Maine Lighthouse and Dog
Watercolor Painting Tutorial

by Jennifer Branch
YouTube Watercolor Painting Tutorial

Every time I'm in Maine I sketch Pumpkin Island Lighthouse. I usually focus on the architectural jewel of the lighthouse and keeper's house, not forgetting the red shed.

This painting is more about the human element. After a long row he patiently waited through on the shore, the dog greets his owner. The lighthouse simply watches over them in the background.

Maine Lighthouse and Dog Watercolor Painting tutorial

Painting Tutorial Level


Skill Building

Painting Boats


Drybrush Texture

Art Supplies

10" x 14"
Twinrocker Cold Press

Isabey Rigger, no.1
Isabey Pointed Round Sable, no.1
Isabey Mop, no.6


M. Graham watercolors

Azo Yellow
Cadmium Red
Nickel Azo Yellow
Cobalt Blue
Ultramarine Blue
Cobalt Violet
Quinacridone Rust

Painting Demonstration 1

Maine Lighthouse and Dog Watercolor Painting Lesson 1

I want this painting of the lighthouse to be subtle, with the dog and rower as the focus of the painting. That means the lighthouse needs to have less contrast than one of my earlier paintings of Pumpkin Island Lighthouse with the lighthouse as the focal point.

So I'm using the same limited palette to paint the lighthouse as the trees. The only contrasting colors will be the bright reds and a bit of yellow on the grass.

I begin with underpainting the trees a softly glowing green, mixed with cobalt violet, cobalt teal and nickel azo yellow.

Maine Lighthouse and Dog Reference Photo
Maine Lighthouse and Dog Reference Photo

Painting Demonstration 2

Maine Lighthouse and Dog Watercolor Painting Lesson 2

I start adding some loose darks, especially in the fir trees. I'm not painting as darkly as the few final details will be, just broad darks. I primarily use ultramarine blue and quinacridone rust.

Painting Demonstration 3

Maine Lighthouse and Dog Painting Tutorial 3

I take my time with the reflections. I am using a dry brush to get that sparkle on cold press paper, but I need enough control that it doesn't go everywhere. The far reflections are horizontal and thin, while the closer water is much choppier.

The rocks are especially interesting to paint. Lots of dark crevices, but remember rocks fracture according to what the crystalline structure is. No matter how random the fractures look, it's anything but random. So some drybrush for texture and fracture lines dashed in how they naturally occur.

Artist Tips

Keep details to a minimum until near the end.
Maine Lighthouse and Dog watercolor painting tutorial by Jennifer Branch

Painting Demonstration 4

Maine Lighthouse and Dog Painting Tutorial 4

So the really fun part is the woman and the dog. That's the focus of the painting, after all!

The trick here is even though you want more detail here, you don't want all the detail. Painting everything is easier, I know. Painstaking tiny details look hard, but are so simple to do. The trick is to know where to have them and where to forget them.

Think of painting like a speech that must be edited down to just the essentials to keep the audience awake. I could tell you everything. But really, should I? You'd be snoring.

So at the focal point, you have the detail. Not only did I paint through the figures with the background, but notice how the dog blurs into the dock and the woman into the boat. Very little is crisply defined. Just the idea of a woman rowing and her dog greeting her is enough.

Painting Demonstration 5

Maine Lighthouse and Dog Painting Tutorial 5

Some subtle details with cobalt blue and quinacridone rust on the lighthouse. I want less detail than the dog here. Of course, that takes longer!

Let some lines fade to nothing, disappearing in sparkled light.

Painting Demonstration 6

Maine Lighthouse and Dog Watercolor Painting Tutorial 6

Just a bit more shadow under the eaves of the lighthouse keeper's house. I want more depth here, but keep it in the distance.

Maine Lighthouse and Dog Watercolor Painting demonstration

To purchase Maine Lighthouse and Dog original watercolor painting, please click!

Maine Lighthouse and Dog Final Watercolor Painting!

To finish, I darken the foreground waves slightly to frame the focus better. This is a bit tricky since I want to preserve the sparkle. I also add a few more shadows under the woman's hat to round the face.

I particularly like the reds running through the painting. With the slight gray of the water and evening sky, the dull red of the dog, woman's jacket, the shed, and the rocks make a nice pattern pulling the viewer's eye around the painting.

I love Pumpkin Island Lighthouse. It's absolutely the most gorgeous jewel of a lighthouse I've seen! Obviously, I've painted it many times and this will be far from my last time of painting it.

I plan to bring a sketchbook, picnic and a dog next time I'm in Maine. It will be a lovely afternoon.

I hope this inspires you to paint your own lighthouse or other landmark near you. Try focusing on the human or canine elements instead of just architectural details. After all, it's all about how it makes us feel.

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