18 Watercolour Techniques Every Painter Needs to Know | Denise Hughes | Skillshare

18 Watercolour Techniques Every Painter Needs to Know

Denise Hughes, Illustrator, Designer, Tutor

18 Watercolour Techniques Every Painter Needs to Know

Denise Hughes, Illustrator, Designer, Tutor

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6 Lessons (33m)
    • 1. Intoduction

    • 2. Materials

    • 3. Preparing Your Paper

    • 4. Resource Sheet 1, Techniques 1 - 9

    • 5. Resource Sheet 2, Techniques 10 - 18

    • 6. Final Thoughts

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About This Class

Welcome to "18 Watercolour Techniques Every Painter Needs to Know"

This class is aimed at beginners who want to learn a variety of watercolour techniques to develop their paintings. 

I will take you through the 18 different techniques in quick fire step by steps. This class will quickly teach you a variety of interesting ways to use your paint. Together we will build two resource sheets which you can refer back to at any time. 

Are you ready? Let's paint!

Meet Your Teacher

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Denise Hughes

Illustrator, Designer, Tutor


Denise Hughes is a freelance illustrator, surface designer and obsessive doodler who lives and works in Hampshire, UK. Denise works from her studio at The Sorting Office in Hampshire which she shares with 16 other makers and designers.

Denise has worked as a freelance illustrator for 10 years and currently licenses her designs internationally. She is represented by The Bright Group International. Denise combines digital work, watercolor and drawing to create her beautiful, contemporary images.

Running workshops and sharing my skills with others online is really rewarding.

I hope you enjoy my classes.

