Suggesting detail in watercolour landscapes

Last month Watercolour Journey left a comment about my paintings “suggesting a lot of detail without actually cluttering up the painting,” and I wanted to follow this interesting point with an example to help you. Not just to prove that I read your comments, for they are invaluable in providing both feedback and ideas for further posts, even if my response time is rather long, but I was in Switzerland at the time enjoying the fantastic mountain scenery.

This is a small part of a watercolour of a scene in the Cairngorms mountains in Scotland and the point I wish to focus on is the mountainside in the background which I have tried to suggest as rough detail. Unlike the loch and trees, this is not one of the most picturesque aspects of the scene, so I wanted to play it down and not clutter up the area immediately behind the trees, yet still give a sense of place.

At the top of the mountain the detail stands out more strongly where I have deliberately painted in rock and crag shapes, then dragged dry-brush colour down behind the trees. This is an excellent method for suggesting detail without actually painting any in, and it still allows the trees to stand out strongly. Note that the direction of the brush-strokes is designed to enhance the direction of fall of the mountain-slopes. Before I painted in all this suggestion of distant detail I did lay a weak blue wash over the background and let it dry, and you can see it through the broken colour.

To see more of this painting of Loch Pityoulish see my book Painting Mountains & Moorlands in Watercolour and you can order a signed copy from my website.

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