From November 20 to 29, 2021, I took on the 10-Day Painting the Wilderness Watercolor Challenge by Kolbie Blume. This turned out be an absolutely fantastic experience for a lot of reasons!
Below, the reasons. And then, the paintings!
I love Kolbie’s loose landscape style.
Kolbie Blume’s loose landscape style is exactly what I want to be painting. When I first took on the challenge, it was because I couldn’t find any of Kolbie’s work for sale, so I had to make some of my own! Kolbie has a knack for creating scenes that are simple, but magical. During the challenge, I learned how to actual make that magic for myself!
“Loved” and “learned” is a fantastic reflection device.
After each painting, Kolbie encouraged you to write down what you loved and what you learned. I love this; it’s a way of reflecting on your painting without indulging your inner critic. It doesn’t help me to reflect on what I didn’t like or “failed” to do in a painting, but I do like reveling in what I loved, and writing down notes on what I learned made it easier to bring those lessons in to the next painting.
Having someone else do the pre-pro removes a lot of stress and adds a lot of fun.
Because I could rely on Kolbie’s planning to choose the subject and design of the painting, break it into layers, and show me how to paint it through a tutorial, I didn’t have to think, “What shall I paint to today and how shall I paint it?” While doing those steps can be a huge part of creativity and very gratifying, it’s also a lot of work. Sometimes, you don’t wanna think, you just wanna paint.
A painting a day means there’s no room for procrastination.
Once I’d committed to doing a painting a day, I just had to make time to do the painting each day! It kickstarted me; I’ve been painting nearly every day since in some form or another, even if it’s just making swatches. (It helps that I’m unemployed at the moment.) Before the challenge, I would be overwhelmed by the “admin” of sitting down to make a painting and typically wouldn’t do it unless I had a class with a specific time set aside. But in order to do the challenge, I had to set up a little watercolor table with my supplies out and ready to go at all times, and that’s stuck.
A painting a day means there’s no room for intimidation.
Every day I opened the email from Kolbie and said, “There’s no way. I can’t. It’s too hard for me. I’m not good enough.” Then, because I had to for the challenge, I would push through that and give it a shot. And every single day, I surprised myself with my results! I didn’t always love them, and I didn’t always get close to Kolbie’s result, but I always created more magic than I thought possible. If it hadn’t been for the challenge, I would probably have put off many of these paintings until a later date, “when I’m better.” The truth is that there was no reason not to try now!
When I was doing a painting every few weeks or even months, I felt like I had to relearn how to, like, do watercolor, each time. When I was doing one a day, not only did I remember more from one session to another, but I was able to make connections between the common threads in each painting. Nearly every painting started with a wet-on-wet sky layer, let it dry, do a pale distant mountain ridge, let it dry, do a nearer ridge or treeline, let it dry… Certainly there were deviations and differences between the paintings but the common threads in the group really brought home general principles for loose landscape painting through repetition.
It was a ritual.
There is something so comforting about ritual. It is only by doing something on a regular schedule, many times, that it switches from “scary new thing” to “comforting ritual.” I’m grateful to Kolbie for setting up the 10-day challenge which allowed me to make that leap.
Here are all 10 paintings I completed during the challenge. (Don’t read on if you’re planning to do the challenge and you want to be surprised by the daily email!) Below, I’ve transcribed the “loved” and “learned” I wrote at the time, to best capture what I actually did learn instead of what I think now (any “ed. notes” are my present day self, a little over a month later.)
[Ed. Note: This is the one that’s most different from the reference and from Kolbie’s project (I hadn’t really committed to “doing the tutorial” so much as being inspired by it).]
Colors: DS Phthalo Blue Green Shade, SH Purple Magenta, DS Indanthrone Blue, white gouache for stars. (I also used a smidge of DS Pyrrol Scarlet and DS Quin Gold to make the blue sky darker.)
- For a glowing, luminous effect, start with a light layer, allow to dry completely, then add a highly contasting darker layer with gaps to shine through. [Ed Note: I got a lot more practice with this as the challenge went on!]
- Sprinkling stars before paining is quite dry can create starglow.
- When doing a second layer, completely rewet the page; wherever you stop the water may become a visible dried paint line. [Ed. Note: Boy, did this lesson help me going forward!!]
- Working with vibrant, space bisexual colors
- The contrast between light and dark really looks glowing
- Splattered stars look most random/realistic, gel pen shooting star makes the painting feel alive.
Colors: SH Pure Yellow, DS Quin Gold, DS Prussian Blue, DS Indanthrone Blue [Ed. Note: My current minimalist self would probably have done this with just Prussian Blue and Quin Gold. This feels like belt and suspenders when it comes to yellows and blues.]
- Use a thirsty brush to lift sun rays.
- Use a thick brush to outline mountains, and then pull down while still wet. Thin outlines will dry too fast and give you dry paint lines.
- If you’re too vigorous covering a large area, you will get spray! (But you can turn it into birds.)
- Sense of depth with hazy light back mountains.
