Landscape Essentials in Watercolor

Landscape Essentials in Watercolor with Dale Laitinen

A lot of the art instructional videos here at creative catalyst are created with intermediate and advanced artists in mind. Part of this Learn to Paint series looks at those DVD workshops and talks about how while they aren't created specifically for beginners, there is an incredible wealth of information that beginners would take away from the video.

There is a lot to learn when learning to paint, and one of the reasons Dale Laitnen's beginning watercolor painting video, Landscape Essentials in Watercolor, is so powerful is that it focuses on several aspects of watercolor and teaches them well. You aren't overwhelmed with 10,000 things to learn. He teaches a solid foundation like washes for example and references them throughout the instructional DVD workshop But he takes also takes more advance aspects of watercolor (like linking) and begins teaching them to you now. Linking is a pretty advanced technique, but Laitnen explains it and shows it in a way that makes sense. He doesn't dumb it down, and he doesn't leave it out. He teaches it to the beginning artist in a way that is applicable and tangible.

Dale Laitinen's material section is a great reference tool.

Dale Laitinen starts with looking at materials. His material section is succinct and to the point. It's useful but doesn't linger for too long. For those learning to paint watercolor it will be a great reference tool for later on. He doesn't walk through how to use each and every piece. Laitinen wants to move on to the heart of the video which is the techniques you'll use including the washes.

(Left) Dale Laitinen demonstrates a wet on dry technique while (right) he shows a mix of wet and dry.

Laitinen starts his painting demonstration with the basic techniques he'll use later in his paintings. Creative Catalyst set up Laitinen's art DVD so that it's easy for the beginning painter to find exactly the technique shewants to review. Can't remember how to work a flat wash? Easy! Just click on chapter 3, "Flat Wash." It seems like something really simple but it makes a big difference for those learning to paint. Laitinen's instructional DVD workshop will make it less cumbersome to learn.

(Left) Laitinen works on his thumbnail sketch while (right) he brings his sketch to his watercolor paper.

After the basic techniques, Laitienn turns to his piece, which is a beach scene from California coast. Before he gets to painitng, ee focuses on the importance of drawing. Laitinen spends a lot of time in his live workshops discussing the importance of learning to draw, and he isn't afraid of the subject even in a beginning watercolor DVD. For those just learning to draw or paint, it may not be as simple to draw their subject matter but it is great to hear the thinking that goes on when Laitinen is working through his thumbnail drawings. Drawing is a combination of line and shape. He uses darker pencil to denote different plains.

It's also refreshing to see how Laitnen changes his reference material. During his thumbanil, the reference photo is on the screen almost the entire time, and Laitinen changes it so that the painting compositionis better. Don't be a slave to your reference photo. Just because it is in a photograph that doesn't mean it should be in the final painting.

One of the reasons why Laitnen promtes drawing so much is that it's the first step in familiarizing yourself with the subject. Painting is translation, and while drawing the artist is learning more and more and more about her subject. Once she is ready to paint, she will be more prepared than if she didn't spend anytime getting to know her subject matter through drawing. Laitinen advises, "Think of your drawings as the tryout place or the brainstorming place." Indeed.

Laitinen makes the great point that learning to draw is about learning to see proportion. This is a great way to think about learning to draw. It's about learning a certain set of skills and one of those skills is something as specific as proportion. That idea somehow takes the pressure off of learning to draw a beach or a hill. Math takes some time to learn, so have that attitude when learning to draw.

Laitinen shows how painting and drawing is a generation of one image to the next.  Some aspects of the first generation pass to the second generation but not necessarily everything. This is an important concept for those just learning to paint. There is a rigidity that comes with trying to copy exactly a thumbnail to a line drawing to a painting. Laitinen encourages you to let the piece evolve from one step to the next.

(Left) Laitinen thoroughly wets his paper. (Right) He tips his board to make sure there is an even sheen.

Once Laitinen has finishes the drawing, he begins putting down paint. He begins with black and white. By removing the color variable he can focus on the important concept of value. So many students want to jump straight to color. But color can be distracting. Laitinen shows how working only in black and white shows you how an artist constructs shapes through value.

Laitinen first wets the painting with a large watercolor brush. Some artists will use a sponge or even dip the paper into a bathtub, but he likes using a brush because it helps him warm up. As he wets the surface, he looks for an even sheen across all of this paper.

