How to Paint a Realistic Landscape (With Only 4 Colours)

Morning Class,

Last week, we explored Carlson’s theory on angles, and I received an interesting comment from a reader asking how complicated it would be to apply the principles to colour.

“I especially love black and white painting.  I’m looking forward to trying this.  How does it work then with colour?  Seems it could get quite complicated.” – Laura

Well, it’s simpler than you might think!

I thought it would be handy to demonstrate painting trees using just four colour mixes. I’m using water-mixable oils, but you can follow along with acrylics or traditional oils too.

Preparing Your Palette: Mixing the Base Colours

Let’s get started by mixing the four base colours in different values. Remember, value refers to how light or dark a colour is.

From left to right, Titanium White, Cadmium Yellow Light, Cadmium Green Light, Permanent Green, Ultramarine Blue Light and below is Pyrrole Red.

First, the sky mix, using white and a small touch of Ultramarine Blue Light.

This gives us a light, airy sky colour. (Note how there was a little bit of green left on my palette knife, but  it works for this painting.)

Next, we’ll create the ground mix. Take a bit of the sky colour, then add some Cadmium Yellow Light and a touch of Cadmium Green Light. Mix these, and finally, add a speck of Pyrrole Red to drop the saturation slightly.

This creates a natural, earthy tone for the ground.

For our slanted plane, we’ll mix Cadmium Green Light, Permanent Green, Cadmium Yellow Light, and a speck of Pyrrole Red.

This gives us a vibrant, rich green that’s perfect for those angled planes in the landscape.

Finally, the trees. Combine Permanent Green and Pyrrole Red to make a lovely rich dark green, then a touch of Titanium White to lighten the value.

This mix gives us a dark, yet vibrant green that will make our trees pop against the background.

OK, colours ready, let’s go!

Applying the Principles of Carlson’s Angles

Applying the principles of Carlson’s angles, use the sky mix for the top parts of the canvas, the ground mix for the base, the slanted plane mix for angled surfaces, and the tree mix for the trees themselves. Keep your strokes loose and varied, and remember to think about the direction of light and shadow. This will add depth and realism to your painting.

Here’s our subject drawn out with a pencil. You can download the sketch from the blog to follow along. I’m using a size 4 round Aspen brush from Princeton and water, both as a diluent and for washing the brush.

Blocking in the Darkest Values for Tree Trunks

First, I start with the darkest mix and block in the shapes of the tree trunks. Focus on the overall shape rather than individual details.

Next, I move on to the tonal masses of the trees. Instead of painting each leaf or branch, I combine the shapes into one tonal mass to create a cohesive look.

Make sure to paint the cast shadows under the trees; this really helps establish the illusion of a strong light source.

Once the tree trunks and masses are blocked in, I wash the brush out well in water and dry the bristles on a paper towel.

Adding Depth with Slanted Planes and Ground Colour

Now, I jump to the slanted plane. Follow the shapes as they weave between the tree trunks and leaves in the foreground.

After cleaning the brush, I paint in the ground colour. This lighter value starts to bring more life to our landscape. Be sure to include all the little dashes of light between the trees to add depth and interest. The point on the round brush can be handy for this.

Final Touches: Painting the Sky and Enhancing Details

The final, lightest area is the sky.

I apply the sky colour a little bit thicker and paint in some sky holes. If you’re using oils, remember you need to be more deliberate with your marks to avoid the colours blending together and becoming muddy.

Okay, so here is our painting simply blocked in, we haven’t mixed between the colours yet, just used our first mixes and it reads surprisingly well.

Now, we can start refining and mixing our initial four base mixes to add subtle hues.

For instance, a little white added to the darkest mix helps to separate a tree trunk. Mixing between the greens helps with the distant trees. If you wanted, you could develop the painting further by adding stronger warm red-based mixes, but this approach already looks great, and just keeping it this simple effectively demonstrates the theory in colour.

So that’s it!

You can create a beautiful, cohesive landscape with just four colours and an understanding of value. If you have any questions, leave a comment below.

Until next time, happy painting!

Continue ReadingHow to Paint a Realistic Landscape (With Only 4 Colours)

Acrylic Landscape Painting Techniques – Carlson’s Theory of Angles

As a beginner landscape painter, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the vastness of nature and the complexity of capturing it on canvas. But when you break down the scene into shapes, values and planes, you can instantly improve the sense of depth and realism.

In last week’s post, we looked at the theory of angles and how they relate to a landscape.

This week, we’re going to put the theory into practice.

By stripping away the colour, it will be easier to see how the value relationships work in our subject.

Materials you will need:

  • 4 x 4-inch or 6 x 6-inch square canvas board or canvas paper
  • Neutral Grey Acrylics (Golden Paints)
  • Titanium White Acrylic
  • Palette Knife
  • Round Brush. Rosemary & Co, Size 4, Series 344
  • Square brush. Rosemary & Co,  Size 12, Series 302
  • Pencil or Acrylic marker to draw out.

Step 1: Understanding Carlson’s Four Planes of the Landscape

To master landscape painting, it’s crucial to understand Carlson’s Four Planes of the Landscape. These planes are —sky, ground, slanted, and upright—and they serve as your compositional building blocks.

