Michele Webber

In the Studio with Michele Webber

"Snape, Suffolk" Watercolour Painting Step by Step:

About this article:

This step by step is merely to give you an insight into my working methods and the choices I make as a painting progresses; it is not a detailed instruction of how to paint the picture. There is no right or wrong way to paint this scene and no right or wrong choice of colours, every artist will make different decisions.

The copyright of the photograph and the painting are mine, however if you want to paint your own version of the photo for practice/study I am happy for you to do that. However if you publish it on the internet, enter it for a competition etc kindly accredit the original image to me. If you enjoy this step by step you may wish to ‘like’ my Facebook page HERE to see more of the same.

1. Choosing the photo: 

Looking through old photos I was struck by this one for several reasons, firstly the amazing colour combination, and secondly an enduring memory of completely screwing up painting a very similar view years ago. I have a short attention span so when something goes wrong I rarely try again, preferring to move onto something new. However, time has passed so I decide to give it another go. I like the perspective moving into the distance, and I like the pinkish hue to the light (although this is less obvious after printing the photo than on my computer screen.)

Snape Watercolour Step by Step 1

2. Drawing: 

In order to get a completely flat horizon I use a t-square for a guide, then drew the rest by eye, taking great care to avoid any ‘uphill’ water and keep everything horizontal. The fence on the path will be very important in leading the eye in. People often bring distant trees to close in pictures like this, the brain will always trick the eye as it knows these things are large.

Snape Watercolour Step by Step 2

3. Sky and water, initial washes: 

I reach for my favourite colour, Cerulean Blue, and also some Quinachridone Rose, a blue based pink, both Talens Rembrandt (my usual brand - I do have a few other colours in my box by different manufacturers though).  This will give the sky a delicate light blue colour and warm it up with some pink towards the horizon. Although these colour choices were instinctive, I did pull out the hand-painted charts with all my colours in just to double check. I squeezed some fresh paint out and have decided to make the sky a little more interesting with some soft clouds. I wet the areas first and work quickly with a huge brush, swapping to a smaller one for the edges; reasonably happy so far. You can see from the photo the paper buckles badly at this point, but because I am working on stretched paper all will be fine.

Snape Watercolour Step by Step 3

4. Cloud shadows and lightest areas:

I start by adding a line of SAA Primrose Yellow along the horizon, later on it will have some darks around it. This is a rather opaque colour, more like a gouache, and I want that softness to the picture. I am fairly happy with the sky but just want a few cloud shadows, I wet them individually and carefully put the soft shadows in with a mix of Talens Paynes Grey and Quinacridone Rose. Next I want to lay down some light areas for the path, I use Talens Raw Umber onto wet surface. The last thing I do here is to pick out some light reeds at the front of the painting in Daniel Smith Quinacridone Gold, a very transparent colour. I could mask them but will probably just paint round them like I usually do.

Snape Watercolour Step by Step 4

5. Yellow Reeds:

The yellow reeds are the most dramatic part of this painting, I need to capture the brightness of the colour without overdoing things. I choose Talens Cadmium Yellow Deep and add touches of the Raw Umber and also some tiny accents of Talens Light Red Oxide, also using this colour for the reed heads in the foreground.

Snape Watercolour Step by Step 5

6. Path texture with splattering:

Before I go any further with the foreground I want to get some texture built up on the pathway. I mask the whole painting leaving only the path area on show, with a little extra each side. I am careful to roughly tear the mask paper here so I don’t end up with any odd straight lines where the splattered areas end. I stick the paper down in a few places (just to itself and the edges of the board) with masking tape. Firstly I get an old toothbrush and splatter with some Frisk Pink masking fluid. Towards the front of the painting I make some bigger marks with the brush directly tapped onto the paper, I want the texture to get naturally smaller as it recedes into the distance. Once this is dry I leave it in place and splatter with some darker paint, just a selection of the colours I have already used, still keeping the overall impression fairly light. Next I put a slightly darker wash over the path (watery Paynes Grey and Raw Umber), fading the edges out with clean water, I leave puddles of water on purpose to encourage back-runs for more texture. Then I leave it all to dry and remove the masking fluid.

