Watercolor painting – Foggy morning Clarence River

Here is last week’s class watercolor painting. It is based on a photo I took one foggy morning of a couple of sail boats on the Clarence River, before a watercolor workshop I was running in Grafton, NSW. I especially liked the mist on the distant shore which is the subject I wanted to teach my students. Over a 30 minute period the scene went from full early morning sunlight to a misty landscape and back again. It was quite magical to behold. My class had recently done one painting of a misty scene of The Three Sisters in the Blue Mountains so I wanted them to do this one as reinforcement of what they had already learned.

Whenever I see a scene like this with lots of soft edges and muted colors I feel compelled to have a go at painting it. This a perfect watercolor painting for me. It is full of wet on wet passages with a small number of wet on dry hard edges. The key to this type of painting is getting the tones and edges right.

Foggy morning on Clarence River in Grafton watercolor painting
Foggy morning on Clarence River in Grafton watercolor painting

There is a hill in the distance with fog between it and the distant river bank. This meant that I had to have soft edges below the tree line on the distant hill to give the impression of low lying fog.

Watercolor painting steps

The basic steps for painting this foggy morning scene are as follows:

  1. Paint the sky down to the waterline with a very weak watercolor wash. This should be the lightest area of your painting. It is better to go too light rather than too strong with your sky tones. Notice how the soft could pattern leads the eye into the painting. Let it dry thoroughly.
  2. Paint the distant tree-line, soften the bottom edges to give impression of mist or fog.
  3. With stronger watercolors paint the distant shoreline.
  4. I then painted the trees on the left hand side. First was the lighter distant tree on the right of the left hand group of trees. Then the stronger toned foreground tree was added. While this tree was wet I painted the river bank below it. I scratched a few light  edges for posts and parts of the shoreline.
  5. I now painted the river, making sure to drop in the reflections of the distant bank in a wet on wet manner.
  6. The watercolor painting is finished off with the boats, their reflections as well as the reeds in the water and the close river bank reflection.

Remember to keep a close eye on the tones and edges of your watercolor painting. Objects in the distance will be lighter toned and softer edged than those closer. This is even more important with misty scenes like this.

Here is my original reference photo I took in case you would like to have a go at it.

Reference photo of foggy morning on river with sail boats

Foggy morning on river with sail boats at Grafton for watercolor demonstration
Foggy morning on river with sail boats at Grafton for watercolor demonstration

Painting mist

Last week’s Saturday class painting was about how to paint mist. In particular it was about painting mist around The Three Sisters in the Blue Mountains outside of Sydney.

The reference photo was provided by my friend Rob Weaver, The Backard Watercolorist, who captured this image from the Scenic Railway at Katoomba. It caught my eye straight away, though I have only just recently gotten around to painting it with my students. Mist can be quite a challenge to an artist because it has so many soft edges. It is even more difficult for the watercolor artist as you cannot afford to lose the light areas in your painting.

Mist around The Three Sisters, Blue Mountains, Australia. Reference photo for watercolor painting of mist.
Mist around The Three Sisters, reference photo for watercolor painting of mist.

The first step in this watercolor painting after a light drawing was to paint the initial under painting. To help preserve the light areas of the mist I painted this stage with my work upside down. I started with a very weak warm wash of dirty Cad Orange. In my case I just used the dirty colors that settled in the bottom of my Cad Orange paint well. Basically this is just a warm pale grey color.

I painted all the way down to the top of the sky. This was let to dry fully.

I then turned the painting right way up and painted the distant hill. I made sure to soften the edges at the bottom that will represent the mist.

After the distant hill dried I painted the hill on the right hand side – more softening of mist edges.

This was followed by the painting of The Three Sisters in silhouette. Once more the edges that are to become part of the mist are kept soft. I soften these edges by using a damp brush and softening the leading edge of the paint above. The damp brush soaks up a lot of the excess water from the wet wash above and stops it from continuing to flow down the watercolor paper.

