Watercolor Tutorial: Painting A Cottage In A Storm
Step-by-step tutorial for capturing dramatic light effects
For me, one of the pleasures of watercolour painting is how the medium produces unexpected effects. The paint drifts and bleeds, and when it dries it always looks a little different to how you expect. In this way, the artist must always be on the lookout for the benefits of serendipity — and embrace them when they come.
Being (slightly) out of control like this lends itself to certain subjects above others. A stormy day on a countryside hill provides no better context for watercolour paint to do its best unruly work.
For this painting, I found an image of a farmhouse as the basis. This would provide the central point-of-interest in the work; the rest of the painting would be imagined.
My idea was to make the cottage a lonely object on a hillside with the oncoming storm rising up behind it. The emphasis would be on effects of light and atmosphere. Tonal values would be important, paying attention to the relative amounts of light and dark in the painting.
I began by sketching out the rough composition in pencil. Since I use a heavyweight 640gsm cotton rag paper, I don’t need to stretch the paper beforehand. That’s one of the reasons I like it.
Once the sketch was complete, I used some masking fluid to mark the outline of four birds in the sky. The idea was that the masking fluid would preserve the white of the paper before applying the sky wash. Then, once the paint had dried, the fluid could be rubbed off to reveal the contrasting white of the bird’s shapes.
Then I laid down a couple of quick washes, the first to the lower half of the paper in burnt sienna and yellow ochre; the second of Prussian Blue (with the occasional dab of black mixed in) for the beginnings of the sky.
I then worked to build up the storm effect. There’s no easy way to describe this part, except to say that I worked fairly quickly and with an experimental approach.
Painting wet-in-wet is a good way of creating weather effects. Wet-in-wet is when you add more paint to the paper before the existing paint has dried. This way, the paint tends to diffuse together, creating interesting effects. Tilting the paper as the paint dries is a good way of maneuvering the paint after you’ve applied it to the paper.
You can use more or less degrees of contrast to heighten or soften the drama. In my case, I added heavy undiluted paint to the wet paper to get these bold flows of colour.
Once the sky area was dry, I began to paint in the details of the farmhouse cottage. I always planned to go dark with the cottage to suggest it was being engulfed by the storm, so I painted the rooftops in black and then added a simple wash of yellow ochre — a little muddied with black — to fill in the outer walls.
Next, with more or less the same colours, I painted in the wall running in front of the house. Now the landscape was beginning to come together.
Painting the foreground was a matter of laying down paint in a spontaneous way. Since the focal point of the image was the farmhouse, I thought the foreground ought not to contain too much detail. So I sloshed and scraped the paint on, sometimes using the wrong-end of the brush to scour into the paint.
I was looking to creative a general impression of texture rather than anything specific. My only principle was to keep the colours darker as they approached the field wall. This would ensure the focus of the work always led towards the centre of the image.
The final stage was probably the most enjoyable. Here I added in some winter trees on either side of the farmhouse and also painted in the windows and door of the main building.
Finally, I carefully rubbed away the masking fluid to reveal the white birds in the sky, then added a few more birds just to the right for contrast.
There are no hard and fast rules with watercolour, and different materials will yield different results. For reference, the materials I used for this painting are as follows:
- 640gsm cotton rag paper: This is a fairly heavy paper that doesn’t crinkle when wet. That’s my preference. Anything above 300gsm should be good.
- 3 brushes of varying size (see photo below)
- Prussian blue
- Ultramarine blue
- Burnt sienna
- Yellow ochre
- Burnt umber
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