One major thing that draws a painter to watercolour is how light and ethereal the clouds often look in well-made watercolour paintings. It takes practice to achieve this look, and there are numerous techniques to try!

Eleanor Mill has an approach that I haven’t seen anywhere else, and, likely, you haven’t seen too many people do it either, so in this post, we’ll be recreating a painting she made in a FREE Demo to understand her method better.

Step 1: The Sketch

As with nearly all watercolour paintings, this one begins with a light and minimal sketch in graphite. Don’t press hard or overdraw anything because most of the rendering is in paint.

Step 2: Wetting the Page

Now, I usually wouldn’t consider wetting the page a step in and of itself because when the instructions say “use the wet-on-wet technique”, it’s easy to understand that you’re meant to wet the page at that point.

But this technique is different! Turn the paper upside down. Then, soak the back of it with a big brush and allow the water to seep in for a few minutes.

As Eleanor points out, the time it takes to soak the page fully will depend on your local weather and the type of paper you have.

Once the paper has fully soaked, you’ll notice that the front side feels lightly damp and cold, and also, the paper will suction to the table with ease, and you won’t need to tape it down. Why this technique isn’t more widespread is beyond me, it’s so convenient!

Step 3: Negative Space Painting

Now, it is time to paint the negative space around the clouds to give the image some more definition. We have a wonderful class on the negative painting technique if you want to learn more about it. 

I went ahead and used Sky Blue out of the Etchr Watercolour 24 Half Pan Set. Eleanor suggests this colour, although she uses a different set of watercolours for her own piece. You can leave a few gaps in the blue if you want to suggest smaller clouds fragmenting off of the big ones.

You’ll notice that the paint does what it’s told similarly to wet-on-dry, but it’s soft enough at the edges and slow enough to dry that it’s as forgiving as wet-on-wet. This is truly the happy medium we’ve all been longing for!

Step 4: Cloud Detail

Now here is where my colour palette begins to deviate from Eleanor’s slightly. Since my blue was far brighter and warmer than hers, I used warmer colours for the rest of the picture.

The techniques are still essentially the same. The first thing Eleanor does with the clouds is place a bit of water along the edges, allowing the sky to spill into those areas just slightly to add shadows naturally.

Then, she wets the interior part of the page and goes in with slightly warmer colours to create the storm cloud shadows. You want to keep this part of the painting soft and subtle, but you can go darker than you think you can.

Step 5: Starting the Ground

Using a mixture of green and your previously used colours, paint the ground and suggest the road and the trees in the background.

If your page is as wet as mine still was at this point, you will have some trouble, so it’s probably best to wait it out or get your hairdryer for just a moment to get things dry enough for a bit more control.

Step 6: Details

Once again, Eleanor’s page dried a bit more quickly than mine did, so my timing was off when I added in these details.

When the page has dried overnight, and I’m confident that the pigment isn’t going anywhere, I can rewet the back of the page once again and do more layers on this if I want to deepen the shadows in the hedges and roadsides.

Once the page is wet enough, there’s only so much pigment it will accept without having to dry and be rewet to start a new layer. Ideally, for these details at the end, your page will still be a bit damp but not as wet as mine was.

Having it wet will give you a nice definition of the details of the castle as well as some lovely suggestions of grass on the edges of the road.

At the end, I decided to add another layer of green over some of the grass, to suggest a gently rolling terrain and to balance the saturation level out with the sky somewhat. You’ll be the best judge of your finishing details because they’re relative to how your painting looks after your individual process and results.

If you found this technique as mind-blowing and incredible as I did, head on over to Eleanor’s 90-minute art class! Also, to stay updated on more instructors like her, subscribe to our email newsletter!

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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