Watercolor painting video demonstration of skies and reflections. Full video is available for free on YouTube.
It has been a little over a year since I started teaching watercolour painting online. The move, which replaced my face-to-face classes, was forced upon me because of Covid but has turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I now have students from all around the world who I also count as my friends.
One of the very first paintings I did with my students was this one of two children and their mother having fun on the beach. I think most of us can relate to a time when we had fun building sandcastles on the beach with no other care in the world than when the tide would come back in the reclaim our creation.
It was one of my most popular works and I have decided to make it available on YouTube for anyone that would like to have a go at it.
Last weekend we had a very pleasant get together with some close friends who live on Berowra Waters, New South Wales. I have visited them many times and always found myself spending a lot of time looking out at the beautiful view from their deck and wanting to paint it. This time I took the opportunity to do some plein air painting and took my outdoor watercolor painting kit with me.
Berowra Waters is on the outskirts of Sydney less than an hour from the center of the city. There are very few houses on the water and there will never be any more due to limited space and planning restrictions. It is a wonderful location, very peaceful and beautiful and a great place for contemplation and creativity.
My plein air painting watercolor kit
I have put together a reasonably lightweight outdoor watercolor kit that I use for my plein air painting. It is basically constructed from and old cutlery box and a light photography tripod. At some point I will provide more details of my system as I had fun putting it together for a trip I was taking to Venice where weight was an issue. For now you can at least see a picture of my set up below.
This painting was done on an Arches 300 gsm Cold Press watercolor block. I like to use a block when painting plein air as I don’t need any supporting board nor tape to keep the paper down. This all helps to keep weight down when plein air painting; this is especially important if you have to carry your gear for any length of time. However, I do sometimes tape around the edge anyway as I like to see what my painting looks like after the tape is removed – a bit like putting a mat over it.
As usual the painting was done from light to dark. Starting with the sky and painting the most distant hill while the sky was still wet to give it a soft edged look. I took my watercolor paint color across all the hills and let it dry.
After this dried completely I painted the stronger hills to the left and right. Again I let it dry. You must resist the urge to keep watercolor painting into damp paper or else you will end up with a muddy mess. This is particularly important with plein air painting as you are often at the mercy of the weather and your paper will often dry very slowly. You just have to be patient. It is better to finish off a watercolor painting back in your studio rather than ruin it by trying to get it done by continuing to paint in damp paper.
My next step was the water at which time I dropped in the reflections of the hills.
This was followed by the tree branches and foliage on the right.
Finally I painted in the two boats along with their reflections.
Here is my finished plein air painting. I am quite happy with it as they don’t always turn out but this one did. In the future I will create a full watercolor painting demonstration article of this scene and painting. For now I hope you enjoy the painting.
This is a class demonstration watercolor painting titled “Tea Gardens Sunrise over the Myall river, New South Wales”.
I was attracted to this scene by the light reflected on the water of the Myall River at Tea Gardens in New South Wales. Watercolor is a great medium for capturing light so decided to do this as a class painting. I simplified and made other adjustments to the photograph below to improve its composition and also to make it work better as a watercolor lesson.
My key focus was to teach my students how to create a feeling of space and how to capture the early morning light reflecting off the water surface.
The main adjustments I made were:
Raised the horizon to focus on the light sparkle on the water
Lighten the sky
Remove all boats except the one little house boat
Remove foreground grass and car
The next step, after making my design decisions, was to do a very simple drawing of the scene on my cold press watercolor paper.
My next step was to paint the sky with my watercolor paints and while this was wet to paint the distant hills. I worked with progressively stronger tones (more pigment, less water) as I moved closer to the foreground.
The land closest to the viewer was completed after the sky area had dried so I could produce hard edged shapes against the sky.
Notice how the land jutting into the river is basically horizontal where it connects with the river. This stops the river area from looking like it is flowing up hill.
I let this dry completely.
The water in this scene is painted with the side of my round watercolor brush. I used quick movements to create a dry brush stroke which gives the impression of light on the water.
The distant water is lighter (thinner mix) and bluer than the foreground which is stronger in tone (more paint) and slightly warmer – there is a little Burnt Sienna in the mixture.
