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Plan your watercolor paintings to easily paint a complex scene

Out of the Blue Watercolor on paper 17 x 29 inches

Out of the Blue
Watercolor on paper
17 x 29 inches



Original sold- Prints available on Fine Art America
Original sold- Prints available on Fine Art America


Painting a watercolor from a complex reference picture can be overwhelming, so many details to paint!

Having a plan and dealing with only a few elements at one time can make painting a complex scene way easier and enjoyable.

Here is how you can plan a complex watercolor painting

starting with a precise drawing

Start by stretching you watercolor paper on a board or a stretcher, this is important as you don’t want your paper to buckle while you are painting. Buckling makes the paint accumulate in pools on the paper and very difficult to control.

Then you need to transfer your drawing. It is better not to draw directly on your watercolor paper as too much erasing would damage it, and it would show on the subsequent layers of paint.

You might also be interested in : Making your own lightbox to transfer drawings to your watercolor paper.

preserving white areas


The next step is to  preserve all the white areas with liquid frisket. This is taking a long time but will allow you to paint freely and faster without having to go around tiny areas of white. You can also carve out some light areas after the painting has been applied but they will rarely be as white as the areas that have been preserved with asking fluid.


watercolor palette


Prepare your painting palette, you usually don’t need so many colors as you will be able to mix most of them, you can start with a tube of each of the primaries (red, yellow and blue), then a few extra colors like a tertiary brown and sap green if you are painting a landscape.

painting the trees


Start to paint, looking at your reference picture but also taking some artistic licence if you feel like it.

I see the reference picture as a starting point only.

I am making my way along the painting.


Try to alternate areas that are painted wet into wet with areas that are painted wet on dry, and dry brushed details.

using a limited palette


You can build up texture by painting several layers on the same area. Stop once in a while to assess your progress and see if you are happy with the direction the painting is going.


painting is done


This painting could be considered finished at that point but I like to add an element of chance and a bit of “messiness” so I will splash the painting with a mix of watercolor and paint.

watercolor mixes


I make 2 watercolor mixes.



I then splatter the painting heavily using some droppers. This time I am leaving the liquid resist on while I am splattering as I want to keep my white area crisp and well defined. When everything has dried, I am removing the masking fluid and am softening a few edges with a stiff brush and water. The painting is done!

Here is a time lapse video that shows the painting process:

 What is your biggest challenge when painting a complex scene?


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