Monday, December 22, 2014

Step-by-Step Watercolor: Winter Farm Scene

My Christmas gift to you...a new watercolor tutorial! 
The Minor Farm, Greene County, PA, 17" x 10.5", ink & watercolor on Fabriano Artistico 140 lb. paper

Come on into my studio and look over my shoulder as I paint a rural farm scene from Greene County, Pennsylvania, where I live. This painting was done as a commission for the family whose ancestors built this pretty white farmhouse back in the 1800s. I visited the farm to take pictures back in November, but the sun refused to shine that day, so I had to make do with what I got...

The light was dull and flat, but that doesn't mean my painting has to be!

I did a fairly detailed drawing first in pencil. With commission work, I like to make sure that things are planned out in detail. I generally email the pencil drawing to the client to get final approval, before I begin to ink it.

I used a Noodler's Creaper Flex Pen with Noodler's Lexington Gray ink. For the fine details on the buildings and trees, I flipped my pen over and used the nib upside down. This limits the ink flow and gives me finer lines.

Here's the drawing, all ready to go!

When working on 140 lb. watercolor paper, I often stretch my paper. I want to make sure that the finished painting doesn't have any ripples in it and that it will lie perfectly flat when it's matted and framed. After my drawing is done, I soak the paper in water for about ten minutes, then staple the paper to a ceiling tile (the kind used for drop ceilings.) Then I apply painter's tape to give a neat finished edge to the painting. This shows my set-up...

The prep work is done, now let's start painting! Step one for me is always the sky. For this painting, I wanted an overcast winter sky, but I also wanted it to have some interesting color. I used Cobalt Blue, Cerulean Blue, Permanent Rose, Burnt Sienna, and a touch of a primary yellow. I like how the Cobalt Blue settled out and gave me some granulation...

Next I painted the foreground and the middle ground with wet-in-wet washes of Burnt Sienna, Cobalt Blue, Yellow Ochre, and Olive Green.

After the washes were dry, I masked out some of the tree trunks and foreground weeds and grasses with masking fluid. I used a ruling pen, rather than a paint brush, to give me nice, thin lines.

The distant hills were painted with Cobalt Blue + Burnt Sienna +Permanent Rose.

The trees on the far right were painted, along with an indication of a furrowed field.

More Cobalt + Burnt Sienna was used to paint the treeline behind the buildings, along with a touch of Quinacridone Violet.

Next, I worked my way along the treeline toward the left side of the painting.

This is what I had so far...

I masked out the cows (they're teeny tiny!) so I could paint the pasture without fussing.

The sheep were masked, too.

I used a fan brush to indicate masses of branches in the tree tops.

I added midtones and shadows on the fields and yard to the left of the house and painted colorful shadows on the house and outbuilding.

A watery wash of Light Red was applied to all the roofs, and the front yard was painted.

The barns were painted light grey, and some darker tones were added to the roofs.

In the historical photos that we had of the house, there was ivy growing up the porch posts, so I included it in the painting.

The house really started to come to life when I painted the windows and the shadows under the porch roof. It's all about contrast. Adding those darks made the house look sunlit. At this stage, I also added some details to the bushes on the left side of the house and some darker tones to the roof.

I tend to hop around to different areas when I'm working on a painting. This gives the paint time to dry and allows me to distance myself a bit from what I'm working on, so I can come back to it with fresh eyes.

I moved on to the foreground, where I did some spattering and sponging to add texture to the hay field.

 Lookin' good...

I removed the masking from the trees and roofs...

and the cows and sheep...

I painted the tree trunks and added some darker branches.

I also realized at this point, after zooming in on my photo of the house, that the roof was a red shingled roof, not metal. I had painted it with vertical seaming, which now had to be corrected. (Lesson learned: Don't assume anything. Always check photo references closely for details.)

Oops! Wrong roof style!

 It was a simple matter to lift most of the color off the roof with a damp brush and repaint it.

That's better!

 Then it was time to paint the cows...

and the sheep...

I love these cute little sheep!

Darker tones were added to the barns at this point, too.

I removed the dried masking fluid from the foreground weeds and grasses.

To make the stark white lines blend in, I painted more grasses over them with a rigger brush loaded with medium and dark tones of Burnt Umber, Burnt Sienna, and dark green.

All that was left to do was sign it!

I love how this painting turned out, and so did my client. She's giving prints of it to several lucky family members for Christmas. What a great way to honor their heritage!

I hope you enjoyed this little Christmas gift from me to you. Thank you for being such faithful readers and good friends throughout the year. I appreciate your support and all of your comments, and I look forward to sharing more of my art and life with you in the coming years.

Merry Christmas &
best wishes for a wonderful 2015!


  1. Love the tutorial!!! Merry Christmas, Leslie!

  2. Thank you so much, and Merry Christmas to you, too!

  3. Thanks Leslie. Great tutorial and very inspiring.

  4. What a treat for us, Leslie! Beautiful. I ordered both of your Blurb books as a Christmas present to myself. They will arrive tomorrow. Can't wait to sit and study each page! Thanks for sharing.

  5. Another beautiful painting and wonderful tutorial, Leslie! I'm so glad I found your blog. Your work is so inspiring. I look forward to all the posts to come. Merry Christmas!


  6. Thank you so very much for all the info! Very helpful to a beginner like me! The painting is beautiful! I have so very much to learn! Merry Christmas to you and your family! :)

  7. Absolutely gorgeous!! Thank you, Leslie! MERRY CHRISTMAS!!

  8. So beautiful! Merry Christmas! Got one question: What brand of masking fluid do you use? Thank you! :)

  9. Love this! Beautiful! Thanks for sharing!!!

  10. shirley witteringJune 8, 2016 at 4:31 AM

    I've just found your tutorial. I find foregrounds difficult and your example is most helpful, many thanks.

  11. I am just beginning in watercolors and this has been very helpful to me as I am trying to paint a picture of my grandparents' old homeplace. Thank you!

  12. What a beautiful picture and the tutorial is simple and clear. Love this! Thank you for sharing!

  13. Very nice tutorial clearly explained and demonstrated. I was intrigued by your use of the ceiling tile? Not sure what kind of tile that is really but it sounds like it takes stapes okay? I would like to give that a go myself, can you provide any more info on exactly what kind of ceiling tile you use?

  14. This is beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing your talents. I will definitely try to apply some of these techniques to my own work. Cheers!


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