Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Watercolor Demo Class: Landscape "Down on the Farm"

Another of my Watercolor Demonstration Classes saw the painting of this landscape, and I have made a YouTube video of it that you can watch.  I chose the reference photo below because it contained so many typical landscape components and would be a good teaching tool.  I took this photo about 35 years ago, and it is probably from upstate New York.

Step 1. Working on a half sheet of Arches 140 lb cold press stretched onto a Homasote board, I first wet the entire sheet and started with a light wash of the late afternoon sky.  The sky is almost always the lightest section of a landscape, and it is important to keep the correct values of the sky versus the land relative to each other.  I used Hansa yellow in this background wash, letting it come all the way down to the bottom of the sheet so that it would also color the grass a bit.  Quinacridone red was washed over the top of the sky.
   While that was wet, I started to put in the distant row of trees, using thick perylene green, plus touches of brown madder and verditer blue.  Not too much water or the paint will spread too much!  You can see the gap I left for the barn.
   I also washed in the grasses with a mixture of Hansa yellow and cerulean blue.  I used a little black sumi-e ink in the mix because I think it is capable of producing some interested textural effects.  I splattered this darker wash with water to create backruns and spattered it with some blues.  I decided to leave the lower left unpainted to accentuate my intention of creating a loose painting.

Step 2.  Since I was filming the whole process with a web cam, I didn't stop to take enough step-by-step photos!  The next photo shows the painting about 80% finished.  First I started putting in the trees, using black ink mixed with burnt sienna and a rigger to apply the paint.  I experimented with various ways to get the suggestion of the leaves remaining on the trees.  A combination of spritzing with a spray bottle and then spreading paint around with a brush worked the best, along with a little spattering. 
    I detailed the brush along the foot of the trees with some darker paint, using my wolf hair sumi-e brush with the hairs splayed out to create the feeling of long grass and brush.  Also I used this brush in the foreground grasses.
    Next I painted in the barn and windmill (still need to add the windmill's blades).  I kept them simple and not fussed over.  Some long shadows in front of the barn give the feeling of late afternoon.  To finish this painting, I am thinking of adding some cows scattered about between the windmill and the barn.  That's about it for this one!  
"Down on the Farm" almost finished

By the way, I took a workshop recently with Baltimore artist Stewart White, who is a fantastic plein air painter in watercolor.  He has a little acronym  that I tried to apply in painting these landscapes:

D O N ' T:
     D = Don't Dilute too much
     O = Don't Overwork
     N = Don't Noodle
     T = Don't try to fix!

I think this is very useful advice if you want a painting that is fresh and spontaneous.  Yes, you can fix a few things along the way, but don't overdo it!  Have fun with your landscape painting--

Susan Murphy, ARThouse, 5/6/14


  1. Beautifully and elegantly done, Susan! I think I must copy your "DON'T" list, and tape it over my work area.

    1. Thank you, "Studio at the Farm"! I like that name! Actually the DON'T list came from Stewart White, and I need to try to apply it more myself. I have a tendency to keep trying to fix things...