Highland Crofters – Watercolour Step by step article – by Colin Joyce

Colin Joyce is a Featured Artist for the Dutch Art Box and is a watercolour landscape artist located in picturesk Fife, Scotland. He has created this exclusive step by step tutorial of a beatiful scene in Scotland for us. Follow along and create a stunning watercolour.

Colin: “I have chosen a view in the Wester Ross region of the highlands of Scotland for this demonstration. I prefer to paint on the spot, known as en plein air. If I can’t for some reason I’ll take photos of views that appeal to me, perhaps make a quick sketch too and work from those at a later time. I encourage anyone to work that way. Whilst it’s good to learn the basics from instructional art books, working from your own reference material, whether it be photos, pencil sketches or small water studies, will always mean more to you and, having been there in the first place will help when creating your painting.

So, to start my watercolour painting I first need some materials and equipment. Please, please, please use good quality paper and artist grade watercolour paints. You will never achieve good results with inferior materials. I normally use Saunders Waterford 100% cotton rag paper of 300 grams (140lb) weight. My artist quality colours are from various manufacturers such as Winsor & Newton, Sennelier, Lukas and Daniel Smith. These contain pure pigment and binder which glows on the paper whilst student grade (or worse) have a lot of filler giving a chalky appearance. You pay a little more but reap the rewards in the results.

Stage 1

I start by attaching my paper to a plywood board using 25mm wide masking tape. My paper was a quarter imperial sheet 15 x 11 inches (38 x 28cm). This will easily hold paper in place for this size or smaller. Next I draw the essential parts of the photo onto my paper using a 2B pencil. Things like trees can just be added with the paint brush later.

Stage 2

I’ll mention the colours used as I go but you can use whatever colours you prefer or have available. Getting the total value right is much more important than colour. The brushes I use are a large round wash brush, a No.14 pointed round brush and a swordliner brush (or use a rigger).

I wet part of the sky with clean water then add a watery layer of Yellow Ochre to the bottom of the sky. I immediately mixed some Ultramarine Blue with a tiny bit of Burnt Sienna for the rest of the sky, leaving areas blank for clouds. I added more pigment to the mix and put more paint on the upper areas to define the tops of the clouds.

Using the same mix I paint in the sea loch and up to the top of the hills. Check the Yellow Ochre is dry or almost dry first, you don’t want this to merge. I add a bit more blue to better define the top of the hills.

Stage 3

To give the appearance of layered hills I add yet more blue to some areas in the middle distance and a bit of Yellow Ochre where sunlight is catching the hilltop. This creates variations in the hills although you don’t need to do this, it’s just the background after all. It looks quite strong but watercolour does dry a bit lighter.

Stage 4

In this stage the fields in front of the loch are painted in yellows and greens. Yellow Ochre first then some Cadmium Yellow Pale with a tiny touch of Blue and then Burnt Sienna. Allow it to mix on the paper but don’t blend it together, you want the variations. Watercolours are painted from light to dark. Once dark areas are painted you can’t go back. Notice how I carefully paint around the buildings to preserve the white of the paper.

Next I paint the foreground in a similar way but going stronger. This helps create the impression of recession. I avoid the road which I’ll paint grey in a while.

Stage 5

I want to add some structure and form to the middle distance with trees, hedges etc. suggesting some fields. This darker green is made from Yellow Ochre and Ultramarine Blue. I use the No.14 pointed round brush now for more control. Always use the biggest brush you can to do the job.

By watering that mixture down and dragging the side of the brush across the paper it creates variations in the green fields to infer sunlight. I then add Burnt Sienna and do the same again elsewhere. Finally, a less diluted Burnt Sienna dulled down with a touch of blue is used to define the far edges.

I paint the road in with the blue and Burnt Sienna, very weak of course. If it’s too blue add more Sienna. Too brown, add more blue.

Stage 6

Using the colour made for the road I add the shaded sides of the cottage and distant farmhouse. The light is coming from the right side so you need to put shadow areas on the left where required. I then made a much darker grey, same pigments as the road with less water and more paint to add the roof to the cottage and farmhouse. Before the roof of the foreground cottage is dry paint over it again, adding a bit more pigment (but no water!) if required. It needs to be much darker than the distance farmhouse.

The barn in the distance has a Burnt Sienna roof and dark grey wall. I now use my fine hair brush (Swordliner or Rigger) to indicate the distant telegraph poles.

Stage 7

In this painting, the first place I want people to look is the cottage so this is where you need the strongest contrast (lightest light next to darkest dark). To achieve this use hardly any water and lots of paint. The trees are Ultramarine Blue, Burnt Sienna and a little Cadmium Yellow Light mixed on the paper rather than in the palette so they can blend naturally. Use the tip of the No.14 round brush to carefully suggest the tops of the trees and work down towards the ground. Notice how (in the zoomed in photo) I define the edges of the cottage and paint around the fence posts.

I dilute the mix slightly now and drag the brush sideways across the foreground in a hit and miss fashion to suggest tufts in shadow and create texture.

Final Stage

Finishing touches now. I use my swordliner brush to paint the taller tree above the cottage roof. Leave plenty of gaps in this pine tree and make sure it is tall enough to extend in front of the distant hills. This is to tie the painting together. Something as simple as this ensures you don’t end up with a painting of two halves. With the tip of the brush I also painted in the shadow side of the foreground telegraph poles. I used Yellow Ochre and Burnt Sienna to suggest the chimney pots as a final touch.

I’m calling that done and therefore sign it bottom right. Don’t fall into the trap of looking for more things to do. It’s sometimes said the time to stop was probably 5 minutes ago!”

If you are interested in learning more from Colin you can join his painting courses and workshops. For more information visit his website.

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