Step 2: Draw Out the landscape

I’ve drawn out the main shapes of the landscape with an acrylic marker. This is by Daler Rowney, and I’ve filled the empty marker with Sepia High Flow Ink. Make sure to keep the spaces between the trees. These negative spaces allow for dashes of sunlight.

Here’s a 6 x 6 inch (15cm x 15cm) version of the drawing you can download: landscape drawing reference image

Step 2: Block in Your Upright Plane

Asking the question, ‘What angle is this object facing in relation to the light source?‘ can help you group the subjects. So, if we look at the trees, they are growing vertically, so they would fit within the upright plane. This faces away from the light source, so it is the darkest value.

I’m using a round brush and an N2 neutral grey.

I’m using pre-mixed greys for speed, but you can mix your own grey using Black and Burnt Umber, or Ultramarine and Burnt Umber.

I dip the brush into water and use that to alter the consistency of the paint.
If I feel the brush dragging a little on the canvas surface, I add a touch more water.

I’ve also got a piece of kitchen roll to the side. I can dab the bristles onto the paper towel if the brush contains too much liquid or pigment.

Step 3: Paint in the slanted plane

I’m still using the round brush, but jump up to the next lightest value for the slanted plane. This is for areas of the painting facing away from the light, but not fully exposed to the sun, so usually within the mid values.

It could be a hill in the distance, a roof, or a mass of leaves. On trees, you’ll often have the trunk as an upright plane, but the top of the leaves grow out at a slanted angle so they receive more light.

I’m using a few different greys and tweaking the values between them.

Neutral Grey from Golden Acrylics

Step 4: Paint in the Ground Plane

Once the slanted plane is in, I swap to a larger square brush to paint the ground plane.

This is much lighter than the slanted plane but not as bright as the sky. This area is often lighter in value than you think it should be.

Step 5: Paint in the Sky plane (light source)

We can jump to the lightest value, sky plane, for the light source of the sky. I’m using the square-edged brush and the corner of the bristles to paint in the sky holes. This helps to move the viewer’s eye across the painting and completes the value hierarchy.

I swap to the round brush for the final details of the gaps between the trees.

By understanding and applying Carlson’s Four Planes of the Landscape, you can break down complex scenes and create beautiful, realistic landscapes. Remember to start with a simple sketch, look for the shapes that are grouped together, and maintain consistent lighting variety.

You can watch a short 1min 30 video of the steps on YouTube below:

You might also enjoy:
1.How to simplify a complicated Landscape Scene 
2.How to Paint Greens in Acrylics 

Continue ReadingAcrylic Landscape Painting Techniques – Carlson’s Theory of Angles

Beginner Landscape Painting Concepts – The Theory of Angles

In this lesson, I want to show you how to start recognising light and dark relationships in a landscape.

Once you ‘see’ how the light falls on the main masses, such as the ground, trees, and mountains, painting the values accurately will be much easier.

I first encountered this simplification of the Four Planes of Landscape Painting in Carlson’s 1929 book ‘Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting’.

I’ve found it’s a surprisingly helpful way of stopping and accessing what you’re looking at in terms of groups of planes of masses and simplifying the enormous detail and overload you can face when painting outdoors.

Understanding how light interacts with the landscape can transform flat canvases into lifelike scenes with depth and realism.

Detail over Depth

Painting the details on a tree, trying to capture the flow of water, and adding highlights to sparkling water can be the most attractive elements of landscape painting.

However, relying on your intuition to ‘feel your way’ can easily result in a loss of basic tonal structure.

The 4 planes help to solve this by giving you an understanding of light.

To illustrate this, first things first; we’re getting the glue gun out!

Modelling the 4 planes of Landscape painting

Here’s a basic three-dimensional model of a simplified landscape.

There is a tree, a bush, a sky, and a hillside.

All elements are white foam core and have a white local value.

You can see this change in value when we orientate them at different angles to the light source.

“The key to this Theory of Angles is, then, that the big elements with which the landscape painter has to deal are, first of all, light masses and half-dark masses, no matter in what sequence you name them.” John F Carlson, Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting

1. Sky plane

This is usually the lightest value. But it can vary on a sunny or overcast day.

2. Ground plane

The ground plane receives the most light from the sky, the next lightest value. (There are exceptions, such as snow and bright reflections)

3. Slanted plane

The slanted plane is for hills and mountains; it reflects less light than the ground plane and is darker.

4. Upright plane

This includes vertical surfaces like trees and buildings. This plane is usually the darkest.

Once you have a visual concept of these planes, you can more easily manage tonal values and create depth in your landscape painting.

I’ve made a short 45-second video that illustrates the concept. (You can also watch the video on Youtube here)

“These masses or elements are light or dark, or half-dark or half-light, not because of any colour cast they may have, but because they present different angles to the light that falls upon them from the sky”

John F Carlson, Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting

Next time, we’ll try this theory with a landscape painting.

Continue ReadingBeginner Landscape Painting Concepts – The Theory of Angles

​How to Begin Painting (Without Wasting Your Time or Money)

Painting can open up a world of creativity, relaxation, and self-expression; the hardest part is beginning.

