Loved & Learned from Kolbie Blume’s Beginner Landscapes

Beginner Landscapes is a mini-course offered by Kolbie Blume in the course library for members of the Artists Co-op, their monthly subscription service. After nearly two years of watercolor, the most recent of which was spent working through most of Kolbie’s other products (like their 10-Day Painting the Wilderness Challenge, 10-Day Seascapes Challenge, and Wilderness Watercolor Landscapes book), I’m not sure if I’m quite as beginnery as the intended audience, but at the same time, I found this course both challenging and satisfying, and I think I did some of my best work of 2022 in it!

The Paintings

Module 1: Night Skies

Twilight Night Sky

Twilight Night Sky from Kolbie Blume’s Beginner Landscapes. December 1, 2022. Color: Winsor & Newton Payne’s Gray. Paper: Saunders 140lb Cold Press.

Starting out simple and familiar! I’ve done projects like this before (such as the Big Dipper project that’s the first one in Kolbie’s book, Wilderness Watercolor Landscapes). I think Kolbie is wise to start folks off with a night sky. A simple gradient night sky like this is also one of the first projects I ever did as a legit beginner:

Night Sky. March 22, 2021.

Putting this in the context of my growth has helped me realize even more things I love about the (new) painting!

Loved

  • My trees are getting better!
  • I’m finally using Kolbie’s favorite paint, Winsor & Newton Payne’s Gray. I resisted Payne’s Gray for a long time, but the WN version is so blue and smooth! I may also be getting more into muted colors.
  • The simpicity of monochrome is so peaceful, and the dark paint allows the stars to pop.
  • Star splatter is a lot more successful than drawing stars with a white gel pen, and I also have learned a bit more restraint in drawing shooting stars.

Learned

  • Take care with those splatters; the lines on some of the stars were unintentional (but I think they look like sparkle, so it’s all good!)
  • Could still use some work making my trees look more spindly, perhaps using a smaller brush.

Textured Night Sky

Textured Night Sky from Kolbie Blume’s Beginner Landscapes. December 3, 2022.

I was skeptical of this one at first but I ended up really liking the cloud effect from allowing the gradient to be uneven. This was such a quick and easy one to do.

Loved

  • Texture sky appearance! More interesting than a flat gradient and easier too.
  • Finally a use for WN Phthalo Turquoise, a color I love but find hard to work into paintings.
  • Drybrush effect on the mountain – unintentional but I think it looks like snow.

Learned

  • I’m still preferring the splatter stars to the gel pen ones, even when I only use the gel pen for a few highlights.
  • An extra element of some sort would probably have made this painting pop – I don’t know what, a little figure on the mountain or something?

Galaxy Night Sky

Galaxy night sky loosely inspired by Kolbie Blume’s Beginner Landscapes. December 4, 2022.

Kolbie painted this one on a round board. Rather than draw a circle or translate the composition, I sort of freestyled on the theme.

Loved

  • Using fresh-from-tube paint allowed me to get deep colors with brights dropped into darks.
  • Lots of stars of all different sizes.

Learned

  • I’m not sure what I was going for with the blank corner, and I think I’d probably want to think that through next time.

Module 2: Trees

There are two projects in this module, but I only did one of them. I tend to be more inspired by projects that result in a full scene than ones that involve leaving some of the page blank, creating spot illustrations, patterns, etc. I don’t really mind not being a completionist, and I think “It’s okay to skip things” is a good lesson for my Learned!

Misty Forest

Misty Forest, from Kolbie Blume’s Beginner Landscapes. December 5, 2022.

This is quite similar to a project from the 10-Day Painting the Wilderness challenge, so this is another opportunity to contemplate changes in my art over time. Here’s Day 3 from that challenge, another misty forest, which I did one year earlier:

Kolbie Blume’s 10-Day Challenge, Day 3

Both projects were challenging for me and left me feeling that trees are much harder for me than other types of landscape elements. At first when I completed the Beginner Landscapes trees, I found myself wondering if I had made any progress in a year at all, and now that I look at them side-by-side, I can see that I have!

Loved

  • Misty, ethereal effect. One of the things I’m noticeably better at now is water control and creating atmosphere, as well as controlling the intensity of paint in different layers.
  • Composition is better in the new painting – I like how I didn’t try to make it a flat side-on view, but allowed new treetops to enter from the bottom of the frame, implying a more interesting diagonal from-above shot.
  • Colors! In both paintings, I used a lovely range of muted teals. In the new one, I also added a slightly warm element with a Raw Sienna base layer. I also switched from a flat monochrome use of more-or-less diluted DS Phthalo Turquoise, to a more complex and interesting palette mix of various blues, greens, and earth tones.

