Watercolor painting demonstration – Pughs Lagoon

The subject of this scene is really the early morning light on the grassed hillside. Pughs Lagoon is about 30 minutes from my home and a popular site for local artists. This painting was done en plein air and, as I was quite happy with the result, I thought I would go through the steps I took to complete it.

Because of the rapidly changing light, these situations require quite fast painting and a clear idea of the steps you need to take to capture the subject – in this case it was the light. I was at this same location the week before so I already had a good idea of the painting I wanted to create before I arrived.

Photo of Pughs Lagoon, Richmond, NSW, Australia

Pughs Lagoon, Richmond, NSW, Australia

Materials

  • Paper: Arches 300gsm Cold Pressed watercolor paper, quarter sheet (approx. 15″ x 11″ (38cm x 28cm)).
  • Brushes: Round, sizes 24 and 16 for larger washes, and 12, 10 and 8 for smaller areas and detail.
  • Watercolor paints: All Winsor and Newton artist’s quality, Cobalt Blue, French Ultramarine, Raw Umber, Burnt Sienna, Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Cobalt Turquoise, Aureolin and Cad Orange.
  • Other items are: 0.7mm HB clutch pencil, fine mist spray bottle, stiff backing board, masking tape, old towel to control wetness of your brushes, tissues and simple watercolor easel. Collapsible water container.
  • Lightweight plein air painting easel

Drawing and watercolor under painting

Image of Simple drawing and watercolor under painting

Simple drawing and watercolor under painting

My sketch was kept light, focusing on the two buildings and the water line. I also indicated where the two major tree groupings would go. The trees were not drawn in any detail. As I was focusing on the light on the hill, I placed the waterline at about 20% up from the bottom of my watercolor paper.

Once the drawing was done, it was then time for the under painting. Notice that I kept the lagoon area dry. You cannot do this section until the rest of the painting is done, otherwise you would not know what to put in the reflections.

The watercolors I used for the under painting were Cobalt Blue and Cad Orange for the sky. Both were mixed with a lot of water as they would make up the lightest section of the painting. It is better for the sky to be too light than too dark. Winsor and Newton’s Cad Orange is a very yellow orange and is used with plenty of water or it will appear opaque. If your orange is too red, like with the fruit orange, it may be better to use Yellow Ochre instead.

The greens were mixed with various mixes of Cobalt Turquoise, Aureolin and Raw Umber for the lighter passages. A small amount of French Ultramarine was added for the darker ones. Here and there I also used a touch of Burnt Sienna.

As you can see, all the edges in the sky, tree and hill area, apart from a few left highlights, are all soft. This means they were painted wet on wet.

The paper was not pre-wet.

My plein air watercolour setup at Pughs Lagoon

My plein air watercolor setup at Pugh’s Lagoon

The sky was painted all the way down to the water’s edge, though with a lot more water in the mix in the hill area. I then immediately went in with the tree and grass under painting. It was the wet sky wash that gave me all the lovely soft wet on wet edges for the trees and grass.

The angle of my easel was at about 40 degrees. When I paint outdoors I keep my board at a steeper angle to allow me to paint with less water. The steeper board angle lets the watercolors flow as they would with more water but at a lower angle. This allows me to keep my paper a littler drier while still creating the same effects I can produce in my studio work. As I don’t have access to a hair dryer when painting outdoors, the drier I can keep my paper the faster it will dry fully so I can move on to the various stages of my painting. It still has to be wet enough for the watercolors to flow however.

I let this stage dry totally – both the paint and paper.

Painting the trees and shrubs

Painting trees and buildings with watercolor

Painting trees and buildings

With the under painting totally dry it was time to paint the trees, shrubs and buildings. Starting on the left with the trees, I moved from left to right also painting the buildings as I moved along. The trees and shrubs were painted with the same colors as those used for the underpainting, though with varying mixtures of paint. Less water was used, creating thicker mixes to strengthen the tones, which allowed the trees to be contrasted from the grass on the hill.

