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Painting Landscapes



Watercolor Landscape Painted by Jim



  • Four Seasons

  • Working With Fresh Transparent Glazes


This is a practical hands on guide to Watercolor Landscapes.




The same subject at the four seasons of the year is illustrated.

In making the four rough color sketches, it was not my intention to ultimately finish four distinct painting.  It was to try to find out which season was most suitable to the particular subject matter.

In this experiment I found the winter and fall to be the most effective.

Now I think about it, how many visitors go to New England area in the Spring or Summer especially to paint or take pictures.

It is another story of visitors using all sorts of transport to go----paint----and photograph the fall colors.

In the Spring and Summer paintings, the monotony of green made these compositions less satisfactory.  The Winter scene, with a blanket of snow and cast shadows, lends itself to the placement of a high horizon line in the painting, giving  more foreground.

In the Autumn scene, I have used a low horizon line because the elements of pictorial interest are above it. It gives the artist room to show the formation and character of trees. which makes the picture more interesting in composition and color.  

In autumn one's instinct is always to look upward toward the trees and the sky for their vibrant symphony of breathtaking color.  Note that when the horizon line is low the buildings appear larger; they are, however, identical as the four sketches were traced from the same drawing.

SIDEBAR:   While New England is billed as the epicenter of fall colors. in reality fall colors may start there but there are great displays in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, mid western states, Virginia, Tennessee, -  mountains in the west.

In short  -  there are lots of opportunities.

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Lets take a look at this painting that was painted in classroom demonstration and go step-by-step.  

Step  -  1  Was on rough paper, it was wet with just plain water from top to bottom.

Step  -  2  Two colors Permanent Rose and Cobalt Blue, were each mixed up (not mixed together).  The Permanent Rose was painted with a number 14 Round brush right across the top three inches,  then the brush was rinsed out in clear water and quickly brushed down to the base of the waterfall.  A graded effect.

Step  -  3  The painting was turned upside down and the water painted the same way as you just painted the sky.  Dry it with a hair dryer.  Never hold the dryer in one spot - move it back and forth.  Dry one area while the rest is wet and you will get blossoms.

Step  -  4  Wet both the top corners and drop in the Blue color making sure you only paint 50% of the wet area.  It will now blend nicely as the Blue will creep into the Red leaving a nice transition between the colors.  What very carefully the unpainted water line (where the Blue did not quite reach).  Blot with tissue gently if you see a water tide mark developing.  Dry.

Step  -  5  Now the background trees in the center.  Wet area above the waterfall, at the same time saving a dry area for the tops of the trees.  Now paint the tops letting the middle part of the trees blend into the wet area (now you have fog or mist).

Step  -  6  Do the same for the left and right side trees.  Do not attempt to put the two very dark trees in yet. Dry.  Now the two dark ones, a mixture of Paynes Gray and Sap Green.  Again wet the area at their bases and paint into that area.  Dry.

Step  -  7  Turn paper upside down, paint the dark area on the right leaving some white places and dilute the brush with water and paint all the shapes to the waterfall.  Same for the area on the left.  Dry.

Step  -  8  Dry brush in the waterfall.

Step  -  9  The water ------------you do it.





You must understand and can control the unique physical characteristics of Watercolor to paint with fresh transparent glazes in watercolor.

Here are my thoughts about the subject.  Pull up a chair and lets go.

First identify what colors on your palette are "transparent".

Draw black horizontal waterproof line about 1" in thickness on a small section of your watercolor paper.  Black marker will be fine.  Remember relative opacity or transparency of colors tend to vary from brand to brand. This is why YOU must test your own colors.

Now paint a vertical strip of the color you want to examine across the line with a flat brush about 4" long.  Continue with the rest of the colors let them dry.

Now look where the vertical and horizontal met.  If you can quite easily see the black marker you have a transparent color. If you see a faint hint of color, semi-transparent color.  Dont see the black strip, opaque color.     Do you see the small  blocks of color above the vertical strips, a wet brush was painted over it  to test of staining   The first Cerulean blue is a semi stain  Winsor blue heavy stain, Cobalt Blue Non Stain. Again  it will vary of maker to maker YOU test your own.    


Glazing essentially mixes color in the viewer eye rather than on the palette.

