Illustrating Landscapes | Claire Baldwin | Skillshare
Play Speed
  • 0.5x
  • 1x (Normal)
  • 1.25x
  • 1.5x
  • 2x
7 Lessons (22m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. Materials

    • 3. Dreaming Up and Drafting Your Composition

    • 4. Sketch and Ink

    • 5. Start Painting

    • 6. Fixing Common Painting Problems

    • 7. Finish Your Painting

  • --
  • Beginner level
  • Intermediate level
  • Advanced level
  • All levels
  • Beg/Int level
  • Int/Adv level

Community Generated

The level is determined by a majority opinion of students who have reviewed this class. The teacher's recommendation is shown until at least 5 student responses are collected.





About This Class

Hello and welcome! My name’s Claire, and I'm an illustrator that recently partnered with Grand Canyon National Park to design centennial posters. I’m sharing my tricks for illustrating imaginative natural landscapes with pen, ink, and watercolor. This course will tackle the tricky business of diving into messy compositions through bite-sized steps. You’ll learn how to:

  • Develop your own well-planned composition through thumbnail sketches and studies
  • Sketch and ink your piece with a quill
  • Create watercolor paintings with depth
  • Troubleshoot common problems with finishing a piece
  • Complete a beautiful landscape illustration!

This class is designed for people with a beginner to intermediate's understanding of observational drawing and watercolor painting. I’ll introduce intermediate techniques for taking your painting to the next level, demonstrating with my own painting of Grand Canyon. You can follow along by recreating my painting, or design something entirely your own.

This is the first of a series on illustrating nature. Illustration allows artists to step away from cut and dry observational style painting, and discover a way of working that incorporates imagination and a unique style. I'll discuss how to design a composition by pulling from a wide range of reference material and igniting your own imagination.


Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Claire Baldwin

Illustrator/Designer for National Parks


Hello everyone! I'm Claire, a freelance illustrator and sometimes Park Ranger based in Portland, Oregon. I recently partnered with Grand Canyon National Park to design 8 centennial posters and a new junior ranger badge. I've also partnered with poster companies, magazines, and research groups.

I'm inspired by my time living in Glacier National Park, the North Cascades, Grand Canyon, and the redwoods of California. I also pull inspiration from a wide range of artists: I love the old fairytale illustrations by Edmund Dulac, and the outsider artist Henry Darger. I also love vintage Americana designs like the 1940's Works Projects Administration posters.

I'm sharing my skills for illustrating nature that I've gained through college and my pr... See full profile

Class Ratings

Expectations Met?
  • Exceeded!
  • Yes
  • Somewhat
  • Not really
Reviews Archive

In October 2018, we updated our review system to improve the way we collect feedback. Below are the reviews written before that update.

Your creative journey starts here.

  • Unlimited access to every class
  • Supportive online creative community
  • Learn offline with Skillshare’s app

Why Join Skillshare?

Take award-winning Skillshare Original Classes

Each class has short lessons, hands-on projects

Your membership supports Skillshare teachers

Learn From Anywhere

Take classes on the go with the Skillshare app. Stream or download to watch on the plane, the subway, or wherever you learn best.


