Watercolor painting: Venice Storm Clouds

This is a recent class watercolor painting I did with my Saturday students. It was inspired by a photo I took when I was in Venice, Italy, a few years ago on a painting holiday. I knew a real storm was brewing when all the concession holders along the foreshore were rushing to close up shop and cover their goods. The gondolas also looked like they were propelled by outboard motors as the gondoliers hurried back to shore with their clients. Sure enough a few minutes after I took this photo the storm hit with full force and I was glad to be under some shelter.

Anyway it made for a wonderful scene which I felt would be great as a watercolor painting. You can see the photo I took below.

Venice storm clouds watercolor painting reference
Venice storm clouds watercolor painting reference

I chose this reference for one of my weekly watercolor classes as I felt it would make a great lesson on how to paint big cloud scenes with water color. I also liked the contrast of calm blue sky against the big storm that was on its way up the Venetian lagoon.

The image in the photo required very little change so I basically draw it up as is on my quarter sheet of 300 gsm Arches cold press paper.

After the drawing was completed I started with the sky which I primarily painted with the side of a large round watercolor brush. I wanted the sky to be dramatic as it is the key feature of this painting.

After completing the sky I painted the island and the buildings on it. For the boats along the shore I basically used lots of small squiggle shapes leaving white paper as little highlights.

The next step was to paint the water.  When I first painted this I made the water was too green and too strong in tone so I had to  wash it off and then repaint it. This time I added a hint of the cloud reflections and toned the green down. To clean the old paint off I use some very soft sponges called “Chux magic erasers.” They are sold in the cleaning section of local supermarkets.  They may have different names in other countries but will probably still be there. This washing of watercolor  technique works very well on cold press watercolor paper but not as well on rough paper. You have to be very gentle when you do this or you will damage your paper surface and will not be able to properly lay another watercolor wash over it.

Notice how the ripples in the water are larger and further apart in the foreground but are smaller and closer together in the distance. This is an important part of perspective when painting water scenes.

This watercolor painting was completed with the addition of a few buoys in the water and pigeons in the sky and above the water.

Watercolor painting of Venetian Storm Clouds

Venice Storm Clouds over San Giorgio Maggiore watercolor painting
Venice Storm Clouds over San Giorgio Maggiore watercolor painting

This painting will be produced as a full watercolor painting demonstration in the future.

Sunset watercolor painting – Lake Bonney

Lake Bonney sunset watercolor painting

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.
Lake Bonney SA reference photo for watercolor painting. Warm red sunset with red reflections.
Lake Bonney SA reference photo for watercolor painting

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.
Lake Bonney sunset completed watercolor painting demonstration by Joe Cartwright
Lake Bonney sunset watercolor painting by Joe Cartwright

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.

I have now produced a full step by step demonstration article on how to paint this watercolor paintng. You can view it at this link: Lake Bonney warm sunset watercolor painting.


Water color painting: River scene with lots of green and reflections

As I run weekly water color painting classes I thought you might like to see each work which is produced on a weekly basis.

Most paintings take about two classes to complete, each of about two and a half hours duration. However some are finished in one week and others take three or more.

This regular post will hopefully be of assistance to my regular students as well as others with a general water color painting interest. For me it will serve as a record of the paintings produced in my water color classes. As I run two classes each week,  with each class often working on a different water color painting I should have enough material for one posting each week – except for holiday times between the middle of December till the beginning of February. From time to time I may post partly completed paintings.

This weeks painting is of the Nepean River which is about a ten minute drive from my home. The actual location is at a fairly calm part of the river with lots of green foliage and dark shadows. I found this spot one day by accident and realised it would make a great painting subject.

I have found some water color artists have difficulty with watercolor paintings with lots of greens in them but I am not sure why this is so. I often paint green  based water colors and have not found any real problem with them. To keep the greens clean and bright it is important not to let reds enter you mixtures as this will grey the greens off.

The trick with the greens I have found is to produce three different versions, a light tone, medium and dark tone, before you touch the paper. I then modify these as I paint away. By having the core green colors pre mixed it speeds up my painting time and keeps me well ahead of the paper drying too fast.

Nepean River shallows reflections water color painting by Joe Cartwright
Water color painting of Nepean River, NSW