Catchword Summary of the 5 WaterColour Steps

STEPS 1 - 5

1. Plan
2. White Areas
3. Initial Washes
4.Full Washes
5. Darks & Highlights

Here is a composite exercise showing the progress of a landscape in its 5 stages:

Landscape sequence showing the steps

In many cases the whole painting can be built up using the sequence as it is, but sometimes you might have to complete certain segments of the painting independent of other sections.    In that case you will have to build up the particular isolated section with the 5 steps, before going on with the rest of the painting.    An obvious example of this would be when one , for instance, paints the foliage of a tree using the wet-in-wet technique.    Here one would wet the entire foliage area and drop-in the full range of desired colours, even the shaded darks on the one side, before going on with the rest of the picture.

The first sample 'Step' Exercise

You can follow the steps in the following cottage (which I also do as my first basic demo on the Oils C D ), or you can find your own image of a building / cottage and do that.
Steps 1- 5

It is easier to paint a subject with strong outlines, than to paint, for instance, a sea scene or a forest scene, where the various colours, shades, tones and energies merge nebulously into one another. A simple cottage scene is a fair task to begin with, as the format is relatively formal and uncluttered. In my student years towards the end of the 60's I often painted in Ida's Valley, Stellenbosch, and this is a cottage there that I photographed recently. I think it is the (much-altered) same dwelling that I painted on a few occasions in my student days.

Old cottages in Ida's Valley, Stellenbosch.

I will use my imagination and do a relatively free interpretation of the subject, drawing on my experiences from painting in many villages throughout the country, and hopefully I will capture the timelessness of life in rural settlements. I will paint the picture on a stretched piece of 185 gsm Arches paper, and the drawing was done with a 4b Faber-Castell pencil.


The drawing from step 1 has had its 'white areas' marked with a X

Once you have completed the drawing in step 1, you must analyse what areas you must preserve as white. For demo purposes I have marked them extra visibly with a X, but there would be no harm if you also made some light pencil indications as a reminder. Remember that you can, and must, always rub out excess pencil lines through the paint on the completed painting, where they need rubbing out. Some of the pencil lines might enhance the work, so leave them.

A note on masking fluid:    In section 6 I handle the uses of masking fluid, which is a latex rubberised solution that you can paint over portions of your paper to form a protective seal over that chosen area. It dries quickly, and you can paint over it as it protects what lies beneath. Once it has served its purpose, you can rub it off with your (clean!) Finger, or with an eraser. So, for e.g. you could mask out the white areas in this image to preserve them. But I suggest you leave the masking fluid until the later sections.


Step 3 - light washes over the painting

Apply light washes over everything that isn't going to be white. See details and expansive notes on the 'wash' in Section 4


Step 4 - full washes over the light washes

In certain areas above the light initial washes from step 3 did not need any further washes over them - e.g. the sky, and portions of the shade on the walls. In other areas it was necessary to add further strength, like in the trees, on the roof, and in the foreground.


Step 5, with the darks added.

Remember that to get a committed dark you can mix Winsor blue with indian red

That takes us to the end of our first basic step by step example. Click on the button below to go to the main selection of 26 step-by-step examples.

Copyright 2003 Dale Elliott.