In late November/early December 2021, I did Kolbie Blume’s 10-day Painting the Wilderness challenge on Youtube, and I had an amazing time. It came at just the right time in my watercolor journey, showing me that I could paint far more complex scenes than I thought I could. So when Kolbie released a second ten-day challenge in late April/early May 2022, I was excited to join in again.
Overall, it was a good experience, though less mind-blowing than the first time. Kolbie’s scenes are becoming more complex, but my skills are also improving, so I still fell challenged but not overwhelmed. Still, it started to feel like a bit of a grind. It should be noted that I was unemployed during the first challenge, so there was less other-life-stuff to fit it in around, and I think I was also at a moment when I could really see my skills explode by doing consistent daily work. I’m at more of a plateau now, so it’s less exciting.
An advantage I did have this time was that I was doing the challenge when it came out, alongside others, so I had a sense of community that kept me going.
Okay, onto the paintings!
Paper: I started a new sketchbook for this challenge – Pentalic Aqua – so all of these paintings until the last one will be on that paper.
- Glowing, hazy sun
- Using Nickel Azo Yellow and Quin Burnt Orange separately (“deconstructed Quinacridone Gold”), so that there are visible flecks of orange in the sea.
- Muted indigo hue from mixing Quin Burnt Orange and Indanthrone Blue.
- Using the reference photo (instead of just the tutorial) might have helped me to plan contrast better.
- Using a smaller paintbrush for the sparkles might have kept them neater.
- Background mountains
- Dark, bold treeline (near-black mix of Indanthrone and TRO)
- Using the reference photo inspired some details, including the bold cyan in the lake
- I need to use binder clips on this paper – too much warping led to a wavy horizon line
- Be more patient about drying layer before adding the next
- Be careful removing the tape from this paper
- Cloud shadows – sense of 3D.
- Splashes of green in the ocean. Color contrast/turns better than uniform, perfect color.
- White gouache seafoam.
- Sand gradient.
- Multiple lines of seafoam over transparent water (i.e. sand color) would be a cool next step.
- Try more subtle shadow color under seafoam.
- Odd contrast between granulating sky and non-granulating water. It would have looked more harmonious to use the same blues for sky and water.
I found that I alternated between using the tutorial but not the reference photo, or the reference photo but not the tutorial. This is one of the latter, so it looks really different from the tutorial.
Colors: DV Phthalo Blue; DS MANS; DS Quin Rose; DS Phthalo Turquoise; DS Aussie Red Gold; DV Perylene Green; white gouache
- Sense of depth in layers. It’s okay that I didn’t paint them in order.
- Colors in the ocean.
- Colors in the sky – MANS pale yellow + palette gray cloud
- Might be better for waves to go in a consistent direction
- Horizon line – sketch ahead to make it straight?
I did River Reflections twice! The first time, I wasn’t happy with the way my bright colors and chaotic trees created a different mood from the serene sunrise that Kolbie painted, so I repainted it with a more distant POV and paler colors.
I found the whole process pretty frustrating (and I no longer have my notes from the second attempt). Although I was happier with the second painting, I was bored by painting it, especially after restarting it 2-3 times. I think that the very act of repainting something caused me to bring out all my perfectionist tendencies, where previously I had had an attitude of “doesn’t have to be perfect, ya live ya learn!”
I like to phrase my “learned” advice as tips for how to do it better next time (this helps me to see it as constructive rather than tearing-down), but to literally do the painting again makes me feel like a kid who has to redo their work and hand it in again. I think if I don’t like how something turned out, or I realize I could have gone somewhere different with it, it’s better for me to try a different-but-related project than to redo the same one.
Colors: Both paintings use Phthalo Blue Red Shade, Quinacridone Rose, Lemon Yellow, and Neutral Tint. The first painting also used Quinacridone Coral. The second painting used Indanthrone Blue.
