Landscape Studies

Landscape Sketching in Watercolor and Gouache with Nathan Fowkes – Lesson 1

I finally completed my entries for the first “week”. It actually took me over a month, but am relatively satisfied with the result.
I worked from color, here posted so you can see my references as well.

They are all master copies, painted in gouache on kraft paper (or illustration board for #8, primed with yellow). For all these I followed the procedure described in my previous post: How I tackle Gouache studies in Black and White.

Landscape Master Studies in Gouache Landscape Master Studies in Gouache (color)
I am quite happy with some of them, while others are completely off. It’s easier to tell the difference if you look at the desaturated version of the master painting, but quite complex by the original.

The whole point of it was seeing value for color, and hopefully I managed to do it decently enough to proceed.
If anyone wants to comment below, feel free to! 🙂


How I tackle Gouache studies in Black and White

For about one month, I have been subscribed to the Nathan Fowkes course on Landscape Sketching in Watercolor and Gouache at Schoolism.
It’s an amazing course and, even if I can’t go through it at the pace Nathan suggests, I am slowly building painting over painting. Each new one leads to a greater understanding of the medium, and it’s also quite rewarding.
The first part is entirely dedicated to black and white studies of master paintings, a great way to discover new artists, and I feel more and more enthusiasm after each one.

I haven’t completed the (at least) ten studies required for lesson one, but I would like to share my approach here, hoping it can be helpful to anyone fighting with the medium like me.

I am by no means a pro, and definitely still quite slow (one hour, only for the painting itself).
Scott Christensen River Painting

This is the Master painting I am working on, by Scott Christensen.
I work from the color version, as the aim of this first lesson is to see color for value (which is not easy at all!).
My copy is fairly small, usually around 10 centimeters wide by whatever height the original has. The surface is a sketchbook I made with brown kraft paper, the same Nathan uses. I have to admit mine is a little too light for the medium, and tends to buckle with moderate amounts of water. Ideally, you should look for a 130-180lb weight paper, while mine is 82.

Before starting with the actual painting, I do a quick study in pencil on toned paper with black and white pencils (Conte)
Scott Christensen River Pencil Study for Gouache Painting
I am a little exaggerated here, still too detailed (and it took ages, almost half an hour), but it helps me figure out the big masses before messing with the real thing. After this, I get to my painting sketchbook.

Gouache landscape master study initial sketchI use a water-soluble carmine colored pencil (Supracolor II), and try to keep the lines to a bare minimum, establishing the bigger shapes and relationships, only. I frame it with low-tack tape as soon as I am done, to have a clean straight edge after completing the painting.
Gouache landscape master study initial color block in

I then proceed blocking in the main shapes. I would like to stay more watery on the river bed (for reflections) but I just can’t do it with this paper. I am painting relatively transparently in any case (translucently, so to speak), trying to block in the main areas of value. If you ever used gouache you certainly know it’s not very friendly to who tries to paint dark over light and vice-versa, therefore, for areas like trees I try to figure out the main general tone, either dark or light. Alternatively, I paint a value more or less in between those, that I can darken in the shade and lighten in the lights.

One thing I noticed about trees and greenery, is that I always see them lighter than they are. Therefore, I recently started using a dark underpainting for them, so that in any case my lights won’t go as light as they would without it, even if I am a little off with the value. Call it cheating 😀 This is true especially for warmer colors, as we always see them lighter than they actually are.

I went quite off on the river bed there, so I tried recovering with the second passage, thicker:
Gouache landscape master study shapes adjustmentHere you can also see I lightened the background masses a bit, for the atmospheric perspective. I also tried softening the farther mountain and keeping trees in the distance quite simple, as another trick to conceive depth.
I forgot to take a picture of the next step, but it’s basically about correcting here and there, adjusting values and shapes. I just always make sure that my previous layer is bone dry before painting over (I use a hair dryer for this).
Gouache landscape master study Scott Christensen RiverGouache landscape master study initial color block in
So here is my final result. You can see I just lightly scrubbed in a tone for the light parts of the trees in the background, without having the edges stand out. For the closer trees I went all the way dry brushing the light tone over the dark part I had blocked in. I went off with the contrast here and made it too dark, it was actually better in the previous photo.
For the foreground water, I just mixed a tone more or less equal to the river bed, added a touch of white and painted in random shapes (yeah, I know it’s not accurate). I did the same, but with a touch of black instead, for those submerged stones’ shadows.
I want to try staying simple so I guess painting each shape separately and precisely would kill the overall feeling, as adding too much contract would have, the same way.