The sides of the buildings were painted with a very weak mix of Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna, and Cobalt Blue. The building in the distance had a little more blue in the mix as it was further away. The chimneys were painted with Burnt Sienna and Permanent Alizarin Crimson. The colors for the roof were French Ultramarine and Burnt Sienna. The distant roof has more water in the mix to push is further away in the picture plain.

Picture of how to paint the shadows after trees and building were completed

The shadows painted after trees and building completed

As I continued to work from left to right ­­- right to left if you are right handed – I kept varying the colors and tones used, to create an interesting composition. I took inspiration from the view in front of me but I was not constrained to place everything where I saw it. My main intention was to create an engaging work of art, not a replacement for a photograph.

Painting the Shadows

Once the trees and the building were completed I quickly added the shadow shapes. These not only anchored the objects to the ground but were critical to giving the painting its feeling of bright morning light. My shadows were painted with a mixture of French Ultramarine and Permanent Alizarin Crimson; the mix has to lean towards the blue not the red however.

In a couple of areas I had splashed on (with my brush) some clean water. In this way, when the shadows were painted, they produced some nice soft edges as they hit the wet spot. Make sure your shadow color is already mixed before you splash on the water, or else it will dry before you start painting your shadow, thus defeating its purpose.

Image showing what happens if some clean water is splashed here just before the shadow was painted

Some clean water had been splashed here just before the shadow was painted

 Painting the water of the lagoon

The water was painted with the same green colors with a touch of Burnt Sienna to grey them off.  Reflections on water are always a little duller than the objects being reflected. I used this time to sharpen the shapes of some of the grasses on the water’s edge with mixes of Burnt Sienna, Permanent Alizarin Crimson, and French Ultramarine. Remember to make your reflections directly below the object being reflected, and towards the bottom of your paper.

Finishing my plein air watercolor painting

I let the lagoon area dry thoroughly, and then painted the final details. These included the birds and logs in the water along with their reflections. I also added a few clumps of grass on the hill and a small leafless tree near the buildings. I make sure not to overdo this however. Objects such as these are placed only with balance and composition in mind. Just because something is there doesn’t mean you have to include it or that you can’t move it.

Watercolor Painting of Pughs Lagoon by Joe Cartwright

Pughs Lagoon watercolor painting 14.5″ x 10.5″ (37cm x 27cm)

I hope this watercolor painting demonstration may inspire you to get your paints out and go plein air painting as well.

8 thoughts on “Watercolor painting demonstration – Pughs Lagoon

  1. Ro

    Hi Joe…
    excellent painting and demo. Thanks. Very helpful.
    Hope all well with you and yours.
    Cheers
    Ro x

  2. susan mattei

    You have come into my watercolor life at a perfect time. I just ordered your book from Amazon. Your videos are great and saw your ebook also on Amazon. I’ve been watercolor painting for 2 yrs now (67) thanks for being a great teacher….susan mattei stevensville montana usa

  3. Joe Post author

    Thanks Susan, I am glad you have gotten value from my website. Thank you for ordering my book. Please let me know if you have any questions.
    Joe

  4. Simona

    Lovely demo sir.
    I am presently studying a picture taken by myself, and working out what to keep in and what to leave out. Is not easy for me, seems to be so natural for you.
    Can I show it to you and get an opinion?
    Thanks,
    Simona,
    Ottawa, Canada

  5. Nancy Martone

    What a lovely area. You have captured the early daylight beautifully. I thank you for sharing your color use and mixes with all of us, I am a brand new watercolor interested painter so I for one totally appreciate this. It aides me in learning mixing appropriately,
    Thank you for helping me on my journey in learning every piece of knowledge I can get,
    Sincerely,
    Nancy Martone

  6. Deepti

    Thanks for the beautiful demonstration of this beautiful picture. I have started painting in watercolors for last six months. No one ever explained to me in such a clear way. Regards.
    Deepti.

  7. Gagneux

    Thank you for your clear and wondeful demonstration! Though I’m not very good at english, I’m going to order your book from amazon! Thank you very much!❤ And hope you do more demo. 😀

    Best regards
    Gagneux
    from France

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *