Autumn Landscape in Watercolor: Paint Step-by-Step, Exploring Essential Color & Texture Techniques | Will Elliston | Skillshare

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Autumn Landscape in Watercolor: Paint Step-by-Step, Exploring Essential Color & Texture Techniques

teacher avatar Will Elliston, Award-Winning Watercolour Artist

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

15 Lessons (1h 12m)
    • 1. Welcome To The Class!

    • 2. Your Project

    • 3. Materials & Supplies

    • 4. Drawing It Out

    • 5. Painting The Underlayer

    • 6. Painting The Sky

    • 7. Being Bold With The Paint

    • 8. Creating Varied Effects

    • 9. Painting The Branches

    • 10. Adding Texture

    • 11. Painting The Water

    • 12. Applying Splatters

    • 13. Painting The Grass

    • 14. Finishing Highlights

    • 15. Final Thoughts

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About This Class

Join me with this colorful autumnal landscape painting, learning expressive watercolor techniques in a fun and relaxed style! Whether you're new to watercolour or already have some experience, you'll be able to learn something new with this class, all whilst ending up with a nice painting you can hang up or gift to someone. This style of painting doesn't require strong drawing skills either, it's all about having fun, you can paint as expressive or as detailed as you wish. 

I'm very grateful for you joining me here!

I’ve been painting for many years now, taken part in many exhibitions around the world and won awards from well respected organisations. As well as having my work feature in art magazines. After having success selling my originals and 1000s of prints around the world, I decided to start traveling with my brushes and paintings. My style is modern and attempts to grasp the essence of what I’m painting whilst allowing freedom and expression to come through. I simplify complicated subjects into easier shapes that encourages playfulness.


The autumnal Red, yellow and oranges brighten up the landscape in a majestic way. This scene we’ll be painting today is a great opportunity to use vivid colours, and discover how they react with each other.

You'll Learn:

  • What materials and equipment to need to painting along
  • How to sketch out outline for the painting
  • Basic technique to complete your first painting
  • How to avoid common mistakes
  • Choosing the right colors for your painting
  • How to blend colors and create textures for different effects
  • Making corrections and improvements
  • Finishing touches that make a big difference

When enrolled, I’ll include my complete ‘Watercolor Mixing Charts’. These are a huge aid for beginners and experts alike. They show what every color on the palette looks like when mixed with each other. Indispensable when it comes to choosing which color to mix.


Don’t forget to follow me on Skillshare. Click the “follow” button and you’ll be the first to know as soon as I launch a new course or have a big announcement to share with my students.

Additional Resources:

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Will Elliston

Award-Winning Watercolour Artist

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1. Welcome To The Class!: Hello everyone. My name is Will Elliston and welcome to my Skillshare class. I'd always wanted to learn how to create beautiful paintings, but when I started, I had no idea what supplies I needed, how to mix colors, or even how to start a painting. Autumn is full of lovely colors, as the leaves start to change and fall from the trees. Today, we're going to paint a colorful Autumn scene. Whether you are new to watercolor, or you already have some experience, you'll be able to learn something new in this class. Join me as we explore a variety of essential and expected techniques. I've been a professional watercolor artist for many years now, exploring many different subjects, from wildlife and portraits to cityscapes and countryside scenes. I've taken part in many worldwide exhibitions and being lucky enough to win awards from well-respected organizations such as Winsor & Newton, the International Watercolor Society, the Masters of Watercolor Alliance, and the SAA Artist Of the Year Award. I also have collectors that buy my paintings around the world. Watercolor can be intimidating for beginners, so my aim is to allow you to relax and have fun learning this medium step-by-step. Hopefully, by the end, you'll surprise yourself with a nice painting. If this class feels too intimidating or too simple, please check my other classes as I have them available across all levels. My approach to watercolor starts off loose and expressive with no fear of making mistakes because we're just creating exciting textures for the underlayer. Then as the painting goes on, we'll add more details, bring the painting to life and making it pop. I try to simplify complicated subjects into easier shapes that encourages playfulness. The autumnal red, yellow, and oranges brighten up the landscape in a majestic way. This scene we'll be painting today is a great opportunity to use vivid colors and discover how they react with each other. Not only will we be learning about complimentary colors, but also how to paint in a bold way without getting overwhelmed. All these things will help you create striking paintings that capture the attention. When you enroll in my class, I'll give you the high resolution image of my painting to use as a guide. Today's focus is about painting rather than drawing. So I have included templates you can use to help you sketch out the drawing before you paint. I'll also include my color charts, which are an invaluable tool when it comes to choosing and mixing colors. Throughout this class, I'll be sharing plenty of tips and tricks. I'll show you how to use mistakes to your own advantage, taking the stress out of painting, and having fun. I'll explain which supplies I'll be using, so you can follow along exactly. I'll also cover how to choose and mix harmonious colors. I'll be splitting everything up into short videos, so it's easier to take in. You can also pause at any moment if you want to more time. If you have any questions, you can post them in the discussion thread down below, I'll be sure to read and respond to everything you guys post. Don't forget to follow me on Skillshare by clicking the Follow button at the top. This means you'll be the first to know when I launch a new class, post giveaways, or just have an interesting announcement to share with my students. You can also follow me on Instagram to see my latest works. If you'd like to create your own vibrant landscape, all whilst learning fun and useful watercolor techniques, please click "Enroll" as I'd love to have you in my class. Now let's begin. 2. Your Project: First of all, thank you so much for enrolling in my class. I really do appreciate it. We're going to have a great time learning a lot about watercolor using an easygoing approach. As seen in the introduction video, today we're going to paint an autumnal scene. I think it's a great subject to explore color and painting in general. Because of the bursts of warm color, we shouldn't have to worry about colors getting muddy or dirty. That will give us more freedom to express ourselves. I'll also share tips and tricks that will improve your composition. The style we're painting in today doesn't rely on a heavily detailed drawing, which means there's less stress and it gives us more freedom to express and explore new techniques. This means you'll learn more and end up with a better painting. You can choose to paint as loose or as realistic as you want, depending on your level. You're welcome to copy my drawing and follow it exact or experiment with your own. I will put my painting in the resource section so you can use it as a reference throughout the process. There's also a template you can use to trace and transfer it onto your paper. Don't feel guilty about tracing when using it as a guide for learning how to paint. It's important to have the under drawing correct, so that it doesn't inhibit your ability to practice and learn the watercolor medium itself. Whichever way you use this class, it would be great to see the outcome and the paintings you create in this class. I'd love to give you feedback. So please take a photo afterwards and share it in the student project gallery. You can find the gallery under the same project and resources tab. On the right, you'll see a green button that says Create a Project. Tap that. Once you're there, you'll have the option to upload a cover photo, and a title, and write a little description. I would love to hear about your process and what you learned along the way. Once your project is uploaded, it will appear in the student's project gallery. You can view other projects here. I'd highly encourage you to like and comment on each other's work. We put so much time and effort into creating our paintings, why not share it with the world and help support each other along the way? Now you have a good idea of this class. Let's get stuck into it, starting with the supplies and materials I'll be using. 