For example, looking down through a layer of say, New Gamboge over a wash of Thalo Blue, the viewer will see green, just as if you had mixed the two together, but, giving the viewer a bright more luminous color, than if you have stirred (mixed) them together.

Glazing, like many watercolor painting techniques involves a degree of excitement and unpredictability.  So be prepared for any eventuality.

Maybe you have thought that layer after layer of watercolor wash will produce a dull opaque look.  -  It will.   -   If you don't understand the nature of colors, that is their relative opacity and transparency.

Now take a small wet brush and gently apply a wash of water over the vertical color (remember, the one that you painted over the black mark) let it soak in for a few moments, now brush the wet strip a couple of times and blot.

Guess what, you know what is transparent and also does it stain the paper.

Now if you have painted a transparent stainer and it's completely bone dry ,you can expect it, to avoid removal.

On the other hand if you paint with an opaque color derived from mineral compounds that float on the papers surface when you glaze over it with another color it could well lift (and mix) leaving a muddy look.

Paper to use, the surface should be "Cold Press" (NOT in U.K.) Hot Press surface does not work well with glazing techniques.  I like to use a heavy weight paper - 300 lbs. C.P.  Stretching becomes  Unecessary since the papers heavy weight eliminates most ripples.

Another thing to keep in mind to pre-soak or stretch paper removes some of the surface sizing when the paper is heavily pre-soaked .  This will create greater absorbency of the paper, just maybe the colors will not be as bright ?

PAPER  -  must be completely dry before you attempt to apply a glazing color, if not, it will mix with the next layer losing transparency of the colors and defeating the whole glazing process.

Just apply a little patience between layers.

SIDE BAR:  -  Paintings that I have applied more then fifty layers, (yes + 50) sell very fast for me.  They do look spectacular.  But it's very labor intensive.  Mix up more paint than usual ,judge the size of the brush to the area to cover ,work fast. Wait for it to dry, and glaze another color.  

It is very tempting to use a hair dryer , try this paint two areas not close to each other, dry one with the hair drier let mother nature dry the other. See any difference?  You decide how your paper and colors reacted. When I Paint multiple glazes on  ,paintings , six are painted  at the same time.  One Glaze on each sheet in the morning , mother nature dry , try to paint two more before the end of the day.  This is repeated for many days . Patience,  Patience , results are wonderful





Thanks for inviting me into your home.


I am going to present to you a "non encyclopedia" approach and give you a no fuss, logical way to paint a watercolor landscape and have fun doing it.

Before we start, get comfortable maybe a favorite beverage would be in order.

Make your mistakes, goofs and failures work to help you in painting a  watercolor landscape.

A failure is often in the eye of the beholder.  WHY DOES THIS HAPPENYour personal expectations outstrip your technical abilities.
Many vacation (holiday) photographs are brought to class by students with the announcement that this is the one I want to paint. I am looking at the interior, maybe, of a place of worship, light streaming through stained glass windows way beyond their capabilities.

During classes, I find myself repeatedly giving the same advice, there is a lot to learn and it takes time and continued reinforcement of learning basic principles that is often pushed aside in the enthusiasm to paint the interior of that Cathederal or that crashing wave hitting the coastline.

Some students regard their Watercolor landscape as a failure, but in reality they are merely unfinished because they lack, a level of understanding of the basic skills of Watercolor techniques, design, tonal values, composition and color which is necessary before they can cast judgment.

My students never make the same mistake twice........never.......it's something like twenty or thirty times.PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE - painting Watercolor Landscapes.

Just use them as learning stepping stones.
Knowledge and ability tend to creep up on you and you will not notice this happening....but others will.

You will develop more self confidence and above all the ability to see the world around you. Previously, you were just merely glancing.

You cannot paint by just glancing. You must see shapes, colors, shadows etc.

We are now ready to start our journey into landscape painting. My thoughts and help will always be at your side.



Watercolor Landscape Painting By Jim

One of the most popular forms of art is that of a watercolor landscape painting.

A watercolor landscape painting captures the feel and the beauty of a certain special place. A good landscape painting will make the viewer feel that they are right there in the painting. They feel as though they can breathe the very air of the painting and reach out and touch the landscape as if it were real.

But to make an audience feel this way when they view your landscape painting, you are going to need a bit of practice.

