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Fantasy Art Tutorials in the FARP Section


Watercolor Technique

By :-) Dmitry Terner

   First off I would like to finally clear up a question a few of you might have asked or wondered about: is it watercolor or watercolour? Well that depends on where you are, in the U.S. it is watercolor, while most everywhere else English is spoken it is watercolour. Hope that clears it up, I am from the U.S. so watercolor it is.


    Now then, watercolor is a medium that scares and discourages many people, because it is unpredictable, difficult or impossible to correct or change, it leaks, it streaks, and makes the paper buckle. All of these concerns are true, yet when we look at a masterfully done watercolor such as those of Winslow Homer or Andrew Wyeth we all wish we could do the same. That is because watercolor is a free transparent medium which always convey spontaneity even though the approach is most deliberate. One more note, there are many ways of approaching watercolor all of which I cannot hope to cover in one article, therefore I chose only one method which I practice and believe to be the most convenient . In this article I will outline this specific method of applying watercolor to illustration that will hopefully eliminate many of the problems encountered and allow for an enjoyable creative experience. So snuggle up with your warm beverage of choice and take from this what you will.





   No one can do wonders without the right tools. Some beginning artists flock to watercolor, because it a relatively inexpensive medium. I unfortunately must disprove that myth, in order to create in this medium there has to be an investment, although it is less than if you were to take up oil painting. So here is a list of what is necessary for this particular method.


Brushes- When you go to pick out your watercolor brushes you are faced with the choice of natural or artificial hair. You will find that the natural-hair brushes are considerably more expensive. I have grown accustomed to these and so I use them, I have however tried sablette (artificial)and found no real reduction in quality. The only thing I found to complain about that after a certain amount of usage the brush would not return to that perfect pin-like tip that is so important in the way I use watercolors. If you are interested I use the pricey winsor newton series 7 finest sable. Even though I use them I would not go so far as to recomend them due to price and the feel these are rather soft, some may like a more taugh, bouncy feeling, you just have to try different thing out, until you find what you like. In any case the choice remains yours.


*note: remember watercolor brushes are the ones with the short handles (just a reminder)


A large wash brush- size does not really matter, what you need is a rather cheap large round soft brush to make washes over large areas such as backgrounds. Do not spend a lot of money on this.


Regular brushes- these depend on the size you want to work, for this technique I would not recommend anything larger than 10x12' so the brushes you need are round sablette #s 8, 6, 2. This is the bare bones set, you may choose to invest in many different kinds of brushes, all of them can surely be comfortable for executing specific tasks. These should be of fair quality and along with the paint will be the most expensive investment.


Magic brush- actually it is not magic at all what this is, is an inexpensive #4 or 6 flat brush make sure that it is not too soft though. I call it the magic brush because it allows you to take out or erase paint, the 'magic' ingredient to this technique that makes it sooo much simpler.


5 ply plate finish bristol board- this is very important, do not skimp on this, ask for it by name, make sure that it is plate finish, because the other ones will peel of the top layer if you try to erase paint(this ruins it and your painting). It is rather pricey, but believe me it is well worth it, it does not buckle, paint will not leak with any amount of water and can always be removed almost completely if a mistake is made. I believe this to be much better than any watercolor paper on the market. It is also the only one that will work for the method I will outline, although I encourage you to try out different papers just to get a feel for it, who knows what you will like.


watercolor setPaints: Finally lets discuss the paints, you have two basic choices, cakes or tubes. Most people will tell you that tubes have a better quality, I don't believe this, as when you put your paints out you create a cake anyway it is only 'fresh' the time you squeeze it out, so I prefer to use cakes. The only colors I buy in tubes are black and white, as I cannot seem to get the same intensity of these colors from cakes. In my opinion the best set for your money is by a company called yarka, it comes in a white plastic box and has 24 colors excluding white. Another feature of this set I like is that the cakes are removable so if you use one up (unlikely I have been using this set for 7 years and still cannot see the end) you can buy the color individually and replace it into the box. And it also comes with a convenient plastic mixing tray. A note on this set I have seen it in catalogs and stores at unbelievably different prices, shop around if you want it. I dont think you should pay more than $35.00 for this set, I have seen it for over $50.00 so watch out. Otherwise any decent watercolor set will do grumbacher and winsor &newton make pretty good ones, although I think they are more expensive. The only thing I would completely avoid are those 'for children' sets by the likes of crayola, believe me no good will come of that.


