Watercolor for Absolute Beginners: How to Create a Simple Shilloutte

This is a great project for beginners with some experience and absolute first timers. It takes very little time to complete and is relatively easy. It also introduces you to wet on wet technique of watercolor. I made a space design but you can go for a solid color or tie-dye look, it is up to you!


Materials

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  • Two jars of water one for rinsing and one for wetting
  • Paper towels
  • a pencil
  • Cold Press Watercolor Paper
  • One round brush size 6, 8, or 10. (I used an 8)
  • stiff brush or old tooth brush
  • Various Watercolors
  • Something to mix colors on if you desire
  • Some kind of opaque white paint or ink (see below for more info)
  • A White for detail work: White gel pen, paint pen, nib pen if you use white ink, or a small detail brush if you use gouache (optional)

If you need a primer on materials keep reading or skip ahead to the project details. If you lack some or all of the supplies I have suggestions below. Watercolor need not be expensive you can get started for about $50 or less and do lots of painting with those supplies.

Paint Brush

If you are just starting with water color all you really need is one or two decent round brushes. Later on, you may want to add a large flat or mop brush for washes and a detail brush. It may be tempting to buy a big combo pack full of brush shapes but many of those won’t be immediately useful. You are better off with just a few well-made brushes than a huge pack of cheapies IMO. But in art there are no hard and fast rules. If you have a combo pack you love don’t let me stop you from buying it.  If you do get a brush pack, buy a simple three or four group with brushes you know you will use. Buy what you need as you choose new methods to explore. It is the best way to get nice quality with out breaking the bank. I like Silver Black Velvet, I currently love my new, Princeton Velvetouch, but budget brands like Simply Simmons are just fine. Just make sure the bristles are not too stiff unlike oil for watercolor you want a soft brush. Ask your locally owned art store purveyor for advice or try the links above.

Paper

Don’t use drawing paper or a low weight multimedia paper as the paper will warp as you paint. Use a watercolor paper or higher weight multimedia paper made to handle watercolor. Watercolor paper comes in cold press which is rougher and has more tooth and hot press which is very smooth. Cold press is for general painting use as the tooth better holds the paint as you work. I use the smooth hot press for illustrating with watercolor and ink as inking over bumpy paper can be difficult.  In the images below, I am using Canson Watercolor Block. I like blocks because I am a lazy person who hates stretching watercolor paper. I also like Fluid Blocks for little projects like this. But, we are not sopping the entire sheet at once so you can get a better bang for your buck with a Canson XL Pad which is twice the number of sheets for half the price. The pad glue helps hold the paper in place as you paint. Whatever you choose, just make sure you are using a watercolor or multimedia paper labeled at least 140lbs or your work will warp as you paint. If you are lucky enough to have a locally owned art store near you ask the purveyor about affordable options they will be more than happy to help you.

Something White…..

I use white ink. However, there are many other types of paint that will work such as gouache, high flow acrylic, or even craft paint. Ink and acrylic paint are not water soluble so once it’s down you are done there is no re-wetting and lifting off like watercolor. Many artists recommend white gouache as it is a type of opaque water color. I like this Holbien set of gouache but you will probably be better off just getting a single tube at a local art store for now.

Watercolor Paint

Watercolors are pigments in a water soluble binder. They come in pans and tubes. Watercolors come in two categories student grade and professional grade. They are distinguished by how the pigments are ground and the quality or permanency of the pigments. For now, we are concerned with two things light-fastness (ability to resist fading) an element of permanency and pigmentation (more and better pigment = more vibrancy). Some pigments are better than others and some paints have more pigments. Think of it as a scale of very cheap kiddo paint on one end and very expensive on the other, brands like Sennelier or Schmincke. We may not need centuries of permanence for our little project but poorly pigmented paints are just no fun to work with. So we want to look something in the middle area to best match affordability with a pleasant painting experience.  If you are going for the Galaxy look  I suggest the Kuretake Thirty Six set lots of color options for less than $30 that include some deep darks and brights. Some of the colors are semi opaque so people who prefer transparent colors may not like them. But if your painting galaxies or the night sky it is a good set. Student grade paints I have enjoyed using include Windsor and Newton Cotman and Koi just keep in mind some of the colors will be fugitive(not having permanency). Sennelier also makes a student grade which I have not tried but I love everything else they make. If you want to try professional grade Amazon has a Hoblien 24 set of 5ml tubes for less than $50 which is way cheaper than I have seen it at any art store I frequent. You can also look for half pan and small tube sets of professional grade. Or if you are near an art store with open stock (sells individual pans or tubes) just get a few tubes of professional color you really like.  On this project, I  used a mix of Holbein Opera (pink), Cobalt Blue, and Compose Blue, Kuretake No66 and No67, and Dr. Ph Martin’s Hydrus in Magenta.


The Project

Choose something you like and draw its outline lightly in pencil. I chose bears but it can be anything you prefer. If you are not comfortable drawing you can trace an image on tracing paper put it pencil mark side down on the watercolor paper and trace again. It should press the lower graphite on to the paper. Once you have your outline down fill the area with water carefully. I added some blue in this example so you can see it. Paint right up to the pencil line if you can as once the watercolor is over top the pencil line you can not erase it.

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Once your water puddle is on the paper add watercolor a little bit at a time starting lightest to darkest. The paint will not leave your water puddle. Experiment with different levels of pigment to water on your brush.  The paint will mix freely but you can manipulate it a bit by pushing pigment more heavily on one side and less on the other. It takes a bit of practice to learn to control (understand how the paint will behave would be a better way of putting it)wet on wet because the amount of moisture makes a difference. This can be manipulated by how much you wet the paper and how much liquid is in your paint brush. As a rule, though water flows from high to low or very wet to less wet. For now, just let the paint do its thing. If your brush is too wet use your paper towel to absorb the moisture. If you water puddle gets too wet or you don’t like how the colors mixed you can blot the watercolor paper with the paper towel.  Let it dry completely.

 

Once dry.  Erase your pencil marks. Then splatter your white of choice on to your paper using a stiff brush or old tooth brush. I usually flick the bristles with my finger but some like to hold the brush over the paper and tap the handle. You can use a soft brush with the tap method as well. You will get a slightly different splatter depending on the type of bush and method. So experiment, try different methods or brushes on a dark sheet of paper or with a color on white first. Get messy and have fun.

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Once that is dry you can add larger stars or constellations with a detail brush, a G Nib, paint pen, or white gel pen.

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I had a little extra fun an added Bronze ink.

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Then I went way overboard.

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May you find enjoyment on your journey!

 

 

 

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