Watercolour Process

Posted by on Apr 13, 2013 in Blog | No Comments

While I was working on these two images (Imagination I and II) I kept photographic records for a few reasons. One, to show the client, but also so that I could write a post showing a little bit of the process that I use! There are five images in all, taken over the period of time from nearly start to completion. I excluded the sketch stages because there were many of them and also they have no bearing on the final images or the process of watercolour.

Here is the first image. You can see faintly the pencil sketch; I also keep references and the original sketch close by. I don’t like to sketch too much onto the paper so I often keep this as sparse as I can. With watercolour, you always have to work from lightest to darkest, so I begin with the areas that I know will be the lightest in the painting – skin tones, and also the sky in the boy’s painting. This was a unique experience for me because I haven’t worked on a diptych before like this. I worked on the paintings simultaneously so that they would have some colours in common and also so that they’d “feel” cohesive.


Preliminary painting.

I also detailed some of the lighter areas such as the girl’s hair and face, and the boy’s face. This wasn’t strictly necessary at the beginning but I did it because it immediately makes a painting feel more lifelike (and truthfully, it’s my favourite part, and I always have a hard time saving my favourite part until the end). For the boy’s painting I went in adding the gold edging on his horse’s barding and also his tabard. You’ll notice between these two images that I added more butterflies. I also added more flowers because as I was working on the painting it became evident that it needed more. You can do this at this stage in a watercolour (before you’ve laid a single wash on some areas or if your wash is extremely light) but if I had tried to add flowers over the tree trunk after the fact it wouldn’t have worked so well.


Initial washes.

Now the painting is starting to come together! There are barely any white areas remaining in either image. It took me a long time to decide what colour to paint the flowers, that’s why they are still white here. As for the boy, I spent a good long while painting his horse and adding some grass underneath the horse. Notice I haven’t added any grass in front of the boy himself yet though, that I will do later.



In the next set of images I had added quite a bit more dark green to the background of the forest because it was lacking depth before. I also started with the castle in the background and added some grass around the front of the boy. I find at this point it’s important not to get too bogged down in things; I don’t need every single blade of grass because I am not trying to paint photorealistically. Watercolour is nice because it can let you subtly suggest “grassiness” while not detracting too much from the more detailed things you WANT the viewer to be looking at.


Background work

The very last image shows you just how much value a little bit of detailing can add. I find it’s the last 20% of a painting that are the hardest; because you want to add enough detail but not go overboard, and yet you could keep adding tiny, titchy little details forever! I used some white gouache to add highlights here and there, in particular on the girl’s dress and of course the butterflies. I had to finish the boy’s book and also add shadows for the boy, girl, horse, and cat. I learned a great deal from these two paintings. I’m mostly happy with how they do feel cohesive and will look great hung together, while still being their own unique paintings.



These are photographs of the paintings that I took; you can see the final high-res scans here.

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