A watercolor landscape painting should make you feel like you are in a deep space. When viewing it, you should feel as though you were right inside the painting. It should be both spellbinding and beautiful. To attain this, there are some tricks to it.

The first trick is to use clarity. An example of this is to show a thick fog over some hills in the distance, and have the fog fade as you get to the hills towards the front.

A second trick is to use a winding path, such as a trail, a creek, or a river. This makes people feel as though they are deep within the painting.

A third trick is to use size to your advantage. A tree up close should be large, while a tree far away should be small. This enhances the viewer's feel of the distance and expanse of the landscape.

One thing you have to remember about a watercolor landscape painting is that it doesn't have to show exactly everything you see. If you don't want to paint every tree you see, then don't. If you want to put a bird in the sky, then put a bird in the sky. If you don't like the color of some flowers, then feel free to change the color to one you approve of. If you don't like to include the people you see in the landscape, then take them out.

If you want to change the color of the sky from a gray evening to a dark evening, then change away. Use your imagination. It is all up to you. Your goal with the landscape painting is to dramatically capture the feel of the landscape, not to show everything in it. If a landscape painting was supposed to be an exact duplicate it would be called a photograph, not a painting!


Watercolor Landscape Painting By Jim

Watercolor Landscapes, I tried to copy everything exactly as I saw it. I tried to squeeze in every detail, paint every leaf, branch, and blade of grass.

You will go crazy approaching a landscape this way.

Try and paint your own impression of what you see and not a copy of it. Squint your eyes and see the landscape as a series of shapes, lights and darks, as opposed to seeing every detail.

You can accomplish some amazing things that you never thought were inside, if you just relax, and let the painter inside come to the surface.

Watercolor painting on location is certainly a beautiful experience, but remember that you have to paint quite fast as the lighting will change quickly.

I usually begin my paintings using a larger brush. This prevents me from focusing on the details and enables me to establish the major components of the painting.

I also take a few shots of the scene with a digital camera. In the event that I am unable to capture the scene in one sitting, I  now have a reference photo to complete the painting in my studio.

Creating the illusion of depth or distance in your paintings can be accomplished using different techniques. You can adjust your colors by making them cooler and less intense for the distant objects, warmer and more intense for closer objects. Reduce the size of objects as they recede. You can also take away details and sharp edges to make objects appear more distant.

You should have a focal point, otherwise known as "center of interest" in your painting. All other objects in your painting should not compete with your focal point and should serve to draw the viewer to your center of interest.

Instead of jumping right for the paint, use a pencil and paper instead. Drawing is great practice. When I am drawing, I am more relaxed and intimate with the scene. I am training myself to see the various lights and darks of the scene without the use of color.


Painting clouds appears to be one of the bigger challenges for beginners; I know it was for me. What I mentioned in the beginning about trying not to paint every detail applies to clouds as well.

Clouds are three-dimensional objects made up of water and ice particles that reflect light so the color of your clouds will vary depending on the weather and lighting conditions. Remember general perspective rules when painting clouds. Clouds closer to you will generally be more detailed. As they recede into the distance they begin to lose detail and get smaller in size. Pay special attention to the edges of the clouds as sharp edges advance while smooth edges recede.




Think of this as a theatrical terms.

Distance backdrop curtain.

Mid distance curtain.

Foreground curtain.  



The values get stronger as they advance towards the foreground.

Look at the very light trees in the background.

Some could be painted on the wet very distance hills.

But sooner or later you must be on dry paper (you need the hard edges on the trunks).

The darkest trees are put in last.

Remember in Watercolor Painting it is light to dark (most of the time).

Wet top half of paper, drop in light blue with a pinch of Burnt Sienna.

Skip down to the dry half, brush on flat tone for the snow shadows.

Top is dry, paint trees in background and mid ground.

Drop in Burnt Sienna around base of trees.

Now model contours of the snow with big broad curving strokes following the shapes of the snow banks. Soften some of the edges.



Pale washes warm and cool for big trunks, Alizarin Crimson, Indian Yellow and Winsor Blue.

In the final steps these will be the sunlight areas.


Put darks around edge of stream plus wiggly lines in the water.

Finish off with a fine rigger brush on twigs, branches, leaves, and figures.






There are quite a few ways to handle this common landscape feature.

In most case's, the rock area is textured or patterned in some way and then cracks and modeling are applied.



