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Medium: Watercolor
Category: Landscape

This demonstration is from the book, "Creating Nature in Watercolor: An Artist's Guide" by Cathy Johnson, published by North Light Books, an imprint of F + W Publications. Reprinted with permission of the publisher. All steps included.

Hidden Falls, Poconos by Cathy Johnson
Watercolor on Fabriano cold-pressed watercolor paper, 9" x 12" (23cm x 30cm)

When I found this beautiful little waterfall deep in the Pennsylvania Poconos, I couldn't resist painting on the spot. I had gone out expecting to paint something entirely different, but the sound of falling water downstream drew me, and I had to give it a try. Time was all too short, so first I did a thumbnail then a larger value sketch so that I'd have a framework if I ran out of time--which I did!


SURFACE - Fabriano cold-pressed watercolor block

PIGMENTS - Burnt Sienna, Cadmium Yellow Medium (optional), Payne's Gray, Phthalo Blue, Transparent Yellow, Ultramarine Blue

BRUSHES - 1/2-inch (13mm), 1-inch (25mm) flat; no. 6 round

OTHER MATERIALS - Brushed-tipped pens in shades of gray; natural sponge; masking fluid

Reference Photo

The spot was idyllic and primal. The waterfall sparkled and roared, the rocks were acid-green with moss, and I felt as if I were miles and millennia away from civilization. It was the perfect place to paint!

Thumbnail Sketch When considering a complex subject like this--especially one where I know I won't have time to finish--I find preplanning sketches like this thumbnail are a big help.
Value Sketch A quick pencil sketch let me get the bones of the scene down on paper. Then I added a range of values using brush-tipped pens in shades of gray.

1 Lay in Washes
Working as quickly as I could, I transferred my sketch to my Fabriano watercolor block by eye and laid in the first washes, keeping values light in the background and painting around white areas. I used a 1-inch (25mm) flat for these largest areas.

I mostly used Transparent Yellow, Phthalo Blue and Burnt Sienna. You can mix a wonderful range of greens with just these three colors (substitute Cadmium Yellow Medium if you prefer).

The waterfall itself was a riot of color. The pure white of the falling water, shaded areas that varied from pale to a medium gray-blue, earth tones where the color of the rock showed through and wonderful reflections from the sky and trees. I pushed the color, emphasizing these differences, because I wanted this area to really sparkle. At that point I ran out of time and had to settle for taking an array of resource photos.

2 Add Midtones
Later, back at home when I could get my photos developed, I continued painting. Here I've added the midtones in the greens and more distant trees, just suggesting the shapes of trunks and branches in the shadow areas of the background. I used a 1/2-inch (13mm) flat for the broader areas and a no. 6 round for the trees and branches.

You need to use a stronger value and more detail on the trees on the left to give them their proper importance. I paid more attention to the bark patterns on the big leaning birch, letting my brush follow thhe rounded shape, and included more details.

The rocks are mostly Burnt Sienna and Phthalo Blue, with a little stronger mix of Transparent Yellow to suggest the moss that grew abundantly in this moist environment.

3 Highlight and Accent
After masking some of the highlights in the water with masking fluid, I laid in stronger washes below the falls and in the shadowed areas where the water was less active. This is basically a mix of the same pigments, leaning more toward the Phthalo Blue. When those first layers were dry, I carefully removed the mask and softened some of the edges with clear water.

I've begun to add small, dark accents in the rocks and some of the branches, using a small round brush and a mixture of Burnt Sienna and Ultramarine Blue, with a little Payne's Gray in the darkest areas.

4 Finish
Check Shadows and Reflections

I referred to my photo resource to check shadows and reflections in the water and added them where needed. Using the deepest value I could mix, I applied the rest of the branches with the end of a sharpened stick. I painted the darker foliage at top with a natural sponge dipped into a deep green mixture comprised of Phthalo Blue and Burnt Sienna. I used a light touch so the rough, varied texture of the sponge wouuld act as my painting tool.

Hidden Falls, Poconos by Cathy Johnson
Watercolor on Fabriano cold-pressed paper, 9" x 12" (23cm x 30cm)

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Demonstration from Creating Nature in Watercolor: An Artist's Guide by Cathy Johnson and published by North Light Books,
an imprint of F + W Publications. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

Artwork and Text Copyright 2013 by Cathy Johnson. All Rights Reserved.

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