1. Introduction: Hello and welcome. My name is Claire and I'm demonstrating how to illustrate landscapes of watercolor. In this course, we'll learn to dive into complex compositions through a series of bite-sized steps. I'll be showing you how to develop your own well-planned composition through thumbnail sketches and studies, sketch and ink your piece of the quill, create watercolor paintings with depth and clarity, troubleshoot common problems with finishing a piece, and in the end, you'll create a finished watercolor landscape illustration. Throughout this course, you'll be prompted to post pictures of your works in progress, and I really look forward to seeing your work and sharing feedback. Feel free to ask me any questions you might have in the comment section. This class is designed for people with a beginners to intermediate understanding of observational drawing and watercolor painting. I'll be demonstrating some intermediate techniques that I used when I was creating the Grand Canyon centennial posters. Grand Canyon is a really special place to me. After working there as an intern, volunteer, and park ranger over the course of two years, I was able to create a series of neat hand painted posters to mark their 100th year. It was the project of my dreams. Creating the Grand Canyon centennial posters was a huge learning experience for me. I've balled up so many sketches, and definitely through my paint brush a few times. I hope to make your learning experience smoother by sharing everything I learned for creating colorful, imaginative, detail, rich landscapes. This is a first in a series of classes on illustrating nature. Illustration allows artists to step away from cut and dry observational style painting and discover a way of working that incorporates imagination and a unique style. Thank you for tuning in. I can't wait to get started. 2. Materials: I'm going to be talking about some of my favorite supplies to use and how to save money without sacrificing quality. For the drafting stage, I think that a mechanical pencil works just fine. I really like polymer erasers instead of the big pink ones or the gray, stretchy, squishy ones. These work really well to pick up every bit of pencil. Next, Higgins Calligraphy waterproof ink. Whenever you're getting ink, it's really important to use completely waterproof ink. A bad ink has a really silly way to ruin a painting. Quills, I like to just get the Speedball pack of calligraphy pen nibs. I love using quills. It's so much fun to work with. You can really control the width of your lines so much better. It just creates a much more interesting dynamic drawing than if you stick with regular old pen. Brushes are really important, however, you don't need to spend a ton of money on them. I look for a bend and snap. I think you really want. They should really snap back into place after you bend them. They should also come to a nice point. No matter how big your brushes, if it has a nice point at the end, you'll be able to get a wide range of brushstrokes with it. These wide flat ones are handy if you want to fill a lot of space very quickly, like with a sky or putting just one big flat layer in paint. Koi, packs of watercolors are fine. I always get them in tubes, not in the pre-made little palettes. Tubes are nice because they actually help you save paint because you can just dab out just as much as you need at a time. Koi is for the cheaper brands, however, it is still pretty high-quality. I do get a few tubes of higher-quality paint. This is Daniel Smith extra fine watercolors. The big difference between this kind of watercolor, which costs about, it can be up to $10, even $15 or more per tube versus this, which is probably $2 to $3 a tube, is that this one has much more saturated pigment. You're really only get really saturated colors. You're able to make it look almost neon, with a color like this. I do recommend getting some primaries, it saves you a lot of money. You don't need to get every single color in the $15 paint section. The reason I got this rose hue, which is actually kind of pink looking, is because pink paint is awesome. It creates a color that you can't mix. You can turn it into a red by mixing it with other saturated red oranges, sometimes little bits of yellow. You can tone this into a red, but you can't really tone red into this shade of pink. I always go for the pthalos, it's just a really saturated, super rich blue. Now, jars, they may not seem that important, but I believe in having a really big jar for water. If you are working with a jar that's small and gets muddy quickly, your painting is going to get duller and duller. You might want to color the tone down earthy color painting, but you won't be able to control those colors. When it comes to paper, I always love having a watercolor journal. It's portable. It allows me to work in the field which I really enjoy doing. I like this one, it has nice heavyweight paper and it comes with me everywhere. Paper is one of the things you can spend a lot of money on. I don't really feel like you need to though. One forty pound is just as much of a weight, as I think you need, compressed as a nice smooth finish. I really prefer using hot press with a smooth finish to cold press with a rough finish. It's going to create a pebbly texture, whether or not you want that. For palettes, I really like travel palettes that clip together because I travel a lot, it's lightweight. Don't be afraid to go big with a palette. The bigger it is, the more space you'll have to mix colors, and that's what it's all about. Last but not least, masking fluid is a really great tool that I use in basically every single painting I do. It's like a liquid plastic that you can paint on. It'll cover up areas of your painting that you don't want to paint over. If you're doing small details or complicated objects in the foreground, this is for you. I highly recommend it. Great. Now let's start our illustration. 