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1. Intoduction: Watercolor as a medium can seem like such a challenge when you're starting out. One of the wonderful and scary things about watercolor is that it's an unpredictable medium, at least it can appear that way at first glance. That's why it's so important to learn how the paint is likely to behave. The more familiar we are with the way the watercolor behaves when using certain techniques, the more we demystify the natural unpredictability of this medium. Becoming familiar with how the paint behaves is a process that takes many years. I've painted all my life and I'm still learning every single day. However, this class will give you a good grounding in some useful techniques which you can then apply to your own work. In this class, we're going to learn 18 watercolor techniques, and work towards understanding how and why the paint behaves in the way that it does. You'll create resource sheets of these techniques as a reference for your future paintings. You'll be able to refer to this resource, time and time again and it should help you decide on the best techniques to use for whatever you're painting. So 18 watercolor techniques coming up. Let's go through it together. 2. Materials: Because we are exploring 18 different techniques, we are going to need quite a few materials, some basic and some which will seem as though they have nothing to do with watercolor at all. Here are the basic materials that you'll need. You need your watercolors, watercolor paper, brushes, a jar of clean water, and some kitchen towel. But we will also need some other things that you might not necessarily associate with watercolor painting, and a lot of these things are very ordinary household allergens. For this, you'll need some plastic cellophane food wrap, and also you'll need washing up sponge or any type of sponge really. You'll also need some cotton births and some ordinary kitchen salt. I've got the rock salt here, and a wax candle, and then this is the masking tape I use. This is green fog tape, which is really good, and last but not least, a hair dryer. You'll also need a bottle of masking fluid. Now this is shrink masking flow dishes, excellent, but there are lots of different types of brands and you can get those at the art store or online. You'll also need a needle or any other sharp objects which will scratch the surface of the watercolor paper to make an indent. You'll also need a piece of rough grade sandpaper. This is the alcohol that I use. You can order this online. It'll be referred to as rubbing alcohol or isopropyl alcohol and you need at least 70 percent alcohol content. Here's that list again. 3. Preparing Your Paper: You'll need two pieces of watercolor paper for this project. We're going to divide them into nine squares using some masking tape. Full tape comes in quite a wide width, I think it's 24 millimeters wide, which is a bit wide for this project. But because it's such good tape, what I'm going to do is I'm going to put some strips out and then cut them in half and use those. But you can use whatever masking tape have but, slightly thinner, strip is probably a bit better. Take your strips and divide the page vertically into three down the middle. With the tape, this doesn't have to be particularly accurate. It's just a rough guide. I might just give it a little broader at the edges as well, so now we've got three columns going this way on the paper. Then we want to divide it into three the other way as well. Start at the top, just give it little broader on, and then one at the bottom a little broader on, and divide the rest of it into threes, so you need two more bits of masking tape. Did it little bit high isn't it? Just put it down like me, if you're not sure you can always meet them afterwards. I think that's about right. You can see some of my squares are bigger than others. It doesn't matter at all for this. It's just to create a little space for each one of the techniques. Do that on two pieces of paper and then you'll finish up with two pages each with nine squares on it which make the total of 18. If you don't want to do the masking tape, you don't have to. You can also just paint within these squares, but it gives you a little bit more freedom, if you know you're going to have a clean edge and you've used masking tape. That's why I like to use masking tape, because I know I'm going to get a fairly clean edge around each one of the techniques. Do that with your next sheet as well until you finish up with two. Remember to trim off any excess that goes over the edges. You don't want that sticking to the table when you're trying to paint. You want to end up with two sheets that looks something like this. We've got everything ready now, so let's begin painting. 4. Resource Sheet 1, Techniques 1 - 9: The first technique that we're going to explore is the dry brush technique. To start, fill your brush with color and then remove most of it onto kitchen roll so that you end up with a brush that contains pigment but not much water. Then begin to paint. You'll probably need to drag the brush over the surface of the paper to create these textural marks. If one considers the bumpy surface of the watercolor paper as a series of peaks and valleys, the aim of the dry brush is only to apply the paint to the peaks of the paper. To give you an idea on where to use this technique, dry brushing is perfect for the textural surfaces of rocks, the surface of the sea, or tree bark. You can build up the layers of the dry brush paint to get some detailed textural effects. Our second technique is wet on dry. This simply means applying wet paint onto a dry surface. That can be dry paper as we have here, or it can mean applying the wet paint onto an already painted but dry surface. The thing to remember with this technique is that painting wet on dry produces really sharp edges to shapes. A drop of watery paint will remain static when applied to dry paper. Wet on wet means that wet paint is applied to wet paper or added to a watercolor wash a fresh wet paint. Wet on wet produces quite a different result to wet on dry. Wet on wet produces soft edges and random effects and allows pigments to mix and blend together. By understanding the properties of water, we can preempt what the paint might do when using wet on wet. Paint doesn't flow unless it's really invited to do so. A drop of wet paint on a wet surface is pulled by gravity, and the paint will naturally flow towards the lowest point. Keeping this in mind will help you understand what is likely to happen because the paint pigment will always follow the water flow. A flat wash is an area of color which has been put down in such a way as to avoid obvious brushstrokes. The first thing to do is mix up your paint and then set your paper at an angle on the table. You want the top edge to be raised between one or two inches off the table. Then load your brush and make a horizontal path across the top of the paper. The paint will move downwards with gravity. Then make several more horizontal passes down the paper. The paint will gradually move downwards, forming a bead of watery paint at the bottom of each stroke, and then make the next pass slightly overlapping the first and reloading your brush when you need to. A gradient wash uses the same principles as the flat wash. The difference is that you need to dilute the paint mix as you progress down the page. Start in the same way as the flat wash, with your paper or board on an incline and paint a horizontal brush stroke. Then at the place where you want the wash to become lighter, mix in some water into your wash mix and continue to paint the horizontal passes with your brush, and then as we go further down, adding more water to make the color even more dilute. You can see here that there's a bead forming on the bottom edge of the watercolor, and you want to overlap that bead with the next horizontal lines of paint. A little bit more water, and take it right down to the bottom edge where the color is almost disappearing, and that's a gradient wash. A variegated wash contains more than one color. For this one, I'm going to mix up some Alizarin crimson, which is here, and some purple. First, I'm applying the Alizarin crimson in the same way that we did with both the previous washes. When you apply this area of color, you'll notice because the gravity is pulling the pigment down, you get a bead forming along the bottom edge, a bead of watery pigmenty color. We're going to use that bead when we apply the next color. Can you see it all the way along there? Clean your brush and load up with a new color, and then overlapping the first color slightly on that bead, put in your second color. You can see there the bead is formed, and we're going to clean our brush and apply Alizarin crimson to the base. Essentially, at its most