Learned

  • My tree shapes still need work. I find them a bit “samey,” as well as all lopsided. In both paintings, I messed up a tree shape and tried to cover it up with more needles, leading to odd shapes. I think I need to study tree shapes and make a conscious effort to vary the kinds.

Module 3: Mountains

Here is where I hit my stride and starting churning out paintings I truly loved.

Gradient Mountain Sunset

Gradient Mountain Sunset from Kolbie Blume’s Beginner Landscapes. December 6, 2022.

I am so in love with layered mountains, especially the Blue Ridge Mountains. The fact that such a painting was included in Kolbie’s original 10-Day Challenge is a lot of what drew me to that challenge and to Kolbie, because this is exactly the type of work that I wanted to paint and that got me into watercolor. And finally I am painting these scenes that I really like! This is something I would possibly have bought before I ever picked up a watercolor brush, and to me, that makes me feel like I have arrived.

This is another one that is very similar to a 10-Day project, for purposes of progress comparison. Here’s day 2, again done about a year prior:

Layered mountains, from day 2 of Kolbie Blume’s 10-Day Challenge.

I really like this when I made it (I still do!), but the new one is much more successful at accomplishing what I set out to do.

Here’s my Loved & Learned (for the new one):

Loved

  • Deep, deep, peach ring-colored gradient sky. I love the vibrance and smoothness of this gradient, which is a combination of DS Hansa Yellow Deep (PY65) and WN Scarlet Lake (PR188).
  • Contrast of yellow-orange in sky to blue-green in mountain layers. (I didn’t bring the sky all the way down, which allowed me to get more vibrant blues in the mountains.)
  • Lovely range of light to dark/muted to vibrant blue colors in the mountains (from DV Prussian Blue (PB27) and Holbein Indigo), with good steps between each layer to create a feeling of depth. It’s clear that I’ve leveled up in color/water control and intentionality.

Learned

  • You really need multiple layers to get the sky that vibrant. I did 3.
  • I probably would have used Quin Coral for this on my own, but ultimately I’m glad I went with Kolbie’s choice of Scarlet Lake, which gives the sky a more orangey and less pinky look. It was right for this image.
  • While I like the intensity of my yellow sky, Kolbie’s is more gentle which also looks nice. Another good option.

Mountain Climb

Mountain Climb from Kolbie Blume’s Beginner Landscapes. December 8, 2022.

This is a classic Kolbie composition! It looks a bit like the cover of their book.

Loved

  • Overall effect gives that mountain-lake look that feels so peaceful and majestic
  • Negative-painting the mountain was an effective way to keep it lighter than the sky.
  • The birds add a nice lively touch of movement.
  • Blue-to-yellow gradient in the sky – not easy to do without green! I did this by doing it in two layers (yellow, then blue) and mixing Monte Amiata Natural Sienna into my Lemon Yellow for the sky color to make it more blue-proof.
  • I also like the blue-to-green colors in the back tree layer, which give just a hint of a lake mist effect. Colors in the back layer include Phthalo Green BS, Phthalo Blue GS, and Serpentine.
  • Dark greens in front layer – a palette mix including Indigo, Perylene Green, Prussian Blue, and Chromium Green Oxide.

Learned

  • Working with another person’s painting as a reference rather than a photo leads to a more cartoony look; I feel like my work from photos looks more naturalistic. This didn’t matter so much with the simpler paintings that we’ve done so far, but I’m starting to feel it now that the scenes are more complex.
  • You can see places in the foreground trees where I went over them several times because my initial pass was too light. It would be better if I had loaded my brush fully the first time and just dashed them off in one go – or if I’d used my second pass to develop distinct shadows, rather than simply redoing the same thing I did to start.

Milky Way Peak

Milky Way Peak, for Kolbie Blume’s Beginner Landscapes and referencing a photo by Benjamin Voros on Unsplash. December 11, 2022.

I’m so excited about this one!!! I feel like it’s some of my best work to date!

In this case, I followed the tutorial less (though I watched it ahead of time and used the same basic idea, as well as some specific tips like splattering multiple layers of stars, including one still wet). I really felt that I wanted a reference photo for this one, so I found a similar image on Unsplash to work from.

Photo by Benjamin Voros on Unsplash

I liked the colors of this sky, the depth of stars, and the milky way, and that’s what I tried to capture in my rendition.

This is also a painting I would have been tempted to buy if I hadn’t been the one to make it!

