Well, this is really the question I've been asking myself as we kicked off a week long watercolor workshop here in Umbria: what can I teach to have people create gorgeous landscape paintings in just a few days?
The first 3 days have been invaluable to me as I take students through the process of making successful landscape paintings.
Trying to sum up what I've learned over the last 5 years or so of intensive study alone through observation, from other painters and numerous teachers, well I've discovered that I do know something!
Seriously though, breaking down painting into the most basic and simple steps is a necessary and clarifying moment.
Here are the 5 most important steps and things to balance in order to make a successful landscape.
1. Values. I discovered that the English call these tones. Either way we're talking about the steps from light to dark on the gray scale.
Without this set up in your painting right from the beginning, you'll be putting icing on a mud pie.
2. Design. Maybe this should really be number 1, but a painting's design can also be based on the relationship and rhythm of its values (or tones).
3. Warm and cool, tension and contrast. What more should I say?
Observe and sometimes exaggerate the receding cools and have the warms come forward in space.
A very easy way to demonstrate to those students who don't see the warm-cool relationship right away is to have them paint a warm blue next to a cool blue. When you hold the paper up, you can immediately see the receding blue (cobalt or Prussian) against the warm (ultramarine).
4. Edges. This is a big one. And so important! Teach it early on and they will immediately see a huge leap in their progress. Soft edges can be achieved either through closeness in value or simply by keeping them soft in the brushwork. Then hard edges are achieved through contrast in value and clear clean strokes.
5. The main thing to keep in mind: simplify! Keep it simple and get the relationships working and you've nailed it. Don't ever let your students (or yourself for that matter!) wander off into the land of detail, nothing exciting ever happens there anyway.
Here are just some example teaching sketches of mine over the last 2 days, all of them incomplete unfortunately, but a complete joy to begin.