I used almost pure white for the fallen logs and tree trunks, and super dry white for the water foam. Yes, the shape of the rock leaning on the right side is completely off 😀
I also failed to catch the bushes on the same spot. Had a very hard time figuring out what to do.

Overall, I am satisfied enough. While I can’t say it’s perfect, I am happy with the result and have learned to control the medium a little more. It took me more than one hour and a half to finish it, if I consider the initial pencil study, so I’m totally off track with time and I have to try to get the next ones done faster.

The final step is comparing the original turned into BW and my copy, which usually leads to plenty of tears 😀 I will save this and post it together with the others, once I am done with all studies.



My entry for the Weeds Painting Challenge at GJ

Sicilian Weeds - poppiesI‘ve finally brave and took my oils outdoors for the first time. To entry the Weeds Painting Challenge at Gurney Journey, I wanted to try oils in plein air, instead of sticking to watercolors or gouache as I did in the past. I love painting in oils, so it was a great chance to see if doing actual direct painting is any different from using photos.

It is!

Really funny, even if I my neck got sunburnt on the left side (the downsides of standing 4 hours and a half under the sicilian sun.
Oils on wooden panel, about a4 size. Titanium white, cad yellow light, yellow ochre, burnt sienna, pyrrole red, permanent rose, ultramarine.
See my post on the Facebook Event page for the fukk work in progress
Weeds Painting Challenge WIP


Chinaman’s Revenge

A few months back, I had painted this picture of Chinaman’s Bluff.
I have never loved it, so I painted over it with burnt sienna,and tried to make something better out of it. This is the result.
Chinaman's Bluff Oil Painting
I am happy with it, this time. First of all, I re-thought the composition, since it was really poor. This time I did not slavishly follow the photo reference, but used others as well to help me make up the final image.
Then, I used a gamut mask of my hand painted color wheel to get the main colors. The shape is a triangle with one vertex on the brightest yellow, and the other two respectively on the second mostly gray blue ad purple (shown below)
Gamut Mask for Chinaman's Bluff
The photo is a bit more orange than the actual painting, which tends a bit more towards green compared to it.
Here are some passages of the painting:
Chinaman's Revenge WIP 1
Chinaman's Revenge WIP 2


Chinaman’s Bluff

Chinaman's Bluff Oil Painting

I finally got enough time to complete this painting. After having done all those preparatory studies, I really had to reward the photo with a complete piece.
I can’t say I am totally satisfied, but it’s a step forward. It’s still lacking variety in the brush shapes, as well as enough detail (I worked basically wet on wet). The middle distance cliff has been a pain much like in the studies, and I couldn’t get it the way I wanted. I also failed in capturing enough darkness and depth in the nearer water, as it looks a bit fake, but I guess it will be for next one.

My palette was: Titanium White, Nickel Azo Yellow (I still hadn’t got my cadmium yellow light), Venetian Red, Burnt Umber, Ultramarine, Primary Cyan, Yellow Ochre. I used a big #12 bristle Filtbert, a couple of smaller #4 ones, and a tiny synthetic #2 for the smaller strokes.


Old Church Ruins

Today I wanted to paint some ruins. My Town has many, as it’s been bombed during WWII and plenty of historical buildings have been torn down during the conflict. Today’s subject is an old Church, named St.Peter, which was the main one of the area before being destroyed.
Watercolor Church RuinsHere’s the comparison with the scene itself:
Watercolor Church Ruins Comparison with PhotoI dripped some blue on the bottom part of the facade, so I had to pretend that crack in the plaster was actually deeper than it really is. Damn watercolors!


