Recently I went plein air painting with my friends. We have a regular plein air day every Thursday. The group sometimes has eight or more people turn up and is a lot of fun. Most of the people who turn up to these plein air days are members of the Nepean Art Society, in Penrith. The location of my painting is about 20 minutes from my home.It is a small farm with a single pond, a few cows, and a mountain background. The scene had lots of information in it. Rather than trying to paint everything I saw I simplified the scene and concentrated on creating depth to my watercolor painting and capturing the reflections.

Pond on farm with reflections reference for watercolor plein air painting

Pond on farm with reflections – reference for watercolor plein air painting

I started my watercolor painting with a very weak wash of cobalt blue and cadmium orange in the sky. Both water colors are Winsor and Newton artists quality watercolors. I painted this mix of watercolors down to the horizon line.

I then added a mix of  cobalt turquoise mixed with aureolin and some raw umber from the the top of the hill to the distant shore on the pond. I left the pond as white paper for now as it would be painted after the trees and shrubs were put in. I used a similar mixture in the foreground but added some additional raw umber. This added raw umber increased the mixture’s tone and helped bring the foreground to the front. I added some additional splattered paint to break up the foreground to make its shape more interesting. I also left some untouched paper here and there in the foreground to add more life to that part of the watercolor painting.

Some of my Plein Air painting friends

Some of my Plein Air painting friends

I left this stage to dry. At this time I was still painting in the shade and I had to place my painting on a post in the sun as it was taking too long to dry. This was coffee break time!

Once the painting was totally dry I was ready to paint the distant hill and the foreground.

The distant hill was painted with the same green I had mixed previously with some french ultramarine added to the mix.

Plein air painting problems

The sun was now full on my watercolor paper and I had to paint much faster with a closer eye on what was happening on my paper. This is what makes plein air painting with watercolors such a challenge. When the atmosphere is cool and you have shade on your artwork you are always waiting for the paper to dry. Impatience at this stage will give you a muddy painting. Then when the sun and heat are on your work you have to speed things up and really keep and eye of how fast everything is drying. But hey, that is part of the fun and challenge of plein air painting with watercolor!

When I painted the distant hill I left some parts of the under painting showing through to represent fields without trees. I also quickly softened parts of the top edge of the hill to give it the feeling of trees. I brought this hill wash down to the horizon line. Using my watercolor brush I painted one or two quick horizontal lines near the bottom of the hill to give the impression of distant fields. While the hills was still wet I dropped in some darker water color to represent some distant trees. These trees were all painted with a wet on wet watercolor technique which produces soft edges.

I continued with the foreground trees while the distant hill was still a little wet. This acted as an under painting for the foreground trees. I let this stage dry fully. While this was drying I went around and chatted to my friends and to see how their work was progressing. Most were painting with oil paints so I was not causing them any anxiety by interrupting their work. I usually leave the watercolorists alone if they are painting as they need a little more concentration.

My next step was to paint the foreground trees with various mixtures of green. I made sure to drop darker tones into the shaded parts of my painting. I also ensured I did not totally block out the distant fields and hills. This helped create the feeling of depth to my painting.

I was now ready to paint the water and the reflections. The water was painted first with a mix of cobalt blue and a tiny bit of burnt sienna. While the water was still wet I dropped in the tree colors from the tree mixture I had saved. Notice how I have left parts of the water area as white paper to act as highlights.

After the watercolor paint in the pond area was fully dried I finished my painting off with the three cows and some fence posts. All in all this plein air painting took me about one and a half hours. Which is pretty typical for one of my plein air paintings. You can see the finished watercolor painting below. I was happy with the result.

Plein air painting with watercolors of Pond reflections cows hills and trees

Finished Plein air painting with watercolors of Pond reflections, cows, hills, and trees by Joe Cartwright