The first day we worked on this desert scene we established our distant mountains, desert valley and the under painting for the foreground.
The distant mountains were made with a series of light washes on damp paper. This is the tricky part because you want the paper damp enough that you have soft edges but not so wet they blur out completely or so dry that you had a hard edge to deal with it is best to practice this first.
The "rule" about creating distance in a painting is: "As things go into the distance they become softer and grayer in color, less intense in color, less detail and closer together" keep this in mind as you create this background and keep your reference photo in front of you.
I first wet my paper from the top down to about half way then I did the sky in a wash of yellow. Your sky can be any color you want, with or without clouds just remember to keep everything light at this point, then let it dry enough so the shine has gone off the paper but the paper still feels damp, the with a light wash of blue and sienna with water to thin it - you want a color that is just a bit darker than the sky - you form the top edge of the distant mountain. Hint: If you start on the edge and the paint spreads to quickly, wait a minute and let the paper dry a bit more before trying again. Remember how the paper feels so you will know for your next layer how long to wait.
Paint this wash down to the bottom of the mountains, then wait until the paper has dried to the damp state you want before you add the next layer of mountains. Each layer is just a bit darker that the previous layer, just add a bit more blue and sienna to darken.
The desert valley between the distant mountains and the foreground still needs to have a grayed color because it is still in the distance but because it is closer than the mountains, you can add a bit of color to the blue/gray such as Hooker's or sap green and a touch more sienna.
If you painted the original yellow color all the way down to where the foreground starts, this is good, you may need to re-wet this area so that it is damp, this way you can just touch and drag your brush with the gray/green on your brush and leave the lighter sand wash as the yellow. If you didn't paint this area with yellow, you may need to add the sand color which is a thin was of sienna and any "mud" you have on your brush to gray the color. When the valley is done, let your painting dry completely before starting on the foreground.
Remember as a watercolorist, you work from light to dark which means that you will start out with what will end up being your highlights.
Also, the same rule as above applies when things are closer to you even in something like a still life, while things may have more color, the things in the background need to be just a bit grayer in color and softer or out of focus.
I used a similar color for the back part of the foreground bushes to what I used for the valley behind, but just a shade darker. I created an interesting shape to the top of these bushes by making somethings taller, others shorter; somethings wider others thinner. keep in mind that this is not a hedge that the gardeners prune every week, it is a wild landscape.
The distant cactus need to be a similar value as the surrounding bushes but you can under paint the closer cactus with what is on your brush because you will need to go over them again.
If you are doing the shadows and the twigs in the background, do not make them as dark as you will when you get to the foreground.
You may want to wait between layers of bushes before you add the next and with each layer while you are keeping it light, the color can become more intense, less gray.
Desert greens tend to be a bit on the blue gray side to begin with but to that you can add a bit of yellow or orange to brighten the color.
I added in the occatillo because someone who was not going to be able to get to the last class asked me how I was going to put it in,which I did with my liner brush. If I were painting this on my own and not in class, I would have waited until I had the cactus behind it done but if I am careful and I don't keep going over the cactus when it is wet, this shouldn't be a problem.
I also had a chance before class ended to start adding shadows and using the negative painting technique, I used the shadow color to create details such as the top edges of the layers of the bushes, some of the grasses and weeds, branches and twigs by painting AROUND these things with my shadow color, which, by-the-way, is a light wash of blue and green, I will make it darker in layers and will leave some of this color as an intermediate color. This is where I left off in class, I did do some work at home that follows.
I added a couple of layers of a darker wash over my closer cactus and let it dry in between each wash. As you can see, the lines of the occatillo can still be seen and I did not go over them again.
I added more shadow color to the shadows in the foreground but not in the back. Remember that the background color needs to be less intense because it is in the background. I did leave some of the previous color which now becomes detail in the shadows.
I added the cholla in the corner and deepened shadows. I am not going to put all the branches that are coming in from the side otherwise I would have used masking fluid to protect that area.
This is where I started when we had our last class. Notice that the furthest bushes and cactus are softer, grayer and less detailed than the foreground.
In class I kept working on adding shadows and creating details. There is a lot of negative painting going on here.
The darkest shadows are at the bottoms of the bushes. Look at the reference photo and you will see what I am talking about.
I added some red to the ends of the occatillo branches to suggest flowers even though they were not in the photo, I have seen them bloom and wanted to add a touch of color. This is just pure red to the edge of my 1/4" angle brush and ti just touched it to the paper or I used the point to make little dots. Nothing fancy.
I added another occatillo on the other side rather than the branches in the photo and I am calling this one done.
Remember that all of the things we did this semester were studies and studies are there so you can learn different techniques, try something you haven't done before, explore your subject before you include it in a "masterpiece", this give you confidence so you know what you are doing when you do get to your painting because now it isn't something foreign, it is something you know.
Keep painting and I will see you in class!