Gamut Masking Exercises

I finally had some time to work on gamut masking. The principle is simple: take a color wheel (In my case a printed out YURMBY wheel), cut a shape our of a piece of paper, and overlay it on the wheel. The visible area is what is called a Color Gamut, containing all of the possible colors you can mix within the shape.
The most common shape is a triangle, which makes it easy to get a decent variety and have a good amount of color choices within the range.

The technique for Gamut Masking is well explained in various posts by James Gurney (I believe he kind of invented this method):
Gamut Masking at Gurney Journey

After masking out a triangle, the goal is mixing the colors you have at each vertex, called Subjective Primaries. Additionally, Subjective Secondaries (that is, colors found on each side’s midpoint) can be mixed, to further save time when painting.

Premixing is really time consuming, at least for me, being a rookie. Still, it does save a huge amount of time when painting later on. Here are my attempts:

Warm Gamut

Gamut Mask Warm


This was my first mask, pale pinks and greens, strong yellows. I actually grabbed this from Richard Robinson’s Interactive Gamut Mask Tool. But I mirrored it horizontally when printing out, as I prefer having warm colors on the right hand side.

Gamut Mask Warm Palette

I then matched the color at each end. Starting from the top left, the third yellow, the fourth pink, the third green. Then, I expanded these into 5 different values to make Color Strings. I skipped the secondaries, and painted the next swatch.

Gamut Mask Warm Swatches


Lastly, I applied it to my test landscape.


Gamut Mask Warm TestNot having any blue, I had to rely on grays to keep balance in the scheme. I am quite happy with the result, although it looks a bit muddy. Pinky shadows help green look greener (which might as well look too starking in the context, and might have been looking better if a good deal duller)

Cool Gamut

I then swapped the triangle the opposite way, and using the same complementary pink/green, I basically replaced yellow with blue. Kind of challenging.

Gamut Mask Cool Gamut Mask Cool Palette


I ended up with my blue (ultramarine plus white only) being way too washed out/ Blue having the top chroma at its lowest value, I used the out-of-the tube one for my darkest tone, and killed saturation by adding white.

Gamut Mask Cool Swatches


The resulting swatch sees blue being way inside the wheel, more than I really wanted, but I guess it’s no use with blues on higher values.

Gamut Mask Cool Test

Painting a landscape is far more complex without yellow, than without green. This type of gamut gives a very cold look to the picture, making it look like a frozen, lifeless landscape.
Here is a final comparison between the two
Warm and Cool Gamut Tests



Ths kind of landscape might in any case not be ideal for testing out gamuts, as it lacks enough hue variety in the high chroma range.


Experiments with a limited palette

Over the last few days I tried experimenting different limited palettes on the same painting. I did it as part of the course on Mastering Color by Richard Robinson, and grabbed the following image (part of one of his workshops) as reference:
New Zealand Landscape

I first made a black and white study to try to define lights and darks, then moved to a few limited palettes (and I admit the transition is more painful than it seems!).
All studies are about 6.5 cm wide. I wanted to push the middle mountain back in the distance so I also made it lighter and bluer.
Yellow Ochre + Burnt Sienna + Ultramarine Blue + White
Limited Palette NZ 1I felt too limited by the absence of a strong light color, so I switched my yellow to a Cadmium Yellow.

Limited Palette NZ 2

In the first one, I realized the middle distance mountain and tree line were way too gray, so I tuned up chroma. However, I tried getting it so green that I lowered value as well, making it look closer (#2) and odd. I then painted it all again and was quite pleased with the third one. Still, despite being the better of all tests (in my opinion), the middle distance mountain still has something wrong. Whilst the the light color is acceptable, the shade is too saturated and way too light (taking off color makes it vanish into the rest of the mountain. The scheme is nice as it’s an almost complementary orange/blue.
Gamut Test on Limited Palette

Being undecided on the warm/cool choices, I painted a study using only Alizarin Crimson and Ultramarine plus white:

WarmCool Exercise 1


Yes, it makes no sense. However, by taking away any possible green I noticed I got less scared on mixing decisions and placements. Not being distracted by trying to get the color I saw, I purely focused on value (kind of difficult in this case for me to get the hang of) and warm/cool hues.
I used the midpoint grayish pink between red and blue as my neutral, red/pink for the warm, blue for the cool. It really helped me getting the feeling of which zones I can paint cool, and which warm, in my final painting.