Rough pencil sketch is shown.



We are going to use a splatter tecnique so we need to protect the surrounging area with paper, tissue or cloth etc.

The spatter technique is applied with a large brush or if you wish for a small dot pattern use a toothbrush.  Don't use your own toothbrush----I use my wife's.

Load the brush with color and gently tap it on another brush handle.  Do it at a low angle so that the spatter fans out across the area that you did not protect.

If you find you are making circles, gently drag a tissue across to smear some of the circles.  Sometimes you might want to dab a tissue here and there to change the values of the spatter.


Let dry, then just apply a wash of one or two colors over the area, again using tissue as you go.  Plan on saving about 70% of the white paper (no color here).

Dry.....Now paint the shadows and cracks.  Paint irregular lines and fade each upward from the cracks.  Deepen color and paint the darkest crevices.

Paint background & foreground and you should have some good looking rocks.

Don't even think about giving up on the first try or two.




For this mottled brackgound, mix a mixture of concentrated Gray or Brown and apply to a damp surface in a hop here, hop there fashion.

Don't try to follow the drawing or preconceived plan.  Again leave areas unpainted.


Define one rock from the other by outlining them with a more concentrated color, fading out into the rock behind.

Don't be afraid of turning the board, painting upside down, sideways, if necessary.

TIP:-  You want the darkest part of the area being defined to be at the top so when you apply the color you can easily fade the color towards you.

NOTE:- Nearly always raise the board at least a couple of inches.

Darker some of the rocks.  Glaze a hint of different colors on others.  Create veins by direct positive and negative painting as well as spattering some water on a rock here and there.  For the water to be effective the rockMUST be wet or damp.


Now paint some dark crevices etc. Obliviously the above painting is not finished,( thats  your job)

Here are some recent paintings showing all types of rocks.




This was formed by plastic food wrapping and watercolor paint -   Painted by Jim

This is a picture of a lower corner of a watercolor painting by Jim



Paint the mass area a light color of your choice.

Put some texture on the wet paint by scraping with a razor blade or knife. Try shaping the top surface by removing paint, these could be the highlights on the rocks.

                                                               BELOW ARE VARIOUS PAINTED ROCKS








Lay in the initial shapes, light gray and save lots of white space. Make shapes vertical (somewhat). Round large brush.

Work wet in wet, adding some warm light tones - Burnt Sienna.

Allow colors to diffuse, don't fuss with them.


Area is still damp, lay in some warm Yellow/Orange/Burnt Sienna. Put in some mid Blue's working around white foam area.


Try at all times to soften edges with damp brush, this will keep water looking soft and fluid.

Now start adding darks (mid Blues and Violets) for the distant water. No hard edges.

Try using same colors on the mid tone rocks.

Deepen the vertical surfaces, keep top ledges light.

This will give you the look of light hitting tops and forming shadows on vertical surfaces.









Painting skies is not the place to dilly-dally in.

Should not take long to watercolor paint, get in, get colors down, and get out.

If you want to add more color and make changes, wait for the paper to dry.

Large brush order of the day.

It goes without saying, always have paint ready on palette.

Please note:- Ready (not mixed together), always let the mixing occur on the paper, not on palette.

Can be painted wet in wet, leaving white spaces, you can tilt the paper in one direction, suggesting a diagonal movement, and energy to the sky.


For another look you can paint mid Blue in a few sky holes, the law of aerial perspective comes into play, large Blue areas top of sheet, getting smaller at the bottom of sheet.


Can be painted on dry watercolor paper, watch you do not get too many hard edges. Soften if you do.


Create irregular shapes with well loaded brush, again darker Blue at top, lighter at bottom. Practice these.







One of the biggest challenges beginners face with any type of art, is the ability to really connect with the creativity that is inside of them. It's difficult in the beginning to just let go and paint from your heart and soul. Your mind is being filled with techniques and systems for approaching painting, which in my opinion, tends to drown out your inner creativity. Learning techniques is essential, but there should be a point where you begin to draw from your own creative imagination.

When painting a subject, whether it is a person or a landscape, it is important to first observe your subject.

You have to get close and personal to what you are painting. If you want to learn how to paint great watercolor landscapes, then you should spend time near the area that inspires you to paint in the first place. Only then can you really understand how to transfer what it is you see to canvas.

