One of my first watercolor challenges I ever did was Kolbie Blume’s Painting the Wilderness challenge in fall 2021 (I did it about a month after it premiered), and in summer 2022 I painted along in real time to their follow-up Seascapes challenge. In February 2023, it was time for round 3: World of Color! As a color enthusiast, this challenge was right up my alley. Let’s look at the paintings.
Day 1: Sky Candy
The fortnight got off to a rough start as I felt I had the yips the first day out, and I ended up restarting this seemingly simple scene something like five times. I finished two versions: one more like the tutorial, and one more like the reference photo.
Colors: DS Quin Gold, DS Quin Coral, DS Quin Rose, WN Phthalo Turquoise, Rembrandt Spinel Grey (for the flat black). I muted the Phthalo Turquoise with a bit of DS Pyrrol Scarlet.
- I really like how the colors turned out.
- The blends in the reference photo one, especially the alternation of lighter and darker values.
- Leaving the whites in the bottom corner of the tutorial one really gave it a sunny glow.
- Kolbie is right: the colors really will look brighter when you paint on the muted foreground. I think I got too precious about making the background perfect, but each of my paintings got an instant boost when I did the silhouette mountains.
- Similarly, muted colors offset the bright ones, and that contrast is important.
- Simple is good! I thought doing a version from the reference might be too simple (just the sunset and the one mountain), but I really like it.
Day 2: Gray Lake
Again, I did two versions! I interspersed them, so I was working on one while waiting for the other to dry. One was my straight grayscale version, and for the other my goal was “subtle color” or “colorful grays,” where I mixed all the grays from complementary color pairs and allowed them to tilt toward various hues (slightly blue in the sky, slightly green in the trees.) I like them both, for different reasons.
Colors: Grayscale version: mostly Spinel Grey, I also mixed some complementary grays as in the Subtle Color version. Subtle Color version: Ultramarine Blue + Transparent Red Oxide; Perylene Green + Pyrrole Rubin; Phthalo Turquoise + Pyrrol Scarlet.
- The subtle color thing works for me. I especially like the color separating mixes, like in the sky.
- There is something I really love about the pale sky of the grayscale version; it has a look to me like the sky in a black and white photo, and I can’t pin down why.
- Water needs some wet-on-dry to look more realistic. The shadows look better in the grayscale one, but the waves look better in the subtle-color one.
- When a background mountain is really light, it looks like there’s more hazy distance; I think this more successful in the black-and-white version, whereas I got too dark right off with the subtle-color version.
- Varying the size and value of mountain shapes is more interesting. The BW version looks more like the reference photo, and that works better, I think.
Day 3: Golden Haze
I found this one fun, if challenging; it’s similar to the skies I was doing in Maria Smirnova’s Skies class. This was the first one I completed within one day, and in only one painting!
Colors: MI Green Gold (Nickel Azo Yellow), WN Winsor Lemon, HO Isoindolinone Yellow Deep, DS Quin Coral, WN Smalt, WN Ultramarine Green Shade
- I happened to look at a Monet painting in between layers and it inspired me to make the clouds more blue, which I think works in this palette.
- Glowy appearance of the sun, helped by the fact that the edges softened when I put Lemon Yellow into the sun while the outline was still wet. I didn’t mean for it to do that, but I like the effect.
- Scarlet outline around the pines (I stole that trick from Kelley Vivian’s paintings).
- Blue mountain.
- The combination of purplish over yellow tends to gray out, which wasn’t exactly what I was going for. I found it difficult to decide at any given time whether to make the clouds more bold or more subtle.
- Cloud shapes could be softer.
Day 4: Autumn Trails
I did this one in one sitting, and found it really difficult to know when to step away. Paintings that I do in layers create an automated “rethink your choices” break.
- River ripples
- Realistic autumn colors
- Sketch ahead of time! Since I didn’t, I made the bank much too large, and had to improve how to make it more interesting than just some brown.
- Planning my darks would also have helped so I wasn’t just putting in more and more and more of them.
- Step away at intervals, even if you don’t need to for layers – fresh eyes would have helped me judge how much more work to do, instead of slowly and methodically overworking it.
Day 5: Arctic Prism
Colors: MI Green Gold (Nickel Azo Yellow), DS Red Rose Deep (Quin Rose), WN Phthalo Turquoise, HO Payne’s Grey
- That little Alpine mountain on the right.
- Even though I don’t think it adds that much, it added a lot of complexity to the making to leave the white for the mountain on the left (I couldn’t bring the rainbows right across the page), and I appreciate that I decided to make things harder on myself for interest.
- Don’t be afraid to blend! After seeing other people’s renditions of this, I’m struck by how little I blended the sky – I just left it as separate bands of color – and I think the more successful ones got a slow and subtle shift through the colors, especially drawing out the violet you can get between the rose and turquoise.
