A landscape watercolour sketchbook should always be used in landscape, right? Well, instructor Marina Wulf begs to differ! In this demo, she shows us how to paint a landscape using a vertical composition across two pages, and gives some helpful tips on how to quickly capture the essence of any scene.

Step 1: A Watercolour Pencil Sketch

As an urban sketcher and painter who loves Italian views, it comes as no surprise that Marina’s subject of choice are two cypress trees in an Italian field near the city of Geneva. She also prefers doing a vertical composition, and shows off some tools that help with her compositional choices whether she’s out and about or at home.

Tip: She uses a viewfinder to see how best to frame her subject(s)! One made of paper or cardboard is fine, although the one she uses for her super tall vertical compositions is made of matte board.

As for materials, you’ll need: an A5 landscape watercolour sketchbook, a grey watercolour pencil, watercolour paints, a palette, a large dagger or mop brush, a no. 4 and no. 1 round brush, two containers of water, a spray bottle filled with water, and paper towels.

For her initial sketches, she likes to use a grey watercolour pencil, which disappears when it comes into contact with water. This eliminates the need for erasing any lines, as they disappear when painted over. It helps save a lot of time, especially if you’re out in the field!

She does the same here, though pre-drawn to save time. So you’ll need a sketch, too – just do a rough sketch following the image above, or use the reference photo to help. Take note of the shape of the leaves around the trees, and both the positive and negative shapes created.

Step 2: Leaves and Trees

Before painting, spray your paints with water to make them flow easier. Then, use the large dagger brush to create mixtures out of olive green, indigo, and oxide black, and use these dark, earthy greens to paint the trees’ leaves.

Note: Oxide black is a granulating black, but it needs more water to granulate. So use it in moderation, and mix it with the other colours so it doesn’t get too dark.

Constantly adjust the ratio of green to indigo to black, and keep in mind that most of the shadows are on the underside of each leafy “bunch”, while highlights remain at the top. Keep your brushstrokes loose and “leafy”, and feel free to drop in more green or indigo in certain parts while the paint is still wet to add more variety to your greens.

Since the focus of this painting is on the trees, the sky will be left white, and most of the time will be spent working on getting the trees right.

For the tree trunks, switch to the no. 4 round brush and mix burnt sienna, quinacridone rose, and indigo for a purplish brown. After painting in the tree trunks and a few branches, finish off painting the leaves with the same colours as before.

Refine the trees by lightly glazing part of the tree trunks using a dark green mixture, which will create a shadow effect. Lastly, dot in some stray leaves extending from a few of the branches of leaves.

Step 3: Background Mountains and Faded Foreground

For the mountains in the back, use the dagger brush to dilute one of your grey-blue mixtures, and quickly brush in the top of the mountains.

Just below that, paint a strip of diluted olive green, and below that (until just over the ground level), paint a strip of diluted dark green. Paint the area in front of the base of the trees using a diluted version of the tree trunk colour, then soften the lines of the mountaintops using a clean wet brush.

For the grassy area in the foreground, mix olive green with some yellow, and quickly paint two or three stripes to cover most of it. Then, while the paint is still wet, take your spray bottle and spray the bottom area with water, allowing droplets to form and run off the bottom of the page.

Tip: You might want to put a paper towel or cloth under your paper to protect the other side from getting too wet.

Step 4: Filling in the Blanks

Use a dark green mixture to paint in the bushes at the base of the trees, then olive green to paint the bush on the left. You’ll notice that Marina skipped drawing the palm tree in the reference photo, which was done so that the focus remains on the cypress trees, but you can include it if you wish!

Paint in the ground in front of the trees using a diluted olive green, then gently add some splatters of clean water to the grassy area. It might not be so visible on camera, but once it dries, you should be able to see some textural effects!

Quickly paint in the pine trees on the right using the no. 4 round brush and dark green paint, then switch to the no. 1 brush and burnt sienna to paint the buildings behind the cypress trees. Add some variation to this colour by mixing in the tree trunks’ colour, and dot in some brick-like details for contrast.

Dot in patches of earth to the area in front of the pine trees, and enhance the shadows and textures of the cypress trees with more indigo mixed with burnt sienna and quinacridone rose.

Step 5: Final Stretch

Add any finishing touches that your painting needs, such as darker bushes to the left, adding shadows to the bushes in the middle, and darkening the top part of the tree trunks.

One last thing – add some blades of grass in both the dark purple/brown colour for the dry grass area, and olive green for the ones in the field. If any of these brushstrokes becomes too prominent, you can smudge it with a finger!

Bravo; you’re done painting this Italian landscape! I hope you enjoyed the unusual page orientation, and learned something new along the way.

If you’d rather watch the demo, you can check out Marina’s live demo recording with us. You can also take your art to the next level with her 90-minute art class. And as always, if you did follow along, feel free to share your painting with us and Marina!

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Nicola Tsoi is a practising 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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