Steve Mitchell, known for his YouTube series The Mind of Watercolor, is a gifted teacher who brings a healthy attitude of relaxed spontaneity to the painting world.

His favourite approach to watercolour landscapes is to let the paint do the work for him, only coaxing detail out of the work in the very end. I learned some valuable lessons from his FREE Live Demo, which I’m happy to share with you here.

When I painted along, I used the Hot Press Etchr Sketchbook. I realized partway through that Mitchell had a cold press one, so next time if I want a more similar result to his I will use cold press. I didn’t have the same paints as Mitchell, so I substituted the closest hues in my collection.

Mitchell began the demo by vigorously misting the page with a spray bottle until it was wet, so I began in this fashion as well. He started with his yellow so I started with mine. 

I tried to make the same basic shape that he was making. I soon realized that the reason for misting rather than using a brush to wet the page was so that the paint would flow more spontaneously and have more texture.

Mitchell added red, so I did too. I saw him misting the page periodically for texture, so I did it too. I liked the marbling effect.

The one colour I had that Mitchell was using was Prussian Blue. So I used it here and I think it adds some lovely depth in contrast with the warmer colours.

Since Mitchell kept blending things around and misting the page, I continued that way. He welcomed drips, and I had been trying to prevent them until I realized they were on purpose, so I only got one drip.

Here is the state of my blending after adding more colours wherever I saw Mitchell adding more colours. The texture is flowing quite well at this stage I must say.

To make this more of a fall scene, I avoided letting the yellow and blue mix too much. 

Mitchell blow-dried his painting at this stage, so I did the same. The texture changed after my painting was dry, and it was here where I began to see the difference between Mitchell’s cold press paper and my hot press paper.  

Once the paint was fully dry, it was time to add the details. I followed the demonstration to create some indication of shadows and making a hinted-at shoreline beneath the foliage. 

Mitchell had a great insight about landscapes, and that is that the shadows always sink to the ground. The deepest shadows will always be the bottom of the trees or bushes or hills.

To allow there to be some hint of shrubbery, I followed Mitchell’s advice about negative-space painting. By painting the space around the shrubbery, you shade the trees realistically and indicate the highlights on the shrubbery simultaneously!

Mitchell began adding foliage detail. This is where I began to wish I had chosen cold press paper because hot press makes the edges of each puddle show up so much. 

I was sort of going for the idea of each coloured “blob” becoming a separate pine tree but realized later in the demo that Mitchell was meaning for them to be clusters of deciduous trees. You can make whatever kind of tree you want.

After wetting the ground area and blending around with it and trying to make it look better, this is what I came up with. The further into the demo I got, the more I made little adjustments of my own. I think it’s important to think critically and be creative even during a demo of this nature because the lesson is spontaneous.

At the very end, Mitchell added some clouds, with the spray bottle of water and the cooler colours on his palette. I made more clouds than he did because I thought my composition needed them to look more grounded.  

This workshop changed the way I thought about watercolour. I realized that most of my “mistakes” in the paint-along came from trying to decide what the subject and composition were before Mitchell was having us do that. 

Mitchell’s approach to watercolour is to let it be itself, falling in love with the process as you see where the water splashes take you next. My default approach is to meticulously sketch out the desired result, and try to force the physics of water to submit to my will! 

If I embrace more of Mitchell’s spontaneity, I’ll be more inclined to enjoy my paintings, regardless of how they turn out.  

If you would like to dive even deeper into Steve Mitchell’s technique, I recommend going here for his Mini Workshop!

Elsa Wahlstrom is an illustrator and graphic novelist based in Minnesota. She specializes in all things cozy and calm, but adds humor where she can. When she isn’t drawing, she enjoys playing musical instruments, but you’re more likely to see her staring at some silly tree or something. 


  • Kimberly Gilley said:

    Thanks for your painting along and especially your reactions to things you weren’t expecting. Love your writing style! I really appreciate your comments and insights. 🎨

    June 18, 2021

  • Robin C. Wilks said:

    I loved reading this and I am getting ready to sign up for the actual workshop. This is a style I love to do! Thank you!

    June 18, 2021

Leave a comment