Are watercolours harder than acrylics? What if you can’t draw?

Often, the biggest obstacle to success is overcoming the worry you’re wasting your time learning a new medium that doesn’t ‘fit’ your style, or you don’t have the talent to be an artist or, worse, wasting your money buying loads of art materials that you end up not using!

Getting over the Frustration Barrier

“Many things aren’t fun until you’re good at them. Every skill has what I call a frustration barrier, a period of time in which you’re horribly unskilled and you’re painfully aware of that fact.” Josh Kaufman – The First 20 Hours

Even uttering the phrase “I am an artist” can stir feelings of self-doubt. But take heart – every creative feels this impostor syndrome. What matters is moving forward anyway.

(Insights from art psychology books like Art & Fear, The War of Art, and Big Magic prove invaluable companions on the journey.)

The main thing to grasp is that painting is a teachable skill anyone can develop, regardless of innate talent. Some people prefer to take classes with a live instructor, while others prefer to learn independently.

There is a place in the art world for every single artist, and it’s never too late to begin painting.

The main thing to realise is that painting can be learned; it’s a skill that can be developed.

I hope this guide gives you insight into not just materials and mediums, but also a window into the possibilities.

Skill vs Talent (Talent is Overrated)

A Fan Brush used for blending

Can I learn art if I have no talent?

Sure you can.

Can you learn how to bake a cake if you have no talent?


It’s the same approach. It’s not about natural talent but learning a new skill.

Beginning painting is learning to embrace experiments and find inspiration in your mistakes.

‘Happy Accidents’ can be the beginnings of creative breakthroughs, so be open to when your painting ‘goes wrong’ and try to see what new lessons can be learnt.

Talent is overrated and can be an excuse you can rely on rather than putting in the time on the foundations. The path to success in learning any new skill is focusing more on improving the fundamentals.

“Skill is the ability to do something. Talent is the rate at which you can acquire the ability to do something.¹ If you have a talent for the guitar, that means you will learn to play the guitar faster than someone who doesn’t have a talent for the guitar. If you don’t have a talent for the guitar, that means it will take longer to learn to play the guitar than it would if you did have some talent. For most things* in life, talent doesn’t really matter. The rate at which you can acquire the ability to do something doesn’t really matter. What really matters is the length of time you can do something.” – Billy Oppenheimer 

This quote is so true, “what really matters is the length of time you can do something“.

If you set yourself a goal of creating one painting, you will face problems.

If it goes well, you’ll be worried that the next one won’t be as good, so you’ll procrastinate on continuing.

If it goes badly, you’ll convince yourself you have zero talent; painting isn’t for you, and all those teachers were right.

So what’s the answer?

Start an experiment.

Let’s say you’ll try to paint 100 paintings before you decide if it’s for you.

Does 100 sound too many? It’s estimated that Picasso created 13,500 paintings and around 100,000 prints and engravings.

And don’t get put off if you’re coming to painting later in life. Your unique experiences and perspectives can inform your practice and tell your journey. (Range: Why Generalists Triumph in A Specialized World By David Epstein is a great book on this)

I teach classical painting methods in oils and acrylics that focus on fundamental painting principles.

My philosophy is less is more. A distilled approach to classical painting. A solid foundation for anything you choose to paint, regardless of subject or medium.

I help other aspiring artists not make the same mistakes I did, so if you’ve ever dreamt of picking up a paintbrush and filling a canvas with colour but don’t know where to start, let’s go on a creative journey together to discover how to ‘see’ like an artist.

Students often ask me, ‘What essential materials do I need to begin painting?’

Winsor & Newton Cotman Travel Watercolour Kit

When you are learning anything new, you want to get the best results without investing too much too soon, so before we get into materials, I found it usually helps to begin with the end in mind.

You need to decide on your medium, and each medium has its own charm.

What are you trying to emulate, or what artists are you trying to recreate?

Make a note of paintings you like the style of, what they were painted with and the effect or technique you want to achieve.

You might have tried watercolours and got buckled paper or put off using oils due to the dangers and smell of turpentine (but not realise how far modern oil materials have come.)

You might be much happier with pencils and sketchbooks than painting on canvas.

You’ll get faster results if you can match the correct medium to your personality, aspirations and experience, but knowing which medium will suit you best is impossible until you try.

When you’re dealing with any paints, there are a few things to consider:

  • Handling properties
  • Drying times
  • Surface that you want to work on to
  • Implement you want to use to apply the paints
  • Environment or the space you’ve got available to you

Oil Paint

Oil paints can be amazing to work with, from quick Alla-prima oil canvas sketches to photo-realistic oil portraits.

They have a lovely buttery consistency and a slow drying time, enabling you to make changes over a longer period, adjust shapes, or work wet-into-wet with thick impasto marks.

Oil paints stay workable for much longer than acrylics; the paint on the palette stays pliable.

And oils are king when it comes to blending colours.

Because of their slow-drying nature, you can enjoy the luxury of tweaking and softening your work, creating wonderful, subtle paintings. This is especially true for portrait painting when the shading of the face can need constant revisiting.

