Sunday, August 3, 2014

Step-by-Step Watercolor: Lake Scene

I visited my mother last week at Alpine Lake, West Virginia, and while I was there spent a wonderfully relaxing couple of hours following the walking trail that meanders through the woods along the shoreline. There are so many pretty, sketch-worthy scenes, but I finally chose this one:

Stillman & Birn Zeta series sketchbook, 7" x 7"

Sketching provides a great excuse to slow down and enjoy life. What could be better than to sit by a lake on a beautiful summer day just listening, watching, and painting?

Would you like to see a step-by-step of my sketching process? Well, blissed out and relaxed as I was that day at Alpine Lake, I actually had the presence of mind to snap some pictures as I worked on this page. I thought you'd enjoy seeing them. Here's step 1...

Step 1 - Quick sketch of the scene

I had a new toy to play with, a set of Koh-I-Noor "Magic Pencils", so I used one of them to do my sketch. It gave me a soft variegated line that would easily blend into my watercolors later as I painted.

"Magic Pencils" by Koh-I-Noor. I used the second one from the top for my sketch.

The lines are colorful yet subtle.

I painted the sky first, wet-on-dry since I didn't want too much spreading of the color. I softened edges where needed with a damp brush.

Step 2 - First washes (sky and grass)

The grass was a bright yellow-green, so I laid in some leaf green, olive green, and cadmium yellow light, allowing them to mingle on the paper. In the lower part of the page, I dropped some ultramarine blue into the wet paint.

In step 3, I began painting the masses of foliage, varying my greens to add interest.  I also added the first indications of the dirt path and foreground grasses. The boulders received their first light and medium tone washes.

Step 3 - Began painting leafy foliage, path, grasses, and rocks

I always think of this part of the process as being the awkward adolescent stage of a painting. It's hard to foresee a satisfactory outcome, and I'm usually thinking, "Augh, this looks so bad!" I try not to get discouraged at this point, though, because I know things will get better if I just keep plugging away at it. 

In step 4, I defined the tree trunks, first with a light grey wash, then a darker one after the first had dried. I added some spattering in the tree foliage and painted the deep green undergrowth behind the tree trunks. The boulders received their first layer of shadows, and the path had some darker tones added to it. More texture was added to the foreground grasses with spattering from my paintbrush, a size 6 or 8 round.

Step 4 - Tree trunks, undergrowth, foliage spatters, rock shadows

A lot happened between steps 4 and 5 - I painted the distant hills, began painting the water, added deeper shadows on the rocks and foreground foliage, and further defined some of the branches and leaves.

Step 5 - Add darker shadows, hills, grasses, and water

Step 6 shows the final touches: trees on the distant shore and a few touches of darker shadows here and there.

Step 6 - Distant trees, spots of darkest color

Total working time was about an hour and a half. I like the way this turned out using the colored pencil for the drawing, rather than my usual ink lines. It's a looser, less defined look.


  1. Many thanks......I need to see the steps and this does that for me. Your painting is lovely and your teaching is " on" target!

  2. Thank you, Leslie! I can't wait to try this. I LOVE your painting from your Perfect Day in Maine post (I just sigh whenever I look at it), and I've been wanting to try a similar scene. This will be perfect!

  3. Lovely work Leslie, I can just imagine the atmosphere as you sat there by the lake. Not seen those coloured pencils before - they look a bit strange.

  4. Thank you so much for taking the time to show us the process of your beautiful painting. It really helps this "absolute beginner", who has yet to attend a painting class!.

  5. Just lovely, Leslie, what fun to see your process.

  6. I truly enjoyed your your style of painting. Beautifully restful piece. I picked up a couple of the magic pencils at the art museum, entranced by their beautiful colors. Have yet to use them but now that I see the work you've done I think I'll give them a go on a field of lavender photo my grandson sent me. Thank you for posting this delicious summer scene!

  7. Thank you for the step by step painting. Unusual pencils. Look like fun to use, with the different colours in them.

  8. Hi,
    I just discovered your blog on pinterest a few days ago, and I'm so glad that i did! i alo paint with watercolors and I just love your tutorials. I tried paining a scene similar to this and it is probably one of my better paintings so far. I actually do not line my paintings for the most part, but I love the style that the outlines create in your paintings! Anyway, thank you so much for your step-by-steps and for giving me inspiration!

    1. You're welcome, Molly! Glad you enjoyed the tutorials. Knowing that they're useful to someone is what makes it all worthwhile.

  9. Hi! I found this tutorial on pinterest. Thank you so much for your time and effort :-) it is always so helpful to see an artist's process :-)

  10. I love this painting it's literally my goal into the style I would like to achieve in the future. Your steps to were great I understood the process and what was happening, I didn't get lost! One more thing though, I love the size of your paper and the fact it's spiraled makes me need to ask what brand it is and where did you get it!

    1. It's a 7x7 Stillman and Birn "Zeta" sketchbook. It has smooth paper similar to hot press watercolor paper. They are available from online art supply companies or from Amazon.

  11. This scene is wonderful and I appreciate the step ny step photos as well! I think one of the most important points you made was about the 'awkward adolescent stage' of the painting. This is the point in all paintings - acrylic too, where it is easiest to abandon because it's hard to see it turning out. I have been trying to remind myself of this in every painting! Thank you for sharing!

  12. Love this, no classes in my neck of the woods, and this helps me feel less lost! Thank you...

  13. Wow! What a wonderful work.I am sure this one will sit in my mind's eye for a long,long time to come.


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