Learning how to paint watercolor landscapes is a wonderful skill that can be enjoyed by artists of all levels of experience. In this article, we will provide an overview of how to get started with this type of painting, including tips on how to develop your ideas and create a pleasing composition.
We will also explore how to use color effectively in your landscapes, and demonstrate light to dark techniques for adding depth and realism. With these skills under your belt, you’ll be able to create beautiful watercolor landscapes that everyone will enjoy!
Painting a beautiful watercolor landscape starts with a why!
Below you will see the example photo reference that inspired the landscape painting. It has potential but needed some work. If you want to know how to paint watercolor landscapes then you have to learn about developing a point of interest.
This could be a tree, rock formation, or any other interesting subject that may need to be added. In this case, I decided to use the yellow umbrellas and add some figures leaving the cafe. This makes a perfect point of interest. You will see the figures later on as you scroll down and read.
Time to add point of interest
The next step is adding in your composition and design. For this painting, I wanted to create a more abstract landscape with softer edges. To do this, I added main figures towards the left-hand side and included another on the right that leads the eye back into the composition.
Pro tip: Avoid placing focal points right in the center of the composition as this creates symmetry. This type of design usually isn’t favored because it splits the design in half. It’s best to keep it asymmetrical.
Consider the design & composition
Always consider shapes in compositions. You need a dominant shape, and then you can use smaller shapes to support it. In this case, the large rectangle in the background is balanced out by the smaller building shapes on the right. And there’s a large tree mass behind the buildings that connect the two buildings. This creates a sense of stability and order.
The illustration below breaks down some of the composition guidelines many artists use to create more compelling watercolor landscape paintings. The image on the right shows an alternative method for using the rule of thirds. Notice how each space is uniquely sized. Use large, medium and small both vertically and horizontally to divide the subject.
Create a quick value study
Planning values is key to enhancing the point of interest. Use it as a guide later on for mixing the right hues as you paint your amazing watercolor landscape.
Below you will see the value study used for the example. Many beginners underestimate value hierarchy and end up trying to match colors in their subjects. Been there, done that.
Decide on harmonious palette
The next step how to paint watercolor landscapes is adding color! The first thing you’ll want to do is create several swatches for the major shapes. This will help you decide how much contrast you want between colors and how dark or light they need to be for your painting to look like a real landscape!
Pro tip: Avoid color matching! Instead, focus on values as this is more important. Plus you can never match nature, that’s a losing battle. I recommend using either a tonal or chromatic palette. Basically it’s either colorful or more neutral. Chromatic is the choice for this one.
Have a look at the color palettes below. It’s a great way to understand tonal and chromatic palettes.
Step-by-Step Painting Process
Now that the point of interest, design & composition, and colors are decided it’s time to paint that awesome watercolor landscape. It’s time to grab your watercolor supplies and follow along.
Start with a light contour drawing using #2 pencil. Just add the big shapes and save the details for later. The more details added the tighter the art will be. Keep it loose.
Now mix some paint on your palette and start adding the first wash! The sky is a great place to start as it’s one of the most important elements in any landscape painting. In this case, I used a pale gray. Some warm neutrals are added to the ground plane along with pale red for the building.
Allow everything to dry 100%. Mix a darker hue for the building and carefully paint around the tops of the yellow umbrellas. Since this is the point of interest the edges need to be crisp.
Mix a darker hue and paint the building on the sides. Use the same hue but slightly darker to charge the wash above the umbrellas. This will help pop the focal point.
For the top of the building, you can add a darker cool hue. Go darker than you think because it will dry about 20% lighter in value. Allow the cool hues to bleed into the building. Don’t control it too much.
Paint the figures with bold, saturated hues. This will help lead the eye into the painting. Figures under the umbrellas are just dots and slashes. Avoid details here, it’s not important.
Finish the landscape with details such as windows, accent colors, and cast shadows. Remember the point of interest, it’s not the entire building so don’t overpaint windows. Simple shapes are painted with hues that aren’t too dark.
I hope you enjoyed how to paint watercolor landscapes. As you can see it’s all about having the right approach. Slow down and plan before paint hits the paper. The results will be worth it!