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by Kaitlyn Bonack

5 Steps to Improve Your Watercolor Landscape Paintings

watercolor landscape paintings


Watercolor is a beautiful medium that can be used to create stunning landscapes. However, getting started on watercolor landscape paintings can be difficult if you don’t know where to begin. In this tutorial, I will walk you through five simple steps that will help improve your urban landscape paintings!

The video covers the step-by-step information, but it doesn’t share what happened before paint hit the paper. This is where most of the work is done. So, I’ll take you on a 5-step journey I do for every single painting that helps me create more meaningful and complete watercolor art.

As a novice watercolorist, I wish I’d discovered something like this sooner. It would have saved me a lot of time and money. So, hopefully sharing these ideas with you will help you get there quicker and cheaper. In this article I will cover the following topics:

  • Finding the right inspiration
  • Develop a point of interest
  • Format
  • Value hierarchy
  • Decide on palette choice
  • Organize values
  • Material list

Below I will share five steps you can use to easily improve your watercolor artwork. If you take the time to follow these tips, you will always have a clear idea of where you are going. This will eliminate painting in circles and becoming frustrated halfway through the painting.

watercolor landscape paintingsStep one: Finding the right inspiration for your watercolor landscape paintings

Why you paint a subject is as important, if not more important, than how you paint it. I tend to gravitate towards rural landscapes, urban scenery, and anything coastal with workboats. Those are the things that get me inspired to sling paint!

And when I find a nice scene to paint I rarely, if ever, copy what I see. Most of the time I must make changes. This allows me to take a deeper look into the scene and extract what appeals to me and design a painting around it. I like the architecture and yellow umbrellas in this scene, but I needed some additional content to make it a great painting.

Step two: Develop a Point of Interestpoint of interest for painting

The second step is to pick a point of interest. Your painting will be flat and uninteresting if you don’t have one. This might be anything from a specific species of tree to a building in the distance. The yellow umbrellas were the point of interest in this scene. However, the setting was empty and required something to happen. The obvious solution was to transform it into a bustling outdoor cafe with people moving and eating under umbrellas. I decided to suggest a crosswalk, which assisted in drawing the viewer into the environment.

formatting your paintingStep Three: Format

Step three is organizing the painting into a pleasing format and design. Since I had a lovely strong vertical, I went with a portrait format. This made the most sense for showcasing the structure without having to add too much extra detail.

Step Four: Value Hierarchyvalue hierarchy

Step four is organizing the values. This will give your painting depth and make it more interesting to look at. In this scene, I used a range of values from light to dark to create interest. If you are unsure what value hierarchy means, then know it’s a term used to organize values from light to dark. It also means simplifying! The best method I’ve discovered for this is to start with the darkest and lightest values. Everything else is a mid-tone. There can be small accents of light and dark values so long as it doesn’t disrupt the value hierarchy plan.

Step Five: Decide on a Palette

Deciding on your color palette can be difficult if you get caught up in color matching. Been there, done that! I’ve developed a very simple system for colors. There are two options, tonal or chromatic:

  • Tonal palettes are based on tones of gray or muted color combinations that work together in the same painting. This is my favorite palette because I dislike paintings with a lot of vibrant colors.
  • Chromatic palettes have more intense hues. Colors may be thinned with water to decrease intensity, but the overall theme is colorful.

I opted for tonal except for the yellow umbrellas. I do use some local colors from the photo, but I tend to focus more on value hierarchy and less on mixing the perfect hues I see in the reference image.

Material List

In this section, we will go over the supplies I used for this painting.

  • Brushes: Princeton Neptune round brush size 12 and 4, Oval wash 1/2″, and Square wash 3/4″
  • Paper: Professional grade 140 lb cold press watercolor paper, 11″ x 15″
  • Paint: Artist-grade ultramarine blue, cerulean blue, cadmium red light, alizarin crimson, cadmium yellow lemon, yellow ochre, burnt sienna, neutral tint, and matte heavy body acrylic titanium white.
  • Palette: Aqua Pro palette
  • Miscellaneous: Water reservoirs, masking tape, Gatorfoam board, and paper towels

In conclusion, these are the five steps I use to improve my watercolor paintings. By following these simple steps, you can take your paintings to the next level! If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments below. I’m always happy to help!

Learn More About Robert Joyner

Robert Joyner, the creator of Watercolor Fanatic, presents this information. Please visit his website or sign up for his free beginner course if you want to discover more about how to enhance your watercolor paintings.

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