Snape Watercolour Step by Step 6

7. Distant trees: 

I usually leave this part of the painting until the end but I feel a strange compunction to at least get something in so I can get an idea of the balance of the painting. I didn’t even sketch this part so I do that now and work with most of the colours I have already used in the painting to give a line of trees, distant fields and one tiny church tower. I am not certain that this is finished; I may add some more contrast to it at the end of the painting, but I need to get the foreground finished before making that decision.

Snape Watercolour Step by Step 7

8. Greens:

Now it is time to get the greens in. I don’t keep any ready mixed greens in my palette of about 30 colours, all greens are mixed from yellows and blues. As the colours in this painting are so bright I don’t want to go too vibrant with the greens, therefore I just add Talens Ultramarine Deep to my palette. Ultramarine has a touch of red in it so therefore will never make a very bright green. This is because blue (with red) added to yellow is a mix of all three primaries and that will push a colour towards neutral. I mix the more distant greens from the Primrose Yellow and Cerulean, adding Ultramarine and Cadmium Yellow Deep to the areas I want darker or further forward. I am using warm and cool, light and dark to mould the landscape. On the left hand shoreline I also add some Raw Umber as there is an area of silt like mud along the edge on both sides. For the dark bush behind the fence on the right of the painting I use Paynes Grey to mix my greens from, Paynes grey has a high proportion of Blue in so will make a muddy green when mixed with yellow. I also manipulate water levels to give little back-runs and soft edges that give the impression of foliage, without the need to paint it in detail.

Snape Watercolour Step by Step 8

9. Mud along the estuary edge: 

The next thing to do is put the line of mud along the edge of the water. I paint in between the reeds, alternating a hard and soft edge where appropriate. I use Raw Umber, cooling it down slightly with some Paynes Grey. In some brands this colour mix can lead to green, but the Talens Raw Umber doesn’t have too much yellow in so this isn’t a problem. (If this happens to you just add a little rose).

Snape Watercolour Step by Step 9

10. The fence by the path:

I am doing this in two parts, for the lightest areas I use the same mix as for the mud but making it greyer and lighter by adding water. Whilst I have the mix, I throw a little along the path to give an impression of shadows, I am keeping the contrasts light as it is not a bright sunny day so I don’t want strong shadows.

Snape Watercolour Step by Step 10

11. Water reflections:

I want to put some reflections in the water so I am going to use gum arabic to slow down the drying time and soften the shadows. I will put it all over the water even though I am not going to paint every part, because it dries shiny and I don’t want it looking patchy. The fact that gum Arabic leaves a shine on the paper is an advantage when it comes to water obviously. I drop some greens, some Raw Umber and some of the yellow into the water, also adding a few ripples in Ultramarine. I also add a little Ultramarine blue to the closest part of the water to darken it.

Snape Watercolour Step by Step 11

12. The fence by the path, darker parts:

I want to use a brownish purple for this so sticking to my limited colour palette I mix Raw Umber with Ultramarine and Quinacridone Rose to make a dark shade.

Snape Watercolour Step by Step 12

13. Final details:

Now it is just time to tidy up a few areas, bring up the tonal contrast and add a few final details. I put a few pebbles on the path, painting them individually and mixing a little white gouache with some of the colours lying around my palette. I want a bit of opacity to the pebbles so I am using gouache in a subtle way. A few more things to do: fill in a few leftover white areas around the fence post, increase the tonal contrast very slightly along the horizon and on the pathway. I am not happy with the light areas of the fence, they need to be slightly darker… finally a little watercolour pencil to get a hint of grass in the foreground and the edge of the path... 

Snape Watercolour Step by Step 13

The finished painting:

Materials and brands used listed below the picture:

Snape Watercolour Step by Step 14

Materials used:

 Daler Rowney Firm Putty Rubber

Kohinoor Pencil 5B

Saunders Waterford High White Paper 140lb NOT (stretched)

Watercolours (tubes):

Cerulean Blue (Talens Rembrandt)
Quinacridone Rose (Talens Rembrandt)
Raw Umber (Talens Rembrandt)
Cadmium Yellow Deep (Talens Rembrandt)
Ultramarine Deep (Talens Rembrandt)
Raw Umber (Talens Rembrandt)
Light Oxide Red (Talens Rembrandt)
Primrose Yellow (SAA Watercolour)
Quinacridone Gold (Daniel Smith)

Derwent Watercolour Pencils

Frisk Pink masking Fluid

Winsor and Newton Designers Gouache in White

Various brushes, mostly SAA Silver range


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