.

The rust on the roof is created with Burnt Sienna and very little water. I used the side of my round brush and barely touched the paper. This creates a dry brush effect.

Painting the trees with watercolor

Painting the trees with watercolor

This plein air watercolor landscape painting was now nearly finished. All I had to do was put in the details, the pond, cows and fence lines. These objects are all placed to help the composition. Even the birds in the sky are placed to add interest and depth to the sky. They also help direct the viewer’s eyes to where I would like them to go.

The painting is finished and signed. The finished painting is below. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to let me know either through the comments section below or better yet through the forum pages.

Plein air watercolor landscape painting of Luddenham Farmland

Plein air watercolor landscape painting of Luddenham Farmland by Joe Cartwright

7 thoughts on “Plein air watercolor landscape painting

  1. Matt

    Do you happen to know what an artist means when he mentions the “parent Colours”? It usually is mentioned in the context of painting shadows and they usually say that shadows must contain some of the parent colours. Thanks for any insight.

  2. Joe Post author

    Matt,
    Sorry for the delay in replying but I have been away on vacation.
    I am not familiar with that exact term. I wonder if what is being meant is “local color”. This is the color of an object without any modification by light or shadow. Basically it is the objects natural color. Thus when painting shadows you must ensure some of this “local color” is also used within the shadow. Sometimes people just use a single color like Paynes Grey for shadows but if you do not include some of the “local color” you can end up with some very dull, flat looking shadow areas. A good exercise is to go outside and have a close look at shadows in the real world. You will quickly learn that there can be many colors within shadows. Some of these colors come from the “local color” of the object and others from reflected light. This is why plein air painting is so useful for a watercolorist, or any other artist for that matter.
    Joe

  3. Mildred Zinser

    Joe I appreciate your talent and the beauty of your work. You have been very helpful to me as a struggling 80 year old artist just beginning to paint in watercolors. Thank you for your tips and instructions.

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