Hope that helped in the selection process feel free to e-mail me with any questions I will be happy to answer them.



The basics


   Before we can start creating a painting there are a number of basic techniques that need to be mastered. Each of these are equally important and though not difficult require practice. The most important goal here is to acquire control over the medium. This should be easy if you are using the 5 ply plate finish bristol board.


1. Wash- The simplest technique take any brush load it up with plenty of water and some pigment and smooth it out on the paper. Experiment with various proportions of water to paint to get variations in value. At right is an example of a wash wash1
2. Opaque- Touch the tip of your brush with water and load it up with a lot of pigment use this. You can get it to be lighter if you add more water and push the paint further experiment with this to try out the variations. At right I have added some grass. wash2
3. Erasing-The most important part of this method (*note you cannot do this on regular watercolor paper and non-plate finish bristol board will peel and be impossible to work on. ) Use your flat rigid brush with some water to carefully take out the paint. Have patience repeat as necessary do not rub too hard, because even the best bristol board may peel. Experiment with this technique you should be able to pull out most of the paint and get the paper almost white. wash3
4. Tinting- tinting is very easy to do, but more difficult to control. For example you want your painting to have more red in it, to be warmer. what you do is take some very thin red paint (use a lot of water) and carefully go over the dried portion of the painting you wish to tint. Results will vary so experiment with this until you are a master. wash4


   These are all the basic techniques you need to know in order to use this method. Although I am sure you will find your own creative ways of doing things, and achieving certain effects.




!Miscellaneous Hints!



  • Think small especially if you want a lot of detail 10x12' should be plenty.
  • If you are doing a more flowing free image a larger size may be in order.
  • Do not use complementary colors together unless you want a dark or muddy look.
  • Avoid going over the same place many times, again this will look muddy.
  • Follow your color sketch and regular sketch for guidene, you should not be making it up as you are painting.
  • Avoid keeping your forms (objects) too seperate, use shadows to link the major masses, this creates a pleasing continuous image.
  • Red and blue are the most difficult to erase, to make it easier mix a bit of white into them.
  • Even though you can erase paint, if you want something really white, avoid that area. If the area you need to keep white is small and is difficult to avoid take some candle wax (I am sure you have a candle somewhere) and carefully rub it into the surface. The paint will not cover that spot. Lastly you can take a razor blade and carefully remove the paint from the top layer.

These are the most useful hints I could think of, if you are still wondering how to accomplish anything else, again do not hesitate to e-mail me.




The process (my way)


   I have divided this to show two ways to go about your illustration. Which to use depends on what you want to accomplish with your work. If you want something complex and detailed I suggest to use the first method. If you are going for a freer method without a lot of detail or a single subject without a complex background (like a portrait) than you might consider using the latter although both work and have the same principles behind them.


   Another deal is that this is a long, dare I say it….somewhat tedious process, that may turn some of you off. If you have no patience whatsoever I do not suggest you try this method, The second way 'a la prima' is more likely for you. Although in my humble opinion the time spent is well worth it and produces superior results. Remember: it took Leonardo 30 years to complete the Mona Lisa.