If you’re a bit wary because of all the solvents associated with traditional oil painting, you could use water-mixable oils (WMO’s) that you can dilute with water. (Watermixable Oils vs Traditional Oils)

Pro Tip: Even though you can use water with water-mixable oils, you still need to introduce a water-mixable thinner and water-mixable oil to get the best result. This will give you better paint flow and handling. Try to think of them as  ‘water-cleanable’ oils.

Bear in mind that oil paint is a bit messy. I find it gets everywhere just because, well… it tends to get everywhere!

If you’ve got a house full of cats or small children running around, oil painting can make a mess; that goes for water-mixable oils, too.

With Oil Paint you can change your medium to alter paint handling qualities

Preparation is key. Due to the oil in oil paints (usually linseed oil), it’s best to work on a prepared canvas or board.

If you have plenty of time set aside for your painting, traditional oils can be fantastic, but if you want to work with thick paint, you need to consider drying times.

Each particular pigment needs a different amount of oil mixed with it, resulting in different drying times. e.g. Earth colours such as Burnt Umber are rapid drying, whereas Ivory Black takes much longer to dry.

Drying time guide for Winsor & Newton Artist Oils

Ensure a well-ventilated space; traditional turpentine and white spirits can be quite strong. I work with odourless mineral spirits or ‘Zest It‘ (a thinner made from citrus ) with very little odour compared to turpentine.

Many new solvent-free products, such as Gamblin’s Solvent-free Gel, are now coming to market, so there are plenty of alternatives. These offer a way of diluting the oil paint without using traditional solvents; you can also clean your brushes with walnut oil (Murphy’s soap in the US gets good reviews).

Acrylic Paint


Professional Artist Acrylics have a higher pigment load than student-grade paints

One of the key things that make acrylics a great medium to start with is you can paint on anything: paper, card, canvas board, whatever you have to hand.

Set up is quick; they are water-soluble, fast-drying and water-resistant when dry. They clean up with water, and there’s no smell!

They can be used in thin layers like watercolours or in thicker, more opaque applications like oil paint.

You can mix clean, bright colours, and the crisp edges that can be achieved with acrylics can be perfect if you want to paint with a more graphic composition. You can quickly mask out areas, work over them, and easily cover a hard shape with thicker paint.

Blending with acrylics can be a bit frustrating due to the speed of the drying time; acrylics dry by evaporation and tend to dry quite quickly.

Artists refer to this as having a short ‘working time’; however, this can vary depending on several different factors; the main ones are:

  • How thick or thin is your application of the paint
  • The absorbency of the surface you’re working on
  • The size of the painting
  • What you dilute the paint with, either water or a specialist medium
  • The heat and humidity of the environment you’re painting in

If you are working on a large scale, it can be practically impossible to work the canvas as a whole to bring together the same finish. But apart from working quicker or on a small scale, you can add a medium to the paint to help keep the working time open for longer. Soft gel gloss, a retarder (slows down drying time) or my preferred choice, glazing liquid gloss, make achieving smooth blends with acrylics easier.

Pro tip: 7 Ways to Stop Acrylic Paint Drying too Fast

Watercolour Painting

Beautiful graded washes, translucent colours, seamless transitions, a quick drying time, and super reasonably priced to get started. You can buy a Cotman travel kit, a pad of watercolour paper, a couple of brushes and get going!

If you want to paint outdoors, watercolours are a great option because your kit is pretty compact. Quick, impromptu watercolour sketches of a little plant next to you or a study of your garden always look pretty good in my experience.

Watercolour is all about washes and contrasts over line work, so you must know your drawing skills.

You can, of course, paint abstractly to produce swirls, blocks and washes, but if you’re trying to create a scene, a landscape or a realistic still life, there will usually be a fair amount of a drawing element to it.

When you paint with acrylics or oils, although the initial sketch and drawing out are still important, you can build up the painting through the form using an opaque application, whereas, with watercolour, you’re traditionally washing over a line. (Here’s an Ink and Watercolour demo)

Beginning Watercolour Painting

So, what are the essential beginning painting materials I would need?

The Winsor & Newton Artists’ Choice Professional Watercolour Set of 18 half-pan colours would be a great start for new watercolourists. Great pigmentation and these little pans last a really long time.

Most of the time, you would be painting on paper. You can read more about How to Choose Watercolour Paper here.

You could get away with one good brush, but ideally three brushes, and you could probably do 80% of the paintings with these three brushes.

  • a small round
  • a medium round
  • a bigger mop brush

For watercolours or gouache, brushes are usually soft, have a spring and can hold water. Most traditional brushes are made from animal hair, and the quality of the brush’s bounce and feel depends on the quality of the hair used. But you can get really good quality synthetic brushes now, too. You can read about A Quick Way to Understand Brushes here.

Flat & Round Synthetic Acrylic Brushes (Isabey Isacryl, Rosemary & Co Golden Synthetic, Princeton Aspen)

I think a great starter set for acrylic painters would be the Winsor & Newton Professional Acrylic Colour Set of 12 20ml tubes.

Again, a handful of brushes would be a great start.

