Cascade Canyon - Painting Process

Cascade Canyon - Painting Process

Enjoy a walk-through visual tutorial on how I painted this watercolor landscape of the mountains in Grand Teton National Park. The painting captures our view of the peaks as we rested in the Cascade Canyon area for lunch. I'll give you a step by step guide through my process along with links to the art products I used.

Less than a year ago my husband and I, along with a couple of friends spent a week in Wyoming. Four days of the trip we spent backpacking on the Teton Crest Trail. This was our second time doing a backpacking trip longer than 3 days, the first time was on the Colorado Trail and that was five days in the back country. We are amateur backpackers, typically doing two to three days at a time, nonetheless we have big passion for the outdoors. This trip on the Teton Crest Trail was my favorite so far, it was simply a stunning hike. The painting that I am sharing here shows a view of the Grand Tetons from Cascade Canyon. 

You can now find the Cascade Canyon Art Print in my shop.


Tools and materials used for this painting.

Below are my shoppable affiliate links.

Brush for the sky and other large areas

Medium size brush

Detail brush

Watercolor paper

Tape - I use artist tape or masking tape

Palette - This is my favorite kind, it's metal, compact and can be closed when you are note using it to keep dust and debris out.

Paint Colors

Below are the watercolor paint mixes that I used to create the colors in this painting. This is not a complete list of every color I used, but it is the main cast of colors that played a role in the painting.

Tip: I almost never apply a color straight, almost every paint is at least tinged with another color. This technique gives a more realistic look to your painting since no color is that bright in reality. Be careful though, the more colors you combine the duller it will become. I pay attention to the active space on my palette and clean it periodically to make sure no extra colors are getting into my mix.

Green 1 - Used in the bright green/yellow areas of grass

Lemon Yellow + Sap Green

Green 2 - Used in the more cool-toned areas of grass

Cascade Green + Lemon Yellow

Dark Green - This was used for the pine trees as well as shadowed areas of plants. This mix changed throughout the painting, I sometimes used Hooker Green in place of Cascade if I needed it to be warmer.

Cascade Green + Cotman Paynes Gray

Brown 1 - Used for the rocks

Raw Sienna + Buff Titanium

Brown 2 - Shadows on the rocks

Brown 1 + Van Dyke Brown

Blue/Gray - Used in the mountains

Winsor and Newton Paynes Gray + differing amounts of Buff Titanium

Tan - Used in the mountains and on the ground

Buff Titanium or a mix of Buff Titanium + Raw Sienna

Sky Blue

Manganese Blue + a small amount of French Ultramarine + Buff Titanium


Titanium white gouache

Below is a picture of the things that I keep on hand while painting.

Tip: Always keep two paint waters handy, one for clean water and one for dirty water.

Step 1: Sketch out the composition

For this painting I sketched directly onto the watercolor paper because I felt confident I could capture the feel of the scene freehand, I wasn't worried about getting the dimensions and scale perfect. If I am drawing something complex like my Bouquet of Flowers painting I will sketch it out on plain paper, refine it and then trace it onto the watercolor paper. This saves the final medium from getting messy from pencil and eraser.

Step 2: Paint the sky

The sky is always the first thing I paint on a landscape. Here are the two main reasons: 1) The sky is the thing that is farthest away so everything else is in front of it. 2) It is often one of the lightest things in the painting and in watercolor we paint from light to dark. 

I painted this sky in one go. This means that I wetted the entire sky, painted the color in and didn't touch it after it was dry. This allowed me to get some very soft and fluffy clouds. Because the entire sky was wet there were no sharp edges or dark spots. Since I taped the painting down I didn't get any major bubbles, but when painting at this size (12 x 16) and wetting an area this large you are going to have some rippling in the paper. I avoided pooling in low spots by tilting the painting slightly while I painted. This helped the water that would normally pool to spread out. I did not notice any major dripping or pooling at the edge of the wetted area either.

I've tried to paint skies with clouds a lot in the past couple years with various techniques and this is my favorite attempt so far. 

Step 3: Start painting in sections

Since this landscape was broken up by a lot of things like plants and trees I was able to paint it in sections, allowing me to give a small area all of my attention. This helps me not to forget about anything. When I use my typical technique of building the entire painting up in layers I find that details that I wanted to add at the beginning get lost and forgotten by the end. There is a time for both of these ways of painting.

Step 4: Go back to areas that need more detail or bolder colors

It may take several layers to build up the amount of color and detail you are going for. Take a break and step back from the painting between layers to get a better look at things. Seeing the painting from a distance will help you to see any areas that need more attention.

 And don't forget to enjoy the process! Watercolor painting is a magical thing, I love the brightness and saturation of color it offers. I hope to do some more bold things with my paintings in the future. I hope you'll be back to see what I come up with! Please share if you found this helpful.

Read more watercolor art process blogs.

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