simple, negative painting is a technique where you outline a shape or a subject like a tree, a person or a leaf, and then paint around it, leaving the subject itself unpainted. You can choose to paint whatever you like. Here I'm painting a leaf. I'm sort of painted around the outline, and then I'm going to fill in the background. But work quickly with this because you don't want any lines between the painting of the outline and the painting of the background. This is actually a interesting way of painting. It can be as made as simple or as complicated as you'd like. Here I'm just showing you a simple technique. But some people use this painting technique to produce complex piece of painting. What they tend to do is build-up these layers of negative painting, one on top of the other with different colors, and build it up to make an image which is quite complex. Glazing is a technique in which we apply different washes over the top of each other. It's really important to let the first color dry before you apply the second. Because watercolor is a transparent medium, both layers of paint are visible and form another color. Here I'm applying a very light red wash, and then I'm going to let that dry. That's why I'm using a hairdryer just to speed it up a little bit. Now that the red is dry, I'm laying down an orange wash. Now I'm putting down a purple wash. Then I'm going to dry that as well. The next color I'm going to use is green. I'm going to put that directly on top of the red. You can see that those colors where the red and the green overlap, it's producing a purpley brown color. Then all importantly, quick dry with the hairdryer. Then this time I'm going to use some civilian blue. I'm going to do a vertical stripe all the way down our previously painted orange, purple, and green lines. Then you can see where all the colors have crossed over one another, you get a slightly different color appearing. Next, we're going to use the resist technique. I'm going to show you three different ways you can create to resist technique. Start by dividing up your rectangle into three areas. For our first resist technique, we're using masking fluid. You can buy masking fluid from any art shop. When you apply it, I tend to apply using the end of a paintbrush and not their brush hairs because I found it can ruin the pairs of a brush. I'm just dipping in and I'm making marks on the page. Basically painting on the masking fluid. We're going to let that masking fluid dry, and then we're going to peel that masking fluid off and underneath will be the white paper. Wax resistors are a very decorative traditional technique. Here we're using the west candle to create a pattern. Because the watercolor paint is repelled by the wax. Wherever we apply the wax will remain unpainted. The third technique uses masking tape. You can create cut-out shapes with straight lines or ruffle shapes by tearing the masking tape. Each of these will create a different effect once painted. Before you paint, make sure your masking fluid is dry. 5. Resource Sheet 2, Techniques 10 - 18: The spatter technique can be used to create movement and emotion in a painting. Pointing your loaded brush at the canvas, pull back the heads of the brush, and then let them go. This produces a fine spray. But you can really experiment with this technique using the brush to flick, throw or drip-paint onto the paper's surface. Salt can add an extra dose of visual interest to a painting. Here I've got a combination of rock salt and table salt. Using different size grains of salt will give a different effect. The first thing that we need to do is apply a nice dense wash of paint, the darker the color you use, the better the effect will be. Whilst the paint is still wet, apply areas of salt. What is actually happening when we apply the salt? Well, when we apply grains of salt to a layer of wet paint, each grain of salt acts as a tiny sponge pulling water and pigment towards the salt grain. It's important when you use this technique to let the paint dry naturally, then you get a better effect. What you're going to need for this is a piece of sponge. I'm just using a part for washing up sponge for this with torn edges to mix up your color and then apply the color onto the sponge, trying to soak up all that color. You don't want it too wet, but like it's sitting on the sponge like this. Then gently apply it to the paper. What you're aiming for here is a gentle tapping motion. Keep going gently building up the layers of the paint until the surface is covered. This is a great technique to use when you're describing foliage in the distance. The drop color technique is another version of wet-in-wet. Begin by wetting your paper thoroughly with water first. Then simply load your brush with color and drop it into the water. Let the paint just spread with the water flow and go wherever it likes. I think this is a really fun technique. It's so simple, but you can really make some very beautiful marks with it. Sometimes when you're painting, you'll need to remove watercolor from your paper. To demonstrate this, I'm just putting this wash of purple down first. Perhaps when you use this technique, you want to create an interesting effect or your color or value is too dark. Here are two ways to achieve this, with the blotting effect. Either use a dry tissue which I've screwed up to a point and blot out the areas of color, or you can use the full piece of tissue to do the same. Look at those lovely textures that are coming through. Or the other technique you could use, is to lift out the color using a damp brush, and in-between each lift wipe the brush on the tissue paper to dry it slightly. To work with sandpaper, you'll need to lay down a background of color and let it dry. I've chosen to paint a darker color at the top, to show you how the sandpaper technique works really well on dark colors. Then once the paint is fully dry, just take a small piece of rough sandpaper and scratch it gently along the surface. This technique can be used to great effect to create sea spray. Just like when we use the salt, you want the paint to be really wet when using the food wrap technique. Put your wash down first, but make sure it's really nice and thick and wet. Now you're going to take your cellophane and press it down onto your paper. Just like that. You can already see what's happening underneath there, and if you like, you can adjust it a little bit and pull the cellophane around to get to pattern that you really like. But I'm just going to press that down, I think that's quite nice. Now it's really tempting to pull the plastic wrap off right away. That's the hard part. But wait until your watercolor is completely dry. Then when you remove the cellophane, that texture is left behind. Now I'm going to show you a technique called sgraffito. You'll need something sharp. So grab a needle or a pin or something that will make a mark on the paper. What you're going do is scratch your design onto the paper, and that's why it's called sgraffito, it's sounds a bit like scratch, doesn't it? You can't see it now, but just wait until we put the paint on. This usually works better with a bit of a darker color. You can see the fine lines made by the needle starting to come through here. If we think of those lines as troughs or valleys in the paper, the paint is collecting into those valleys. Whilst it's wet, you can work back into it. Grab the handle of your brush and use that to create some more lines across the paper. Then if you like, you can go back in with the needle. Out of all the techniques I've shown you so far, I've saved what I think is the best until the last. You'll need some rubbing alcohol for this, and you'll also need a cotton bud. First you're going to need to lay down a nice thick wash. It doesn't really matter what color, you can choose multiple colors if you wish. Then when you've done that, take your cotton bud, and we're going to put it straight into the alcohol. Then we're going to drop it onto the paper and watch what happens. What the alcohol does is it's repelling the pigment in the watercolor and pushing it away to the edges. Now, you should try the splatter technique using the alcohol. Just tap the cotton bud and it releases a fine splatter. Just keep adding alcohol until you're happy with the result. 6. Final Thoughts: I do hope that practicing these different techniques has given you a better idea of the possibilities of watercolor. I hope this class has demystified some of the unpredictability of watercolor, and given you a new found confidence in the ways to use it. By now, you should have a comprehensive reference of techniques to keep and refer to in all your future paintings. I hope you will complete this class feeling inspired to apply one or two of these techniques to your next painting. As always, thanks for taking the class and happy painting.