Jason and I went to see Neuschwanstein Castle. How hard can that be, right? First, you need to reserve your tickets in advance, online, then Jason reserved a convertible Mercedes for the drive over. I went with him towards the airport as far as my Ubahn ticket allowed, then I got off and he continued on the rest of the 30 min train ride to the airport to pick up the car. I sat at a bus stop in the middle of nowhere and waited for about 2 hrs before my handsome man in a fancy car creeped by looking lost. It turns out riding to the edge of town and expecting Jason to be able to get back to me with the GPS in German in a town he has never driven in was a bad idea.
We began our trip about an hour late for our reservation so as Jason drove I called the ticket counter and tried to change our reservation and guess what, the reservation was for a week later, on a Wednesday. Jason can’t figure out why he thought it was this Sunday but, oh well. The lady at the desk told us we could try for a ticket that day so we kept on our itinerary.
We arrived and took a bunch of pictures of amazing misty scenery and I looked for a place to paint. I wanted to use this day to do a little tutorial on how I go about painting one of my little travel paintings.
So, there were two castles, a cute little street, horse drawn carriages, and what did I choose to paint? The best scenery from a spot I could drink a beer. They had dunkel beer on tap! Woohoo!
Here is what we got to see:
View from the Castle
I was on that bridge. That’s awfully high and those boards were awfully springy.
The town and the lake. The yellow castle on the right is the family castle. I wish I had time to paint this view but I didn’t get to see this until 6:30.
And here is the view of Neuschwanstein. This is the famous Disney Castle. I think my dopey look is me trying to look casual while standing on a terrifying bridge.
Now for the art lesson
I show you all those amazing pictures and then I chose a painting where I could sit and drink a beer. Priorities. Actually, all the previous pictures are the pictures I was allowed to take on the tour which we weren’t able to start till the end of the day. We still had to get back to Munich to return the rental.
So, when I pick a scene to paint I look for 4 important things.
- Convenience of where I have to be as I paint. Will I be standing in a crowd of people? I’ve done that but I’d prefer to have a table, and your perspective also changes if you have to sit on the ground.
- It has to be a subject I’m interested in. I like green rolling hills and umbrellas so the scene I chose this day worked for me.
- Contrast. Personally, I believe contrast is the most important thing to make a picture interesting. This is the easiest way to make a small painting stand out. Choose where it is going to be light and what is going to be dark. Whatever you see in reality, juice it up a bit more and exaggerate that. It’s also a good practice to choose one spot to put your darkest and lightest color next to each other to create the focal point. Keep this in mind as you paint. Many paintings look mediocre because people only use light and dark and it basically looks like a scribbled drawing or they muddy the whole thing so that if you took a black and white photo of it the whole thing would just look gray.
- I try to find a scene that has something in the foreground, middle ground, and background. This is important to bring you into a painting and create some depth. If you just paint the mountains that will make a boring flat painting, you have to get what’s at the base and try to fit in something that is closer to you.
This is my exact view from my seat. As a photo I think this is rather boring, the umbrellas take up too much space and I don’t see much water but what I planned to do was make the hills in the background greener, paint more of the water, make the flowers on the far left brighter, sketch in some busy-ness with the tables and chairs, and shrink the space the umbrellas took up.
The very first thing I did was draw a border around the paper. Using the paper to create a white frame around the picture helps it look more finished when its done. It looks much more polished. I sketched out the mountain range, umbrellas, and some basic shapes of chairs and people. I drew more water and kept the mountains just within the frame. Try to make an interesting line with the horizon and the sky. I made a neutral wash to fill in and unify the foreground. This makes sure that no white accidentally stays, the umbrellas are going to be the lightest part of the painting.
This is the wettest the painting gets. The less water you use the faster you can paint and not have to wait for things to dry. While I waited for the foreground to dry I worked on the background. The background is the place to play with the paints and practice for the rest of the painting. Try light color mixing, drop in colors, try to get things to mix on the paper. Start with the very farthest away piece of land, paint it light and loose. If the paper is only a little damp you can paint the next row of mountains and let the wet-in-wet technique blend the colors a little, it creates a soft hazy feel and helps things fade into the distance. Really try to get this right, your painting works best if you don’t have to go back and touch it up the wet-in-wet. The sky is the very last part of the painting that I paint. I judge how dark or bright to paint the sky based on how the rest of the painting turned out. Usually, I dot the sky with just water and then dot it again with blues and neutrals for clouds and sky peaking through. It was a cloudy day so I did not use much blue in the sky.
I couldn’t find my little Japanese brush so I used this number 8 round. This is one of my favorite brushes, it’s cheap and reliable but I can’t quite get the fine lines like I can on the Japanese brush. You can see, that’s the thinnest line I could manage.
I created the neutrals mixing opposite colors. I mostly mixed purple and orange but now that I think about that I realize those aren’t opposite colors. Another favorite is to mix blue and brown and a tad of purple if I’m trying to be darker. You can see I used the cover of the watercolors as my water tray. You really don’t need much water to paint.
Here you can see all the brushwork in the background and how I’m trying to get the texture to look like far away trees. It’s a real challenge to NOT paint every tree. Look at the trees as a texture or a print. How can you recreate that pattern? I also did not have much luck getting the sky to do neat watercolor tricks.
The real key is to try to paint as much detail as you can without using a pen to finish it off. Sometimes you don’t even need a pen afterwards. I did outline the umbrellas, they are large, flat, and colorless. I was hoping to have more contrast with them. In hindsight I probably should have left them more white for a brighter picture and more contrast but this painting also matches the mood of the day. I sketched in some of the details of the chairs with the pen but that was it. The trick to detail is to fake it. Play with shapes and colors as you paint a scene to see what you can add without actually drawing what’s there. Can you actually see a table in this? I don’t think so. I kept adding lines and dots in various colors and patterns, trying to mimic the details I saw. Overall it was a nice way to spend an hour drinking a beer.
Final view of the lake. So beautiful. I wish I would have seen how these colors looked on the water as I painted. The water in my painting is very flat.
I hope you will try going out and painting. If you do, share it on my facebook page or tag me on Instagram. Did this tutorial help you? Do you have any more questions? Let me know. What should I paint next?