  • a small round for detail
  • a flat brush
  • a Filbert brush,
  • and a bigger brush 1 1/2 inches for laying down the tonal ground

And Glazing Liquid Gloss as your medium.

Beginning Painting Oil Painting

Michael Harding Introductory Oil Painting Set

And for oil painters, I’d start with the Michael Harding Introductory Kit. The set consists of six tubes of 40ml paint: Titanium White, Yellow Lake, Ultramarine Blue, Yellow Ochre Deep, Burnt Umber and Scarlet Lake.

When it comes to the brushes, it is definitely easier to have more and, ideally, be able to hold a few brushes in your hand at the same time.

For example, if you’ve got a white brush and want to go from white to black with oils, it is really tricky.

It takes loads of washing, impeccable cleaning or a huge load of paint to transfer or change oils from light to dark. It’s very easy to end up with muddy colours on your canvas and messy everything else, so ultra-clean practice of brush handling is key here.

You’ve got to spend more time colour mixing, then make a mark and leave it to keep a clean colour, gently blending out the edges.

The other difference with oils is you need less paint, so you only need to put out a tiny bit of pigment. It will last ages, and a small paint volume will have good coverage.

When it comes to the mediums, you can use an odourless mineral spirit, like Gamsol, to cut through the paint to thin it. An oil medium to add flow and oil. Or one of the many non-toxic mediums as an alternative to using a thinner.

How do I set up a basic painting workspace at home?

Firstly, consider light and ventilation.

Essentially, the easiest thing is to have a table and a slightly angled board or a tabletop easel because then you can sit behind and paint in the right light.

You can sit next to a window, but it will vary depending on what time of day it is or how dark it is.

An LED bulb or an LED panel behind and above you is the best thing to get. Clipped on, looking down onto the easel.

This, again, will depend on if you’re using oils, which are a bit trickier because they often get a glare onto your canvas. So you have to make sure you’ve got the hang just right, or you can adjust the angle.

Have a kitchen roll or rags for cleaning up and a bin, and make sure you have a metal bin for oils because of the fumes and good practice with the rags disposal.

What are some of the fundamental basic techniques I should focus on as a beginner painter?

Detail from: Venice, Light & The Landscape Course

It sounds boring, but working with black and white to work on your tones, value, and contrast is fundamental. Paying attention to the value (lightness and darkness) of colours and learning to create contrast in your paintings is essential for depth and visual interest.

And then, after that, I would work on colour mixing because if you’ve got your tones and colour mixing right, everything else falls into place.

And also not to forget, drawing.

I always say most painting mistakes come from your drawing mistakes.

Brush techniques

Practise blending, scumbling, dry brushing, layering, and impasto (thick paint application).

You need more brush techniques with watercolour. With this medium, mastering brush control is key for achieving textures and effects, such as variated wash, wet into wet, lifting and blooms.

You’ll be thankful for that larger brush that holds more water!

When you’re working in acrylics, my top tip would be use more paint than you think you would need.

And with oils, make sure that you don’t drag or you don’t reapply; it’s so easy to make colours dirty. Ideally, you’d lay a colour down, leave it, and then work over it to blend the edges.

How do I choose a subject to paint?

Begin with simple subjects and compositions, and you can tackle more complex scenes or ideas as you gain confidence.

If you are looking for simple projects, I’d recommend signing up for the email newsletter, if you haven’t already. There are 10 references to work from; just pick one of them and follow it.

I often find beginners want to put their own mark onto a canvas; even when they’re first beginning, they don’t want to copy something. But if you look at any of the Students Success Pages, everyone following the same image with the same colours has their own character and natural style. It’s almost like having your own handwriting but with painting!

So, when you are learning, I recommend copying the basics until you understand the language of paint.

Which of your courses would you recommend?

The Beginners Acrylic Painting Course gives a good overview of different paints, such as high-flow acrylics, heavy-body acrylics and different mediums.

There are three different projects: a still life, a seascape and a landscape.

Alternatively, if you did one of the Morning Painting sessions, like the Modern Still Life, you would just have one subject, five colours, and three brushes.

It’s super simple to get started. There’s a drawing guide that you can follow along and you get to a finished painting quicker because it’s more focused.

Remember, painting should be enjoyable!

Let your creativity flow, and don’t be overly critical of your work; it’s all part of developing your ‘talent.’

Continue Reading​How to Begin Painting (Without Wasting Your Time or Money)

New Coastal Canvas: Impressionistic Seascape Acrylic Painting Course

Morning class,

Welcome to my NEW Acrylic Painting Course, Coastal Canvas!

This impressionistic seascape is all about simplicity.

It has been designed with short 10 -20 minute ‘micro-learning’ lessons, so you’ll build your knowledge, even if you’ve never painted seascapes. The project is so simple that you’ll have a finished painting in a few short sessions.

In this course, we view the coastal path across gentle waters, where sailboats are harboured up or just coming into the dock.

Set in the early evening golden hour light, the foreground has a secluded coastal garden with pink hydrangeas in full bloom; the greens are dark, cool and olive in tone and frame the passage of the sea.

