Gouache Landscapes: Episode 1 - Mountain River | Sarah Burns | Skillshare

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Gouache Landscapes: Episode 1 - Mountain River

teacher avatar Sarah Burns, Painter / Teacher / Photographer

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

8 Lessons (17m)
    • 1. Intro

    • 2. Sketch and Sky

    • 3. Mountains Part 1

    • 4. Painting the Water

    • 5. Mountains Part 2

    • 6. Grassy Island

    • 7. Foreground Details

    • 8. Final Thoughts

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About This Class


Painting landscapes should be fun! That's why I'm doing this series. I want to share my strategies for painting my favorite places with gouache. It's a perfect medium to take with you when you travel and capture your world.

In Episode 1 I will share my process for painting this Scotland mountain scene while I discuss the following things:

  • Controlling values
  • Adding mist
  • Working in layers
  • Different brush strokes

This scene is great practice for your gouache journey and I hope it will inspire you to paint landscapes!

About This Series

Gouache Landscapes is a series of "bite size" classes (all under an hour - Episode 1 is a bit shorter than usual) that each demonstrate a variety of techniques and strategies for getting the most out of gouache. There is no specific upload schedule, but my plan is to release them every 2-3 weeks. Episode 1 is free!

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Check out my other classes to improve your landscapes!

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Meet Your Teacher

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Sarah Burns

Painter / Teacher / Photographer


Hello! My name is Sarah. I'm a full-time artist and illustrator living in the Highlands of Scotland.


What I Do

My focus is on landscapes, but I do all sorts of things! Drawing, painting, photography and my three biggest joys.

I have self published one book, Tree Girl, and have begun work on two other books since 2019.

My days are spent painting and teaching others. I stream my process on Twitch and Youtube, and provide educational content on several platforms such as Youtube, Gumroad, and Patreon.


My Art Style

My style is a mixture of realism and expressive marks.

See for yourself


My Teaching Style

I truly believe that everyone has the ability to express themselves, but sometime... See full profile

