If you were here last week, you’ll recall our lesson on painting a monochromatic colour study before the finished piece. Now, we’re going to make the finished painting, and since we made that study first, it will be much easier.

Since we made this value study, we know some things about how the finished product should go. The lightest lights are the city lights in the distance, the darkest darks are the rocks and grass bits on the hill, and the section of hill that’s closest to us is going to be abruptly darker than the rest of the hill.

Seeing it all in one colour is so helpful. Now let’s start the final work.

Step 1: Sketch

As you did with the study, map out the rocks and grasses while you make the sketch, because they’re good markers for which shadows go where. Leave this line art as just a pencil drawing.

Step 2: First Layer

In this final piece, we’re going to use colours for a sunrise in the snow, but we’re going to keep it simple for a cohesive image. Let’s start with a light wash of desaturated blue on the hills. If we can establish the focal point of the image early on, we’ll stay centred as we go.

Step 3: Sunrise

Time to introduce a second colour! First, be sure the sky area of the painting is wet. Then take some bright peachy paint and cover the area, concentrating the most pigment in the lower left where the sun is hiding behind the horizon. This is all we’re going to do until the section dries because we don’t want any colours mixing in disharmonious ways.

Step 4: Valley

We’ll worry about the city lights later - now it’s time to lay down the base colour. Use the same blue you used for the hills, except this time, lay it on thick for an inky colour.

Step 5: More Sky

When the sky is completely dry, rewet it and add more colour. For the sunrise area, add more peach and don’t be shy with it. This is an intense colour, and not as close to white as your eye might think at first. Remember how it wasn’t white in the value study?

Add a thin layer of blue, then drop more blue into it for the clouds. Use your intuition to decide where the clouds will look best, but once they’re in place, leave them alone.

Overworking is bad for watercolour. It’s better to have an imperfect first try than an overworked section because overworking ruins the continuity of the washes.

Step 6: Shadows

Rewet the hills and add more blue to the shadows. The shadows will be any dip in the hill, or anywhere the snow doesn’t cover as much.

You can see a bit of peach from the sky bled into the hilltop, and I like that because snow does reflect the light of the sky. I like that that happened. Mistakes can be good!

Step 7: Stones

Take more heavy blue and colour in the stones. Your picture will immediately have better contrast.

Step 8: Minimal Details

Now here, I subtly added a thin wash of brown to the parts of the hill where the grass is more prominent. Add paint gradually so you can adjust if you need to.

I decided the brown needed to show just a bit more, so I risked losing some smoothness and added more. Some edges are okay!

Step 9: Lights

It’s time for the incredibly satisfying process of adding city lights to the valley! You can use white gouache or add a tiny bit of yellow to make the colour realistic. I added a bit of yellow to mine.

Step 10: Finishing Touches

What I did at the end here was add a bit more shadow in places I thought needed it, then I defined some grass shapes to separate the foreground from the mid-ground some more.

Now, it’s done! See how much realism and depth you got with just three or four colours? You don’t need much to get a lovely painting, so long as you use the water properly and then let the paper do the work.

If you’d like to see more lessons like this one, then subscribe to our email newsletter! Have a great time 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.


  • Donna Billings said:

    This was a lovely lesson on painting a landscape. I also teach a monochromatic landscape but I like yours much better.

    August 16, 2022

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