New Zealand Landscape Value Study

New Zealand Landscape. Michele Clamp . Watercolor. 11”x14” (photo credit to Terri Dangen)

A deceptively simple watercolor landscape value study was the precursor to this painting. Tuesday is teaching day so decisions had to be made and I plumped for this beach scene. It’s good for practice as there are obvious large shapes and clear values.

First a Small Landscape Value Study

Watercolor landscape value study
Landscape Value Study

Break the scene into big value shapes

The first thing was to break down the scene into a few large value shapes. These were the sky, the sand, the sea, the trees, and the rocks. A couple of these have multiple values in but I chose the average value in order to paint the study.

Sketch the shapes and identify the values

This is probably the most important part of the value study and it involves no painting at all! First I sketched the rough shapes in a small rectangle – probably about 4”x6”. Then Using my trusty Paul Centore value scale I first *estimated* what the value was for each shape. After taking a stab at the value I then brought in the value scale to check how close I was. If I’m within a step I’m pretty happy. It’s surprising how quickly you get better at this and the key to it is making a guess first rather than bringing in the scale immediately.

Note the values on the sketch

This is only a value study so we can mark it up however we want. I pencil in the value inside the shape so I can remember. So the sky and the sand were about a value 8. The sea was a 6 and the trees and rocks varied between a 5 and a 2. All these numbers went in the sketch.

Finally Paint the Value Study

And now we get to paint something. We’ve done a lot of the hard work here so it’s a case of mixing the value and painting it in the shape. I try and keep the value washes as even as possible so there aren’t stripes or brush marks. It keeps the values separated so we can judge how the composition is working. I usually do value studies in a sketchbook or on cheap student paper but this time I broke out the Fabriano Artistico. It’s not really needed as we’re not doing any edge work or blending but I had a small piece handy.

Some shapes have multiple values

The trees and the rocks have multiple values which show the form as the light hits them. In these shapes I used two values – a wash of the lighter value and then a much darker value on the shadow side to make them appear three dimensional.

There’s not a lot of detail in there. A few brush marks on the rocks brings everything together.

Assess the result

After I was done I stood back and assessed how the composition was working. In this case everything looked good. The value arrangement hung together and I was ready to go to the next stage. In particular I liked the way the sea was a mid value between the sky and the darks of the trees and rocks and tied the painting together. Another thing that I think worked well was the broad treatment of the rocks. I had used just two values and put in the shadows very broadly with a little softening of the edges. This simple treatment was surprisingly enough to make the rocks read well. Also the broad painting gives the study some energy and visual life.

Next Steps

In another post I’ll talk through the next stage which is mixing the colors. There are a couple of surprises in there which can catch you out. I have been caught unawares painting beach scenes quite recently and learned a few lessons which came in handy with this painting.

Singing Beach Watercolor Take 2

Singing Beach sketch – take 2

I was pretty happy with yesterday’s sketch but wanted to get closer on the colors. The sand especially was a little too *pow* for me so back to the color swatches to get closer. The changes I made were to push the sky a little more towards green, the water a little darker and the sand with way less chroma. It’s still the same color which is mostly yellow ochre with a little permanent rose. But to take the chroma down I added some lamp black and a little water to bring the value back to where I wanted it.

Here’s today’s and yesterday’s side by side.

Now personally I prefer today’s version. However other members of the household prefer yesterday’s.

It was definitely worthwhile doing the same scene twice. It takes the pressure off when you’re doing the first one and you can experiment with a few things that you might not otherwise.

How fast can you paint a watercolor?

Knaresborough watercolor by Michele Clamp
Knaresborough watercolor by Michele Clamp

Sometimes Painting Fast is Better

How fast can you paint a watercolor? I had 30 minutes before the Newton Watercolor Society zoom call and a bridge scene to paint. The picture above had about an hour longer but I got a lot of the main areas in in 30 minutes. Brushes were flying and there was no time for detail or hanging about. To be honest it looked pretty good before I started noodling with it. As always the jury is out on this one until later.

But Don’t Forget the Basics

Edit: It’s a day later and I’m still on the fence. The drawing is a little dodgy (make those verticals vertical!) and the value pattern isn’t quite as well defined as I wanted. The color is good – I like the blue of the sky which works well with the sandy brick and the maroonish shadows. I think it needs another attempt.

Scaling Up a Watercolor

I’m thinking it could benefit from being larger. The composition is strong – hard not to be with that bridge. I struggle with larger paintings but no time like the present to get better. I find scaling up watercolors hard. Watercolor on paper behaves the same whether you’re working large or small. It blends and spreads on the paper similarly whether you’re on a 5×7 or a 22×30. Just using a bigger brush (although it helps) doesn’t make the paint behave differently.

One I did a while back was a detail of a Vermont farm

Vermont farm Michele Clamp watercolor painting
Vermont farm Michele Clamp watercolor painting

This is 16″x20″ which doesn’t sound that much large but I had to work a lot more interest into the paint than I would have done at a smaller size. I kind of like it but it’s not one of my favorites. Looks good on the wall though.

Michele Clamp Studio Wall
Michele Clamp Studio Wall

Landscape Demo Video

Due to time constraints I didn’t video this painting. However if anyone is interested in my process I have a number of real-time demo landscape videos on my youtube channel. A nice example is this one of a late afternoon English cornfield after harvest.

Jo Vloothuis Workshop – Watercolor Landscape


This week’s johannes Vloothuis workshop was watercolor and as such it was easier than last week’s one. Some interesting stuff with credit cards used to scrape out rocks. I approached this with gusto and although a little lacking in finesse it has a certain charm.