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1. Intro: One of my favorite reasons for painting is to capture my travels, especially when the place takes my breath away. And that happens a lot in Scotland. Gloss is a wonderful medium for capturing a landscape. So I want to share my knowledge with you guys to help empower you to capture your world. This is episode one. I'll demonstrate my process for painting this Moody summer mountains scene. I'll break down each section and share lots of tips along the way so you can apply these strategies to any subject. So grab your sketchbooks and let's get started. 2. Sketch and Sky: First we'll get our sketch on the paper and then we'll lay in the sky color and start those distant mountains. If you need help with your sketch, you can use mine as your reference. You can download that in the project resources. So go ahead and lay in EarSketch when you're painting with wash because that's opaque. Most of the time you're going to cover your sketch. For today's painting, i'm gonna try to paint the whole thing in sections so that it's a little bit easier if you're brand new to painting landscapes. But a lot of times I consider my sketch just to be a quick warm-up or a rough draft of what the painting is going to be. And to help me visualize where all the elements are going to be. Let's quickly take a look at the final painting, which will be our reference. So we can talk about the strategy for painting this. We're going to start simple with laying in that pale blue color of the sky and then filling in the distant mountains with a base color. Then we're going to come a little bit forward and paint in that right side mountain. Then we'll move down to the water and then maybe add some more details to the mountains and that middle grass area. And then at the end we'll paint that foreground grassy area with all of the little flowers and all the little details. I find the best strategy for layering Miguasha is to work from the background elements or distant elements in the landscape and then move my way forward. A lot of times that this kinda ends up working from top to bottom in the scene for the sky and using a very diluted pale blue, which I made by mixing my zinc white with my Prussian blue and a tiny hint of my neutral tin, which is actually a black watercolor. When working with diluted guage, it's best to lay in big sections of color like this pretty quickly in one go. Or watercolor paper is quite thirsty, so it will immediately start soaking it up. So I won't even have to wait that long before I can do my distant mountains. But in general, you want to wait until your sky is dry before you start doing your mountains. Otherwise, the color could potentially bleed up into the sky. 3. Mountains Part 1: Because are seen as a little bit misty. I want my mountains to sort of fade off into the distance. The mountain faces sort of step back and get gradually later as they recede into the distance. Here is a little preview of what we want to end up with for this first layer. So keep this in mind when you plan your mixes because none of our colors should be either super bright or super, super dark. To achieve a lighter color, you have two options. Either dilute with water or add white to the mix. But if you're working on top of another layer, you want to avoid adding too much water because it will start mixing with that layer below. That's why I used my diluted paint in the first layer. Also keep in mind that when wash dries it experiences a color shift or a value shift. So the light colors tend to get a little bit darker and the darker colors tend to dry a little bit lighter. And I know that's going to make this really tricky, but also this painting is a great exercise for practicing your color mixing. So for these distant mountains, a good strategy would be to take that sky color and darken it a little bit. And then as you get closer and closer to the foreground, start adding a little bit more green or blue or even a little red to darken it even more and shift those colors into more of a green tone. You might do this and then it dries and you realize it's not quite dark enough or it's too light. So just keep it in mind that you can always come back in and go over these areas. This isn't, it's not the end of the world. But you can already see that those first two little ridges I did are drying darker. Now I'll speed up the process so you can get an idea of how dramatic this color shift is. To help make this process easier. You could do a little test sheet on the side before you do the mountains. Okay, now as I was finishing my melons, I started to think my sky was a little too boring for my taste. I decided to come back in with some white and break up that big space of sky. The beauty of galoshes that we can blend into it forever. When layering guage, we don't want to scrub, but instead we want to use confident bold strokes that start to blend with the color below. You'll notice that the first brushstroke might not do much. But then the more you go at it, the more it starts blending. It's easy to get carried away while doing this. So I just want to caution you to maybe start slow. It was also at this time when I decided to add some missed over the distant hills, my best advice for layering missed over a solid object like a mountain is to use a flat brush and to make sure you don't use any water or at least avoid as much as you can, work in very thin layers and slowly build it up on top of that mountain. If at any point you feel you've lost the individual Mountain faces, you can use this mist technique to separate them slightly. You might notice as you do this, your brush is going to dry out really fast and maybe feel like it's getting clogged up by the paint. So what I do is continuously clean it off in the water and then dry it off on my towel and keep going back to the pain. I'll also start slowly introducing other colors and variations in the mountain faces so that they're not just like these solid blocks of color. So by mixing in a tiny hint of red or yellow ochre here and there or maybe more darker green. I can start breaking up these big shapes. And again, it's the same technique as the mist or just using pretty much no water, just very thin amount of pain and sweeping over the color that's below, letting it blend here in there. This is another reason I love using my flat brushes because I can turn it to the side and get very, very thin lines or detailed marks Where as with a round brush, sometimes there's just too much paint on it and it comes off in like a big glob. And I can't get the fine details that I want without switching teleco, small fine script brush. So these flat brushes are extremely versatile. On the very far left of these moulins, it's pretty much gonna be covered up by the trees that will be in the foreground. So I'm not really paying close attention to that area. But I am slowly introducing a warmer green at the base of these mountains because the ground sort of levels out there and the light will catch it a little bit differently. Once you're happy with those mountains, we can move on to the right side. Are colors are going to be a bit more bold here. So feel free to clean off your mixing tray and your brushes to get a fresh start. For the most part, I'm using my Prussian blue and powerline black, maybe adding a hint of black to it. But I really want to focus on making it as dark as I can without going complete blackness. I'm barely using any water here because I don't want it to dry lighter or have any like diluted patches. So I'll just continuously load up my brush whenever I feel like it's drying out and work my way from top to bottom. And as I get closer to the bottom, I'll start adding in my yellow ochre to shift it down to a more warm olivine grain. And once we get this whole base color in, we can start adding a little variation just like we did on the left side. But this time we're not going to be adding missed over this mountain because we wanted to really stand out. And by standing out and being really bold, it'll make that distant area that's Misty, be even softer. 