Mastering the Big Four in Watercolor Painting; Elevate Your Art to New Heights

In this blog post, I have prepared a video tutorial that will walk you through my thought process as I undertake the redo of a loose watercolor landscape. Watch as I apply the big four principles to identify areas of improvement and then bring the painting to life with renewed vitality.

Let’s Dive into Mastering the Big Four in Watercolor Painting

Welcome to an artistic journey that will transform your watercolor paintings from good to extraordinary! In the world of watercolor art, there are four essential pillars that form the foundation of every breathtaking masterpiece: Area of Interest, Design & Composition, Value Hierarchy, and Color Harmony.

Just like a symphony conductor brings together different musical elements to create a harmonious melody, mastering these “Big Four” ideas will empower you to orchestrate your watercolor paintings with finesse and confidence.

Materials Used in the Video Tutorial

  • Holbein paints: Cadmium red light, alizarin crimson, Cobalt blue, ultramarine blue, cadmium yellow lemon, yellow ochre, burnt sienna, neutral tint.
  • Brushes: Princeton Neptune pointed round #12, #6, Rigger #3/4″, Silver brush black velvet jumbo (medium).
  • Paper: Fabriano Artistico, bright white, 140 lb. cold press 11″ x 14″.

Here is an in-depth article that covers the best watercolor materials I use and recommend for all levels!

Here are a few reference images for this tutorial. Below is the finished art along with the inspiration image that inspired it.

Embracing Watercolor Mistakes and Mastering the Big Four
Finished painting

Finding Inspiration: The Maine Coast

The landscape featured in this tutorial is inspired by the breathtaking scenery of Maine, one of my favorite US States to vacation in. Maine’s coastal beauty and picturesque fishing harbors provide endless inspiration for watercolor artists. As we repaint the landscape, you’ll experience the joy of bringing this stunning scene to life on paper.

Reference Image
Reference Image

Understanding the “Big Four” Principles for Watercolors

The “big four” principles—point of interest, design & composition, value hierarchy, and color harmony—are essential guidelines for assessing your watercolor paintings. Each plays a significant role in creating a successful artwork. Let’s take a closer look at each principle:

  1. At the heart of every captivating watercolor painting lies the Area of Interest—the focal point that draws viewers into your artwork and keeps them spellbound. Whether it’s a striking landscape, a mesmerizing portrait, or a vibrant still life, understanding how to command attention through a well-defined Area of Interest is the first step towards unlocking the true potential of your artistic expression. We’ll explore techniques that guide the viewer’s eye, creating a visual journey that evokes emotion and storytelling in every brushstroke.
  2. The true mastery of a watercolor artist extends beyond mere technical skills; it rests upon a solid understanding of Design & Composition. Just like a skilled architect lays the groundwork for a stunning building, you’ll learn how to design and arrange elements within your painting to achieve balance, unity, and impact. Discover the secrets of composition, how to create dynamic and engaging arrangements, and the principles that great artists have employed for centuries to convey their messages with clarity and artistry.
  3. As we delve deeper, we’ll unveil the magic of Value Hierarchy—the arrangement of light and dark that breathes life into your artwork. With the right interplay of shadows and highlights, you can transform a flat image into a three-dimensional marvel, leaving your audience in awe of your artistic prowess. You’ll learn how to create contrast, establish depth, and control the values to guide the viewer’s focus and emotional response, elevating your watercolor paintings from ordinary to extraordinary.
  4. Completing the quartet of essential watercolor principles is Color Harmony—a symphony of hues and tones that dance across your canvas in perfect unison. Understanding the interplay of colors, their complementary and analogous relationships, and how to use them effectively will infuse your artwork with a sense of harmony and rhythm. Unlock the secrets of color temperature, saturation, and balance, and see how your paintings come to life with a rich and captivating color palette that resonates with viewers on a visceral level.

While watercolor techniques are undoubtedly important, they should be evaluated only after addressing the big four principles. Often, technical issues stem from underlying problems in one of these four pillars. By prioritizing the big four, you’ll build a strong foundation for showcasing your technical skills effectively.

Need more watercolor landscape painting ideas?


In conclusion, every watercolor artist encounters paintings that fall short of their aspirations. Instead of sweeping these disappointments under the rug, embrace them as valuable learning opportunities. By applying the big four principles—point of interest, design & composition, value hierarchy, and color harmony—you can elevate your watercolor landscapes to new heights. Remember, watercolor techniques are best judged when supported by a solid foundation of these essential principles.

Now, armed with your checklist and the knowledge of the big four, join me in the video tutorial as we unlock the secrets of watercolor painting and turn your “not-so-perfect” landscapes into true masterpieces. Let’s dive into the world of colors, creativity, and endless possibilities!