3. Materials & Supplies: Let's go over the materials and supplies you will need to paint along. We'll start with the colors I use. Unlike most of the materials we'll be using today, is a lot to do with preference. I have 12 stable colors in my palette that I fill up from tubes. They are Cadmium yellow, yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna, cadmium red, alizarin crimson, ultramarine blue, cobalt blue, cerulean Blue, lavender, purple, viridian, black or neutral tint. At the end of the painting, I often use white gouache for tiny highlights. I don't use any particular brand, these colors you can get from any brand. Although I personally use Daniel Smith, Winsor, and Newton or Holbein paints. Let's move on to brushes. To keep things simple, in this painting, I'm only going to use a small selection of brushes. First is this mop brush. Mop brushes are good for broad brushstrokes and filling in larger areas or washers. But they also have a tip for some smaller details, so they are one of my favorite types of brushes. Next is this, a Skoda Perla brush. I use various sizes, but for this painting, I'll use Size 8. These brushes allow for more precision because they have a finer tip and last quite a long time. For even more precision, when painting final touches or highlights, for example, I use a synthetic Size 0 brush. All brands have them and they're super cheap. This here is a sword brush or a rigger brush. It's quite long but thin. It's only used for very small details, much like the Size 0 brushes, but it holds more water and pigment, saving time and effort refilling. The only drawback is it's more difficult to control as it's more flimsy. That's it for brushes. You're of course, welcome to use your own favorites as well. Onto paper. The better quality your paper is, the easier it will be to paint. Cheap paper crinkles easily and is very unforgiving, not allowing you to rework mistakes. Good quality paper, however, such as cotton base paper, not only allows you to rework mistakes over multiple times but because the pigment reacts much better on it, the chances of mistakes are a lot lower and you'll more likely create better paintings. I use arches because it's what's available in my local art shop. Next, some various materials that will come in very handy. A water spray is absolutely essential. By using this, it gives you more time to paint the areas you want before it dries. Also, it allows you to reactivate the paint if you want to add smooth lines or remove some paint. Lastly, masking tape. This will hold paper to the painting surface and it will create a nice clean border when you take it off at the end. That's everything you need to know to paint along. Let's get on with it. 4. Drawing It Out: Let's start the sketch and to keep it as simple as possible, we're going to break it down into the basic shapes. Starting off with a line, it will be a horizon line. I'm only drawing in lightly. Then we'll build on top of that. That's the horizon line. Simple start. That's about in-between a third and a fifth of the way, almost a quarter all way down the page. You'll see a lot of my pencil movements are quite organic, circular, and rhythmic. I rarely let the pencil leave the paper. I just find when I draw circles this circle, emotions, wave emotions. It just all flows together. The composition just looks more fluid and stronger and more natural. Especially good with these nature scenes, landscapes. These are going to be the tops of the trees. I'm mainly doing this from memory or just my imagination. We'll clear this up with a rubber. Just trying to get the rough idea of where things are going to go, using these circles, I'm trying to simplify it both for teaching purposes but also I actually do it this way myself because by breaking things down and making them easier to understand, even as a experienced artist just makes the whole process a lot easier. A lot of these shapes that I'm drawing won't make a lot of sense now, but when it comes to the painting, you'll see why I put them in there. I'll leave a template that you can use to trace it out to make it easier if you're not so confident with your drawing skills. Because drawing isn't something that you can just learn overnight. It's perfectly acceptable to trace it. Let's define the tree shapes now that we've added the outline. I'm, of course, leaving a bit of a space here for our border for when we stick it on the board because we'll be using masking tape. Most of the time I do my sketching once I've already taped it on, but it's easier for these lessons with recording and for teaching purposes just to draw it out like this, get the angle perfect for the camera, and then when I make sure it's ready, I can tape it all up. You don't need to follow exactly as you can see. It's quite random where all these circles are, I'm just basically creating simple shapes. We're almost done with this stage. There's no right and wrong really, so whatever feels right for you. You don't have to have it in the exact same position. For the drawing stage, that's pretty much it. Let's get on with the painting. 5. Painting The Underlayer: Before we put paint to paper, we're going to think about which order we'll paint this. I always start off with the underlayer and that's usually the lightest part of the painting. I think it'll be the ground area here in the trees, which will be the lightest part. There will be some white in the sky that gradually turns into a deep blue here, but I'll do that last over the top. That doesn't count as the underlayer. I'm going to mix some viridian green, a bit of yellow ocher just to fill in some light ground here. It doesn't matter if you go over the lines here. This is just the underlayer. We'll be going over this with much darker tones later so it's no stress. You can fill down there. You can use the same colors as I'm using, but it's not a strict rule is whatever you feel. If you feel like it should be a bit more brown, if you want to do brown here rather than green, that's fine, but I'm trying to think of a bigger picture and use colors that are complementary. I'll add some yellow ocher here and I'm thinking about the reflection on the water because there would be a lake here. Try not to get really hard lines because those bits will be difficult to cover, but it's okay. When you get a hard line like that, for example, I just get a wet brush that doesn't have