Loved

  • Stars, stars, stars! This is multiple layers of splatter and you can really tell that there is a mix of small and big stars which give a sense of depth.
  • Depth of color in the sky. I got the black parts really black with the use of, well, black! (MaimeriBlu’s Neutral Tint (PBk26), specifically.) I also used plenty of Indigo, grading to Quin Magenta (PR122) on one side and Cobalt Turquoise (PG50) on the other.
  • The Milky Way is one of the most successful I’ve done. I left bits of it white/light while painting the sky, but I also used a top layer of white gouache to add definition.
  • Sparing, almost sloppy use of shadow in the mountains keeps attention on the sky.

Learned

  • My attempt to make the Milky Way lighter and brighter near the top of the mountain isn’t entirely successful and I think it ends up looking a bit like an explosion or wildfire smoke. I’m undecided on the use of yellow here.
  • If I’m nitpicking, there’s some dried paint lines at the edge of the mountain.

Module 4: Landscape Recipes

In this module, Kolbie shows how mixing and matching what we’ve learned in the previous modules can help to build more complex scenes, and that the skills are mix-and-matchable and transferable. This is a really cool idea!

Moonlit Night Sky

Ahhh… back to a relaxing night sky, although this one had enough fussiness that I did start it three times! In this module, Kolbie begins showing reference photos to explain how to work from them, so I took full advantage and kept it up while painting.

Using the reference photo also makes it easier to see (in a funny way) how Kolbie and I can look at the same photo and make totally different color choices, with Kolbie making the horizon gray and me making it BRIGHT YELLOW.

Loved

  • Cloud color – such a bold pink! I think this looks just like Opera Pink, but it’s not! It’s the more lightfast combo of Quin Rose and Quin Coral, just looking fluorescent because of the contrast against the muted sky.
  • Deep sky color from Indigo. I don’t know why I resisted Indigo for so long. I used to do layers and layers of muted Prussian Blue to get deep night sky color and Indigo just slaps it on.
  • Third time’s the charm: successful centering of the moon using a ruler.
  • As simple as this scene is, I’m glad I used the reference.

Learned

  • Would have liked more ethereal cloud shapes (not just lines).
  • Gentler color along horizon might have been nicer (though I don’t hate the deep yellow).
  • Craggier mountains would have looked more realistic – I think I often make them too rounded.

Gradient Forest

The lesson of this project is that the layered mountain lessons can also be applied to trees! I love this image – with its dreamy, golden hour, autumny colors and distinct layers, it reminds me of my favorite video game art from games like Firewatch, Night in the Woods, and Life Is Strange. As far as my rendition of it…

Loved

  • Bold colors
  • Distinct layers
  • Mix of tree shapes
  • The geese!

Learned

  • Comparing it to the reference, I see that I made it much bigger and busier-feeling. If I want to create more of a sense of calm, I need to be less afraid of leaving open swaths of negative space.
  • I missed a chance to add some pink to the sky.
  • Watch those last-minute drips! I splatted two small spots of dirty water in the sky at the last moment and didn’t notice until they dried.

Mountain Dawn

Mountain Dawn from Kolbie Blume’s Beginner Landscapes. December 15, 2022.

Kolbie concludes the class by showing how they use a composite of multiple images from their own camera roll to build a painting that has no specific single reference. I intended to do the same process with my own images, but I liked Kolbie’s so much that I decided to go ahead and follow along their tutorial and do a copy of it. (I’ll work from a composite of my own photos in a later post.) This was a nice way to finish off the class because I really like this image and find it very peaceful.

Loved:

  • That bit of orange on the mountainside adds so much glow!
  • Subtle colors – I actually started this with bolder colors but redid it because I really loved the subtlety of Kolbie’s version.
  • I’m getting the hang of mountain shadows.
  • Thin bare-tree branches courtesy of my rigger.

Learned:

  • Careful about the consistency of paint in the bare tree branches – I made it too watery on some of them and they sort of disappeared.

Conclusion

I expected a relaxing ride on cruise control with Beginner Landscapes, but was surprised by how complex and intense some of these scenes ended up being! That’s not to say that the course is too hard, but just that in so many of these scenes, even simple ones, it is always possible to get really into them and add a lot of complexity. I feel like in some ways this is a revisiting of the 10-Day Challenge (only in a more interesting way than redoing something I already did), which is perfect timing since it’s about a year later and it’s interesting to see how I have changed.

As always, I really appreciate Kolbie’s tutorials. Their choice of subjects and references is extremely inspiring to me and the way they break down the image and show how to do each part is really relaxing to watch and learn from. Over the course of this class, I increasingly broke with the tutorial and sought out the references (or my own references!), which tells me that I no longer “need” the tutorial, but it’s still fun to have.

I’d also say that a major value to me of having a class to work through is not having to choose what to do each night – I just did the next class, which lessens some of the stress that I can have with initializing and deciding, while still keeping me engaged and challenged with interesting projects that I really personally enjoyed.

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