Welcome to my tutorial page.
This tutorial will show you how I create one of my paintings from an initial sketch to a finished piece.
I haven’t explained the basics of watercolour painting in this tutorial. I’m assuming that anyone who might find it useful is already familiar with the medium to some extent. I’m not sure that I use watercolours particularly conventionally anyway but this tut is just to show how I build up a painting. It’s in no way a definitive method, will probably horrify the purists who like to work with a minimalist palette (crikey I used 21 colours in this one!!), and it may well teach you some bad habits, for which I apologise.
Image size: 7” x 8.5”
Paper: 140lb hot-pressed Fabriano Artistico
Paints (all Winsor & Newton’s Artist’s Watercolours): Naples yellow, Winsor lemon, cadmium orange, scarlet lake, alizarin crimson, Prussian blue, indigo, olive green, sap green, green-gold, Hooker’s green, perylene green, Potter’s pink, yellow ochre, raw umber, burnt umber, Vandyke brown, sepia, neutral tint, Payne’s grey, lamp black.
Brushes (all synthetic Cotman and Daler) : flat 13mm (0.5”), round sizes 8, 3, 2, 1, 000, 00000
The sketch for this painting was done on the back of a sheet of copier paper during my lunch-break at work one day. It’s pretty basic and I usually like to put a bit more detail into my sketches, some shading and texture, but this just felt as if it was enough. And I hadn’t decided at that point if it was going to be night or day in the painting so I decided to leave it there.
The basic image was traced down onto 140lb hot-pressed watercolour paper using graphite paper then I tidied up the lines a little, added some more background details and at this point I decided to make it a night-time piece to enhance the effect of the light sources so I removed one of the daisies and closed the other. At this stage I would usually mask any areas of sharp-edged white that I wanted to preserve but there aren’t any on this panting.
I like to get an idea of the balance of composition and colour in a painting as early as possible, so at this stage I aimed to colour as much of the background as I could with light washes. It makes the different areas of the painting easier to understand and it helps to decide on the choice of colours for the main focus of the picture.
I used yellow ochre mixed with a little raw umber to colour the door, fading the wash out towards the yellow I had already laid down. The ground was done using wet into wet – a thin flat wash of Payne’s grey mixed with sepia over the entire area first, fading it as it met the yellow, followed immediately by a darker wash done with a no. 3 brush that darkened the edges and began to define the pebbles.
As a rule things that are farther away look cooler than those close up. This isn’t so obvious at night when all colours can look quite muted but even so, after putting down a flat sepia wash over the main tree trunk and background branches, I went over the trunk again with a wash of burnt umber to warm it up slightly. The grass and ivy were done in very pale Hooker’s green and the rest of the background between the branches was given a smooth (-ish) wash of Payne’s grey.
I worked on the background beyond the tree trunk with several layers of colour and detail. First the branches were all darkened down and had texture added to them. I deepened the colour towards the outer edges to define the curves the wood on the thicker branches. All this was done using a no. 1 round brush with layers of sepia.
I painted several washes of Prussian blue mixed with a little Payne’s grey over the background sky, graduating the wash to be lighter nearer the ground. It was a little tricky painting washes around objects but as I intended to add more branches to the background I didn’t worry too much about the smoothness.
Next I focused on the grass and ivy, adding definition, darkening the colours and adding detail to the leaves using different mixtures of perylene green, hooker’s green, olive green and sap green with a little sepia added to some mixes. Finally I used a strong mix of sepia to paint some more branches in the background.
Next I worked on the door and its frame to darken it right down and add some wood grain effects. All of this was done using no. 3 and no. 0 round brushes with sepia, burnt umber and raw umber. In the first image you can see that I’ve started on the left and gradually lightened the colour across the door towards the opening and started to add some wood grain detailing. In the second painting I’ve worked across the door making the paint used to define the wood grain lighter for each plank of wood.
