Broad Strokes: A Class Demo

My sketch
I think one of the toughest aspects of watercolor is to simplify what we're looking at on paper. Using a large brush is very helpful, forcing one to not get detailed. I tend to want to look into the background and start there since that, in my mind, is the under-painting. I work background to foreground, as probably all artists do, layering as the landscape or subject moves towards me. And light is a huge part of that. Squinting one's eyes one can see how the light and shadow fall and overall patterns. I like to start my students off working on broad landscapes to get to get them used to working background to foreground.
A beautiful rainforest reference photo

In this instance a student brought in a complex photo. Okay, I thought she was crazy for trying to paint this image, but we both learned some things. My demo was about seeing light, building a few layers of color, and suggesting and simplifying rather than rendering it in detail. Also exaggerating light, color and atmosphere and using broad strokes on a couple of levels. I used large brushes which kept me from noodling. Nothing like noodling to kill a watercolor sketch!

This was done in three passes. A basic wet in wet, warm and cool variegated wash to start suggesting light around the trees and blue sky reflected on firs in the background. I see a rainbow of colors in this photo, so ended up with that. Tried to keep the foreground warm; cools recede, warms come forward. The first wash was about a #3 on the value scale.
After drying, I applied more variegated washes with suggestions of shadowed patterns in the background with an occasional hit of light. Around a value #6-7. Then darks, merging and mingling colors and added a couple calligraphic brush marks suggesting limbs. I always vary colors on each pass, which adds movement and variety. Darkest areas hit around a #9 on the value scale. A few darks can add a lot of punch and create a little irradiation which helps make it glow.

Give it go, see what you come up with!