Today I'm going to give you a look into my watercolor painting process with this 16x20 inch painting of Chasm Falls. I'll give you some background on the inspiration for the piece, the materials I use and how long it took me to paint it.
Here's a little backstory on this painting. My husband and I and two of our friends decided to backpack part of the Colorado Trail in the summer of 2020. We ended up hiking 43 miles of the trail. It was a great and challenging adventure. After the backpacking escapade we had some more fun exploring other parts of Colorado. We knew that Rocky Mountain National Park was a must-see, but we were still pretty exhausted from the 43 miles on the trail so we mostly drove through the park, taking in the dramatic sights from our car. Chasm Falls caught my eye as we were driving up the mountain with a steep drop-off on the one side. We parked in one of the pull-offs to see it up close. When we walked down to the waterfall (thankfully it was just a few steps) we had an amazing view on either side. One looking up the mountain at the Falls, the other look down the way we had just come, to the valley below. This painting is my view of Chasm Falls.
Here are the materials that I used for this painting:
*A note about brushes. I don't feel that you need to have a lot of brushes to paint with watercolors. I used to have a large collection of cheap brushes, but I noticed that I only actually used a very small percentage of them. So I started investing in the size and type of brushes that I use the most and I got higher quality ones that will last longer and give better results. These links below are the ones I use the most. I painted this entire painting with these three brushes.
I use tube watercolors from a few different brands. The majority of my paints are from Daniel Smith, but I also really enjoy some colors from M. Graham and Winsor and Newton also has a few favorites.
- Daniel Smith Fine Watercolors - this link is to one of my favorite colors Raw Sienna. I used it a lot in this painting.
- M. Graham Tube Watercolors
You can't skimp on the paper. I use Arches and love it.
- Backer board - to tape down the watercolor paper
- Tape - I like to use Artist's tape to tape down the paper. Masking tape also works well.
- Pencils - for sketching
There were a couple of things that I did for this painting that helped make it a success for me. I've never painted this large with this amount of detail before so I really had to be careful to think before just running into it. Hopefully these tips can help you if you decide to step out of your comfort zone and paint something really big.
Here are my tips on how to execute a large watercolor painting!
Make a plan.
Make a plan for how you are going to execute the painting. There are many reasons for this, and I believe you should always have a plan for your painting, even if that plan is just "keep it loose and have fun with it". This large painting required a step-by-step plan to keep myself on track and to keep myself from being overwhelmed by the scope of the project. Breaking things down into smaller pieces makes it more manageable and helps you to visualize the end result.
Get the right materials for the size.
When you are making your plan include the acquisition of any materials you may need for this painting. You may need larger brushes, sturdier paper or more paint than normal. You may even need to figure out a larger working space. These are practical things you need to think about before you start, so you don't run into the problem in the middle of painting when your focus is needed on the task at hand.
Paint in sections.
And let those sections fully dry before moving on to the next one. This is not how I typically work. With my smaller paintings I like to wet the whole thing and allow colors to flow a bit more freely. There was no way I could wet this whole painting and not have it buckle with the weight of paper I was using. So I sketched things out and in my plan I included which areas I was going to paint in sections.
Have a focal point.
Have a place for the viewer to focus and make that area more detailed than the rest. This is a good idea in any painting but I think especially in a larger one. The landscape photo that I was working from had a ton of detail in it. I had to be careful not to add too much everywhere so that the viewer's eye has somewhere to land. I put a lot of my focus into the waterfall area. I painted that section first so that it would be the sharpest, because at the beginning I was most excited about the project and I could put a lot of energy into that area. I'm still learning and my execution is something I'm still working on so I hope you enjoy learning with me!
Also - this is just a thought I had - give yourself grace. If this is your first time painting this large, take it slow! It probably took me over 30 hours to paint this over three months! Sometimes I don't have the luxury of taking it slow with artwork, especially if I'm working with a client, but for this one I wanted to allow myself the time to paint at a slow pace and really learn as I go.