3. Dreaming Up and Drafting Your Composition: For the drafting stage. This might be the most important step. I'm going to talk about finding inspiration from reference photos and other illustrators, creating balanced compositions through thumbnail sketches, and a method I made up for drawing called swooshing. It's going to change the way you sketch. We're creating an illustration. Feeding an illustration instead of a standard painting, requires some more thought and planning up front. Instead of replicating exactly what we see, we'll pull from a range of different photos, and inspirations to create an image of our own invention. First, I've pulled together reference photos. I want to create an illustration of the North Rim of Grand Canyon. I'm going to flip through two different Summers worth of photos. If all possible, use your own pictures. Even if it's just a grainy photo that you snapped on your phone, this photo is going to be a reference to your own experience in the landscape that you want to paint. Paintings are going to be so much more interesting when they reference your feelings, and your memories. Next, get inspiration from other painters and illustrators. I'm going to browse different ideas for compositions, color palettes, even ideas of painting pine trees, anything. Google images. We're not going to be pulling straight images, just a copy. This is a great place to just capture a whole range of inspiration. Here are my thumbnail sketches. They didn't take me very long at all. I wasn't really worrying about color. I just decided to focus on the shapes, the layout, I was thinking about putting everything where I wanted it to go. Now that I've done my thumbnail sketches, and I've decided how to lay out my composition, I'm going to get started doing a more detailed sketch. I will test out what kinds of color palettes I want to use, and how to draw all the objects in my piece. As you work on your slightly more detailed sketch, you're going to try swooshing. Just move your pencil quickly across the page to roughly work out where everything is going to go. Instead of taking a really long time to draw something with detail, and then figuring out that it's in the wrong place, swooshing is just going to get roughly everything where it needs to go. When I'm creating compositions, I think about the rule of thirds. I don't want to necessarily put my most interesting objects right smacked up in the middle of the painting. Instead, I break it up into three pieces, and I try to move objects of interest and think about how to keep people looking at the picture. I also decided to include interesting things in both the foreground and the background. When you've illustrated a picture and everything in it is really far away, sometimes it looks flat, like a backdrop in a low budget movie. I like having things that are up-close and items like trees, or flowers, or people to frame a photo in the foreground. It's given with adding different objects up-close, maybe medium distance away, and really far distance away. Now that I've finished the first swooshy sketch, I'm going to think more about color. You really want to mix all of your own colors. Don't use them straight out of the tube. Making your own colors is going to make that painting look creative, interesting, and filled with unique depth. Taking your time to plan out a well thought-out composition, will make your whole painting process smoother. Resist the temptation to go with your first idea, and instead try out a lot of different things. Now it's your turn. Post a picture of your slightly more detailed sketch in the project section and let us know, did you swoosh your sketch? Did you use the rule of thirds? Did you move things around? What tips helped and what are your questions? Let me know and I will get back to you. 4. Sketch and Ink : Now you're going to refine your sketch. Stay away from generic details. You want to get specific here. I scrapped my original design for a cookie cutter looking pine tree and decided to look at my reference photos of pine trees by the river of Grand Canyon that were weathered and bent and twisted. I'm going to synthesize a lot of different photos as I work. I'm looking for details like lighting and shapes to create my final composition. Once you've finished your pencil sketch, it's time to ink. Adding ink gives your composition an extra sharp level of detail. Pencil gets muddy. Adding ink will make it really pop. If you've never worked with a quill before, don't worry. It's really not that different from other kinds of pens. The major difference between a quill and other pens is that you can't pull it upwards. If you try to pull it upwards is going to splatter and make a mess. You can move it side to side. You can move it in curved shapes. Just practice with it, it's a lot of fun to work with. Once you've finished inking your sketch, make sure to erase most, if not all of the pencil. Some of the pencil marks give me just very light guides for where my paintbrush will go. Great. Once you're all done putting down ink, it's going to be time to paint. 5. Start Painting: As I begin painting, I'm going to think about the whole piece. Instead of just focusing on one area, I'm going to lay down lots of light shear layers throughout the entire picture. I'm going to build up color really slowly. I don't need a lot of paint to get started. I'm using just a small amount of pigment and mixing my own colors and not just taking them straight from the tube, and then I'm watering them down. I begin with the shadows. I like using a dull blue. I mix it with Brown and red to make the color a bit softer. I lay down layers of light, translucent shadows throughout the entire picture. I don't add thick swatches of color, Instead, I build up slowly and I start with the dark edges of shapes that I'm painting. I'm moving around, I'm not just sticking with one corner of my painting at a time. So why do I do this? If you finish one piece of your painting and then you begin to the rest, you might come to realize that you wish you've done something different earlier on. When you go slowly, it gives you plenty of space and time to keep changing your mind. As I go through, you might be able to tell I'm changing my mind quite a bit. At first, I thought I wanted the space behind the pine tree on the right to be light, and then as I was painting, I realized the light blue shade on the pine tree looked pretty interesting. So I decided to actually drop a nice purple shadow in the space behind the pine tree. Painting the dark edges and shadows and working gradually also creates texture. If I just put down flat washes of one color at a time