Painting landscapes doesn’t have to be labour-intensive or filled with too many colours to keep track of.

Anastasia Milly’s FREE landscape painting demo shows us how simple and fun watercolour can be, even when using a limited palette! Let’s get right to it then, shall we?

Step 1: Prep and Skies 

As always, the first thing to do is to make sure you have your workstation and tools prepped and ready to go.

This includes a 9” x 12” or A4-sized block of cold press watercolour paper (300gsm, and 100% cotton as we’ll be using a lot of water), artist’s or masking tape, paint palette, a pencil, large mop brush and a size 4 or 6 round brush, 2 containers of water, paper towels or clean rag, and paints.

The limited palette we’ll use consists of sodalite genuine, burnt umber, raw umber, Payne’s grey, buff titanium, transparent red oxide, sepia, lunar blue, and cobalt teal blue. Additionally, a tube of white gouache paint for some final details at the end.

If you don’t have all these colours, feel free to mix or substitute other similar colours. Also, make sure to spray your paints with some water before using them! It helps “wake them up” and make them flow better when painting.

Once you’re set-up, stick a strip of artist’s tape a third of the way down from the top of your paper. This top third will be the area above the horizon line, which we’ll work on first. 

Bonus tip: If you want a white border around your painting, you can also tape the edges of your paper, but make sure to do it before you add the additional strip of tape mentioned above!

Next, use your large mop brush to wet this area, and start dropping in some sodalite genuine paint for the sky while the paper is still wet. Use gentle brushstrokes that curve diagonally upwards while making sure to leave some space for the clouds and island.

Add a few strokes of diluted burnt umber as well to give the sky a little contrast.

Tip: You’ll be using these 2 colours throughout the whole painting, which will give it more harmony in its overall look.

Step 2: A Lonely Island

For the island area, use buff titanium to brush across the horizon line level, then switch to Payne’s grey to paint the island itself. You’ll want to do all this while the paper is still wet, as you want the paint to bloom upwards.

Strengthen the colour near the bottom of the island with more Payne’s grey and some sodalite genuine, so the top part of the island is lighter than the bottom.

Lastly, use a clean, damp brush to “lift” out some of the paint, so the island doesn’t end up touching the sky, plus to tidy up the edge of the island a little.

You can also lift out paint from the side of the island facing the sun, giving it a little more depth.

Bonus tip: Anastasia emphasises the importance of having quality paper here, as good paper doesn’t dry as quickly, giving you time to work on all these wet-in-wet techniques. It also doesn’t warp as much, so don’t skimp out on the paper!

Once you’re done, leave this area to dry. You can use a hairdryer to speed up the process!

Step 3: Watery Seas

When the top third of your painting is dry, move your masking/artist’s tape so that the tape goes along the top of the horizon line. You can leave a thin strip of white like Anastasia did, though I didn’t in my painting.

Again, wet the sea area with clean water before adding lunar blue to the wet surface, starting from the horizon line to the bottom. Use quick and large horizontal strokes, leaving some white areas for the reflective water.

Tip: Lunar blue is a blue with a bit of green in it, but if you don’t have it, just add a touch of dark green to Payne’s grey or something similar.

Brush in some cobalt teal blue for a more glacial watercolour, and add sodalite genuine as well to again tie in this colour to the whole painting. Add the island’s reflection in the water as well using your darker blues, though don’t make it as dark as the island itself.

Step 4: Land Ahoy!

Switch to a more saturated burnt umber mixed with raw umber, and paint in the land area to the right. Make the land jut out into the water in an uneven, random manner, with the bottom right area fading out to almost white. 

Next, drop in some sepia in the shadowed edges of the landmass. Allow the colours to blend and mingle on paper! You can also drop in some areas of transparent red oxide to give the foreground a pop of colour, and again, add some small areas of sodalite genuine for harmony. 

