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Travel Painting: Extending your Experience through Watercolors

Travel Painting: Extending your Experience through Watercolors

Design
Gina Furnari

Gina Furnari

Artist, Designer, and Founder of Arty Sketchbooks

Snæfellsnes peninsula is a national park on the west coast of Iceland. I normally like to paint outside but, the wind around Snæfellsnes was wild, and I thought I might blow away along with my paints. Instead I set out my supplies in the rental car, while my husband Matt took a nap in the back seat. This was the first of a handfull of sketches I made durring our honeymoon. I spent no more than half an hour on any of them, they are small and along with my paints and brushes accompanied me everywhere we went on our 9 days in Europe.

I love writing about, photographing, and collecting suvenears of my travels. Each links to a different memory and makes me feel different things. Sketching the world around me has become a major part of my travel log. I think the paintings capture the feelings I have for a place but, more importantly, painting gets me to sit down and focus on my surroundings. When I paint I listen, and think about what makes a place unique. I look at the color, the light, and the shapes around me. I don't try to make a materpiece, I just try to put something down on the paper. 

This tutorial will help you choose the best materials for travel painting, and give you a few insights into watercolor, and what makes up a great travel sketch. 

MATERIALS (Click here to download the materials list with descriptions)

Watercolor Paints 

Niji Brush(s) 

Arches Watercolor Paper (cold or hot press) 

ELEMENTS OF A GREAT TRAVEL PAINTING 

Concept/Design - There are two sides to any painting one is concept and the other is design.

Concept for a travel sketch is easy to figure out. Just think about what makes your location special. 

When I painted at Snæfellsnes I was looking around at the layers of mountains ahead of me. The way they overlapped and the way the ground opened up with streams. I was also thinking about how remote it was and how open. I wanted to paint how it felt to be there at that moment. 

Design or the formal elements of a painting are all informed by your concept. Everything from composition to color depends on what you want to be able to capture. 

This is an inland view of Snæfellsnes and there was a lot going on all around me. If I had tried to paint all of it, I would have just ended up with a jumbled mess so I chose a few mountains I really liked the shape of, and focused on them. Since the layering was something I really liked about the place I made sure to show some ranges receeding into the distance and some infocus. 

For colors I chose to stick to browns and blues even-though it was more of an earthy toned place because I wanted it to feel cool like the wind that whipped around the car while I worked. 

GETTING STARTED

Find a Great Location - Choosing a location is pretty easy. If you like the view enough to look at it for an extended period of time then you'll probably enjoy painting it. 

Choose Your Palette - In general, and especially for travel painting it's important to think about color as light. Mix a few colors and think about what fits the mood of where you are. 

Some things to note:

  • Cool colors receed and warm colors advance 
  • Limit your pallet - It can be hard to change the way you think about color. Most of us will see an object as green or red or brown and want to paint it as that color, using only a few paints will help you think about color in a different way. 
  • "Always be mixing" - mixing your pre-made paints before you put them on your paper will make them more dynamic and natural looking. 

Tips For Composition - The goal in making a good composition is to create a structure on the page that allows the viewers eye to move about the space easily. Some common compositions are a circle, a triangle, a clamb shell, and an s-shape (I use the "S-shape" a lot and the Snæfellsnes painting is that kind of a composition). 

SAMPLE PAINTING TIME LAPSE

Start with super light washes of paint in a single color. Watercolor is a transparent medium so you work light to dark. For this painting I mixed my Mayan Blue and Mayan Yellow in my pallet to make this grassy green color.  

Next build up the shadows with a slightly darker wash. You can repeat this step with each of the other colors you are working with. 

Add in some details that stand out as unique to the place you are painting. For this painting of the Kings Garden, I included the rows of trees, cyclists, and picnickers that are so ubiquitous in the Danish capitol. 

Finish up by thinking about the light focus in the landscape and upping the contrast with your darkest darks. 

WATERCOLOR PAINTING TIPS

  • Take your time
  • Fill one of your palette wells with water and mix a large amount of colors you like
  • Wet your paper with clean water before adding paint to get more diffused washes and subtle transitions of color
  • Layer thin washes of paint to slowely build up over time
  • Try drawing techniques like cross-hatching or other line work to add texture 

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The most important thing to remember is that it's more about the process than the finished work. Don't rush anything or worry too much about how your painting looks just have fun painting. 

Gina Furnari

Artist, Designer, and Founder of Arty Sketchbooks

Gina is an artist and freelance designer living and working in NJ. She holds a BFA in painting and art history from The Hartford Art School and has been artist in residence at ListHús in Ólafsfjörður, Iceland and Makeshift Society Brooklyn.  GinaFurnari.com

Gina Furnari

Artist, Designer, and Founder of Arty Sketchbooks

Gina is an artist and freelance designer living and working in NJ. She holds a BFA in painting and art history from The Hartford Art School and has been artist in residence at ListHús in Ólafsfjörður, Iceland and Makeshift Society Brooklyn.  GinaFurnari.com

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