Painting Demo

Somesville Bridge, Original watercolor painting by Beth Whitney |

"Lupine on Cape Rosier"

Step 1. Start with a great reference photo


The first step is to find an inspiring reference photo. I prefer to use digital pictures because I can resize and crop before printing so they are in proportion to my watercolor paper. I also often print detailed portions of the scene (e.g., the house and lupine) so that I can see the details clearly. Having my tablet nearby also helps see details in more vivid color than in print materials.

It's important to decide right up front which elements should stay and which should go. Think about this before you begin drawing. The lupine in this photo isn't at its best, so I will enhance it with fresh blooms. I'll also add sailboats to the horizon to add depth and interest to the left side of the painting. The house will look better with an open summer porch, allowing the sea breeze to flow through, so I'll modify that as well.

I use blue painter's tape to affix the paper to an art board. As this will be a full-sheet painting, I'll use 300lb Arches cold-press paper with a 24x36" plexiglass support. Some artists soak and staple their paper, but with paper this heavy, tape works fine for me and the paper doesn't buckle.

Step 2.  Drawing, lupine, & masking fluid


I carefully drew the picture directly on the paper using a mechanical pencil/eraser. This is probably my least favorite part of the process because it is so time consuming and boring, but it is well-worth it. I took care to arrange the flowers with varying heights and angles for a more natural effect.

I applied several very fine glazes of Permanent Rose, Permanent Violet, Winsor Red, and French Ultramarine Blue to the lupine petals. Next, I painted the leaves with a few thin glazes of Compose Green and New Gamboge Yellow. I'll do more detailed work on both of these areas later, but it's important to get the first few layers on the paper to help balance the rest of the painting.

Once this has dried, I applied a generous coat of masking fluid over the petals and leaves to preserve the original colors when I paint the water. Preserving the whites around the petals will make them seem more translucent as the sun moves through them.

I also added masking fluid to the sailboats in the distance, white edges of the house, the flag, and the steps leading to the beach.

Step 3. Water, sky, & trees


I applied a mixture of Cobalt, Cerulean, and French Ultramarine with a wet in wet technique for the sky area. Working quickly, I used a damp paper towel to remove some of the paint to make cloud formations. It's important not to go back into the wet paint with additional color until it has dried or you will risk blossoms. (These look interesting with foliage, but never in the sky!)

I applied the same color mixture to the water area. Watercolor always dries much lighter than it looks when wet, so plan on a number of layers in the water (letting the paper dry in between). You'll notice that because I masked out the lupine petals and leaves, I was able to freely paint over them.

I added lots of dark color to the lupine leaves, mainly Sap Green, Compose Green, and French Ultramarine. The dark color will give the illusion of depth when I remove the masking fluid and it's easier to use a big brush and cover the space in a wet on wet technique (paint blossoms are really cool in foliage). Salt applied to the wet paper adds an interesting bit of contrast.

I next approach the trees, using Sap Green, Compose Green, Yellow Ochre, New Gamboge Yellow, Burnt Sienna, and French Ultramarine in a wet on wet technique. Keeping lots of white paper in between branches makes the trees seem airier, as the sun highlights the branches.

Step 4. Sky and water highlights, grassy areas


Once the pines were dry, I painted the smaller trees behind the gazebo. I applied the first wash of Raw Umber and Compose Green on the grassy areas.

I removed the masking fluid from the lupine leaves and part of the petals (well below the water line) because I couldn't stand the suspense. Also, seeing the real colors enabled me to determine how much I should darken the water. This took several layers to get just the right shade of blue so that it worked with the lupine rather than against it.

Once the water was dry, I used a small bristle brush to scrub highlights into the water. The horizontal highlights make the water seem more level and push it well behind the vertical lupine, creating depth.

I then touched up the sky, using the same bristle brush to scrub softness into some of the clouds. I also added more Cobalt to deepen the blue around the clouds. (I highly recommend doing any sky work in natural daylight because it will always be more realistic.)

I painted the flag, gazebo, and chimney to give some definition to the house. I also filled in some of the steps color so that they don't immediately pop out of the picture. (It's a good idea to leave details for the viewer to discover as they inspect the final, framed painting. This may be a squirrel, bird, blowing window curtain, or some other unexpected detail that quietly adds life to the scene.)

Step 5. House, shoreline, water details; final painting


I painted the details of the house, which really made the painting come to life. I used the striking contrast between the crisp white house, black roof, and red gazebo to create the focal point of the painting.

I darkened the land in the distance with Payne's Gray and Raw Umber for greater contrast with the sailboats just in front. Once this dried, I removed the masking fluid to reveal the crisp white sails.

I added subtle details to the rocks and the beach, once again using Payne's Gray and Raw Umber (salting generously for texture). I chose not to be particularly precise in these areas because I wanted the viewer's eye to move from the top of the lupine to the gazebo and house. Adding too many overt details in between would be too distracting.

I finished by adding a blend of Payne's Gray and French Ultramarine to define the ripples in the water.

Step 6. Framed print of "Lupine on Cape Rosier."

(Matted prints are available in my shop on Etsy).

Framed painting, "Lupine on Cape Rosier" on a windowsill beside a vase of ferns.