like the green pine tree, red rock face or blue sky, my painting would look really flat and predictable. Water is your friend. When I tell people I like to use watercolors best, a lot of times I get surprised reactions because the paint can be hard to handle. However, the trick is that although you do need water to move your paint around, you don't need a ton of it. I wanted a pretty smooth layer of paint here, so I'm dipping my paint brush just into pure clean water and using it to smooth out the layers and create a smooth gradient. As I go about building up layers, I keep referencing the photos of the place that I'm painting. It really helps to study photos and create realistic details like the texture of the rocks and the complex branches of the pine trees. But were illustrators, so we're also pulling from our imaginations and making up stuff to convey emotions and ideas. Assignment time, post a picture of your work in progress, show us how you're building up the painting and developing layers. If you're having trouble with anything, let me know in the comments and I'd love to give you some ideas. 6. Fixing Common Painting Problems: [MUSIC][BACKGROUND]As you can sort of see behind me, I am now in Grand Canyon. It's really hazy from the wildfires smoke, but inspiring nonetheless. I'm going to be finishing up this painting today. There's just a few things I'd like to as for how to resolve paintings and really finished them with a lot of polish. I'm going to talk about how to make detailed objects standout, clarify muddled spots and create a visual pop by adding in contrast, I have some objects in the foreground, and instead of trying to paint around them the whole time, I'm going to cover them in masking fluid. It's really important to apply masking fluid with a paintbrush that you do not care about. No matter how often I runs off the fluid, I've never found a way to prevent plastic residue from building up on the bristles. I'm going to apply a liberal layer. The thicker it is, the easier it will be to pick up later. I'm going to wait a good ten minutes or more for the masking fluids and dry. If I tried to paint around it when it's still wet, I'll drag the plastic around and blend it into places where I don't want it to go. It's one of the best ways I've found to make detailed objects standouts. We'll get back to objects in the foreground and a bit. But for now, I'm going to talk about creating visual pop by adding contrast. When you're painting has values that are all kind of in the middle, by which I mean, nothing too light or too dark. It starts getting flat. I want to create a piece that I feel like I could reach out and touch so I'm going to create a whole scale of values from super dark to super bright. I want to create dark shadows, but I won't add black. That would be too overwhelming. I'm going to mix dark hues that compliment my color palette. I mixed a brown and a blue together and I gently worked into the edge of cliffs and items in the background. I'll add extra dark shadows behind the objects in the foreground to make them really stand out. I'm also going to be very careful to preserve light areas until the very end. That way, my painting will have a whole range of values. Now that I've built up the background, I'm ready to remove my masking fluid and work on items in the foreground. I'm going to use my handy polymer eraser and rub it off. Sometimes I can loosen the edges of the masking fluid and then just pull it up with my fingers, it's really fun. Now let's talk more about how to make other objects in the foreground pop. I'm going to keep them bright and not add too many shadows. These are really small. If I try to pack in a lot of detail, they're going to look too busy. Last, I add a little bit of a thick white watercolor paint to make them stand out against the dark background. Does your painting have place a lot of jumbled colors that are just starting to look muddy? Or maybe there's a lot of detail and it's tough to tell what's going on. When my painting starts to look muddled, I know it's time to start smoothing things out. The side of my painting with a pine tree who looks a bit jumbled. I'm going to add a light smooth layer flip. It's not a realistic looking pine tree, but I think it's a nice addition to the peace and it helps balance out the complicated background. Another way to help smooth out of painting is to pick up paint. I work in some clean water to the paint that I want to pick up, and then I dot that with a paper towel. It comes out pretty well, but there will still be a shadow of a leftover painting. I hope these tricks help you. Your optional assignment for this video is to post a picture of an area in your painting that you think needs to be edited. If it's muddled, needs contrast or just isn't standing up. Let us know what trick you tried to improve it or ask us for ideas. 7. Finish Your Painting : It can be hard to know when your painting is done. To make mine feel really finished, I added one last layer of ink to the objects in the foreground. I smoothed out the values in the Canyon. I added a hint of shadows to the pine trees, but in the end, I decided to keep it a bit loose and sketchy feeling. I didn't want it to feel overly painted or heavy. I wanted it to breathe. Sometimes, it's really hard to put down your paintbrush and pen. When in doubt, I suggest walking away from your piece. If you're unsure how to finish it, give it a couple days. You might find that when you look at it with fresh eyes, you know exactly what needs to be done. I hope that you feel proud of your finished work and that you learned a lot. But here's the thing, even if you don't love how you're painting turned out, and if I'm being honest, I don't 50 percent of the time, you still created something. In a time when we're constantly snapping fast photos and posting them to social media, and yes, that includes me, slowing down to spend time thinking about your image is really special, so I hope you feel good about that. Here's your very last assignment; post a picture of your finished piece. If you want, I'd loved to hear what information you found most valuable in this course, and what you want to keep learning about. I can't wait to see your work. Thank you so much for participating in this class, and don't stop painting.