In this lesson, you’ll learn how to combine elements from different reference images, and how to paint them so that they harmonize on the page. You’ll also learn how to paint naturally colorful elements without creating a muddy color. You ready? Let’s dive in!
- How to paint sections of color.
- How to paint layers.
- How to overlap sketches.
- How to manipulate colors to give your painting more emotion.
- How to paint create a figure with multiple colors.
- How to fix mistakes and remove watercolor when you mess up.
- How to use bright colors without making them look like light.
MATERIALS NEEDED IN THIS LESSON
PAINTS: Holbein Artists’ Watercolors
- Lemon Yellow
- Bright Orange
- Permanent Alizarin Crimson
- Cadmium Red Light
- Deep Purple
- Deep deep Purple (Mineral Violet)
- Olive Green
- Chromium of Oxide
- Cobalt Green
- Leaf Green
- Cerulean Blue
- Cobalt Blue
- Ultramarine Blue
- Neutral Tint
- Ivory Black
- Burnt Umber
- Burnt Sienna
- Yellow Ochre
- Quinacridone Gold
- 140-pound Arches rough watercolor paper (12×16)
- Escoda Synthetic Brush (size 20)
- Snap Brush
- Need round Brush (size 12)
- Need round Brush (size 8)
- Rigger Brush
- Regular Toothbrush
- A towel, rag, or tray to rest brushes on
- 3 inch Craft Gum Tape (2 inch commonly sold in most art stores)
- Graph Gear 1000 Mechanical Pencil w/ 0.9 lead (for sketching/tracing)
- White Artist’s Tape (used for borders and also as a guideline while painting)
- Watercolor Paints and palette
- Auxiliary tray for additional colors
- Cup of Water
Before you begin your sketch, tape the edges of your watercolor paper with artist’s or masking tape so that you’ll have a nice clean edge after you finish painting.
The reference images we use for this lesson are pictured below; as you can see, they are two separate images which we will combine on the page. A handy tip to keep in mind is the rule of threes, which divides the paper into three equally spaced rows and columns that form nine boxes. The rule of thumb here is to avoid placing your focal point at dead center; instead, position your subject at one of the four corners of the central box.
Another handy tip that you can try is to do small thumbnail sketches of your subject before you work on the final one. Do as many as you need until you come up with a composition that excites you. You can also use this opportunity to plan out your value patterns.
When you have your composition decided, transfer it to your watercolor paper. Start with the biggest shapes and try to limit how much detail you include. Stick to what’s important to the composition, like where important highlights or shadows are positioned, and leave the rest of the details to your brush. Since the fish are the main event, the background will be simple. To liven it up a bit, include a few guidelines for plants.
We’ll start off the painting by blocking in the first fish. Use a no. 20 round brush to apply a layer of clean water over it, painting around the second fish. Make sure this layer is damp and not oversaturated, otherwise the paint won’t flow evenly through it. If water begins to pool around the edges, that means there’s too much water on the page; to fix this, lift the excess with a dry brush or paper towel.
Next, it’s time to drop in some colors! We’re using the wet-in-wet technique to achieve that natural color blending, so be mindful of your layers and try to work quickly. If pigment starts to pool below the painting area, lift the excess with your brush or a paper towel to avoid getting backruns.
To start, lay in Gamboge Nova combined with Brilliant Orange to capture the orange parts of the fish. Drop hints of Cobalt Violet Light into sections you want to dull, or Cadmium Lemon Yellow into sections you want to brighten. Keep these warm colors concentrated at the top and head parts of the fish. Cover the whole head and don’t worry about the fish’s eyes; we’ll get to those in a later step.
Next, add combinations of cooler colors – Cerulean Blue, Cobalt Blue Hue, Cobalt Green, and Cobalt Violet Light – into the tail and bottom parts of the fish. Avoid using your brush to mix the colors on the page because doing so may produce muddy colors. Instead, allow the pigments to blend together naturally where they touch.
Once all the colors have been established, switch to a no. 12 round brush and strengthen the oranges with Brilliant Orange and hints of Pyrrole Red, then the blues with Indigo and Prussian Blue. Vary your strokes as well to add interesting texture to the fish, then wait for your layers to completely dry.
Working on the second fish follows pretty much the same steps, but with a slight difference in the colors.
Lay down a wash of clean water over the second fish, and drop in Gamboge Nova, starting from the tail. Add some Cobalt Violet Light if the mixture is too bright. Next, add Cobalt Blue Hue combined with Prussian Blue to capture the blue sections, then Carbazole Violet with Permanent Carmine for the reds.
Again, try to avoid mixing the paint on the page with your brush. Allow them to mingle with one another, and lift up any excess pigments that gather at the bottom of the fish.
Restate the colors, and add some Pyrrole Red, Cobalt Violet Light, Cadmium Lemon Yellow to brighten up sections on the fish. Once the layers have tried a bit, dab in dots of Cerulean Blue into the tail end to give it some texture.
Once both fish have dried completely, it’s time to add details to the fish.
Use violet, orange, and blue tints to add lines to the fins. Next, switch to a no. 2 round brush and use diluted Cobalt Violet Light to outline the pupil of the first fish, then add a second outline of diluted light blue. For the second fish, use a darker blue for the pupil, then outline it with Pyrrole Red.
We’ll finish off the eyes later on; for now, allow them to dry and move on to the next step.
Switch back to the larger no. 20 round brush for this step because we’re finally working on the background. The fish are the star of the show here so it’s important to make sure that the background doesn’t distract us from them. The best way to do this is to keep things simple.
Begin by combining Cobalt Green to your blue mixture until it’s a nice aqua shade. Use your bigh brush to lay sweeping, loose strokes of this color into the background, leaving out the areas for the plants. Drop in hints of Chromium Oxide Green and Cobalt Blue into the wet layer to give the colors some variety. Don’t be afraid to paint a transparent layer of water over parts of the fish as well, since this will help to make the fish look like they’re part of the scene (as opposed to looking “pasted on”).
While the layer is wet, drop in Cobalt Blue Hue via the wet-in-wet technique, and hints of Prussian Blue and Neutral Tint for darker values. Add more Olive Green to the left side of the water, and Indigo to the bottom to create a an interesting value contrast.
Finally, finish off the background by blocking in the plants with Cadmium Lemon Yellow and Leaf Green.
Load a no. 6 rigger brush with Ivory Black and use it to darken the pupils of the fish. Next, combine Zinc White gouache with Cadmium Red for a bright red, and restate the iris of the second fish. Do the same for the first fish by combining the white gouache with Cerulean Blue.
While that dries, add Olive Green shadows to the background plants, and use a no. 8 round brush to make sure that there the fish are thoroughly outlined by the blue of the water.
Once the eyes have dried, use the rigger loaded with white gouache to dab in a small highlight on the pupil and around the iris. Add white dots around the fish’s tails, fins, and bodies as well to give them more sparkle. Do the same with the background by employing the stippling technique: load a toothbrush with white and flick the bristles onto the page to add subtle sparkle to the blue of the water.
When the painting has dried, take a liner brush loaded with Cerulean Blue combined with white gouache and sign your work.
Using a toothbrush to achieve the stippling effect.
Signing with a liner brush and white gouache.