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Build Atmosphere in a Watercolor Landscape Painting: A Demo

The interplay of warm and cool colors sets the temperature and builds atmosphere in a landscape painting.

By Catherine Hillis

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Color temperature refers to how warm or cool a color is, depending on where it’s situated on the color wheel. Colors in the yellow, orange, and red spectrum are warm, while colors in the green, blue and violet spectrum are cool. When I paint the sky in a watercolor landscape painting, I rarely use blue paint straight from the tube because the result can be a very cold color. The sun reflects warmth on everything below, even on the coldest winter day. Observe the sky on a sunny day, and you might see that it is quite warm along the horizon and would best be replicated with a warm underwash of yellow and rose. These two colors create orange, and orange and blue are complements, which makes for color harmony in a painting.

The Colors of the Sky

The chart above, which features BLICK Artist Watercolors, shows a column of blue paint colors with the corresponding complement or near complement next to it, and various mixtures. In the third column, 30 percent of the complement is added to the blue to create a warm dark blue. The fourth column shows a gray created with a 50:50 mix of the complements. The blue mixtures in the last column have 5 percent of the complement mixed in, creating a beautiful warm sky color.

Demo

Farm on the Hill (watercolor) by Catherine Hillis

For my landscape, Farm on the Hill, I used BLICK Artists’ Watercolors, which I find to be full-bodied with a lovely granular quality.

Step 1

I started the painting with the sky, using Cerulean Blue, Cobalt Blue and Sepia.

Step 2

For the warm tones in the landscape, I used Sepia, English Red and Raw Umber in very small amounts, probably 10 percent or less. The muted background was painted with Cerulean Blue, Manganese Blue, Cobalt Blue, Raw Umber, English Red and Sepia.

Step 3

The shadows were painted with Cobalt, Ultramarine, Indian Red and Burnt Sienna.

Tip

It’s easier to make a warm color cool when painting than it is to make a cool color warm. Underwashes are a great way to build warm color temperature successfully.

Final

In the foreground, I used all of the above colors, plus some Lemon Yellow and Transparent Orange, to complete Farm on the Hill.


To build your palette of sky colors and to find supplies to meet all your watercolor needs, visit DICKBLICK.COM.

Don’t forget to showcase your next art masterpiece by entering Artists Network’s premier Splash competition, sponsored by Blick!

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