any pigment in it and just brush it down there and that smooth this out a bit. Then I'll have a foreground area here, so we've got a foreground, mid-ground, and a background. Maybe I'll make this reflection a bit more yellow. I'm going to get quite bold here and use my brightest red or orange. I've put my orange with red because it's quite similar. It's cadmium yellow mixed with cadmium red. That's going to put a burst of that here. Now I can move on to the trees using that same parallel cadmium red, cadmium orange. Now you can use your own judgment here with how orange or red or yellow you want the autumn leaves to be. I'm being very loose with my brush here. Flicking it around. This is going to be the underlayer, so you don't have to be so strict with where things are going. Quite a thick pigment. This is a good example of expressive watercolor because at this stage it will look very messy and out of context, it will be difficult to tell whether it's working well. Whether it will end up a good painting, but it's always the case with watercolor, that it looks weird to begin with, but it slowly and gradually looks more attractive in each stage. This is a mop brush I'm using here. Creating a few gaps at the top here, which might indicate leaves. Few splatters of water, making sure it's pure water. Quite a full brush. Splashing it on the edges here. Make sure you top up your water rather than flicking more. It would be a light flick and if it's not flicking, add more water because otherwise the flicks go everywhere and it gets a bit messy. Some very strong yellow here. This painting is quite dynamic because we'll be having the trees here, dark trees on the light background, and then on here we'll have a dark sky on light trees. It will create a nice effect having that transition, the reversing transition of light and dark to dark and light. It's going to add a bit of a background in the distance here as well. I'm not being strict at all, I'm just experimenting, putting my colors around. Not very organized. That's okay with this first stage of doing the underlayer. A bit of flicking of water. Distant trees here in the background. If you look at the reference images or my completed painting of this, you'll see what I'm trying to do here. I'm going to just do a rough background and then I'll use negative shapes to cut out the trees later. I'm going to have a blue sky because blue works with orange very well. Then I'll have some purple dots every now and again influences because that'll go well with the green. Purple will go well with the yellow and the red will go well with the green. We're coming close to the end of this stage. I'm just going to switch over to a brush that has a bit more of a tip so that I can really indicate the edges of the trees here. I'm just going to use a hairdryer to dry it quickly. Now that it's dry, I can touch it and I'm not afraid to get my hands on it a bit and get into some more finer details. I shouldn't call them finer details because we're not trying to get it realistic here, just adding some smaller textures. It's quite random. I'm not doing anything specific. Another red color here. Just a random mixture of different reds to orange and yellow. All the classic autumn colors. 6. Painting The Sky: Now I'm going to do the sky and I'll have two brushes ready for this. One for the larger strokes to fill in the details and this one to fill in the little gaps there. But before I start, I'm going to mix my colors so that I have everything ready to begin with. The main color I'll be using is cobalt blue. We'll mix in some cerulean blue into that as well. Then as it goes, I'll start adding other colors like purple and fading out here into almost white really, a very light purple, yellow ocher color. Straight into it. Got a water spray as well. [NOISE] Don't be afraid to put really thick pigment in there. Being as quick as possible, but still trying to have a bit of control, I'm filling in down to the horizon line and [NOISE] spraying in every now and again as well. Now currently, the purple has more of an influence and it takes over. [NOISE] You splatters of yellow ocher here. Using this water, just drag it out. Fill this out into little areas. Maybe it's a bit too much water down here, so I'm just going to use a tissue to pull some of it back in. I can move some of it over here as well. Suck it up on the brush and move it around down here. I think that it needs to be a bit, just be some more purple here, some deeper purple. Some distant mountains. [BACKGROUND] Some splatters. It's really in blue. If you're using good quality paper, it doesn't matter if it buckles and wrinkles. As long as you go to tape down properly, it should dry out flat again. Making sure there isn't lots of water build-up because otherwise it'll dry unevenly. If it builds up too much, you can pull it out of the brush. Draw some tree trunks. Distant trees implying it. [NOISE] Add a few more splatters at the top here where it's a bit dryer. Now I'm going to dry it with a hairdryer just to see where we're at. 7. Being Bold With The Paint: I want this bit to be a bit lighter, so I'm just going to activate it again with the water spray. And that's it. I'm just showing you for example what you can do as a nice technique for retouching, you can respray any thing. Your pencil, let's lift it up. Not entirely essential, but it's a good excuse, good opportunity to show you how to use or one of the ways you can use the water spray. I think I want the tree to be a bit more vivid here. So what I'm going to do is take the brush and just go back over it. Plus the yellow. I'm using the pigment very thickly at this stage by dry brush. If we find it's too wet on your brush, you can just dab it off on a tissue and it sucks the moisture out and makes the dry brush effect create more texture on the paper. So now you can see at this stage the dark tree is on the light sky and light tree is on the dark sky. I think I want the trees to be a bit more vivid here too. Now, it's time to get very bold. By that, I mean, I'm going to get my paint thick with black pigment straight from the tube and just block it in the darkest areas, making sure everything else is dry so that it doesn't get wet. I mean, it's gone a few places. Now, I take some Alizarin crimson and do a similar thing for the shadows inside the trees. A bit of purple in there as well. So you're practicing dry brush strokes now. 8. Creating Varied Effects: Then we'll come back later and activate it again with water and that's where it gets exciting and creates lovely effects. I think it's time for that moment now. We can take another mop brush and spray it a bit and just activate the paint that we just didn't have to interfere that much. Just wet the paper and let it mix itself. Take this rigger brush and imply some branches. Here you want to, just as it's on the point of drawing about 80%, if you add some water, it will add some nice effects. 