4. Painting the Water: Now let's move on to the water. I'm going to start with a layer of very pale blue, almost like I did in the sky. This is also pretty diluted so we can build up our layers on top of it. I want my River to gradually shift from really, really pale, light blue and the distance to a darker blue in the foreground. It's not going to be super dark in this first layer, but more of a midtone, slightly darker than this guy. Now this is where gradient practice comes in handy. If you're having trouble with getting a nice smooth gradient, it might be because you're not using enough water or you're using too much of one color in one specific area, which might lead to streaks. You can try using a bigger flat brush because that'll allow you to apply more pain and get broad strokes that blend together more easily. Or just practice your color to water ratio. I find that using quick, confident brushstrokes gives me a better gradient because I think it helps avoid the paint drying too quickly. Next, we want to add some surface variation to the water to make it appear as though the water is moving and it's not just sitting perfectly still reflecting our mountains. Using an almost dry brush with a hint of that darker blue color. I'll just graze it across the surface of the paper, which should pick up a little bit of the texture of the paper and it'll appear as broken color. This will be much more obvious if you're using like a cold press paper or a rough paper that has a ton of texture to it. As I slowly moved my way down the page, I will add darker and darker blue and kind of try to vary the placement and the size of my brushstrokes to give it a lot of variety. I left a bit a white area where I'm going to be painting in some grasses on a little island of sorts. So I mean, you don't have to do that because it's opaque paint. You can always just paint over the water color, but it's just something I did because it kinda helped me keep in mind where it was going to be. 5. Mountains Part 2: Before we move on, let's finish the details in our mountains with a very dark green color. I'm gonna just dot in a couple of trees in the distance. Later we'll come back and add more though. I want to catch a little bit of the light that's pouring down through that valley. So I'm adding a hint more of the yellow to the base of that left side mountain. Using a dry brush and a healthy amount of my Prussian blue, I'm going to add a hint of texture to the top left side of one of these mountains. Basically to indicate that it's almost like a cliff edge. I'm not scrubbing or blending it in at all. I'm just letting it graze across that color that's below and pop out at us a little bit. I also want to add more detail to the right side of the mountain. So I'm gonna be doing clusters of pine trees because this is so small, I don't have a ton of room for detail, but shape language can do a lot for us. So pine trees and naturally have a pointy top. So by doing clusters of little triangles or even just vertical brushstrokes, it can mimic that look of a bunch of trees. I'll even add a few of them to the ridge of this mountain standing out against that distant mist, which is going to be very subtle, but it's just another visual cue that that background is very foggy and misty and the foreground is much more clear. 6. Grassy Island: Hang in there guys. We're more than halfway done. We're gonna do the island now, which I promises easy. Before I lay in any of the grassy color, I'm going to add a little more shadow underneath this little island. So using the Prussian blue and my dry brush, I'll just let it dance across the surface, trying to make sure a little hint of that original blue color shows through. And then using a bit of my yellow mixed with the Prussian blue, I'll start laying in the grassy base color. Even though this island is really small, we can still add a decent amount of variation to it. So I'm shifting my greens from more of a cool bluish-green and to a warm yellowish-green. The yellowish-green is mostly staying near the top area. And later we'll come back and add some highlights. By keeping my brush vertical, I can easily create these grassy shapes. All it is is a flick of the wrist. You can vary the amount of water versus pigment and break it up in different clusters of grass if you'd like or just use color to do that. Then I'll take a much darker green and I'll align the bottom edge of that grass because technically there should be a shadow there or the grasses casting a shadow on itself. And then I'll switch to a really teeny brushed and I'll add in some more prominent grasses. I feel like I'm just repeating myself over and over when I say that it's all about adding variation. But we really don't want anything to look too repetitive. So just work on being random. 7. Foreground Details: Now it's time to lay in the trees and the foreground grasses and then get to that final detail. Using my darkest dark, I'll start laying in the shape of the tree to avoid being repetitive, I'm kinda just twitching my brush against the page. We'll come back in after this dries and added a little highlight to some of the branches. I'm going to add another little tree next to my big tree. You can add more if you want though. I'll make my way down and as I get closer to the where the grasses are going to be, I'm going to make this tree wider and wider. And once I'm happy with the overall shape of my tree, I can come back in with those highlights. And this is just a slightly later version of the green I used in the base of the tree. And then it's time to move on to the grasses. I'm using a midtone green, nothing to Bray and nothing to highly saturated either. This will just be the base. And then we'll come back in with more shadows and highlights on top of it. It doesn't really matter how you fill in this area because for the most part it's going to be completely covered up. Whoever on the area that overlaps the water, I am keeping my brush strokes pretty much vertical to mimic the same thing I did in the island of the grasses. So just by keeping your brush vertical, you can easily create the wispy, grassy look. And then with a lighter version of that color. So I just added a little bit of white. I'm going to start doing vertical thin strokes to kinda mimic tall grasses sticking up over that tree. You can go really light or dark now. So you can kind of vary your values. And the more variety you have, the better. It's all about overlapping and adding lots of variety. Admittedly, this process is a little bit tedious, but it is worth it in the end that because we end up with a lot of variety of grasses and that variety is what lends to the realism. So of course, you could be a lot more stylized and expressive with your brush strokes and just lay in like big chunks of color. If you are leaning much more towards realistic or detailed painting, you just gotta put in the time. Once I get about halfway down in this grassy area, I can start working on the foreground. And this is going to be lots of tall, slender grasses. And I'm using a dark color so that it stands out against the grasses I already painted. On top of this dark grass will come back with more highlights and some flour details later. So yes, it's lots of repetitive movements. Since I have a pretty small piece of paper, it's not a big deal. And it took about 15 minutes to fill in this whole grassy area. Once that dries, you can come back in with some highlights or variations in color and even add little flowers. It's completely up to you how much you go into detail at this point. It's already enough detail to tell the story, but I like to add little hints of color to break up that green space. 8. Final Thoughts: We made it to the end. Congrats guys, for your class project, I want you to paint your favorite scene. It can be something that you've seen in person or just a reference photo you found. Remember that if you're using someone else's reference photo, make sure to give them credit. When you're done, upload your project here on skill share to the class projects. Or if you're posting it on social media, please use my hashtag, Sarah Burns tutor so I can find you. I really hope this episode gave you some inspiration and to go out and paint your world. Thank you to everyone who has been leaving reviews and giving me feedback. It really helps me to know what you guys like to see and what helps you learn. So please keep that up. And in episode two, which will be coming in a couple weeks, I'm going to show you how I paint autumn forests with wash. This is one of my favorite subjects to pain. And I think right now as it's autumn, I'm super inspired. So I really look forward to sharing that with you guys. Thanks for watching.