Tuition 11 x 15 ins


Sean uses watercolour to capture an iconic winter scene. This step-by-step instruction is from his book - Painting Watercolour Outdoors.

Thinking time and materials: This was a straight-forward distant mountains, loch, foreground composition, so I decided to keep the sky simple but moody. It was winter, so greys worked well in the sky. The trickiest part of the painting was putting in the mountain cloud, but we will get to that shortly. First things first. I wanted to limit my palette to no more than 7 colours – Payne’s Grey, French Ultramarine, Alizarin Crimson, Raw Sienna, Burnt Sienna, Sepia, and… Opaque White. I selected four brushes – No.12 Pro Arte Renaissance Mop, No.12 round, No. 8 round, and No.4 pointed round. I used Saunders Waterford 140lb paper, fixed to hardboard with masking tape.

STEP 1. After I’d sketched in the outline of the composition, I dampened the paper with clean water with my 3/4inch wash brush, where the sky would be. I then painted in a wash of Payne’s Grey straight out of the tube, starting at the top and adding a touch of water to weaken the mix as I moved to the mountain peaks. I also worked in some Ultramarine, a touch of Burnt Sienna at the top right, and a weak wash of Raw Sienna near the horizon. I had deliberately left some parts of the sky “dry” when I’d dampened the surface. These dry patches became small white clouds. I wanted the winter sky to blend and bleed, so I used my fingertips to move wet paint, blurring into some damp patches. The sky now had lost and found edges.

STEP 2. While the sky was still wet, I worked on the darker parts of the mountains. First, some weak watery Payne’s Grey along the ridges and slopes. I used the side of my no.8 round brush, gently applying paint. Feather touch! On the left hand group I added a stiffer mix of Burnt Sienna, and touches of Sepia. This was painted quickly, not returning to fuss if my marks were not exactly as the subject. I can’t stress this enough – it doesn’t matter if the shapes or mark making is different from nature. What does matter is fiddling. It will kill the freshness of the paint. Put it on quickly and decisively, and leave it alone!

STEP 3. I then painted in the tree line at the base of the central mountains with various mixes of Payne’s Grey and Ultramarine, and the far right lower mountain. That far right mix was stronger, but still watery. I varied the mix of these colours, too, which you will notice if you look closely at the far right lower mountain.

STEP 4. Now for the tricky bit! It’s a way to create mist or cloud effect as it crosses the mountain. It takes careful timing. While the sky was still damp, I worked quickly on the blue mountain, with a strong mixture of Ultramarine and a weaker mix of Payne’s Grey. Before I washed in the same Payne’s Grey mix just below, I left a gap of white paper. This gap was slightly dampened with clean water. The idea is to get the mix above and below this clean area bleeding gently into it. If you are successful, it will look as if a low cloud is obscuring part of the mountain. Beginners tend to add too much water to the clear area, which means the paint, bleeds everywhere.

STEP 5. I used Ultramarine and Alizarin Crimson and mixed up two different strengths of shadow colour. One cool, one warm. I then applied these quickly to the main mountain range, as well as the right hand, middle distance hill. I let the two mixes blend and bleed in places, avoiding tedium.

STEP 6. Choosing a no. 12 round brush, I moved on to the loch. I dampened the base of the mountain, where it met the loch, with a fine mist from my spray gun. I touch in a brush tipped with Raw Sienna, indicating a warm sunny glow on the water’s surface. I prepared a fairly stiff mixture of Sepia, with a touch of Ultramarine in one well of my palette, and in two more wells I mixed up the same mountain shadow colours.

STEP 7 -Next, I quickly sprayed clean water from the gun onto the white paper of the loch, in a left to right motion, about one foot from the paper – just one quick squirt. While still damp, I dropped in the shadow colour from the base of the mountain to the shore. I left areas untouched, so that the white of the paper showed through. As I got closer to the shore I weaken the mixture with clean water. I then painted in the stiffer mix of Sepia and Ultramarine, starting at the mountain base and working towards the shore. I let the two washes blend. Notice the left hand reflection is darker tonally.

STEP 8 – Once the loch had dried, I painted in the winter tree with a no.5 pointed round brush, using a fairly strong mixture of Payne’s Grey and Ultramarine. Beneath the tree, I established warmer tones. I used a weak mix of Burnt Sienna, and a little further along I splashed in some weak Raw Sienna, creating the effect of warm light dappling the shore.

STEP 9 – Finally, I repeated the mix of the mountain shadows, using Ultramarine and Alizarin Crimson. However, this mix was a lot stiffer. I applied it with a no.12 round brush, on its side, dragging it across the paper quickly, using a dry brush technique. Once this had dried, I washed in a weaker mix of the same colours, adding a touch of Payne’s Grey along the way. I used a strong mix of Payne's Grey, Sepia, and Ultramarine and a no.4 round brush to paint in the tree shadow, and then added a few touches of White on the branches of the tree itself to indicate snow. When the whole painting had dried to touch, I sprayed the entire painting with clean water from the spray gun – just three quick squirts… and then left it well alone.

Large version of the finished painting.