Take a ride out to the area you wish to paint. Bring along some pencils and paper. The best way to become really intimate with the scene is to just spend time there doing some sketches. This will really force you to observe what you see and burn the image and the environment into your senses.

Painting landscapes with watercolor on location is quite challenging, especially if you are a beginner.

The scene is constantly changing. There are certain techniques in watercolor that require the paper to be at certain angles, or the paper needs to be saturated to a certain degree, etc. To get everything right within such a short time span is quite difficult, which is why you should bring a camera in the event you are not able to capture the scene.

Once you find a composition that you like, take a bunch of shots at different distances and angles. When you get back to your studio, you will now have a few reference sketches as well as a bunch of great photos to work with. In the beginning, while painting on location, try to choose compositions that are not overly detailed or complex.

One of the best ways to immerse yourself in watercolor landscape painting is to find people with the same passion. Search online for any groups, or web sites, for landscape painters in your area. Start chatting and get to know everyone. Many of the artists in these groups love to connect with other artists and plan painting trips. This is a really great way to gain experience.

You do not need to bring your entire studio with you when painting on location. Many beginners will bring far too many supplies, which becomes more of a nuisance than help. Only bring the colors and supplies that you really need to work on a particular scene.

Remember, things change very quickly outdoors. Lighting conditions and weather can change in a matter of minutes. You must be able to paint quickly without being too sloppy. Block in all of your large areas first then go back and start adding your details.

Many landscape artists usually block in the sky area first. The sky is generally paler than the rest of the painting, which enables you to work from light to dark. The sky area also influences the way you paint the rest of the objects in your painting.

When painting objects in the foreground that require great detail, do not try and paint every single leaf or blade of grass that you see. This will usually create too much detail that will draw focus away from the center of interest in your painting. It is also far too time consuming if you plan on painting on location.

Besides, a painting is not meant to be an exact replica of what you see, rather your unique impression of the scene. If you want exact details, you are better off taking a photograph.

Don't be afraid to use your imagination. If you are painting a scene and feel that you should add a few trees here, or a bush there, or a bird on a branch, then by all means go for it.

If you find one particular location appealing, and have already painted there once before, don't hesitate to go back and paint it again, only this time go out on a cloudy day instead. You will be surprised how different a scene can look when the weather changes.

I hope these watercolor painting tips have helped. If you ever find yourself getting discouraged or frustrated by your progress, don't give up. Instead, welcome and learn from your mistakes. It will make you a much better painter.

[Note: Subscribers to "Jim's Watercolor Challenge" were able to view real-time videos on painting watercolor landscapes.]

Do your watercolor paintings look a bit "amateurish"?

Would you like to learn how to make your watercolor paintings look more "Professional"? In just six simple steps, you can create professional looking watercolor paintings!




Watercolor Basics

One of the biggest reasons that students fail in painting Watercolor is................. JUDGING YOUR EARLY ARTISTIC EFFORTS.



Watercolor for Beginners

Learn the basics of watercolor painting... from choosing the right paper and brushes to learning basic techniques of glazing and how to frame your work.



Watercolor Techniques

Learn just a few of the various techniques used most often by professional watercolorists to bring interest, texture and "life" to their watercolor paintings.

Each technique is fully demonstrated.


Painting Trees

Although trees are made up of many parts and endless textures don't let them become overwhelming, you cannot fall out of these painted trees. I know you can paint good looking trees with a little help. So lets see how you are going to do this without getting bent out of shape, irritated or what-ever you do when those Green Balls on sticks appear.......been there...done that.

Painting Landscapes

I am going to present to you a "non encyclopedia" approach and give you a no fuss, logical way to paint a watercolor landscape and have fun doing it. Before we start, get comfortable maybe a favorite beverage would be in order.Make your mistakes, goofs and failures work to help you in painting a watercolor landscape.

  • Four Seasons
  • Working With Fresh Transparent Glazes
  • Watercolor Painting in the Great Outdoors
  • Painting Clouds in Watercolor
  • Step by step Demonstration on Watercolor Winter Scenes
  • Demonstration of Painting Trees Trunks
  • Demonstration of Rocks and Sea
  • Demonstration of Watercolor Skies
  • Watercolor Landscape Painting Tips

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