1. Thumbnails- I know that this is a watercolor technique article, but I cannot over emphasize the importance of thumbnails. The planning stages are the most important it is now not in the actual process that your idea must take shape. Thumbnail endlessly until you have it right, then put it down and look at it the next day or at the very least in a few hours. If you are still satisfied than proceed if not than keep doing thumbnails. I am creating a special little project to go along with this article. I found this thumbnail in one of my sketchbooks and decided to develop it. thumbnail
2. The sketch- When you have your thumbnail do the drawing carefully, draw in every detail that will appear in the final product. Shade as completely as possible as this will turn out to be your guide for the final piece. Make sure to work on the correct tonality, treat this as you would your final piece. sketch
3. Ink drawing- on tracing paper or anything that you can see through carefully transfer your drawing in outline form. Use a pilot pen of a rapidograpph, anything that will give you a clean crisp outline. Be precise because you want as little to worry about when you are painting as possible. So remember outline every nook and cranny, every blade of grass. ink drawing
4. Transferring to watercolor paper- Here is a tricky part, I scan my ink drawing in clean it up in photoshop using the brightness and contrast command. Then copy and paste the entire image onto a different layer, then I erase the background layer. After that I reduce the opacity of the image until I only have a ghost outline. After this procedure is complete I print the results directly onto my bristol board. I know that many may have trouble at any part of this step. Your printer may not print on such heavy media or you may not have photoshop (a pricey little number, though well worth it). Any way there is a simpler way, at any art supply store they sell this gray carbon paper especially for transferring drawings it is inexpensive and effective. Just make sure to secure the bristol board, the carbon paper, and your drawing with some tape to stop them from moving around. You'll do fine. You could of course draw directly on the board, but I do not recommend it as pencil marks might smudge or bee too visible, or press into the paper too much and make grooves. If you must do this use a hard pencil such as a 4H and do not press! ghost image
5. Color sketches- I know that you are itching to get to the painting, but please refrain a moment more if you value you final product (and your bristol board that sucker is expensive). If you don't know what a color sketch is, here goes. You have to decide your basic color scheme, take a regular piece of paper and try out different things. At this stage you can change even what you envisioned, because seeing it in front of you is a different experience, these should be tiny, no details only the large color masses as they will appear, are important. Remember just like your thumbnails only you have to understand them. Do a few of them even if you are satisfied with an early one, you never know what you can get out of it (remember the sky does not have to be blue and the grass is not always green). Keep doing them until you are satisfied with one color theme. color sketches
6.Preparing the surface-This is simple cut the 5ply plate finish bristol board to the desired size, find a strong backing like a piece of thick cardboard, a wooden plank, the back (or front) of a clip board, anything sturdy and easy to handle. Use masking tape to secure the paper to the board with about 1/2' going on to the paper all around. Be neat and double up the tape to make sure it is secure. surface
7.The painting- This is when you should start painting, bet you thought we wouldn't get to it. The truth is that if you dutifully executed every step before, this should be quite easy. You already have your values worked out in your sketch, your drawing is on your paper and you even know the colors you are to use. So here goes.


   Pick out a neutral tone such as a brown or yellow, something light that can easily be covered over, avoid blues and reds in particular, and make a very light wash over your shadow areas. Go all the way to the edges over the masking tape you will remove it later to get nice crisp edges. Make sure that you are sculpting with this not just copying the lines on the paper though. Get the eye sockets if there is a character, the bridge of the nose usually catches the shadow, etc.


   Once your shadow wash is complete, go on to tinting the object or backgrounds their appropriate colors in a series of light washes. If you have strong highlights or areas of pure white avoid them or use one of the methods described above.


   Now you can start to add more brilliant colors where they are needed, once again do this gradually, avoid jumping in your values. You will find that this paper can take a lot of punishment, and no matter how much water you put in it seems to absorb quickly and dry on the spot. This is very helpful so you do not need to stop to wait for the paint to dry. If you make a mistake correct it with the magic brush, and keep going. If the brush is not enough to get the paint out do not be afraid to use a good tough paper towel with some water to get it out, bounty seems to work best (no I was not paid to say that).


   To add details use a little water and a lot of paint and carefully paint them in following the lines on your drawing. Remember, though you should stick to your drawing you can and should change it or make shapes slightly simpler or fuzzy looking, especially If they are further away from you. As with every artistic medium you must be able to adapt to the challenges presented at each individual instance.