Then, in the far distance, you’ve got a warm headland of pastel yellows and greens glowing from the golden light, creating a contrast of values and tones of greens from the foreground to the background, and then just a glimpse of a white lighthouse in the far distance.

Loosen Up Your Acrylic Painting

Many beginners think that painting the sea is too hard or that getting a convincing perspective is beyond them and that they need special drawing skills. But in reality, all you need are simple shapes, scale and a framing shift when mixing your colours.

This course is designed for beginners, with a simple subject (even if you’re brand new to drawing) and a limited palette of colours.

Learn how you can keep your brushstrokes simple and the subject fresh to create an impression of a scene rather than a photorealistic rendering. (You could also follow along with Watermixable Oils or Traditional Oils.)

I’ll walk you through how to mix colours, analyse pigments and distil your subject into a compelling painting. We’ll cover the preparation of your surface & drawing out, observing the composition with sketching and scale, and keeping the boats in scale to give that sense that they’re in the distance.

Inky Depths to create realism.

Change the intensity of the greens by changing the pigments, lose the fear, and embrace black in landscapes and seascapes. You’ll discover you don’t need to go bright with your greens in order to make them feel realistic. In fact, less is more; the more darker and muted your greens are, the more realistic they will read in a landscape painting.

When capturing coastal light, sea and sky, understanding the undertone and colour bias of the different blues to achieve the glimmering reflected lights.

When it comes to the details of flora and focal points, we keep things gestural and impressionistic, looking for passion, not perfection.

By the end of this course, you’ll have that insight into the hidden under-workings of a painting, teaching you classical painting skills alongside impressionistic brushstrokes.

Gained confidence that you could create a painting from a simple subject, motivating you to tackle different, more challenging views from your own photo library.

Capture the Essence, Not Every Detail.

  • Learn how to paint realistic headland by controlling your colour intensity
  • How to create a ‘vignette’ with your foliage to frame your view
  • How to paint the sea by using colour strings
  • How to control water flow and absorption
  • How to select an image that will translate well to paint
  • How to check if a subject will make a compelling painting subject (by creating a postcard prep study)

There are some intermediate lessons where we expand the colour palette, but each step is described clearly and succinctly.

What’s in the Course?

  • 1hr 45min Self-Paced Downloadable Video Course
  • 1 x Seascape Painting subject from start to finish, working from a reference image.
  • 8-step-by-step video lessons (split into ‘micro-learning’ sections.)
  • DRAWING TEMPLATE – line drawing to follow to help you overcome the blank canvas
  • TOOLS & MATERIALS: Downloadable Materials List PDF
  • REFERENCE IMAGES: Downloadable Line drawings.

Study at your own pace ✔

Over 1hr 45min+ hours of detailed video instruction ✔

Full Lifetime Access to the Lessons ✔

One-time Payment ✔

Who this course is for?

A beginner to acrylics who wants to gain confidence in their painting by following a step-by-step proven plan. An aspiring artist who loves the sea and the coast and has folders of photos they would love to capture in paint but are unsure of the best approach.

Learn More about the course here: Coastal Canvas Impressionistic Seascape Course

Continue ReadingNew Coastal Canvas: Impressionistic Seascape Acrylic Painting Course

7 Step Guide: Achieving Realistic Reflections with Acrylic Paints

Morning Class,

This week, I’ve been working on a Spritz cocktail painting inspired by one I enjoyed in St Mawes.

This subject offers an excellent opportunity to practice capturing reflections in water and exploring how coloured liquids can challenge our visual perception.

While painting the background and the surface around the glass might be relatively straightforward, the real challenge arises when we start painting the cocktail itself. Your mind will naturally begin to second-guess what you’re seeing. Thoughts like, “That’s too dark for a lemon,” or “The straw should be white, not grey,” might pop up.

You’ll be craving a cocktail yourself after tackling all these tricky reflections!

Part One: How to Paint a Spritz

Part Two: How to Paint a Spritz

You can see a Student Success page from the lesson here: Aperol Spritz Student Success

Continue Reading7 Step Guide: Achieving Realistic Reflections with Acrylic Paints

5 Little Lessons from Painting a Large Painting in a New Space

Painting large scale is not just a matter of having the right size canvas and paint. It’s also about adopting slightly different working methods and brushstrokes than when you work with a small canvas, and it’s one of the best ways to stretch your skills as a painter, even if you predominately paint small.

After months of renovation, I have recently regained the use of our new studio space. For the last 6 months, it had become the perfect place for storing multiple power tools and timber that needed acclimatising. It has been uplifting emptying the space of leftover building materials back to an empty room.

So last week with great relish, energy and anticipation, I propped up a large-scale 2m square canvas against a newly cleared wall and got to it.

I had a loose plan of the final image.

I’d sketched a pen and ink thumbnail of the view and had a palette of colours in mind but if I’m 100% honest I was super excited by the freedom of painting in a big space and seeing how the new studio felt.

Here are five things I learned.

#1. A little colour change is a big colour change.

Mixing the right colours for a large scale is not easy.

On smaller-scale pieces, your reference image is often close in size to the final piece, so you can translate the effect of the colour quite easily, but when you scale up an image everything becomes exaggerated.