- Evokes a sense of wilderness and adventure.
- Shimmery sunshine!
Colors: DS Indanthrone Blue, DS Phthalo Turquoise, DS Pyrrol Scarlet, DS Quinacridone Gold. [The scarlet and gold were to make gray in the sky.]
- Creating more differentiation in tone between layers probably would have created more of sense of depth.
- Paint into invisible water line for a misty fog line.
- When you feel tired, stop. Take a break. Don’t rush to get it done.
- Cloudy sky – indanthrone, scarlet, and gold made a perfect neutral gray.
- Mist rising between layers
- Almost invisible, back ridgeline
Colors: DS Prussian Blue, DS Lemon Yellow, DS Quin Rose, DS Quin Gold
- Doing practice mini-paintings helps, but it’s time-consuming
- Mist: Keep it simple. Lift with paper towel, soften with water, and leave it alone.
- Salt: Closer together/more salt means smaller dot colorations. Use more salt in the back and less in the front to create a sense of depth.
- Luminosity from mist and salt patches in meadow
- Sense of depth from grass getting smaller in back
- Even gradient in sky – using less water helped!
[Ed. note: Today, I’d add that what I really love in this painting is that little bit of orange on the side of the purple hill. This was an improvisation on my part but it really, to me, gives it a sunrise/alpenglow feeling that adds a lot.]
Colors: DS Transparent Red Oxide, DS Quin Gold, DS Indanthrone Blue, WN white gouache.
- Taking your time pays off!
- Rocks could be more jagged with diagonal instead of curved lines.
- Overall tree shape is more important than individual boughs.
- Complex rock colors from interplay between Transparent Red Oxide and Quin Gold, with Indanthrone Blue to mute. A simple earthy primary triad with a lot of depth.
- Water mist and shadows.
- Never thought I could do a landscape so complex!
Colors: DS Pyrrol Scarlet, DS Opera Pink, SH Pure Yellow, DS Quin Gold, DS Prussian Blue, DS Indanthrone Blue, DS Phthalo Blue Red Shade, WN white gouache
- For a smooth, intense gradient without lines, use a large brush and do multiple layers – letting each layer dry completely in between.
- Careful masking off areas and using a lot of water! [Ed. note: I now know that the spillage I got, both at the horizon and on the edges, was due to a combination of using Blick Artist Tape and a hair dryer. Switching to washi tape made a huge difference.]
- Shake out hair dryer before pointing it at painting. [Ed. note: This note is because a miniscule piece of dust fell out of the hairdryer onto the painting and stuck, which bothered me at the time, though I can’t find it now.]
- Vibrant sky!
- Crescent moon! (Correct shape, not too curvy)
- I did the best job I could fixing the sky blooms in the sea from tape leakage.
Colors: Too many to list. Like all of them.
- Baby-sit the background as it dries to smooth out blooms for a more realistic soft focus
- Choose colors ahead of time to avoid throwing an entire paintbox at the painting. A smaller palette creates cohesion. One problem was that I did the background first, then needed different colors for the foreground. If I had thought about my foreground colors first, I could have used them to create the background.
- Do multiple foreground layers (letting them fully dry between). You can only do glazing once the underlayer is dry.
- Cut-out masking tape works just as well as masking fluid and no smell!
- Orange puffball flowers; I feel like I observed rather than assumed there.
- Random gouache spots make a weirdly big difference.
Colors: DS Quin Gold, DS Indanthrone Blue, DS Pyrrol Scarlet, SH Pure Yellow
- If you plan the location of the sun ahead of time, the placement of rays and light spots will be more obvious.
- More early layers would create more depth.
- Maybe some foreground interest or a gap in the light on the ground would have been nice.
- Light, light, light! Lens flare! All the sunbeams!
- Fall Feeling! Warm color palette + orange leaves on the ground.
- Specificity of tree type; from the bark, I know it’s a sycamore.
Colors: DS Indanthrone Blue, DS Quin Gold, DS Pyrrol Scarlet, DS Rich Green Gold, DS Viridian
- Review plan before starting each layer – everything you have to do before you let start to let it dry. I forgot a mountain in the back and had to put it on the next layer, which was less than ideal.
- When one layer is finished and the next needs to wait until it’s dry, it’s a good time to take a break!
- Take your time on the sky – you won’t get another chance.
- Lights and darks! Darks are so dark and lights are so light! Preserved light value of the river.
- Dried paint lines give texture and suggest details in the landscape.
- Hazy back mountains give a lot of depth.
Colors: DS Indanthrone Blue, DS Lemon Yellow, DS Phthalo Turquoise, SH Purple Magenta (only for black), WN white gouache
- Hard to mix really dark blacks!
- What I need to learn: how to do snow reflection
- Make a plan for the ground so you’re not just like “ehh……. black?”
- Bright, vibrant green! (Phthalo Turquoise + Lemon Yellow)
- Reflection interruptions in water
- Star glow on just a few stars. Worth the time/planning.