9. Painting The Branches: It's Rigor again, I'm just going to imply few branches. I'm going to flick some white, mix some white and cobalt blue flicks them on there, because the purple mix as well. Bring back some of the black to indicate some trees, some branches. I think in some pigment, and then using water to just draw it out, bleed it into these different sections. Flickers of vivid orange paint. Maybe even some yellow flickers here. 10. Adding Texture: It looks like a mess at this stage, which is okay. That's how watercolor painting is, it's 80% abstract and then just a few details at the end, just bring it together. Adding in this lavender because as it dries, it will spread out. Some more leaves coming out here. This is the part where you can really experiment with watercolor and what it can do. A bit more purple in here. Some flickers. Now I'm going to add some green here by mixing blue and yellow together. There are many complementary colors in this painting. We've got green and red, blue and orange, and yellow and purple. All I had to bleed a bit more. I'm just going to add a bit more atmospheric perspective. Flicker it with plain water. Wait a few seconds [NOISE] and then rub. I'm going to wet this bit here for some shading. 11. Painting The Water: Now for the water, add a bit of blue here, and a lot of purple. A little bit of black just across here. Now I'm going to start adding red on top of that purple and let it bleed down. I have my canvas has a slight angle so that it can bleed down like this. Trying to connect everything together. Murdering in down here. Try it off again. I feel like I need to get a bit bolder. I'm going to get back into it. Look more bursts of color. A bit more color here and lavender. In the water can come down and it mix itself. We can add few darker lines on top and very dark here, where it meets the water. Mark out some trees. 12. Applying Splatters: You have to force yourself every now and again to be a bit more playful. I could feel myself slowing down and getting stuck in details and starting to lose the energy. With oil painting, you can style where you get to sit down and you get lost in your painting for hours, but you have to always be a bit more active with watercolor. [NOISE] We do a light flicker here, one, two, here we go. We can do this red. Needs to be thicker. It's easier to use a bigger brush when flicking actually because otherwise it gets very messy if you're flicking with a small brush. 13. Painting The Grass: Now using this rigger brush, you can add a bit of grass here. Starting off quite dark [NOISE] blurring into those distant trees [NOISE] I'm going to refine that background a bit [NOISE] Some splotches of yellow. 14. Finishing Highlights: I'm using pure white and a spot small brush. I'm just going to quickly go over some areas here just to imply some holes in the leaves. I'm scared to use your fingers either just to blur it in. A few highlights leaves here. Now when you're painting is about 80-90% done, I take the tape off, disconnect from it for a bit and then have a look with a fresh eye to see if anything can be improved later on. In a minute, that's what I'll do. I'm going to take the tape off, disconnect for a bit, see if there's any improvements, and then we'll sum it up. 15. Final Thoughts: Welcome back. Now the painting is finished, let's have a close up look at it. I hope you have your own painting to look at as well. After taking the tape off, I put the painting away for a few days and tried to disconnect from it, so that when I return to it, I had a fresh eye. I could more clearly see any obvious mistakes for corrections I should put in. You can try to do different variations of this painting using different techniques and exploring different colors, maybe even using a texturized sponge to painting the leaves on the trees. The goal, ultimately, at this learning stage is just about having a bit of fun, exploring the possibilities of this exciting medium. It can be easy to feel a bit stressed during the painting if it gets challenging. But remaining positive and keeping faith really helps in the end. Try not to compare your painting with mine, as no two paintings are alike and everyone has their own individuality and nuances. In fact, painting in this style should be very liberating because it encourages loose brush marks and it gives an opportunity to discover your own style. If you would like feedback on your painting, I'd love to give it. Or if you'd like any advice related to watercolor, please share your painting in the student projects gallery down below, and I'll be sure to respond. If you prefer, you can share it on Instagram, tagging me @willelliston as I would love to see it. Skillshare also loves seeing my students' work, so tag them as well @Skillshare. After all that effort we put into it, why not show it off? Remember, please click the Follow button up top so you can follow me on Skillshare. This means you'll get a notification as soon as I publish my next class, or have important announcements like free giveaways or sharing some of my best student artwork uploaded to the project gallery. Thank you so much again for joining me in this class today. Please leave a comment below in the class discussion area if you have any questions or comments about today's class. If you have any subject wildlife or a scene you'd like me to do a class on, by all means, let me know about it in the discussion section as well. I hope you learned a lot and are inspired to paint more in his wonderful medium. Until next time, goodbye.