Watercolor art is all the rage right now. I am seeing it everywhere. Cards, stationary, blog headers. Everything seems to be watercolor. People are even getting watercolor work tattooed on their bodies.
I want to take a moment to warn you, this is a step by step tutorial, with images, and detailed explanations of materials, so it is a long post. You may want to keep it near you, to refer back as you practice and learn the technique. This is why we LOVE smartphones and tablets am I right?
I have been working with watercolor for as long as I can remember. I always hear how hard it is to utilize and yadda yadda yadda, and yes, it can be an unruly medium. There are some pretty nifty things you can do with it that aren’t all that hard though, and that’s what I am going to focus on in this post.
In this tutorial, I am going to show you how to create simple watercolor artwork, that is suitable for things like greeting cards, stationery, and small wall hangings. This technique is also good for doing wash work that you can upload and make into images for pretty much anything from Facebook and Twitter headers, backgrounds for digital artwork, and for you bloggers, Canva images, blog banners, Pinterest images, and much much more. This is also a great kid’s activity for you moms out there. The possibilities are pretty much endless. The great thing is, you won’t even need any expensive art materials, much of the things you can use to do this type of work can be found around the house!
First off, let’s talk about materials.
Paper. Of course, there is actual watercolor paper, which I will be using for this tutorial. They make many different types of paper for watercolor work, ranging from inexpensive store brands sold at your local craft store, to extremely pricey brands found at art supply stores. There are many different textures (tooth) from smooth to rough, and it comes in either hot or cold press. For this technique, it really doesn’t matter much what you use. As a matter of fact, you can use watercolor paper if you wish, but you can also use things like printer paper, old book pages, and regular drawing paper, just to name a few. The advantage to using watercolor paper is that it is a bit stronger, so you aren’t as likely to break through your paper when it gets wet. The paper I am using for this is a regular, 140lb cold press smooth tooth paper that you can get in any craft/art store for a low price. Nothing special.
Brushes. You will only need a small selection of brushes. Most crafty types will probably already own the types of brushes you need to create these types of projects. You will want a round mop brush (for mopping up water on the page, and creating texture), a flat wash brush (for applying water, and color for background, and large areas, as well as for single stroke work), a small flat or angled shader brush (for applying and directing color) and a liner brush (for small detail). You may also want to pick up a ‘fix it’ brush, but, it’s not necessary, you can also use cotton swabs to fix minor mistakes.
Paint. This is the fun part. YOU DON’T NEED ANY. Of course, if you want to, you can use watercolors. If you choose to use actual watercolor paint for this type of work, your best bet is liquid watercolor or acrylic inks. As a former tattoo artist, I have lots of expired tattoo ink and in addtion to Derwent Inktense ink pencils, that’s what I will be using for this tutorial. You can also use things like watercolor or ink pencils (some of these can be found on the cheap) coffee, tea, food coloring, Kool-Aid, and even old makeup. When using coffee, instant works best, as you can mix it as strong or as weak as you want depending on how dark you want your pigment. I usually mix it super dark and just use water to dilute during the process. Same goes for Kool-Aid. Just use enough water to make it liquid, your wash will do the rest. Tea works best for background work since it is going to be paler in color, you can use different types of teas for different shades. Food coloring and liquid eyeliners can be used as is, but if you are using powdered makeup, such as eyeshadow, you will need to break up the powder if it’s pressed and mix it with a binding agent such as gum arabic. Mix it into a paste, then all you will need is water to put it on the page! The possibilities are endless for things you have around the house that can be used as pigment. There are handy tutorials all over the internet that teach you how to make paint out of stuff you have around the house.
Pencil and an Archival Pen. You will need a pencil if you wish to sketch out your shapes or images prior to painting. The archival pen is what you will use to define your outlines and images after your piece dries. I use a Micron .08 size pen. These can be found in the ink or scrapbooking sections of your local craft/art store. You can also use a fine tip Sharpie marker, however, I find that the archival pens tend to make a crisper line on watercolor paper than the Sharpie, which will bleed a little on papers that are meant to soak up liquid.
Paper Towels. You will need these to clean up any spills and also to pat excess water out of your brushes as you work.
Cup of water. You are going to use this to lay down the washes and to spread your color. Also to rinse your brushes. This may need to be refreshed several times during your piece depending on how many different color groups you are using.
Masking Liquid. This is something that comes in handy, but you don’t NEED it. It is only used to mask small areas, such as highlights, snowflakes and such so you don’t paint over areas to be left white when you apply your washes. It is mostly for fine detail work, and this tutorial isn’t really all about that, so if you want to pick some up, awesome, if you don’t, no big deal. To use it, you plan out your piece with a pencil, then simply put it on the area to be left white, let it dry (at least 10 mins) then paint, and when the work is dry, you peel it off, revealing the untouched paper underneath.
Now that we have talked about what you can use, let’s get a move on! Time to paint!
First, you will pick your surface. You may want to draw a rough sketch of your design first. Do this lightly with a pencil, and don’t worry, it needn’t be perfect, that is the beauty of watercolor, it is perfectly messy. Your circles don’t need to be perfectly round, nor your images perfectly formed. This type of work embraces the mistake and uses it to its advantage. This is what makes it accessible for anyone no matter what skill level.
Next, you will take your wash brush, and dip it in your water, shake off the excess, but do not blot. Now ‘paint’ the section of your image you wish to work on with plain water, making sure to cover the whole area.
Now, you will take your small shader, and dip it into the first color you want to use, you don’t need a lot of paint, just a small amount will go a long way, and it is easier to layer up rather than try and reduce it once its on there. Once you have a small amount of pigment on your brush, you will just touch it to the water covered surface you have just created. You will notice it flowing into the water, and soaking into the paper. With just a little manipulation, you can cover the whole section with ribbons of color.
For some depth, you may want to use another darker color in this same section, so you will clean your brush, and repeat the last step, with the second color, adding water if you need to, keeping it only to one side of your section. Once you have the coverage you want, use your mop brush to soak up excess water, and create some texture.
Work through your image section by section, switching colors and water as needed, until you have painted all the sections. You are now ready to apply background washes. These can cover as much or as little of your surface as you wish, I usually like to just fill the space with small amounts of color that compliments my main image and makes it pop. These are done in much the same way as you did your main image except that you needn’t control it as much, the only thing you want to be careful of is letting the paint from your background infiltrate your main image. You can also load your brush up with pigment and carefully splatter paint and water around your image for a grungy effect.
Before I cover our final step, I wanted to quickly cover Watercolor and Ink pencil technique. If you are using these, you will proceed a bit differently. First, you will want to lay your color down along an edge. You can use as much or as little as you like for this, and how much you lay down will differ depending on how dark you want it, and how much area you have to cover. Next, you will take your clean brush, dip in into your water, and start painting your water from the opposite side, in side to side strokes, INTO your color, and then back out again to spread.
Now that you have painted your piece, let it dry. Once it is fully dry, you will take your archival pen, and use it to define the outlines of your art. You can use solid smooth linework, or, as I have done, you can just use it to add dimension and definition, with rough choppy lines until you have the look you desire.
You may notice that your paper has buckled a little once it’s dry. This is less of a problem with watercolor paper, but really it happens with this kind of work often, so don’t worry, take your dry work, and lay it under a heavy book for a day or so, and it will become flat again.
I hope you enjoyed this tutorial, and that it inspired you to make some art of your own!
DISCLAIMER: I was not approached by any art supply company or manufacturer with regards to this post. All items pictured I own, purchased and use for my own work. All artwork pictured in this post is my own. Please do not copy or use images without my express permission.
Thanks for reading!