5 things I learned about painting watercolor landscapes

5 things I learned about painting watercolor landscapes

For most of my artwork I paint from images that I’ve taken. This painting was inspired by a place along the trail in Dolly Sods West Virginia. We went backpacking there and while hiking the 22 mile loop around the Wilderness, we came across several awesome little streams and rivers that we had to walk across and we even had to ford one river - that was a cool experience - I’m glad it was warm when we did that! 

I love quiet little streams, they are so calm and peaceful and my idea with this painting was to capture the feeling of serenity and calmness that I felt in this beautiful little spot in the woods. 

This is the first painting in a series that I am doing called Peaceful Wanderings. This will be a collection of four or five paintings (I’m hoping for five) that are inspired by places in nature that have given me peace and tranquility and through the paintings I want to inspire those feelings in others. The paintings will be released on April 28th along with prints of each painting. Sign up here to be notified of when they come out.

With each of these blogs I like to pretty much show you what I do through images but also tell you a little about how/why I do certain things. In this blog I'll share 5 tips for how to make a great watercolor painting. These tips will be mixed in with the pictures of the process.

Tip One: Plan before you paint.

I made a plan and wrote it out on paper. Here's my plan. It's just a rough outline of the steps I will take to complete the painting. With watercolor planning is key. If you don't plan you'll end up with a muddy painting that lacks a good composition and contrast - believe me I've made a few of those.

plan for painting

Tip Two: Make a color palette

I love to do this before the painting. It helps me to stick to a cohesive set of colors that work together. Before instituting this as a rule in my process my paintings were muddy and they had colors that simply did mix well or look good beside each other. Now I know what colors to use and it helps me to be more confident as I paint.

paint swatches

I pre-mix all of my colors in my palette before I paint anything. I try to mix as much as I'll need but I will use certain colors more than others and end up needed to make more. This is why you need to make swatches with the colors used to make that color listed beside it. What if you run out of a color that you just mixed randomly? Then you won't be able to do it again. Pre-mix and keep track of the colors so you don't run into that problem and have inconsistent color usage.

Painting palette

Here are some of my favorite watercolor paints and the main ones I used for this painting:

Daniel Smith - New Gamboge

Daniel Smith - Naples Yellow

Daniel Smith - Cascade Green

M Graham - Manganese Blue

Daniel Smith - Buff Titanium

Daniel Smith - Paynes Grey

If you'd like to see more of my recommended art supplies go to my Kit page.

Tip Three: Sketch first on crappy paper

Some people ask me if I just paint straight onto the watercolor paper - the answer is no. I do a messy sketch first on plain paper then I use a light table to transfer the outline to the nice watercolor paper. I used Canson L’aquarelle 140lb watercolor paper for this painting.

Tip Four: Use masking fluid

This is something that I have not really taken advantage of until now and it is what saved me from covering up those beautiful bright whites of the paper. It helped me to create nice bright contrasts and really show the pretty lighting of this woodland scene.

I use Grumbacher's masking fluid, Miskit

You can see the orange in the image below, that is the masking fluid blocking out the whites of the page.

Tip Five: Don't go too dark

With watercolor you don't want to go too dark with the paint and loose that soft look that watercolors offer. Give nice contrast but make sure your paint is at least diluted a bit with water.

Let's get to the process pics! Here's the pencil sketched out on the watercolor paper. I keep it nice and light and I erase it to be as light as possible so it doesn't show through or get smudged. It's just a guide.

Here's the first layer of paint. Looking pretty light so far.

Now we're getting some definition and depth to the foliage.

The details are coming out now. This is the brush I'm using for the more detailed painting.

I love seeing the evolution of my paint palette over the course of the painting. It's a painting of it's own.

And here it is! All done! Can you tell I had fun with this one? I love painting so much and for a while I have had a gap between my passion for the art and my skill level. Through perseverance and dedication to learning the process you can make a landscape like this in your own style.

Sign up here to be notified when the painting, prints and stickers will be available for purchase! The reason this painting is not available right now is because I will be releasing the entire collection together. That way collectors can choose to buy multiple paintings together since I am painting these as a set.

The entire collection will be available here on April 28th 

I have grown a lot in the past two years since I started pursuing watercolor painting professionally. With each painting I learn something new. My biggest lesson from this painting is that PLANNING IS KEY. For this painting I created a step-by-step plan for the painting on paper, I also made a color palette and stuck to it. In watercolor planning is key, you have to plan where to keep your whites, where to go dark etc. because there is no going back with this medium. It is not forgiving. I hope that you found this helpful and that you are encouraged to keep working on your watercolor skill as I still am. Here's the link to where you can watch the entire process in time-lapse on YouTube: Watch the time lapse on YouTube


Kimberlee Everhard is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.


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You have a real talent for painting the movement of the water in the stream—I can almost hear it’s journey around the bends and stones.

Kate Herrmann

She has some real good ideas. There’s a lot to planning out a picture. And I am learning that, thank you

Kathleen Ramsey

You are so right! And your painting is very very beautiful.
I don’t like the idea that I have to plan things ahead because I still am holding on to the idea that art needs no discipline – the very last tailend of a simply wrong believe that has never, not even once worked out for me. I even feel silly writing it!
I don’t know how it got into my head and why it still takes up space there or why I am still bickering with myself about this!
I’ve been trying to teach myself how to draw and paint for the last three years. Of course, there’s no such thing as teaching myself, I constantly search for You Tube tutorials, online classes, how-to books, etc., something, anything to show me how to paint better.
Then I practice what I learned. Over. And over. And over again.
There is no other way to become a good artist than to practice. Over. And over.
I’m always looking for someone to show me the next step and today I found your blog.
You wrote exactly what I’ve been trying to articulate for some time now: the gap between skill and idea. It’s the most frustrating experience and maybe the major reason so many people give up on art? Two months ago, I suddenly started to have much more fun with my watercolor paintings and after reading your beautiful post, I think I must have narrowed that gap a bit!
I can’t imagine a life without that gap, there’s always so much more to learn, but being able to see at least some of what I had in my mind on the paper is almost as satisfying as selling my first painting – it will happen!
Yes, water color is merciless.
But I would like to share one little trick to ease this fact. It won’t turn you into a skilled master on its own – practice, not magic will do that – but it is an effective way to deal with mistakes: watercolor ground.
It can bring back the white of the paper and wipe out anything and everything I don’t like.
Sometimes, that’s the whole painting. I don’t recommend getting carried away that much, even on the most sinfully expensive, handmolded-fancy-over-the-top-what-was-I-thinking-watercolor-paper. Because it is a bit expensive and will not ever be exactly like the paper again. But if it’s just a mistake and you know where it is, how it should look like and you’re willing to spend the extra time covering it, letting it dry for a looooong time (24 hours minimum) and then re-paint and blend it in, you’ll be so glad to have this tool handy.
Watercolor ground has saved many of my paintings from the trashcan and my sanity as well.
Thank you google for knowing what I needed to see before I knew it myself and thank you, artist for sharing your beautiful painting with the very clear plan and the steps how you got there. I’m looking forward to discover more of your art and posts.

Monah Li

I have always been artistic and at 71 I can’t waste too much time learning a new skill. You inspire me.

Leiza Golden

Thank you so much for these tips! I have been working on a similar project (painting a photograph I took) and I have been so disappointed with each layer I add. Time to start over with fresh perspective! Looking forward to exploring your other posts, beautiful work!


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