Part two of two

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In our first blog we discussed the Impressionists and their work, what we could learn from their paintings and how we could use the information to inform our own work. In this blog we will guide you through some of the materials and equipment you may need such as storage for your painting tools, water containers, watercolour paints, brushes, sketchbooks, graphite pencils, watercolour pencils and palettes.  We will even provide you with a downloadable equipment checklist so you will never forget anything!
We will start by covering some painting tips, which will help you develop your landscape painting skills.

A guide to painting outdoors, where do I start?

Preliminary sketches

Once you have decided on a location, start by making small studies in your sketchbook.  This is less daunting than jumping straight into a painting. Work quickly and freely. Remember that preliminary studies are supposed to be ideas, not hyper realistic or labor intensive. Organic and quick working studies are great. Add annotations whilst sketching, commenting on value or tone or what kind of colours you can see, how they move from cool to warm or vice versa, where the light direction is coming from and so on. Noticing these elements will help you create the mood, atmosphere and a sense of place.

Planning out your composition.

  • Once you have made a few quick preliminary studies of your surroundings and are set up with your paints, you could lightly plan out your composition on your chosen surface. If using paper, aim to use 100% cotton and between 200gsm to 300gsm, this paper shouldn’t buckle too much under heavy water applications. 
  • Don’t try to put everything in your painting. Be selective, look through a viewfinder or your camera. Determine what will be your focus, and where your horizon line will be. Place your horizon line in your composition first, you can do this with some masking tape so you have a crisp line that separates the sky from the land. 
  • Try not to be too heavy if using a soft graphite pencil when you are drafting out, too much graphite will make things muddy. As an alternative to a soft pencil, a mechanical or automatic pencil will allow you to create a very thin lightweight line which is also less dusty. Water Soluble graphite pencils are also very useful along with coloured watercolour pencils, watercolour sticks or watercolour pens to plot out shapes and structural lines. These are all water soluble so will bleed and blend together with the watercolour paint washes. Just remember not to apply them with a heavy hand, keep a very light touch..
  • Once you have drawn your foundation composition lightly, you can paint your sky in and once it has dried, remove the masking tape and continue painting in the larger shapes above and below.
  • Alternatively, rather than making a linear plan, you could squint your eyes and try to see the dark and light values, and paint these shapes in without laying too much paint on your paper. With watercolours it is easier if you work light to dark and build up your tones in layers rather than go straight in with really dark pigments that cannot be lifted out. Use a short flat bush or a large round brush or a mop brush to help you cover larger areas, or use their smaller counterparts if working smaller.
  • Remember to use the white of the paper, to represent the whitest and lightest part of your composition. Keep your paints well diluted at first. You can use masking fluid on some small parts of the composition to retain bright white highlights before you start to paint in the colours. Areas to consider within your image would be small dots and dashes on large areas of water, reflecting the shimmering light, small dots of light touching leaves, branches or petals, or tall masts on ships, or light reflected on glass windows. The edges of roof tops or buildings. The masking fluid will need to dry completely before you begin to use your watercolour paints over them. This doesn’t take long.

What Colours should I use?

If you are a complete beginner and are unfamiliar with watercolours, a limited palette of colours could help you gain confidence. Working in nature some of the palettes can be a combination of muted greens, blues, purples and browns in autumn, and the same scene could be vibrant and vivid colours in summer! Because all landscapes are not the same in colour palette, it can get somewhat confusing as to what primary, reds, blues and yellows to choose from! Here are some examples of palettes below to help you, but really experimentation is the key with these palettes and the more you experiment the more you will develop your own personal preferences and style. The compact watercolour sets are very useful for plein air painting as they have an array of colours to use, however you can buy empty half pan tins and custom your own half pan watercolour palettes and create the one just for the right occasion and setting.

