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Bettina ready to paint
Bettina ready to paint

How to paint vibrant watercolour landscapes - even on a dull day!


Bettina Schroeder - Posted on 11 Feb 2011

You have arrived at an inspiring location and chosen your view: a spot near the shoreline of the picturesque village of Dittisham, for example, which is the subject of this demonstration. The sun is shining and there are beautiful reflections on the water, but as you settle down with easel and brushes, eager to pounce on the scenery before you, clouds close in and rain is forecast. The view has gone from bright and sunny to flat tones of grey. Don’t lose heart! Your watercolour palette with all its brilliant colours is at hand to create the painting you had set out to do. Because these changes in light and weather are very common when painting outside, here are some tips on how to start then continue with your original inspiration, despite the unpredictable conditions.


You will need:

  • Arches cold-pressed 140lb NOT watercolour paper 15x221⁄2in. (38x57cm) Sketching paper
  • Pro Arte squirrel mops Nos. 2, 6, 8 (or Round sables of similar sizes)
  • Cotman Flat synthetic 10mm
  • Langnickel large Flat goat hair 2in.
  • Rosemary & Co Round sable No. 6
Winsor & Newton Artists’ watercolour:
  • Aureolin yellow (or Winsor yellow)
  • Burnt sienna
  • Rose madder genuine (or permanent rose)
  • Winsor violet (dioxazine)
  • Cobalt blue
  • French ultramarine
  • Winsor green
  • Soft pencil and putty rubber
  • Water pots
  • Sponge or pure cotton wool

Step 1

1 As soon as you arrive, take a couple of photographs to help you memorise the view.
2 Follow these with at least three very fast sketches to get a feel for the composition and warm up your eye-to-hand coordination.
3 Look at your sketches and think about the composition:
How much of the view you see do you want to paint?
Which of the boats and people suit your personal idea for the painting?
4 After these considerations have been worked out – and perhaps after a cup of coffee – it’s time for a final sketch on good quality watercolour paper.

Step 2

Watercolour painting equipment

Before you start painting, line up your brushes, paints, water pots, etc. Sponges or damp cotton wool to mop up excess water are also essential.

Step 3

Watercolour painting

1 Squeeze out enough paint of all the colours into the pans of your watercolour box, and add water to make strong mixes. Choose ‘high key’ colours (rather than muted, tonal hues) to recreate a bright and sunny view.
2 Wet the paper using plenty of water and the flat goathair brush, leaving white areas such as window frames, highlights, stones, people, etc. Paint dropped in later will not flow into these dry areas.
3 When a landscape composition features people or boats, paint them lightly first, as you will strengthen the colours towards the end of the painting process.

Step 4

Vibrant watercolours

1 And now comes the first exciting part. While the paper is still wet, drop diluted Winsor violet (for a ‘warm’ sky) into one corner using the large squirrel mop and let it spread a little.
2 Add an aureolin yellow underwash for the trees and beach. Again, start in the sky area and work your way down to the foreground.
3 As the paper begins to dry, lay diluted Winsor green into the distant trees and water reflections. Watch the colours dry into tree-like shapes with soft edges where the paper is still wet.
4 Don’t finish any part of the painting completely yet, otherwise areas might turn out too strong. Trees that stand further away should look less intense than those in the foreground.

Step 5

Painting vibrant watercolours

To paint the beach, drop onto the wettish paper a further mix of rose madder genuine and aureolin yellow. Be careful to leave white areas for stones, seaweed, and highlights!

Step 6

Keeping watercolours bright and vibrant

1 Use the same wet-into-wet technique on the cottage. Again apply clean water to the area first then drop in a mix of rose madder genuine and aureolin yellow using the squirrel mop No. 6. The No. 2 is useful for the smaller areas. Create texture with a drop of Winsor violet.
2 Place another wash on the roof in the same way: water first then burnt sienna, keeping the sunny side lighter.

Step 7

Defining foliage with watercolour paints

1 To define the shapes of the foliage, use drier brushstrokes in a more controlled way on dry and partially dry paper. Over the top of the underpainting, paint stronger green and turquoise tones made from a mix of Winsor green and French ultramarine (with a little pure Winsor violet for extra darkness) for greens, reflections, and purple shadows.
2 Gently re-wet the sea and drop in the same colour mixes to make the reflections of the darker trees and the wooded hillside. Add ripples on the water surface with pale green made from Winsor green and aureolin yellow, and add a few with cobalt blue.
3 To give a deep shadow under the distant trees, use Winsor violet.
4 Lift out colour from tree trunks with the moist edge of the small flat brush while the trees are still damp.

Step 8

Adding shadow to watercolour landscapes

1 Having established the light and shadow sides earlier on, you can now add shadows on the cottage walls with Winsor violet and a little cobalt blue dropped in to create a stonewall effect.
2 Use a stronger solution of burnt sienna for the shadow side of the thatched roof, chimneys and boats.
3 Now block in details like windows and doorways with a strong mix of burnt sienna and Winsor violet to give warm darks, using the squirrel mop No. 2.
4 The small flat brush filled with diluted purple and French ultramarine is best for the roof tiles of the shed.
5 Paint the porch plants, and place further washes of Winsor violet and cobalt blue on walls and the beach.

Step 9

Finishing touches to watercolour landscapes

1 Now that the landscape part of the painting is almost complete, return to the people in the foreground and strengthen their forms with the Round sable No. 6.
2 Cobalt blue and burnt sienna can be used to produce stone shapes on the wall on the far right, the seaweed, the stones on the beach, and the shadow side of the shed.

Step 10

1 Before adding the defining details, take a good look over the whole painting, making sure the balance is right between foreground (strong) and background (softer), and adjust where necessary.
2 The beach could do with some warmth. A few loose strokes of aureolin yellow with the squirrel mop No. 8 over parts of the ground add some ‘heat’. This ties in the yellows from the hillside and sky with the foreground.
3 Last, but not least, the masts of the boats need to be scratched out with the tip of a scalpel or craft knife.

Dittisham by Bettina Schroeder

Dittisham, watercolour, (38x57cm)

This step-by-step painting demonstration is taken from the March 2011 issue of Leisure Painter.

For painting holidays with Bettina visit her website.

<< Back to Landscapes

1 comments so far...


Shirley May

21 May 2011 19:25

I like this demonstration, thank you Bettina. I like to keep the bright colours and get them to play off each other, rather than trying to mix browns and greys and then wondering why the light has all disappeared. Thank you.

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