What's excellent about this particular watercolor DVD workshop is that there aren't many cuts while Dale wets his paper. Feel free to fast forward through this bit but it's also quite helpful for beginning painters to see just how long it takes to do this step or that. It's easy to say, "Wet your paper," but then at home you are faced with, "Well how long does that take?" And with the 300 pound rough paper Laitinen is using, it takes a couple of minutes.

(Left) Laitinen finishes his first wet into wet wash. (Right) After the paper is dry, he begins to add shapes.

Now Laitnen moves into his first wash, wet into wet. He explains how for wet into wet it is important to make sure that your brush is wetter than your paper. He also talks about watercolor specifics like eliminating whites. For those learning to paint watercolor, it's important to remember that your whitest white is the white of your paper. So as  you paint you are eliminating those whites. Once an area of white is gone, it is gone.

As Laitinen paints he makes sure that there is still a sheen on his paper. If the sheen disappears, it means the paper is dry and he won't get the wet into wet affect he's after.

Next Laitinen wasn't to establish shapes. For this he's switching his water technique from wet into wet to a wet into dry wash. This means that his paper starts dry. This allows the painter to get hard edges. All this discussion of paper saturation or brush saturation is important for beginning watercolorists. 

(Left) Laitinen takes a moment to explain which washes he's used. (Right) He creates some linkage beteween shapes.

Occasionally Laitinen will put down the brush and recap what techniques he's used where. It's important for a beginner to understand what techniques to use when and where. Laitnen teaches and then reinforces what he's taught. He helps show you the roadmap through a painting.

Now that the painting is dry, Laitnen begins to add detail. He wants to step his value down and begin describing the planes of his surfaces. He defines lines of the beach and begins to build in reflections. All of this is so much easier to understand in black and white. Laitnen will go trough the exact same process with his color piece but beginners will understand it much clearer because they've seen it only in terms of value the first time.

(Left) Laitinen defines plain on the rock face. (Right) He begins to add detail.

In Laitnen's final step on his black and white painting he has three goals including establish values, refine shapes, and add detail. Dale also drops the value down one more level. Working in black and white really helps the beginner be less afraid of getting dark. Going dark is one of the main struggles of beginner painters, and working through black and white study helps the beginner watercolorist understand the power of those darks without worrying about messing up color.

Next Laitinen begins his color study. He starts with warm because even on a foggy day you'll have a sun shining onto the landscape. With the paper still wet, Dale moves to cobalt blue. As he's painting he's making sure the paper retains the sheen.

(Left) Laitinen begins his color painting with warms. (Right) He charges in blues.

As a beginner it was powerful to see him paint over his lines. Beginners so often try to paint within lines and Latinen works large and then moves to smaller, which means in the beginning he's creating broad strokes.

Now that the painting is dry, Laitinen wants to link his shapes so that the viewers eye can move through the painting. Linking is an incredibly powerful idea as it creates cohesion between all the shapes in a piece.

(Left Top) Laitinen adds cobalt into his background before charging in a second color (top left.) Next (bottom left) Laitnen drags clean water across an area of fresh paint in order to soften an edge and transition the color down into the area below. (Bottom Right) He touches in cobalt to create linkage between the bluffs and the ocean.

He moves from linking to final detail work. He starts in his background bluffs and works forward. He makes sure to not paint detail in everywhere. If every shape has detail, the eye won't know where to go. Detail pulls the eye to it.

(Left) Laitinen works in darks and creates definition. (Right) he begins working in the forground.
 

After Laitinen has finished his paintings, he takes a moment to analyze the differences between the two works. He explains why he made the changes he did, and it's incredibly useful for those just learning to paint watercolor to have this side by side explanation.

(Left) Laitinen adds his final details (Right) The watercolorist compares his two pieces side by side.

Watercolorist Dale Laitinen does an amazing job of simplifying without dumbing down. As with Linda Baker's art video workshop, he takes complex issues and explains them in an incredibly accessible way. He's an incredibly conscious instructor. He knows the aspects that are important to painting, and he brings them to a beginner in a meaninful way.

To learn more about Dale Latinen's beginning watercolor DVD workshop, check out Landscape Essentials in Watercolor.