I’ve also coloured the threshold of the door at ground level with a very dark shadow and added a shadow under the mouse’s tail. The threshold shadow would be particularly dark as it is close to the light source but facing away from it, while the light from the mouse’s lantern doesn’t reach it as is blocked by the mouse’s body. Getting shadows to look right can often be the key to adding some realism to fantasy paintings.
With the background as complete as it can be at this stage, I moved on to the mouse.
Finally I got to the mouse himself! Following the same method as before in Part One, the first stage was to put down some basic, flat, thin washes to define the different areas of colour. I used a thin wash of scarlet lake for the hat and coat. This is a transparent red whereas the cadmium ranges are opaque so I chose it as I needed to be able to blend it smoothly with the yellow highlighting. The jewels on the hat and the lining of the coat were done in Hooker’s green. The mouse’s inner ear, feet, hands and tail were all coloured with a thin wash of Potter’s pink; the lantern and keys were done with Payne’s grey and the mouse itself was done with burnt umber.
After the initial layer of scarlet lake on the hat and coat I darkened both areas with further more concentrated washes of scarlet mixed with alizarin crimson and sepia until I achieved the shading I wanted. I didn’t follow any set method here ( I rarely do) but just kept adding layers to each area until I felt it was dark enough, but always blending the washes more thinly towards the highlighted yellow areas.
The green jewels on the hat were painted as if they were drops of water with highlights, shadow and refracted light all painted in Hooker’s green and as if they were reflecting the light from the door.
The lantern and keys were coloured using W&N neutral tint (grey) and lamp black. I also strengthened the yellow in the lamp’s window and on the ground with Winsor lemon.
I suppose that painting fur could be worthy of a tutorial all of its own but the basics are quite straightforward, although it is time-consuming.
The mouse already had a thin flat wash of pale burnt umber. On top of this I used a 000 brush to put down the first layer of ‘fur’ with raw umber. I used some reference photos to help decide which directions the fur would be lying and painted the areas using short narrow directional strokes. It’s important not to make these strokes to uniform or paint them in rows or the fur will look unnatural. The more random they are the better. This first layer will eventually only be visible in patches where the fur is lit the most.
I also mixed a wash of Potter’s pink, sepia and scarlet lake which I used to start colouring the hands, feet and tail. A wood mouse’s tail looks slightly segmented like a worm so I used short vertical strokes with the same 000 brush to put down the first layer of shading.
The second layer of fur was painted with burnt umber using the 000 brush. I made the strokes slightly denser in the areas that are in the most shadow. I also used the pink mixture to add more shading to the feet and define the toe nails.
The third layer of fur was done with Vandyke brown which I used to shade the mouse’s inner ear too. Then I added some thin brush strokes to the areas of white fur using a pale grey (Neutral tint).
For the fourth layer I switched to a 00000 brush and used a strong mix of sepia, darkening the fur down even more. This mix was also used for more details on the mouse’s inner ear and to add another layer of shading to the tail. While I was working on this layer I paid special attention to any areas that looked unevenly coloured or that had too much of the palest wash showing through and worked on those to smooth out the gradual changes in light and shadow.
The fifth layer was also done with a 00000 brush using a strong mixture of sepia and Payne’s grey to produce an almost black wash. Don’t worry about making areas of a painting very dark and other overly light. Sometimes it’s necessary to exaggerate some shadows in paintings for a 3D effect.
I completed the eye with a concentrate mix of lamp black, leaving the two white highlights and worked a little more on the shading in the ear.Looking at the painting as a whole now I decided to darken down the background beyond the tree a lot more until the branches were barely visible against the sky. A dark wash of sepia/Payne’s grey was put over the whole area, then I repainted some of the branches with a very concentrated mix of sepia and the sky with indigo. I used the rest of the sepia/Payne’s grey mix to darkened the foreground too, fading it from the edges of the painting to the lamp light.
And so that’s it. One of my paintings from sketch to finished piece. I hope it was useful but if you have any more questions, leave a comment or drop me a note and I’ll do my best to answer them.