The sparkle on the water is just left white paper.
This article is not meant to be a full demonstration but more a reference for my students to use. You should be able to understand some of my watercolor painting technique for this type of scene however. I do have a similar and more detailed demonstration here: simple watercolor painting demonstration of boats and water.
The pen, ink and watercolor wash demonstration starts with the selection of a suitable reference photo. In this case the photo is of my wife’s favorite tree in our garden. I looked for an image with a nice composition (though I still had to adjust it slightly) and a strong light and dark pattern.
It then covers the materials required and how to do the ink drawing which is done directly without any prior pencil sketching. Usually I find when I tell my students that they are to draw directly with the ink they get all nervous and concerned. However it usually surprises them just how well they do.
By drawing directly with ink it forces students to think and observe more, before they actually touch their watercolor paper with their ink pen. I have found this improves their overall drawing skills as it helps them to develop good drawing habits.
Also because the ink is permanent, it teaches them to just lay down a mark or an ink wash and just leave it. As the ink is permanent it removes the temptation to fiddle. Fiddling with the watercolor paint on your paper is a common problem for beginner watercolor artists.
Pen and ink is also quite a forgiving medium as it is very hard to create a muddy look as often happens with a failed watercolor painting.
After the pen outline is done I allow it to dry thoroughly. In the next to final stage in this pen and wash painting I cover how to lay a loose watercolor wash over the magnolia flowers and stems.
The painting is finished with a very loose and sketchy watercolor wash for the background.
If you have an interest in pen and wash work you may like to have a look at my demonstration.
How to create a sunset watercolor painting was the topic for my Monday watercolor class this week. For this work I chose a sunset scene with lots of warm colors and interesting reflections.
The reference photo was provided by my friend Robyn Lovelock and is of Lake Bonney in South Australia, close to the borders of Victoria and New South Wales.
I chose this photo reference for my class for a number of reasons:
Firstly we had just completed a work which was predominately green and I wanted my students to have experience with a work with very little or no green in it.
Secondly this photo required very little editing to turn it into a nice watercolor painting.
Thirdly I wanted to teach them how to capture the light in a beautiful sunset.
Finally I could show my students how to tackle soft water reflections in barely damp paper. If not done at just the right time you can end up with unwanted backruns or cauliflowers. On the other hand if you wait too long you end up with hard edges which would not look right for this watery scene.
Very little prior drawing was done for this watercolor painting. In fact the only drawing was of a horizontal line representing the distant shoreline.
Painting design decisions
I made a number of decisions about the design of my watercolor painting at this point:
I placed the distant shoreline lower than in the photo to keep it well away from the center of the work.
I also decided to leave out the diagonal shore in the foreground as well as the tree on the left hand edge of the photo. They did not add to the painting and the hard edge of the diagonal would have acted to lead the eye out of the painting rather than keeping it in it.
I moved the position of the sun to the left for a more pleasing balance.
When I paint a scene like this I never slavishly try to paint everything that is in a photo – if I wanted to do that then I would just frame the photo. As artists we have the ability to extract the essence of an image and hopefully improve on it.
Brief steps for painting this watercolor
The sky was painted with the board held in a portrait position so that the water colors would flow parallel to the horizon line. Otherwise if I painted this with the board in a normal landscape position I risked all the colors flowing down into one another.
I made sure to leave some of the paper untouched where the sun is positioned. This gives my painting the greatest light.
I left the sky to dry fully.
I then painted the distant tree line running some of the dead tree trunks into the water (this is why they are dead).
Again I let this dry fully.
Finally I painted the water with horizontal brush strokes. Water reflections are a little duller than the object they are reflecting, in this case the sky.
While the lake area of our scene is still quite wet- the shine is still on the paper, I dropped in the soft edged reflections of the distant bushes and trees. The after it had lost its shine I used a small brush with a good point, and very little water to paint the soft edged reflections of the dead trees in the foreground. It is a good idea to practice this on a scrap piece of watercolor paper till you get the timing right. When you practice something like this make sure you use the same paper as the watercolor paper of your painting.