Each time I soften an edge that lead into the mist area I also made sure to drop in hints of other colors. This was so the mist would not look white and flat. Mist reflects colors surrounding it including the sky. Here and there it also lets a hint of the green foliage through.

After this stage is totally dry I go in and paint the green foliage. I aim to create an interesting foliage pattern. I make sure to leave plenty of bird holes to show through to the mist beyond.

Once I have the foliage completed the finishing touch, before it dries, is to spray parts of the top of some foliage area to soften their edges. This further enhances the impression of mist. This can be a very frightening step as if you spray too much you will wash all the foliage paint away. And if you don’t spray enough your watercolor paint does not flow at all. The trick is to spray in such a way that you create an interesting variety of hard and soft edges in the trees.

Mist around The Three Sisters, watercolor painting by Joe Cartwright
Mist around The Three Sisters, watercolor painting by Joe Cartwright

At some point I will do a full demonstration article on this painting but for now hopefully it may assist you in tackling your own painting of mist!

If you have any questions please feel free to leave a comment.

Wet weather street painting

Here is the wet weather street painting I did with my students last week. Actually the painting was completed over three classes. Here are the three main stages:

Drawing a street scene

The first week we covered how to draw a street scene. The key point is to start with eye level (horizon) and then draw your objects relative to that. What do I mean by this? Well, when drawing with proper perspective, objects above eye level will appear to move down to it the further away they are. While objects below eye level will appear to come up to it as they move away. Another point about eye level which is important is that it basically tells you how tall people are – hence eye level. You can then make all your other objects, cars, awnings, posts, fences, etc. , relative to that height.

Here is my reference photo for this watercolor painting. I took the photo a few years ago as I was leaving Bathurst after having completed a workshop at the Mitchell School of Arts. I have obviously made changes to aid my composition. The Church on the right is St Stephens Church.

Bathurst after the rain reference photo for watercolor painting
Bathurst after the rain reference photo for watercolor painting

Watercolor under painting and buildings

In the second class we did the watercolor under wash for this wet weather street painting. Other than the muted colors there was nothing to say it was a wet weather scene. The important part of this stage was to get our areal perspective right. Here are the key points:

  • Objects in the distance are lighter in tone. Because of the effects of the atmosphere things in the distance will look lighter than those which are closer to the viewer. You can observe this easily by going outside and looking at a distant object like a hill or mountain.
  • They are bluer and duller in color. Again the atmosphere causes colors to look duller the further away they are from you. They also move a little towards blue hence making them look cooler.
  • They are soft edged with less detail. When you look at a hill covered in trees, from a distance you see very little detail. The edges separating the different shapes tend to merge into fewer and fewer shapes.
  • The strongest tones will be in the foreground. In this wet weather street painting the trees on the left hand side are the strongest tones.

Finished wet weather street painting

The painting was finished in the third class with the details and reflections. The cars, poles, and people were painted. They had to be painted first as it was their reflections that would add the wet character to our wet weather street painting.

To paint the reflections I wet parts of the street area and then dropped the color of the reflections into the wet. If you don’t want such soft edges in the reflections you just need to leave parts of the street dry. I will be doing this painting as a full demonstration and will post a link to it here when it is completed.

Bathurst in the rain wet weather street painting by Joe Cartwright
“Bathurst in the rain” wet weather street painting by Joe Cartwright

Watercolor painting of sheep on Australian farm

This watercolor painting of sheep was completed recently by my class. The week before I had conducted a workshop in the country and brought back some good reference photos. I was staying on a farm with loads of excellent painting subjects.

As we hadn’t painted sheep before I thought this would be a good topic for a class watercolor painting.

Often we take photos which appear to be uninteresting or have just too much information to be inspiring. This was certainly a problem I used to have when I first starting watercolor painting. Now days I see paintings in almost every scene. In part this is because I have no concerns with editing a photo or scene by moving things around or adjusting the time of the day or other light conditions. One of my regular quotes is “Never let reality get in the way of a good painting!” I have also found that if you take a large image and crop it smaller you can often find a number of interesting paintings within the original.