As soon as you scale up the surface area that a colour covers, it has more of an intensity to it. The same colour ratio I would normally go for in a smaller piece looked more colourful once it was painted onto such a vast area.

#2. Scale up your brush to match your canvas size.

Just as you have to be aware of scaling down your colour choices and scaling up the volume of paint, you have to use larger tools to apply the paint too.

I rapidly went from a 1/2-inch brush to a 3-inch brush to a mini-roller!

Continue Reading5 Little Lessons from Painting a Large Painting in a New Space

Capturing Spring Sunshine by Painting Colourful Shadows

Morning class, last week I was struck by this image of these beautiful colourful cast shadows.

Spring sunshine was pouring through the wrought iron railings on the balcony and casting all these amazing shapes of the plant leaves onto the studio wall. I really, really liked the way they framed the rubber plant and I also liked how flat the shadows were in contrast to all the textures that I saw on the front of the aged terracotta pot.

You can be put off by painting shadows or tackling greens because they seem too complicated.

So for this lesson, I want you to think about the drawing first—a tonal underpainting and then a minimal painting on top. Spend more time on the shadows and the lights to create a painting that captures the feeling of sunlight.

I’ve put together a detailed photo step-by-step (with a few video time-lapses as well), so you can approach painting shadows and greens with ease.

Continue ReadingCapturing Spring Sunshine by Painting Colourful Shadows

How to Quickly make Sense of a Complicated Landscape Scene

I had an email from a student recently with a great question,

I’m wondering how to start painting this picture. There are so many colours, trees and bushes so I think it gets so messy. Do I start with the sky in the background and work my way forward and finally paint the trees? – Ulrikke

The photo that accompanied the email was a scene crowded with trees. Lots of layers all on top of each other, overlapping leaves and foliage coming towards the viewer with almost no visual sky.

Continue ReadingHow to Quickly make Sense of a Complicated Landscape Scene

Acrylic Step-by-Step Tutorial – Easy Fishing Boat Painting

acrylic boat tutorial

Will Kemp, Fishing Boat at St Michael’s Mount, 10 x 8 inches, Acrylic on Board

Acrylic Step-by-Step Tutorial

Are you looking for an easy acrylic painting tutorial for beginners?

After posting photos from my recent trip to St Michael’s Mount, the most popular request was to create an acrylic step-by-step tutorial of the little blue boat. So here it is, a new free acrylic lesson!

Grab a brew, maybe a biscuit or two (now the weather’s turning a bit more autumnal I’ve got a piece of particularly good ginger cake from the local farmers market) and let’s get painting, I really hope you enjoy it.

(p.s Students have had some fantastic results with this lesson)

Continue ReadingAcrylic Step-by-Step Tutorial – Easy Fishing Boat Painting

New! Acrylic Still Life Course

Morning class, I’m Will Kemp, and welcome to the first course in my new series ‘The Morning Paintings’.

I’m super excited about these because they are easy-to-follow single project courses that you can complete in just a few 1 hr painting sessions.

Each one will follow the same approach:

  • A single painting from start to finish.
  • A limited colour palette.
  • A handful of brushes.
  • A small canvas.
  • A simple subject.
  • 3 x 45-minute lessons.

You can see students’ results from the course here.

Advice for perfectionists and procrastinators

The reason I’ve started this series is that sometimes you can find yourself overthinking the result of a painting, feeling that it’s got to be complicated or a masterpiece. The pressure of having to make it perfect can result in lots of unfinished paintings or keep you from even starting!

I’ve found the best way to get around being overwhelmed is to set aside 1hr painting slot every morning. Embracing the process of practice really helps to build momentum and self-confidence, and that principle has inspired this series.

With small bite-sized lessons, you’ll be building your knowledge and your painting without the task becoming too much. I’m keeping it very simple with just a handful of materials, but we’ll still get a good range of mixes even using a minimal palette.

The actual starting is the hardest part – well, the thought of starting, once you begin, it’s much easier to keep going.

In this first course, I’ve taken all the principles from a traditional still life composition but kept it simple and contemporary. You’ll learn classical principles that are the building blocks of all great old master paintings.

We’ll cover the preparation of your surface & drawing out, mixing colour strings and blocking-in, and how to create the illusion of a three-dimensional shape by observing the cast and form shadows. We’ll understand the importance of harmonious colour and adding texture to the surface to control the viewer’s gaze.

It’s been designed to be really, really simple, like when we paint the pears, we only use two colours for most of it, and then add a few extra little magic bits of glazing to give you a little zing at the end!

So find a comfy seat, a strong cup of coffee, or a pot of tea, and see what can be achieved in a 1-hour painting slot, thoroughly engage in the process.

You could make a big step forward in the painting every day, and after three days, or even over a weekend, I think you will be absolutely amazed at how far your painting has progressed!

What’s in the Course?

  • 1 x Modern Still Life subject from start to finish, based in the studio working from a reference image.
  • 3 x downloadable video lessons, split into separate chapters that follow on sequentially. Step-by-step instructional videos so that you can follow along at your own pace.
  • Each stage is a detailed yet easy-to-follow process.
  • Lifetime access, downloadable on separate devices.
  • One-time payment.
  • Downloadable jpeg reference images and reference line drawings.
  • Printable Class materials list.
  • 2hrs of detailed video instruction.

