Old Mill In Evening Light

Learn how to capture the look of evening light using a limited color palette and a value sketch to guide placement of light, mid and dark values.

Two Subjects

This watercolor painting lesson shows how to paint an abandonded mill building in evening light. One of the most difficult challenges faced by everyone who is learning to paint is focusing on a single subject.  It is much easier to create a strong composition and a unified design when there is but single subject.

In this lesson, there are really two subjects: the old building and the evening light striking it.  Many, many paintings have light as the only subject while the literal objects in the painting are there only as ways to show off the light with patterns of light and shadow reproduced in paint.

This is really the case for this painting project – in essence the subject is evening light striking an old mill building.  It’s an important distinction that helps us focus on the important elements, and to eliminate those that do not support the main subject.

Limited Palette

For this painting we’ll use a limited palette that consists of three “primary” colors that we’ll use to mix all the color we need. Just as limiting your subject helps the unity of the painting, limiting your color palette does also.

The other benefit of a limited palette is that it forces you to use other Characteristics of Color to show light and form.

Using A Value Sketch As A Guide

We’ll work from a value sketch, created in this lesson. The value sketch will guide our placement of light, mid-value and dark colors.  Large value shapes are the underlying compositional structure for our painting and are also the basis for showing the light and form on the building and on the landscape.

Value and color are used to show the three-dimensional form of the subject.  It’s an important element of any representational painting – it’s thoroughly covered in this lesson.


Materials Needed

  • Brushes – 1″, 3/4″, or 1/2″ Flat Brush, Medium size Round #14 or so.
  • Colors –  We use a limited palette in this one: Permanent Alizarin Rose, Ultramarine Blue, Quinacridone Deep Gold. If you don’t have Quinacridone Deep Gold, a combination of Burnt Sienna and a warm yellow like Cadmium Yellow will give similar results.
  • Watercolor paper – preferably Arches 140lb Cold Press



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