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Brighten Your Winter Watercolor Landscape

By Mary Ann Boysen

Brightening the winter watercolor landscape does not mean "lightening". It simply means brightening by the use of dramatic contrast....using shadows for the most part.

A winter day can be very gray, but with a little artistic license, we, as artists, have the capability of giving Mother Nature a boost (or sometimes a “boot in the seat of her pants”, as my mother would have said.

For Starters and Simplicity

We choose just a portion of the landscape (or a portion of the picture you are using), or that which we think makes the best design....with the focal point just off (above, below, and right or left of) center.

  1. Lightly draw the most important area for careful placement (not detail). We will learn to achieve detail with our brush through the use of glazes and shading.


  2. The next decision is “Where will be lightest area be?”... Must it be totally white? ...Are you sure?


  3. Wet both sides of you paper with a larger soft bristled brush such as a Hake that is 3 to 4 inches wide. Advanced students may wish to preserve whites by painting around those areas (if they really think it is necessary). Beginners may find that painting around the white areas (especially small ones) is difficult. That’s OK. You don’t need to do it at this point.


  4. My suggestion to all is to first create a mood by using several colored washes on the paper and then begin to paint around the light areas.

Here we go:

  • After the paper is wet on both sides and stuck down to a non-absorbent surface (plexi or Masonite..smooth side...perhaps covering the masonite with plastic wrap to prevent the absorption of acid from the board). TILT the board and apply a pale warm (yellow) color to the paper, beginning at the top. Your stroke should begin at the left and continue across to the right side of the page. Continue adding the color in the same manner (being sure to touch the bottom of the previous wash) until the paper is covered. If you think it is too brilliant, add water to your brush as you make each stroke so the wash is more graded. This will make the wash fairly colorless by the time you reach the bottom of the page.

    This is a graded wash procedure, but if you want a more freely painted wash, just place the color in a random pattern, and follow it with the second and third colors in the same manner. The pale washes will have nothing to do with the local color of the subject, but will add interest to the painting because of the pale complimentary colors creating an underyling vibrance.

  • Add another warm color such as red or pink....with the same procedure.

  •  
  • Now we can begin to look at the subject and the lights and darks needed to shape it.


  • Dry the paper totally (especially if you are not familiar with watercolor and the ratio of water to paint needed on a wet surface. Adding more wet washes at this stage can create havoc and panic) ..and you should be painting to relax!


  • The next wash will be your sky color......a graded wash...and painted down to the top of and around the lightest subject (snow on a tree branch, or snow on a tree stump, or on the ground under the pine trees. This wash can be repeated if more depth of color is needed (and you may not know this until much later in the painting process).


  • Now it is time to paint the trees, whether it be deciduous or pines. (if you have them in your winter landscape). If you are painting deciduous trees (without their foliage) you could mask the snow (if there is snow) and then, with a brush loaded with clear water, paint a column of water for the trunk of the tree.

    Then load your brush with both a warm and a cool color and drop the colors into the bead of water. Watch the results before your eyes. Do NOT mix the colors together with the brush. Allow the water to do it for you for a much more beautiful and three dimensional result.

    After the paint is dry you can remove any masking, but know that you will have to paint the shadows in the snow covered branches, and you may have to re state the value of the branches with more color.

  • If you are painting pines, start with the paper at a slant from top to bottom, load your brush with heavy pigment (as your paper should still be wet from the last wash. Remember that is your paper is wet, your pigment will run uncontrollably if it is thin. Thick pigment will be much more controllable. The relationship of paint to pigment is something you must learn for yourself. It is sort of like learning to ride a bicycle again. You just need to feel the balance.

    Likewise, if the paper is dry, you will need to add thinner pigment, so it will not be pasty and dry looking.When you apply the color under the snow on the branches, allow it to run a bit (downward) and help to direct the flow with the tip of your brush, if you want it to go elsewhere.

    You may have to go back into this darker color several times to adjust the value of the wash.


  • Snow Pine

  • Now is the time (after all the darker color is added to the evergreens) to check the shadows in the foreground. If there are none, simply wet the paper with clear water again, and let it sit a minute or so , then sweep a shadow color across the landscape. Remember that if there is a log in the way, the shadow must follow the shape of the log, by going up and over it rather than straight through it.

    The landscape should be really taking shape at this point.



  • Time for Details

    1. Allow your paper to dry....and at this point you will want to flatten the paper if it has curled. Turn it over, dampen the back side with a sponge or towel (excess water squeezed out). Lay a piece of paper over it, and pile on the books. Allow to dry again for a while. If you have access to a dry mount press (at your framer) you can flatten the paper more quickly.


    2. Check the values of your painting to see if the effects are dramatic enough. Then you may begin to apply the detail if necessary.....and as detailed as you like. Sometimes this is the time to call it a finished painting because too much detail poorly done can ruin your effort.

    Detail is usually applied to dry paper, but not always. My suggestion is to always dampen the area to which you are adding the detail, and wait for the paper to lose its shine, so that the edges will not be too harsh. It is much easier to sharpen an edge than to soften it later.

    This is the time when you can use your smaller brushes. One of my favorite detail brushes is Cheap Joe’s Lizard Lick (www.cheapjoes.com). I have thrown away my rigger and use this one instead for branches, grasses, and the like. It won’t do everything, but it is phenomenal at those things.


    Lesson 9: Watercolor Glazing >>

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