Thursday, April 03, 2008

Step by Step Watercolor "Zion's River"

Roland Lee Watercolor painting of Virgin River in Zion National Park"Zion's River" 8x12 watercolor by Roland Lee

This painting was inspired by a fall 2008 hike I took along the Virgin River in Zion National Park. I love the way the sun on the cliffs reflects in the cool blue water.

I am working on Arches 140 lb. Cold-press watercolor paper stapled to "Incredible Art Board". As usual I begin with a light (4h) pencil drawing to define my edges. Using a 1-inch flat brush I start by laying in both the sky and the water at the same time using wet-into-wet technique. First I wet the paper on the sky area and apply a small amount of yellow ochre along the horizon, then do a graded wash with Ultramarine blue from the top down. While that area dries I immediately apply clear water to the water area and float the reflection colors into it.

I allow the pigment to mingle in the wet in wet wash by tipping my board vertically to allow the paint to run down. This helps give the appearance of vertical reflections of the cliffs and trees in the water. Now I let both washes dry completely.

On the distant warm cliffs I lay in the shadow shapes with Quinacridone coral and ultramarine blue allowing the pigments to mingle. Moving down to the foliage I apply simple shapes using both wet in wet and drybrush to create a sense of texture.

I use negative painting (backpainting) in several places to define lighter trunks and branches against the darker background. I also further define the shapes on the cliff with darker applications of paint, making the same adjustments in the water reflections.

My photo reference was taken with my pocket digital camera. In a high contrast lighting situation it is difficult for the camera to read the shadows and the highlights, so the shadows are way to dark with no detail. In my painting I overcome that by lightening the middle ground values.

The finished painting. I feel like I captured the warm glow of the canyon and the colorful reflections in the water. What do you think?


  1. I think you definitely achieved your goal and also made me very homesick at the same time. :) There is something magic about that canyon and it's colors. You captured it!

  2. You captured the warmth very well in this painting. You also capture the technique of negative painting so well. I am very frustrated with that and wish you could come to Maryland and show me!! Any workshops on the east coast? Preferably Annapolis? Thought I'd try anyway. Just a big fan of your work. Thanks for having a great website.

  3. You really did capture nice warmth in this painting. I also love your skill of negative painting. It adds so much to your work. I wish you could come to Maryland and show me how you do that. Any workshops on the east coast? Preferably Annapolis? Thought I'd give it a try. Love your work and thanks for a great website.

  4. Love your work....any chance of a workshop in Annapolis, MD? Lots of subject matter!

  5. That is a really neat painting. I'm ready to head back out there for my summer job now.

    One question, when did you discover how to time-travel?

  6. Beautiful painting. I love your work. I'm going to go practice it and see if I'm good enough to take your fall or winter workshop. Thanks for doing this demonstration. You make it sound so easy. Again, love your work. Pattsy D

  7. Anonymous3:08 AM

    yo brap good painting