Lastly, I added Lemon Yellow (ugh, I don’t really like it) to Alizarin and Ultramarine:
Limited Palette NZ last

The first one is really fiddled, I even scraped some colors off with the palette knife and tried again. Apart from that, it seems fairly harmonious. I was unsure about the dark brown of the tree shadow.
Limited Palette in Oils NZ Really Last
The photo here washed out my colors a bit. In any case, I was unsatisfied of the muddy look of the top one, because the shadow is way too brown and lacks the green’s complementary, purple. Therefore, I went for an almost pure Alizarin in the last (bottom) one. I am happier with the result. I also tried making the tree darker and could use a duller green, closer to the reference, thanks to the dark purple.

All in all, I still prefer the Cadmium Yellow one to this. I also went too high in chroma for the green, as Lemon Yellow heads way towards the cold spectrum. I should really get a better Cadmium Yellow Light to use in this painting.

Next up: Gamut Masking!


How to deal with excessively oily paints for wet-on-wet (and new landscape!)

I finally got around the (before) mysteries of wet-on-wet. I struggled for months trying to have a color layered on top of another without having it contaminated, unsuccessfully. Then, I read several topics on WetCanvas stating the real deal for wet on wet (specifically, Bob Ross’ and Bill Alexander’s styles) is paint oiliness.

Right after reading it, I wanted to experiment myself an see if that was the catch…it was! I laid down a few blobs on a paper towel, let them sit for more than one hour, than painted using them.
How to make oil paint firmer for wet on wetSo, if you still can’t get the hang of it yourself, here is how to make oil paint stiffer for wet on wet! Make sure you don’t leave blobs on the towel too long, or you’ll end up with them being unusable. It all comes down to your brand: Winsor & Newton’s WInton paints are claimed to be firmer, and better suited for this technique (I just ordered some tubes, still waiting for them). On the other hand, Talens Rembrandt and Van Gogh  seem to be excessively oily (My yellow and red here).

For your interest, starting from the bottom left, I have burnt sienna, alizarin crimson, ultramarine blue, nickel azo yellow, scarlet lake, mars black, yellow ochre, titanium while.
I wanted to test the new consistency out on a full scale painting, and here is what I came up with!

Peaceful Stream

Yes, there are plenty of mistakes 😀 As always! I first started out with swatches made with the Gamut Masking Method, but ran out of them and made a real mess trying to match the right colors again. Those greens on the trees are outside my gamut! And the trees themselves went a bit over where I wanted, covering an excessive part of the river and side hills… but oh, well! That is it!

I will post and update soon on gamut masking and color mixing!

p.s. I added phthalo blue and lemon yellow to my previous palette, and almost didn’t use mars black and ultramarine for this


Yet again, Wet on Wet Oils Landscapes!

Got a bigger canvas, which unfortunately was not stretched decently enough to try out a big painting. I didn’t want to trash it of course, so I took a chance and made a couple of other small wet-on-wet sketches. I had a reference image for the first 2, while other ones are totally from imagination (and I guess it’s noticeable!). Also, the new canvas (first 3 pictures) has a really nasty tooth which I don’t like at all.

Wet On Wet Oils landscape exercise 1Wet On Wet Oils landscape exercise 2

Wet On Wet Oils landscape exercise 3

Wet On Wet Oils landscape exercise 4


Also, Nickel Azo Yellow seems to be mixing a bit better with ultramarine (last one), while lemon yellow appears to be too weak, losing its tinting properties when mixed with white (first and third).