Watercolour gradients

Hello and good day to you!

I hope you’re doing fine and made it through the rain and the storm earlier this month. Since, as I’m writing this article, the weather’s still gloomy, wet, and cold, I thought pastel-ish colours could cheer us up a little, as they make quite a nuance to the dark clouds and harsh weather. I also really love some pretty gradients! Real fan of those!

But, what to do with those gradients? What I like to do, once they’re dry, is make them into little landscape drawings. So, without further ado, let’s get them brushes out and get right into painting.
I’ll show you three different kind and tech
niques today but, as always, feel free to experiment!

1. First, for any of these gradients, wet your paper with a brush. I used my mixed media sketchbook, which I do regret. You’ll see that though it is meant to withstand wet mediums, it simply isn’t the same as sized watercolour paper.

2. For this first painting, we’ll create a vibrant gradient going from a nice lemon yellow to a calm blue, which will look like a sunset later. Activate your paint beforehand as the best gradients are made with wet paint. I find it easiest to use a flat brush, add colour after colour and continuously going from the lightest to the darkest colour until I’m happy with it. Red and blue will, if they’re quality, single pigment paints, mix into a nice purple. (Multiple pigment paints are notorious for turning brown and muddy.) Unfortunately, I didn’t pull down the blue far enough for it to be truly notable.

3. That’s basically the technique that will work with pretty much any colour combination. As you can see, I did two more. One goes from a candy pink to a very light version of that same colour, which is created only by changing the ratio of water and paint, to show you that you can do these with a single shade. The one on the right is simple yet beautiful and one of my favourite combinations ever: yellow to light green. For a darker version of this, use a yellow based, light shade of green and, obviously, a dark one. Ideally one with a yellow tint as well, so that it won’t look to flat next to the first one.

4. And yes, you’ve seen that correctly, I’ve had an assistant… Or, more likely, a supervisor

5. On the yellow-green gradient, I painted a mountain landscape. You start with the ones that are furthest away from your point of view. Strongly dilute your paint so that it is only ever so slightly able to be visible. For a more harmonizing look, use one of the two colours used in the gradients. Naturally, it should be the one that acts as the sky in the scenery.

6. You then, after each layer has completely dried, go on to add another, darker set of mountains. All of this is done with just one colour by simply adding more and more paint and less water for each shade. When in doubt about how light or dark you’ve mixed your paint, always swatch! And do give your paint that extra minute to dry to avoid bleeding. What do they say? Better safe than sorry. And I’m probably one of the most impatient people ever. Which is why doing multiple paintings at a time is great, as you can work on one, while the other dries. As I found the landscape looked somewhat empty with only the mountain range, I added two clouds. Want to know how to get them this soft and fluffy looking? Read on!

7. There are various ways to paint clouds in watercolour paintings but almost all of them are either wet on wet techniques or (in my opinion) unsuitable with painting gradient backgrounds, especially those made of more than a just one colour. And what can I say, I just really like to paint my clouds like this. I use fairly diluted white gouache. Don’t be too shy with the water, gouache is an opaque medium and will, although, depending on the colour and water-paint-ratio, potentially only faintly, keep its ability to cover up layers below where it is applied. The secret is the brush. I load my paint onto a Filbert brush (rounded, flat head) and apply it with a dabbing motion, starting at the top of the cloud, then slowly working my way down. After about a quarter of the entire cloud, I clean my brush and then drag the paint downward, still with the same dabbing technique. This way my clouds fade out from opaque to semi-transparent.

8. Make it look a little more natural by adding lose details to the shape of the cloud on the top part. The shape I drew out during the last step are basically outlines to keep everything in shape while adding more paint.

9. Now, let’s get to the last painting. I opted for something in the middle of the last two. Mountains, but this time, painted with gouache. To make things a little easier, grab a pencil and very lightly sketch on your mountain range. When working with gouache, I like to paint them in these easy three steps: First, draw a kind of bumpy triangle. Two of the three corners should touch the bottom of your painting. Then, no less shaky, add a line running down the middle, starting from the third corner. This line can go to either the right or left or split again into two separate lines. Lastly, add a few more of these mountains.

10. To paint them in, I used the same Filbert brush and black and white paint, with which I mixed multiple shades of grey. (Though not as many as fifty… Okay, I’ll see myself out.) The white goes where the most light hits your mountain. I decided that this would be from behind, as the sun is setting behind my mountains, and slightly to the right. As you can see, I followed that idea to figure out where my lightest and darkest values should go. When everything had dried down, I added outlines with a broad-tipped, black pen.

11. All that’s left to do, is to peel of the masking tape and voilà! Aren’t they pretty? Most of all, to me, this is one of the most relaxing kinds of painting to do. Watching the colour transition from one shade into another is wonderfully calming, and there are no wrong ways to handle this. It also gives you an opportunity to practice your values (though, in this case, this is only applicable with the painting on the right). Basically, good values mean that you could turn your painting into a black and white image and still be able to see the entire piece for what it is, as light and dark shades are put next to one another in such a way that the colour itself is not necessary to recognize what has been painted. (Note: We do speak about paintings here, not drawings!)

12. Here are few more examples of landscapes with gradient backgrounds. Most of these are over one to two years old though and rather mindless doodles to unwind the mind, so they’re not exactly amazing. (click to see the pictures in full size)

13. These two were made with both watercolours as well as gouache.

Aaaaaaaand that’s all for today! It’s less a step by step tutorial then an article to inspire you to get out your paints and brushes, and a few tips and ideas to try out how to paint different things. Now it’s your turn. Brew or pour yourself your favourite drink and sit down to paper, paint, and brush. You’ll see it can truly be incredibly relaxing.

Stéphanie K.

Stéphanie K.

Hi, my name is Stéphanie. I'm Luxembourgish, in my late twenties, and a passionate artist. I paint and draw since what feels like forever. Though I do occasionally crack open a tube of acrylic paint, my favourite traditional mediums are a watercolour and alcohol markers. I also do lots of digital pieces. My motifs include all possible things, such as food, plants, characters, and animals, whereas my art style depends much on the subject and reaches from cartoony to semi-realism.

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