When you’re outside painting en plein air, it can be tricky to condense a busy scene into a painting that you can finish in time before the light changes. Even if the light stays consistent, people and animals in your scene will likely move around, so it’s in your best interest to paint quickly.

Luckily, watercolour dries quickly enough to paint a scene before it’s too late! All you need to know are a few techniques for speed painting that Maximo Damico kindly demonstrated in his Live Demo with us. Let’s paint along!

Step 1: Sketch the Scene

When you’re sketching the composition, there’s no need for perfection - just loosely block in the big shapes of the buildings. Simplify as many things as possible.

Compared to the reference photo, Maximo visibly decreased the number of windows in the largest building. Plein air painting is all about capturing the essence of a scene rather than meticulously capturing every last minute detail.

Step 2: The Sky

We will do something counterintuitive but nice and dynamic for the sky here. Rather than doing it all as one colour, we’re going to wet the page and then try this: Mix a grey out of the primary colours of your choice, then splotch it along in rough vertical sections.

Fill in the remainders with splotches of blue and splashes of red. The clouds will turn out nice and busy. Everybody’s result here will be different because everybody’s paint, hand, and air humidity are different.

Step 3: Starting the Buildings

As you can see here, plein air is not an exact working style. Using the wet-on-wet technique, splash on the colours you see in the buildings, varying the pigment to water ratio, depending on how dark the colour needs to be. Doing this will be your painting’s “ugly stage,” so be kind to it and love it no matter what.

Step 4: More Architecture

Allow each layer to dry properly before adding more paint or water to your buildings. We are using varying greens and browns to create a warm and earthy atmosphere for this scene. The roofs of the buildings can bleed into the walls to automatically create shadows, saving you time while painting on site.

Again, keep the windows very simple, reducing them to just a few brushstrokes each once the paint on the walls has completely dried. Work on another area of the painting while waiting for one area to dry.

Step 5: Roads

Do some rough brushstrokes in your grey that you mixed out of the primaries for the road. Having them all go towards the centre in the back will add perspective and create the impression of a road without taking a lot of time to render it.

Step 6: Depth and Figures

By painting a significant dark edge along the left side, you’ll create the impression of a building super close in the foreground, and that will add more depth still to the road scene.

To paint figures, start by adding their faces in orange with just dots. People in plein air sketches don’t need to be precise like the buildings. They move too much!

Step 7: Details in Dark Grey

Draw the people's bodies and some more architectural details in the foreground using the wet-on-dry technique and a more condensed and saturated version of the primary mixture grey. Tinting it bluish will match my result more, although I encourage you to follow your intuition when choosing colours.

Step 8: Shadows

To suggest the warmth of summer, we will make the shadows a bit warm tinted. Use the same mixture from the previous step and tint it more reddish-brown.

By adding some shadows coming in from the unseen foreground, you’ll expand the picture’s universe beyond the bounds of the paper.

Step 9: Highlights

By using some white gouache or white watercolour (white watercolour is often opaque compared to the other colours), add some highlights back into awnings or other areas where you want to leave light in. As with everything else, this can be imprecise and splotchy since it’s the overall impression we’re going for and not an exact architectural drawing.

Step 10: Examine

At this point, you’ll want to examine your picture from a distance to see if anything needs some final touches before you declare it finished. Sometimes, it’s easy to get bogged down in details and not pay attention to how the work looks as a whole. If everything looks good, peel off the tape and enjoy your picture!

If you got as much value from Maximo’s Live Demo as I did, check out his 90-minute art class! You’ll learn even more about how to simplify your reference to paint its bare essence. Also, you can subscribe to our email newsletter for updates on new instructors and products! Happy painting!

Elsa Wahlstrom is an illustrator/writer living in the south Idaho hill country. She loves to create cozy, homey pictures and populate them with funny little creatures having surreal little adventures. Her biggest inspiration is the music and comedy that came out of England in the late 60s. When she’s not busy making art, she goes for long hikes, plays a few instruments, and collects vinyl.

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