Learn more about the course here 


Continue ReadingNew! Acrylic Still Life Course

7 Ways to Stop Acrylic Paint Drying too Fast


Acrylics are a great medium. Pick up a few well-chosen materials, and after a simple set up, you can paint on almost any surface.


They dry quickly. And sometimes really quickly.

If you’re new to painting, the seriousness of this small window of free-flowing acrylics begins to dawn on you, little by little.

The paints don’t seem to blend quite as well as they did when you first put them out on your palette. In fact, that expensive paint you took so long deciding on has now gone completely hard, and there’s a distinctive shift in colour.

This is not just frustrating but feels like an undisclosed complication.

You thought it was going to be getting the painting techniques right that would be difficult, not battling with the paint drying out too quickly.

So how do you stop it from happening?

Paint faster? Invest in specialist paint mediums? Use a broom rather than a brush?


Everything revolves around evaporation.

Controlling water evaporation is the key principle to manipulating the drying time of your acrylics.

Acrylics dry by evaporation. So, the wetter the air around the acrylics, the longer they stay wet. You might be painting in a dry climate and not realise how much that affects the paints’ workability.

The drier the air, the faster the acrylics will dry.

  • Wet air (around acrylics) – paints stay wetter.
  • Dry air (around acrylics) – paints dry out quicker.


In my studio, I’ve got a humidity and temperature monitor. This helps to keep an eye on the water content of the space, so I can adapt my techniques if needed.

I’ve noticed when I’m painting near the coast, and there’s a higher amount of water in the atmosphere, the paints will keep working for a lot longer. If you are based in an extremely dry climate, you could introduce a humidifier into your space that will emit steam or water vapour to increase the air’s moisture levels.

Heavy Body Acrylics under ambient conditions of 70ºF/21ºC and 30% Relative Humidity in a 0.15mm brush stroke.

wet: under 5 minutes
workable:  10 minutes
touch dry: 30 minutes
locked down: 3+ days

Temperature & Air Flow

If it’s a hot summer day, you might have placed an air conditioning unit or fan next to your painting space; this will shorten the working time of the paints as airflow aids water evaporation, definitely something to consider.

Pro tip: It’s also handy to check the ambient temperature of your studio. If you drop below 9° C, it can cause issues when creating a strong paint film.

Acrylics are ideally used at room temperature, above 60° F / 16° C, and avoiding any applications below 49° F / 9° C, which is the so-called “minimum film formation” temperature (MFFT). Below that temperature acrylic paint cannot form a strong, coherent film and will be prone to failure and various drying defects, such as cracks, poor adhesion, and cloudiness – Golden Paints 

On top of your studio environment, there are a few successful ways to manipulate the drying times of acrylics by controlling evaporation. However, I don’t use them all in one painting but pick and choose whatever would work best for the style or stage of the piece I’m working on at the time.

How would you speed up the drying time?

Here’s an inversion thought experiment.

What would you do if you had to dry acrylic paint as fast as possible?

Paint in a thin layer? Warm room? Wind turbine? Sunshine? …Blow torch?

If I had to get a painting to dry as quickly as possible, I’d use a hairdryer on thin paint. High airflow, high heat, about 1 cm from the paint surface! This expels water the quickest from the paint.

And this knowledge is the secret to your success.

All we have to do is work on the opposites.

Continue Reading7 Ways to Stop Acrylic Paint Drying too Fast

Starter Set Challenge: Acrylic Street Scene

Will Kemp, A Mediterranean Washing Line, Detail, Acrylic on Board

A Mediterranean Washing Line

For this week’s free step-by-step acrylic lesson, we’re returning to the gorgeous faded paintwork and quiet cobblestone streets of Corsica.

After the challenging perspective in our first Starter Set Challenge ‘Warm Shadows in Corsica’ the simpler shapes and clear blue sky of ‘A Mediterranean Washing Line‘ should be plain sailing.

I particularly love the multiple wires threading your eye towards the sea in this scene and the washing strung up between the buildings brings a human presence of day-to-day life, breathing real energy into the composition.

Continue ReadingStarter Set Challenge: Acrylic Street Scene

Starter Set Challenge – Painting Street Scenes with Acrylics


Will Kemp, Warm Shadows in Corsica, Acrylic On Board (detail)

It’s hard to believe that city breaks, art exhibitions and museum visits were something we used to enjoy almost casually.

Here in the U.K, we’re back in another full lockdown, a cold and wet one!

I was looking through some photos from last summer’s trip to Corsica needing a bit of escapism. They instantly transported me back to the atmosphere, the colours and smells, meandering down sun-dappled side streets, ice cream in hand with the anticipation of undiscovered delights around the next corner.

Drawing and painting can be very therapeutic; so with that in mind, I’ve created a couple of acrylic step-by-step street scenes to help get us through the next few weeks.

Continue ReadingStarter Set Challenge – Painting Street Scenes with Acrylics