Tip: This whole area should be done while your paper is still damp, so there should be some bleeding but not too much. If your paper is dry before you start painting, you can rewet the whole area again with clean water first. If your paper is too wet, either wait a minute or lift out the excess water with a paper towel or rag.

As you did with the island in the background, lift out the paint in the areas where light is hitting the most using a clean paintbrush.

Once you’re satisfied with how your land turned out, let the whole painting dry before moving on to the next step. 

Step 5: Autumn Tree

Now for the “main event” – painting the focal point of the painting! Use a pencil to sketch in the tree trunks – one for the full tree and another for a broken tree. Try to sketch it without erasing, as using an eraser here may affect the paper and paint underneath. 

Try to stagger your branches and make them look naturally crooked. You can practice a few times on scrap paper before drawing on your painting if you want.

Note: You’ll notice that this is the first time we sketched in pencil before painting. Anastasia prefers doing this for most landscape paintings, as she likes giving herself the freedom to paint without preconceived borders. It’s also good to let the paint do its own thing, too! For this reason, she calls watercolour the most “fun and freeing” type of paint.

When you’re done, wet the leafy area with clean water before dabbing in some transparent red oxide for the leaves. You want the paint to bloom outwards, but if it’s not working too well, you can try to coax the paint to certain areas.

Try your best to make it look like natural foliage and drop-in areas with more saturated red oxide for more intense colour in certain parts. Drop-in sepia for the shadows and sodalite genuine again for harmony.

You can also use raw umber and even a bit of yellow ochre to help make the tree stand out more!

While the paint is still wet, switch to your small round brush or any brush that has a thin and sharp point to paint the tree trunks. Anastasia uses a needlepoint brush for this, but as long as your brush comes to a very fine point, it’s okay.

With this brush, use some saturated sepia, and paint the branches by starting from the bottom of the foliage and “pulling” the pigment down to the ground.

Wiggle your brush a little while you paint to create that crooked line, and keep your lines thin at the top but wider at the bottom. Paint enough branches so that the leaves have enough support before painting the broken tree trunk to the right.

To finish off the tree, add some sepia for the tree’s shadow, using a clean damp brush to smooth out the bottom part and make the shadow look more gradual. 

Step 6: Final Details

We're almost done! We just need to add a few details. First are some grassy areas along the edges of the landmass. Use whatever browns there are in your palette, and start from some shorter grass in the back.

Work your way towards the front while varying the browns you use and angling and bunching the grass together in a random way.

For the foxtails and grass at the very front, use a diluted burnt umber for a few lighter strands, then switch to a more saturated brown for some longer stalks. To paint the bushy foxtails, wet the area with clean water before dropping in a raw and burnt umber mixture.

You can add a few loose strands of fur as well, but make sure your brush’s tip is pointed enough to do so.

Add some texture to the ground by picking up a lot of watery sepia paint and tapping your paintbrush against your pencil to create some paint splatter. Use a sheet of scrap paper to cover the areas of water, as you don’t want your splatter to end up there.

If you do end up getting some splatter in unwanted areas, you can quickly lift it out with a clean brush or paper towel.

For the sun, pencil in a circle in the sky, then break out your white gouache paint to fill it in. To get the effect of a cloud partially obscuring the sun, use a clean damp brush to lift out the paint where the cloud covers the sun. 

Lastly, with more white gouache and water, add more paint splatters to the landmass area, again to add even more texture and to tie in this colour to another part of the painting. And if you’re happy with your painting, go ahead and sign it!

That includes this quick and fun landscape painting! I hope you got at least a few takeaways from this demo. If you loved Anastasia's style, I highly recommend that you check out her 90-minute art class! Regardless, here’s to a good painting session, and I’ll see you in the next one!

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Nicola Tsoi is a practicing graphic designer and illustrator based in Hong Kong. During her downtime, she likes to watch birds do funny things, search for stories, and bake up a storm. She keeps a pet sourdough starter named Doughy. 

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