Colors: I didn’t write them down but I think I was mostly trying out Mission Gold Peacock Blue here. White gouache, clearly. It looks like I added something to mute the blue such as Transparent Red Oxide (just a guess).
- Turtle details
- Bubbles – sense of bokeh
- Sunbeams could be more subtle. I would have preferred to do them with lifting rather than white gouache.
- Next time, more closely observe the wave shapes
Colors: Phthalo Blue Red Shade, Ultramarine Blue, Purple Magenta (PR122), Perylene Violet, Quinacridone Burnt Scarlet, Lemon Yellow
- Simple but effective lupines
- Color variation on water and leaves (mixed my own green, so it can shift between bluer and yellower and not look too uniform)
- Gorgeous purples and pinks from the PR122 + Ultramarine
- Silver Black Velvet brush holds of a LOT of water
- Quin Burnt Scarlet is a useful blue neutralizer
- Careful not to make straight lines into curves – use whole arm, not just wrist
This is definitely the one with which I took the most liberties and basically painted my own thing with very little relationship to the prompt of the day. Kolbie’s painting for day 8 is a tropical inlet with palm trees. This didn’t feel personally meaningful to me, never having lived or even been to a tropical island, so I chose a reference photo of Acadia National Park in Maine with roughly the same composition.
- Doing my own thing!
- Stripe of blue in the sky
- Rocks in foreground could be better dined/contrast with background
- Trees could be more clumpy and less striper
- Could have preserved more whites in water
This time, I did follow the tutorial and went ahead with making the palm tree.
Colors: HO Cobalt Blue, Mission Gold Yellow Ochre No. 1, Mission Gold Permanent Yellow Deep, Mission Gold Quin Rose, Mission Gold Hansa Yellow Light, Mission Gold Burnt Umber, Mission Gold Hooker’s Green, Mission Gold Indigo (clearly I was trying out my new Mission Gold sampler, lol)
- Went quick – not overworked
- Orange-red in the water
- Palm shape
- This paper dries too quickly for soft effects
- Make backlit subjects more muted/dark
- Use cohesive blues – this sky looks too different from the water
- Maybe a bit too messy
Paper: I officially stopped fighting with the Pentalic Aqua journal and went back to my Etchr Perfect Sketchbook! “Ahhhhhh,” I said as I painted on this paper. Finally, good gradients again.
Colors: DS Nickel Azo Yellow, DS Quin Coral, DS Bordeaux, DS Phthalo Turquoise, DS Neutral Tint, DS Pyrrol Scarlet (for muting), white gouache
- Gradient! So smooth!
- Purple-blue color from mix of Bordeaux and Phthalo Turquoise
- Splatter stars
- Plan the whites 😦
- Water-spray stars requires highly specific timing – my first round disappeared and my second round was too late / had no effect on dry paint
- Not putting stuff smack in the middle is a constant battle
Overall Loved & Learned
Overall, I loved:
- How this challenge allowed me to set aside planned time to just produce a bunch of paintings – getting me out of my rut of doing a lot of swatches and tests, and rabbit-holing on supplies rather than making stuff. There are certain things you only learn from practice, not theory.
- Seeing what other people made of the same prompt.
- Experimenting with supplies.
- Kolbie’s consistently gorgeous choice of reference photos.
- Kolbie’s kind and patient encouragement through videos and community posts.
And I’d say I learned that:
- I don’t like to do the exact same painting twice (i.e. same reference photo, same objective) – but I’m happy to study the same/similar subject from multiple different perspectives.
- Using fewer colors leads to more harmonious paintings. (i.e. don’t treat the sky and the water as two totally different paintings with different palettes)
- Sketchbooks: Etchr Perfect yes, Pentalic Aqua no.
- Working from a reference photo is more useful to me than a tutorial at this time. My current challenges are less in learning how to make the different types of marks, or what order to do layers, and more in observation of reality (vs. what I think things should look like), as well as the actual “miles on the paintbrush” needed to properly execute the theory.
Did you participate? What did you learn?