5 Tips To Improve Your Watercolor Landscapes

5 Tips To Improve Your Watercolor Landscapes Image

Watercolor painting is a lovely medium that can be used to create beautiful landscapes. However, it can be difficult to get started if you don’t know what you are trying to accomplish. In this tutorial, we will walk you through five simple tips that will help improve your watercolor paintings of urban landscapes!

As a beginner watercolorist, I wish I’d discovered these tips much sooner. It would have saved me a lot of frustration and money. So, hopefully sharing these tips with you will help you paint winner landscapes quicker and cheaper.

In this article we will cover the following topics;

  • The inspiration
  • Develop a focal point
  • Design it
  • Value hierarchy plan
  • Color choices
  • Material list
  • Conclusion
  • How to learn more

We have a lot to cover, so let’s get started!

5 Tips To Improve Your Watercolor Landscapes
– 5 Tips To Improve Your Watercolor Landscapes

5 Steps to improving your watercolor landscapes

In this tutorial, I will share five tips that will instantly improve your watercolor landscapes. If you take the time to follow these tips, you will always have a clear idea of where you are going, why you are painting and how to pull it off. This will eliminate common mistakes that tend to frustrate all of us!

Step one: The inspiration

What you paint is equally important as how you do it. If the inspiration doesn’t excite you then you need to pick another subject that does. We all have certain subjects that are more interesting than others so be sure to take time to build up an archive of images for your favorites. This way you never have to waste time searching when you get that urge to sling some paint.

For todays lesson I find the rustic Rockport, MA harbor very interesting. I know I need to make changes but it’s a great start since I gravitate to coastal scenery. Photographers and painters have captured this building many times, so it’s nothing that’s unique.

Inspiration image
– Inspiration image

Step two: Develop a point of interest

The second step is to develop the focal point, or a why. Your painting will be meaningless if you don’t have a strong focal point. It could be a boat, a few figures, or a tree for example. But know what you want the viewer to see and that will help guide you through the rest of the steps.

For this lesson I liked the idea of boats being the focal point. The boats are already there but I wanted to rearrange them. I’ll cover that in more detail later on.

Step three: Design it

Now it’s time to design it! The composition should flow and more importantly, not have some of the common issues that ruin a painting. I don’t like to be too rigid at this stage so I tend to watch out for awkward tangents, avoid cropping shapes near the edges, avoid symmetry and things like that.

Below is a quick sketch that shows what I envisioned for the design. It has an ‘S’ flow to it which works well for this scene.

As you can see I arranged the boats to connect with the dock. I felt this was a bit cleaner than randomly placing boats floating in the foreground.

design for landscape
– Design for landscape

Step four: Value hierarchy

Step four is to organize the values. This will give your painting depth and make it more interesting to look at. In this scene, I has to think about the layers. I knew the foreground reflections would be dark, so I purposely made the boats lighter in value. The dock wall would be darker as well so I pulled back on the red building and made it much lighter in value as opposed to the inspiration image. The background trees are a mid-tone and contrast nicely with the lighter valued building. But not so dark that it distracts from the foreground values.

Note: 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: Color choices

This is another area where I simplify! There are two choices, tonal and chromatic.

Tonal is less saturated and more neutrals, while chromatic is more saturated and colorful.

The one thing I NEVER do is color match! I don’t try to capture every color I see in nature because it’s a losing battle and breeds fussy watercolors.

In this lesson I chose chromatic. Even the distant trees are more blue than gray. I pushed some yellows into the boat details and made the distant boat a pinkish hue.

Below is a tonal palette example. I hope you see how hues are less saturated and more gray. Yes, there are a few pops of color but for the most part everything is toned down.

Tonal palette example
– Tonal palette example

Material list

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

  • Brushes: Princeton Neptune Pointed round #12 & #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
  • Misc: Water reservoirs, masking tape, Gatorfoam board, and paper towels


These five tips will help you better organize your approach and avoid the common mistakes that ruin your landscape art. It’s better to have a plan then to wing it! I’m a very loose painter but I still take time to get organized so that I avoid painting in circles. Do I still make bad art? You betcha’! But I feel the winners far outweigh the losers and over time I see major progress, and avoid stagnation and defeat 🙂