Cropping your photos for watercolor painting

Below is the original reference photo I took.

Sheep on Australian farm reference photo for watercolor painting
Sheep on Australian farm reference photo

While not a bad photo there is a lot of information in it which could cause some difficulty for a beginner artist. I usually simplify this type of scene by asking myself just what message do I want to get across in my watercolor painting.

As I wanted to cover how to draw and paint sheep this was easy. I still however wanted to keep the feel of being on a farm as part of my painting.

The next photo is my cropped version which needed very little adjustment prior to painting.

Sheep detail 2 cropped from original photo for watercolor painting
Sheep detail 2 cropped from original photo

I could now focus on the sheep and I have given the scene better balance. Other than moving the tree a little to the right the painting can proceed pretty much as you see it in the photo.

The finished painting can be seen below. I am currently producing a proper step by step demonstration article on this which will be posted in a little while. Once completed I will come back and edit this post to direct you to the demonstration watercolor painting.

Completed painting of sheep

Watercolor painting of sheep grazing
Watercolor painting of sheep grazing


Watercolor painting of shed with strong shadows

This watercolor painting of a shed with strong morning shadows was a painting I had my students do recently. The reason I selected this for the class painting was because it gave my students a chance to practice how to capture the early morning light and the shadows that result from it. It was based on a photo I took of a friend’s old shearing shed. I had previously painted this exact scene in Pen and Ink and Brush and thought it would also work well with watercolor. I think watercolor is a wonderful medium for capturing light.

Reference photo for this watercolor painting

Old sheep shearing shed Quirindi NSW
Reference photo for watercolor painting “Old sheep shearing shed Quirindi NSW”

The basic steps for this watercolor painting are as follows: 1. Find a suitable subject that captures your interest. 2. Decide what you want your message to be. In my case it was the beautiful shadows falling on the foreground. 3. Make any needed design decisions. As I wanted my watercolor painting to focus on the shadows I increased the foreground area. I also decided to add some sheep as it is a painting of a shearing shed. 4. Paint the sky and ground under painting in one go. It is important to get the tones right with the lightest in the sky and those in the ground getting stronger towards the foreground. It is very important to let this stage of your watercolor painting fully dry before you continue.

Watercolor under painting for shed in morning light
Figure 1: Under painting for watercolor landscape painting of shed and shadows.

5. Next comes the distant hills. Remember to keep them light to add depth to your painting.  While these were a little wet I painted the distant foliage in the far right hand trees. I finished this foliage after the hill had dried so I could create some hard edges. 6. Next comes the main trees on the right hand side.  If you are interested you can find out how to paint gum trees by reading another article on this website here: How to paint Australian eucalyptus trees. 7. When the trees are completed I then painted the sheds with a mixture of Cobalt Blue and Burnt Sienna watercolors. I used a thicker mix of French Ultramarine and Burnt Sienna for the dark areas of the main building e.g. under the roof, under the large awning on the right had side of the building, above and below the door, etc. Some dropped in Burnt Sienna gave the shed walls a look of some rust. 8. The watercolor painting is nearly finished at this stage. However before the shadows are put in I painted the rocks, sheep, and fence on the left. 9. The shadows finished the watercolor painting.  For shadows I used a mix of French Ultramarine and Alizarin Crimson – this mix should lean towards the blue not the red.  I also make sure I have more than enough paint to finish all the shadow areas without having to mix more. The shadow watercolor mix was applied to the building and the ground in one go. 10. The shadows are laid down very quickly and while they are wet I drop in some various dark greens. 11. Once the shadows are dry I finish my watercolor painting with the addition of some grass to help lead the eye into the painting. The above is a very brief and not complete breakdown of the steps taken for this watercolor painting. Hopefully it will be of use to my students as a review. I will try to produce a full step by step demonstration painting of it sometime.

Finished watercolor painting of shed

Watercolor painting old shed in the morning with strong shadows
Watercolor painting of shed in the morning with strong shadows

You can see a pen and ink version of this watercolor painting in my Pen, Ink, and Watercolor Wash Gallery.