Day 6: Rainbow Desert
I loved this one. I broke out my desert colors! I did this one mostly from the reference photo.
Colors: Sky: Phthalo Turquoise + Phthalo Green BS. Rocks: Indian Red, Pyrrol Scarlet, Quin Burnt Orange; with Indigo for the cracks. Plants: Chromium Oxide Green, Yellow Ochre, Spinel Grey.
- Clean, graphical quality of this! It looks like an album cover.
- Deep, green-toned gradient sky.
- It went much quicker than I thought, and I think that gives it a freshness.
- This one I sort of regret sketching ahead because I can still see the pencil marks, but I guess it might not have come out as nicely-shaped if I hadn’t.
- A friend of mine did this in a three-color limited palette, and I think it would have been a fun challenge to try that instead of throwing every paint in my box at it.
Day 7: Gradient Peak
Colors: MI Permanent Yellow Light (PY154), HO Phthalo Blue Red Shade (PB15), Indanthrone Blue (PB60), HO Payne’s Gray (PBk6/PB15/PR122)
- Gentle sky; I especially love the way the PBRS color turned out. I would have thought I would need Cerulean, Cobalt, or a mix with white to get that pale blue, but that’s just diluted PBRS and it looks great for the sky!
- Managed to do yellow and blue in the sky without getting much green.
- Have the confidence to go over things once: I see double-edged paint lines at the edge of several places where I went over things twice, and it looks odd to me.
- Need more practice with water control using the rigger – it ran out faster than I expected and I got a lot of drybrush.
Day 8: Light in the Forest
This one was rough for me. I didn’t really like the project so I went off the reference, and made things harder on myself by not using gouache (only negative painting). It’s a hard reference!
Colors: WN Phthalo Turquoise (PB16), WN Ultramarine Blue Green Shade (PB29), DS Indanthrone Blue (PB60), HO Indigo,SE Prussian Blue (PB29), DS Rich Green Gold (PY129), WN Perylene Green (PBk31), DV Raw Umber (PBr7)
- Green colors – mostly mixed
- There is a sense of some spots being lighter than others
- You can tell what it is (I think)
- All my trees list slightly to the left! I may need to compensate for my left-handedness.
- More leafy/interesting shapes in the trees would prevent it from being just kind of stripes.
- I should have taken a break between the trees and the water, as it was by the time I got to the water I was already tired and frustrated.
- Planning my colors ahead of time might have kept me from using so many similar blues unnecessarily.
Day 9: Violet Night
I really enjoyed this one!
Colors: HO Quin Magenta (PR122), HO Phthalo Blue Red Shade (PB15), HO Indigo, WN Winsor Yellow Deep (PY65), WN Perylene Green (PBk31), DV Yellow Ochre (PY43)
- Deep, vibrant sky!
- Two layers of stars, one wet and one dry, to make size/blurriness variation
- Negative-painted road stripes (again, no gouache!) – they’re nice and bright without the chalkiness that can come from gouache.
- Could have taken a little more care to prevent yellow on horizon from being muddied by purple.
- I meant to have a little hook in the yellow road lines at the end to gesture toward the curve in the road, but it got covered over by black paint. The perils of negative painting are that if you lose something, you lose it.
Day 10: Mountain Dreams
Colors: DV Quin Red (PR209), HO Phthalo Blue Red Shade (PB15), WN Ultramarine Green Shade (PB29), WN Smalt (PV15), HO Payne’s Gray, DS Quin Burnt Orange (PO48)
- Quin Red (aka Quin Coral), PR209, is the perfect color for sunset clouds and alpenglow.
- Water control in the sky – negative-painting around clouds doesn’t usually go that smoothly for me! Wiping my brush before applying to wet paint (e.g. dry-on-wet) was useful technique.
- Letting the clouds go where they want, not trying to make it too much like the reference.
- I think I let the mountain get too dark; overworking a bit. I would have liked to let the highlights be the same color as the clouds in the sky. Still, there is something kind of neat about the Quin Burnt Orange I used to try to “save” it.
Although nothing will blow my mind like the first 10-Day challenge – likely because of where I was in my painting journey when I took it on – I enjoyed this challenge as well. Color is one of my favorite aspects of painting, and these references were really fun. My favorites were Rainbow Desert and Violet Night.
I think I can tell that I am developing as an artist with each challenge, because I’m spending less time on the tutorials and more time on the references alone. In the first 10-Day Challenge, I was tutorial only (I didn’t even realize there were references until late in the game); in Seascapes, I went half and half, nearly alternating, whether I painted from the tutorial or the reference; and this time, I watched the tutorials, but when it came time to actually paint, I only pulled up the reference. I’ve become more comfortable putting my own spin on things, and I feel like even if I didn’t have the tutorials, I’d be pretty comfortable coming up with my own approach to painting references. This is where I wanted to be two years ago, or even one year ago, so it’s exciting to see progress!