   I know that words are confusing so below is a series of images that show the phases of this final step of the process as I described them. Believe me it is a lot easier than it sounds, especially with all the preparation work done before hand.

shadow wash tinted colors
bright colors final
8.The final Image- You are now all done and satisfied with your image, but prepare for it to look way better, remove the tape to reveal clean crisp edges. Your work here is done! really final



The process (a la prima)


   Working a la prima is essentially the same and again can be done in any style of watercolor painting. What I will attempt to explain in this section is the general approach to start a painting on a white sheet, without any preliminary work. You will find this section to be significantly shorter, this is because this method is so much more unpredictable that I cannot anticipate all the thing that could happen. You do not have the benefit of either a sketch or a color guide. So here goes…


   First off I will assume that you are working from imagination, because working from life presents its own challenges and its own ease. So, if there is no guide you must at the very least envision the subject. The problem here is that watercolor even with the technique outlined above is not too forgiving . Therefore each stroke must be deliberate and carefully thought out.

1.Prepare the surface & 'Drawing'- Tape the paper to a sturdy backing same as before. Now to begin, again mix a neutral tone and mark in your drawing. I call this a drawing, because you are only placing and developing the shapes of your objects you do not start painting until the next step. Look at the placement and adjust to make it better. To demonstrate this technique I have again started a little project, It will be a slightly different approach to illustration and watercolor, because I would like to show the different capabilities of the medium. drawing
2.Shadow Wash- Now again develop the shadows in the same light, neutral tone. This helps solidify the painting and give you an idea of a light source. Be thorough this is where the painting takes shape, and everything you do after is based on this step. shadow wash
3.Tinting and painting- Now continue in the same manner as outlined above, by tinting the objects their appropriate colors, then further developing the painting, by applying less water and more pigment. Continue as was explained above untill you achieve the amount of detail desired painting
3.Final- Here is the fianl image! Now remove the tape, reveal the edges, you are done. final


   This is it! As you see the possibilities are limitless. Watercolor could take the shape of transparent flowing forms, just as easily as strictly composed solid shapes. I have written this as a beginning guide outlining one way of approaching watercolor, now it is up to you to find your own way, and make the medium yours.


   There is a Russian proverb that says that the first pastry will always have a tough spot. Meaning that you cannot expect it to work right away, but if you stick with it, you will find that this is a fun and effective medium for illustration, because of the versatility it allows. It is also a medium of choice to take on the road, because it is small and all you need is some water to go. I am sure that watercolor if given a chance could be the medium of choice for you.

FARP Article Guestbook

17 May 201345 Sexygirl
14 lets eat shit together! hooray !!!
17 May 201345 Sexygirl
eating shit is great !!! 14
17 May 201345 Student23
wow, really helped me to finish my potret of an asshole with shit coming out!
17 May 201345 Student67
FARP sounds like fap!
17 May 201345 Miguel Crippled
hi guys! im crippled! yeah!
23 Aug 2013:-) Helga Ramos
I liked your outlet, how you manage a picture out of watercolor.
Even having an own style, I learned and hope to improve now.
Thank you, I appreciate, Helga.
7 Sep 201345 Noctus
You know, it’s honestly children like you I hate the most Nincompoop. You disrespect people who enjoy a craft they love because you are damn well jealous that you can’t do something as complex as them. Here’s my advice, take that stick that’s shoved up your ass and go somewhere else. No one wants an asshole to dis their style because the other person can’t do anything worth shit. Now, get. a. life. Same with all you other children out there who make fun of another’s work. Get a damn life, respect other people, or make like a banana and kill yourself. I don’t give a fuck about your inferiority complex nor that you eat shit or what ever the hell you do. Just get. out.
3 Nov 201345 Anon.
Wooo… I like the.. is that a hobbit?
27 Mar 201445 Anon.
Why the stupid comments ?
20 Apr 201445 Tori
This is a lovely article. I am starting to get back into my watercolor painting. I’m going to look into using cakes. Right now I have tubes. I also like your process. I usually do the second one. The results are pretty rusty. Thanks so much for the great tips.11
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