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Learn To Paint Watercolor Horizons

By Mary Ann Boysen

A painting should never be cut in half by the horizon, nor should it be cut in half by a strong vertical line. Always position your horizon above or below center. The farther it is from the center, the more dramatic the overall effect.

If your sky is to be an important, dramatic one, then make the horizon low to draw more attention to the large sky. If the landscape is the most important part, then make the horizon high.

 

Take a look at the diagram below. Each place that a horizontal line (representing the horizon) is intersected by the diagonal, could be a focal point. These are not absolutes, but only suggestions. Of course, the diagonal line could be from the opposite two corners also.

Watercolor Horizons Eye of the Rectangle

For fun, let's begin with a simple sky wash. We will add some trees for interest. Using 140# good watercolor paper (any that were mentioned earlier....begin by putting some sky color on the work surface of your palette. Dip your brush in water and grab some warm color on your palette. I suggest using a warm color like Quinacridone Gold, or Yellow Ochre, or Raw Sienna (just one of them)...then grab some red or pink (Opera, Alizarin Crimson, Cadmium Red) with your brush and put a puddle of it next to the yellow you have chosen. Then dip your brush into a blue (like Cobalt Blue, Cobalt Blue Deep, or Cobalt Blue Hue and place it nearby on the palette.

Now drag a little of each color (red, yellow and blue) to the center of the workspace and mix them into a pretty gray. Your sky can be bright blue if you like, but this is also a lesson in mixing colors.

If the color is too dull, add a little more blue, or if it is too bright, try to tone it down with one of the other colors or, add more water. You will want a light wash (not too light!)

  1. Wet the paper with clear water (all the way to the bottom!), then dip your wash brush (1" wide or more) into your sky mixture.


  2. Starting at the top of the page, swirl the sky mixture onto the wet paper, tilting the paper to allow it to bleed. You can continue to add color if you need it.


  3. Allow the paper to dry thoroughly. (a hair-dryer is a great tool!)


  4. Now, choose your horizon. Perhaps pencil it in lightly for your reference.


  5. Using a clean wash brush, wet the sky above the horizon once again. This time, allowing it to dry only until it has lost its shine. You can see the shine of an area that is loaded with water, but as it soaks into the paper, the shine disappears. While you are waiting for the shine to disappear, mix some browns and greens (or browns and blues) in a bit heavier texture (less water than the sky wash).


  6. When the paper is damp but not wet, place a mixture of the browns and greens along the horizon, allowing it to bleed upward. If it bleeds to quickly, tilt the paper to keep it from covering the entire sky. This will take some practice. Heavy pigment will not bleed into a wet area, but will have a soft edge. If the pigment has too much water in it, it will bleed uncontrollably. Good luck.


  7. When you have mastered this technique, and are satisfied with your background trees, allow the painting to dry before you add the foreground trees. Do not wet the area when adding the foreground tree, as it needs sharp edges. Work directly on the dry painting.

See the illustration below

Watercolor Landscape

In a future lesson, we will do more complicated skies and landscapes. This is just a beginning. Do it several times to get familiar with the process of mixing colors and balancing pigments with water.

<< Lesson 3: Stretching Watercolor Paper

Lesson 5: Dramatic Skies >>

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