Sketch, Paint, Repeat: Part One

By Julie Gilbert Pollard

As water cascades over rocks and boulders, making its way downstream along a mountain slope, we’re gifted with the music, fragrances, and visually stunning sights it provides. With all our senses engaged, we landscape artists are in heaven. We want so desperately to capture this big, beautiful experience, yet all we have at our disposal is a piece of paper and a few colors. As much as we’d like our experience of the scene to fall spontaneously from our brush, desire is not enough, joy in the process is not enough. Our skills have to catch up with our vision.

For all of us, the study of painting is ongoing. One way I continue to build skills is by painting the same subject, sometimes even the same composition, over and over again. Today, I’ll demonstrate my process for making a plein air study in watercolor. 

WATERCOLOR TUTORIAL: Preliminary Plein Air Study

In this example, my study will serve as inspiration — and a point of departure — for a larger, more complex studio piece, but it can also be considered the most basic and simple way to paint a watercolor using the traditional “light to dark” process. Although my goal was not to produce a finished painting, if you’re interested in painting fast and loose, without having to employ multiple layers, various techniques, and complex steps, this process offers a great starting point you can tweak to suit your goals and personal style.

From the complex landscape, I decide on a simple composition.
Step 1: I make a loose sketch, blocking in the largest shapes only.
Step 2: I paint the lightest lights, saving a few pure white areas of paper.
Step 3: Next, I paint the mass shapes of the medium-value tones.
Step 4: Finally, I add the darkest values to pull the composition together.

Stay tuned for Part Two of this lesson, where Julie Gilbert Pollard will demonstrate her process for creating a larger studio painting from her plein air study. In the meantime, check out her video workshop on painting white flowers in watercolor.


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