A Review of Joyce Hicks' Hilltop Homestead: Transforming the Landscape - Creative Catalyst Productions

A Review of Joyce Hicks' Hilltop Homestead: Transforming the Landscape in Watercolor

April 15, 2019 6 min read

We love getting the chance to carry videos produced by other productions companies. We’ve been carrying Joyce Hick’s watercolor video workshops for years as DVDs, and we’re excited to be able to start offering her videos in digital options. We wanted to give you an inside look at her excellent video workshop “Hilltop Homestead: Transforming the Landscape in Watercolor.” Now available in both streaming and download. 


Learn to paint landscapes in watercolor with artist Joyce Hicks



“When I first started painting the landscape, I was overwhelmed with all of the information out there,” says Hicks in the video workshop Hilltop Homestead. “So I devised a simple method for distilling the landscape.”

A lot of painters find themselves here: Totally overwhelmed by the amount of information they see and uncertain on how to translate that information into a painting. Hicks’ video workshop addresses both of these challenges head-on and gives you the tools you need to simplify the information down to create a dynamic final painting.

The video workshop starts with a materials section including how she uses her sketchbooks. You will learn about her brushes, palette, pigments, and paper. Next, you’ll jump into how Hicks plans her paintings.

For Hicks, it all starts with shifting your thinking from seeing objects as things to seeing objects as shapes. So, for example, instead of seeing a barn or a tree, you learn to see a rectangle and a triangle. This can be harder than it seems at first but it’s worth learning. We’ve heard this idea again and again from the world’s top painters. They say it’s a thinking leap you have to make to move between being an intermediate and being an advanced painter.


Learn to see shapes in watercolor landscape with Joyce Hicks' video workshop Hilltop Homestead: Transforming the Landscape in Watercolor


If you’re still struggling with seeing objects as shapes, Hicks has a way to help you. She prints out her photo onto a black and white piece of paper and then using a sharpie, outlines the shapes she wants to include in her painting. This helps her begin shifting from an object mentality to a shape mentality.

Hicks no longer has to go through each of these steps consciously now but she does admit,

“But it took some time to be able to train my eye to be able to see what was important in the landscape.”


Hicks works from photographs, but they act only as a source of inspiration before she puts them aside later in her process. She uses the photo to find her shapes. She then works on her compositional and value study in her small 6x6 sketchbook. Often she’ll combine elements from several photographs to create a stronger design.

“I’ll take artistic license and I’ll rearrange the shapes and I’ll keep what I like. And I will dismiss what I don't like. You don’t have to paint everything that’s in the photo,” says Hicks.


Learn to see create value and color studies in watercolor landscape with Joyce Hicks' video workshop Hilltop Homestead: Transforming the Landscape in Watercolor

After her value study, she creates a small color study based on those values.

“Don’t ever paint from a photograph. It will lead you down the wrong path every time.”

Working from photos can cause you to do several things. First, it encourages you to see objects as things instead of shapes. It also limits your creativity around color. Hicks points to the field in her original photograph. It’s sort of boring. But when you see her color study, it’s filled with dynamic color. That’s because she’s been paying attention to her value study and doesn’t care about being true to her photo.

“You want to be an artist,” she says. “You don’t want to be a human camera.”


Now with the preparatory work done, Hicks puts the photo completely away. She does the drawing off camera and suggests a few ideas on how to get a drawing onto a piece of watercolor paper.

“The first thing we have to decide is how do we want to start and where do we want to start,” she says. “I always make a plan before I put paint in my brush.”

Hicks does an incredible job explaining her thinking. And it’s often thinking about temperature. She suggests you draw a sun on the edge of your tape to represent where the sun lives in the sky. You’ll always want the sun’s location to be top of mind.

Joyce begins her painting by getting in her first washes. While the golden fields are still damp, she lays in manganese blue for the shadows and yellow for the sunlit areas. The result is an immediate sense of sunlight and shadow all with lovely soft edges.


Learn to how to add shadows in watercolor landscape with Joyce Hicks' video workshop Hilltop Homestead: Transforming the Landscape in Watercolor

There’s a rhythm to how Hicks works. She pauses before each section and decides what she’s going to do next. Mostly that’s a conversation about placement. She’s constantly thinking about how close a shape (representing an object) is to the viewer and how that will affect the color value, temperature, and intensity of that shape. Hicks works in groups so, for example, she does all similar trees at the same time. That way she can be really conscious about her treatment of them. Again, deciding which one is closest to the viewer and that tree gets the most saturated and the warmest color.

This way of grouping and painting like-objects is a really useful way to work for someone still learning. It limits the number of decisions you have to make and once you figure out the plan, you can use that plan across the whole section before wrapping it up and letting it be.

Once you’re done with that section, you can ignore it while you focus on the next grouping. This way of working allows Hicks (and you) to be really considerate of things like value, temperature, and intensity in a way that you just can’t be when you’re jumping from tree to barn to grass to sky to bush, etc.


Hicks finishes her washes and then begins to work background to foreground. She begins with her trees, bushes, buildings, and the shadows. She finishes with glazing her rooves and adding final detail.



Hicks works most of her areas wet-into-wet, first mixing color on her palette and then dropping in additional color to adjust the temperature or intensity or to just add interest.


“You have to identify that first and when you have, then you need to exaggerate it. If it’s about the sunny day, then let's exaggerate the sunshine,” she says. “Exaggerate what you love.”

Hicks loves the color of full sun days. She practices what she preaches by creating wonderful passages or warm sunlight and dramatic long shadows. She shows you how to do that with the very first wet-into-wet washes and how to continue that through your final details. You’ll love how these principles will strengthen your own paintings sense of sunlight and shadow.


During the course of the main demo, the instruction pauses and Hicks shares a break-out-lesson. In each of the four, she talks about how you can use a shape to represent an object.  For example, she has a breakout lesson on how to use an organic shape to create flowers, how to turn a triangle into a pine tree and how a rectangle can be a window. She then combines these ideas in her fourth break-out-lesson to do a small house on a hill.

Learn to see shapes in watercolor landscape with Joyce Hicks' video workshop Hilltop Homestead: Transforming the Landscape in Watercolor



Whether you’re a beginner or a pretty advanced painter, Joyce Hicks "Hilltop Homestead"is a great video workshop. If you need help thinking about color temperature especially in your work, this video workshop will help you understand how to use color temperature in your own paintings. The video is also brimming with good tips and techniques. I could have included a dozen and I wouldn’t have exhausted the number of useful ideas Hicks shares. With this workshop, you’ll discover a way to think through a painting that gives you the ability to group how you paint a piece so that it’s dynamic. Plus, you’ll love the freedom it gives you with your reference photos.


Click here to learn more about Joyce Hicks' video workshop, “Hilltop Homestead: Transforming the Landscape in Watercolor.” Or check out all of her video workshops available in both streaming and download options in the Creative Catalyst shop.

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