For a spring woodland consider - cadmium red, yellow ochre, lemon yellow, alizarin crimson, phthalocyanine blue, cobalt blue and raw umber.
Autumn trees consider - cadmium yellow, burnt sienna, alizarin crimson, cobalt blue sepia, violet.
Woodland waterfall consider using - cadmium lemon, phthalocyanine green, payne's grey, burnt sienna, phthalocyanine blue and alizarin crimson.
Clouds at sunset consider using - cobalt blue, cerulean blue, cadmium yellow, cadmium red, alizarin crimson and ultramarine violet.
Beaches and harbours consider using - cadmium orange, naples yellow, phthalocyanine blue, cerulean blue, permanent rose, raw sienna, ultramarine blue, burnt umber, cadmium red, burnt sienna, and a light red.
Lakes and trees, consider using - alizarin crimson, naples yellow, phthalocyanine blue, phthalocyanine green, burnt sienna, french ultramarine, Payne’s grey and quinacridone magenta.
Summer and late spring flower garden, consider using - cerulean blue, opera pink, rose, linden green, dark olive, olive green, cobalt blue, cadmium yellow, Naples yellow burnt sienna, vermillion, alizarin crimson and payne's grey.
Craggy, moody mountains, consider using - ultramarine blue, burnt sienna, cobalt blue, phthalocyanine blue, alizarin crimson, raw umber and yellow ochre.
Vivid turquoise Oceans, consider using - ultramarine blue, phthalocyanine blue and green, payne’s grey, cerulean blue, cobalt, viridian, prussian blue, alizarin crimson and yellow ochre gamboge yellow.  

Atmospheric perspective

  • Even though watercolours dry lighter, don’t be too tempted to lay dark colours on too thickly. Work in layers building up your tones. If you have put too much pigment down and need to lighten your work, you can pull some pigment out with a wet clean brush and tissue. 
  • To create a flat blue sky start by wetting the surface first then starting at the top left hand corner with a large wash brush, work across to the other side without stopping. Work quickly and continue down the paper. 
  • For a gradated sky start off the same with a loaded wash brush of pigment, work pigment across from one side to the other side of the paper, but instead of laying down more colour, dip your brush in water to dilute the pigment already on your brush, dab off a little excess water, this next layer will be lighter in colour. Continue to dilute and dab off excess water and lay diluted pigment until you reach your horizon line, and you should achieve a seamless finish. 
  • The fall of directional light and the time of day will alter your colours aslo, so work quickly if you can. Dusk can be stronger and more intense l colours, while sunrise can be cooler and brighter colours. However this isn’t set in stone.
  • Colours become grayer and cooler the further away they are.
  • Colours in the foreground will be stronger and more vibrant.Wet-on-wet techniques work well for atmospheric perspective as they blend and bleed together.
  • Keep standing back and resting and evaluating your colours, tones and mark making, keep adjusting until there is parity of marks, tones and textures across the canvas.. 

Details and Textures.

  • When drawing repeated shapes like bushes, trees, cows, sheep or horses, remember to alter the scale. Smaller in the distance, larger nearer the foreground. 
  • Details can be added when you have laid down your foundations, coloured washes, background, midground and foreground. 
  • Wax resistant crayons and a sponge will create some great organic textures for bark, foliage and stone walls. Whilst liquid masking fluid will retain the bright white of the paper or any colour you wish to reserve.
  • Details can be added with small round brushes, but you can also work watercolour pencils or watercolour crayons and sticks over watercolour washes. Dipping your pencil in water first will give you a strong smudgy line, while light shading will allow you to control your tonal ranges and values. They are also great for adding very small details like leaves and petals. 
  • Some watercolour illustrators also like to add some fine line details with a Sakura Pigma Micron Fineliner or Winsor & Newton Fineliner Black - Set of 5 liners.

For more instructions on Creating a landscape in Watercolour check out our earlier blog: Creating a landscape in Watercolour. 

The most important rule to remember is to enjoy the process of being outside and connecting with nature. Lots of small studies are just as valuable as a large finished piece. 

We have compiled a checklist below ready to download, to help you get started on your creative adventures. Happy painting!

What will I need? - Basic Toolkit and equipment

Below is a list of some suggested items that would make your painting experience a great one!

Being prepared and organised is half the battle of leaving the comfort of your home! Listed below are storage ideas for your equipment. 

  • Royal & Langnickel ART CARGO Carry Bag
  • ART essentials Carry-all ART Bag
  • Cotman Watercolour Travel Bag
  • Mapac Sketch Bag
  • Mapac Brush Easel Case
  • Mapac Long Black Brush Case

Watercolour Books that might help

We have compiled this list of amazing books that will help prepare you for your plein air adventures. 

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