Digital Dry Watercolor Painting. | Isabel Aracama | Skillshare

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

6 Lessons (26m)
    • 1. Introduction to this Class

    • 2. Preparing Reference & Canvas

    • 3. First Color Layer

    • 4. Integrating Colors

    • 5. Blocking Colors

    • 6. Detailing

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About This Class


Isabel here with a new class, this time about digital watercolour painting. If you've seen my portfolio, you know I do and love science illustration. However, we are going to get a bit more artistic and less scientific that that!

In this class you will learn how to paint a dry watercolour using either Affinity Photo or Affinity Designer.

I'll take you through the workflow, techniques and tips and we will work together to complete the final project: a bird! I chose a cardinal red bird as final project.

You can find the reference image in the resources for this class, but should you prefer to paint a different bird, feel free to do so. I'd like to ask you to post your final project, as I love to see what people do and also cause I can give you some feedback.

This class is for any level of skills using Affinity Photo or Designer.

What will you learn?

How to use the watercolour brushes to paint a digital illustration. In this case, a bird.

How to extract a colour palette from a reference image to use it for your illustration.

How to lay paint layers from light to dark.

How to extract the basic blocks and gradually go into details.

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Isabel Aracama

"Every expert was once a beginner."



Hello! I've been a designer & illustrator for the last +20 years. I'm a BFA (UPV, Spain) and Science Illustration specialist (UA, Portugal). I have a knack for digital and vector drawing.

All I know, you can learn, so get on board! You can also visit my site and follow me on Youtube, for more free tutorials, updates, and news and join the student's Facebook group where we discuss illustration and show progress.


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1. Introduction to this Class: Hello, welcome to this class where you're going to be working together with me to create this nice bird. But it can be also another bird of your choice up to you. So we're going to use in the dry watercolor technique that is kind of like gouache. And of course it's going to be in digital, so no fear. It would be much more forgiving. And you can use either Affinity Photo, which is what I'm going to be using, or Affinity Designer in the pixel persona, they both come with the same watercolor brushes. Idon't know if you know my work, but I do science illustration but this class is not exactly about that. This class is much more expressionist and much more artistic. So we won't be focusing in getting the right perfect anatomy of the bird or the perfect colors. This is much more expression and this is much more artistic. So we will be focusing in techniques, workflow, and tips. So by the end of the class, you will have not only a nice illustration of your bird, but also all the techniques you need in order to create new artwork. So for sure, I would love to see what do you do at the very end. Ask me your doubts! Let's start. 2. Preparing Reference & Canvas: So the first thing is going to be opening the watercolor paper resource that you're going to find in the resources for this class. So simply open it either in Affinity Photo or in Affinity Designer or whatever the software you chose to use for this class. And we are going to be working directly over that file once it's opened, simply name this paper background. The next thing is going to be opening your reference. In this case, I am also providing the cardinal I'm going to paint. But if you decide to paint some different bird, simply do as I'm doing, which is importing it into your document and place it over the background, which is the watercolor paper. Now right-click over your reference image in the layers panel. Go to rasterize. This is in order to being able to now use the rectangle marquee tool, this one in here. And what we're going to be doing is cropping the part that we need. So now it's command X or Control X Now we can get rid of the rest of the image, and now we're going to paste it. So you see it is still keeping the name. We're going to put it aside. I put it to the right because I draw with my left. Just place it somewhere in the canvas where it feels good for you. We're going to zoom in a little bit. Of course, don't forget to lock this layer too, so it doesn't get in our way as we are working. Now if you don't have your brushes at sight, Go to View > studio > brushes and just place them in front of you because we're going to use them. Okay, so this time we're going to be painting a dry watercolor. So it makes total sense that what we are going to be using is the watercolor kit that comes with Affinity Photo and Affinity Designer. So the first thing I usually do is give a try to some of them just to get a sense of what they're going to be doing. Because I don't always remember all my brushes. And finally, I decide which one I want. In this case, I'm going to go for the "fine to wide spongy"- This one is very nice because it will provide us with a lot of variation. And if I want a thick line, it's very easy to get it. If I want it thinner it's also very, very responsive. It's also very responsive when it comes to getting little amount of paint or lots of them depending on the pressure. So I'm going to go for that one. And what I'm going to be doing is painting over my reference. You can do it like this or you can just directly go and draw it yourself, wherever you prefer. In this case, we are going to be more focused on painting. So this is the way I'm going to do it. So let's paint over the reference, just some master lines like blueprints. You can see here that I'm painting really, really softly, almost imperceptible, just master lines and blocks. Of course, remember always the paint in a new layer, the painting in the same layer where you have your reference or over the background directly. Now the next thing I'm going to be doing is pressing shift on my keyboard. I'm going to put it aside so I can see better what I've done, I am now going to name this layer line or outline. I lock it. And I create a new layer that we'll be using later. And now if you don't have the swatches panel at sight, Go to View studio swatches and take it out. And what we're going to be doing now is creating a palette from our reference image. For that in the swatches panel, go to the upper-right menu. Move down to "Create palette from image" and select your image. For this, you have to have your image saved in your computer. Import it. And you're going to see now how the colors are going to be creating a palette out of that image. Now you see in here we have initially five colors out of that image, but you can put it up to as many colors as you want. You can see now scroll down and it's grabbing most of the colors that we see in the image, but we're going to constrain it to less colors. These colors will help us working as we paint. I'm gonna leave it down to 30 colors. I think that's enough. You can see in there I have, while, many of them, the ones I don't have in this palette, I will just color-pick. And now you can see that we have our palette to work with. And this is a little trick that we can use specially when we are not very used to pick the right colors just by looking at the reference image. With time, I recommend not to use the color picker too much. It's not bad. It's good also to train your eye picking the right colors. But for this class we are going to be using this little trick. So in the next class we are going to start painting the first layer. So I see you there. 3. First Color Layer: Okay, so we're going to start painting, and as we do with watercolor painting in traditional media, we're going to start with light colors. This is not exactly the same process as traditional media because it's much more forgiving. Obviously in watercolors when you're painting, you have to be very fast and very good if you want to get things right. But here, while it's gonna get a little bit more easy. But in any case, the first thing we're going to be doing, at least initially, is going to be using light colors. Now, I pick one in the swatches with the palette I created previously. And I'm going to test some of the brushes like we did before. One interesting and important thing to take into account when you're painting with brushes in digital painting is the opacity, the flow, and the hardness. For the watercolor we're gonna see that most of them have a low amount of flow. In this case is 18%. The capacity is up to a 100 and a hardness is up to 80. The capacity is how transparent the color is, the flow is the amount of color that you're gonna lay on your canvas. And the hardness is how hard are the edges of your particular brush. Now you're going to see that each brush has different settings and you're going to have to tweak this as you go painting accordingly. Now in my case, I'm only going to tweak now the flow up to a 100%. Now I'm going to test again how it behaves now that I changed a little bit the flow. And there's this thing I want to say about the watercolor brushes, and as you can seen here, I paint a stroke and then I paint another one on top. And obviously because it has some transparency, because it's watercolors, you're gonna see the paint ads on the one that is below. You have to be careful with that unless you want that to happen. With this I mean that the first strokes I'm going to pass over my bird are going to be in just one go. So I'm gonna make my brush and I'm going to cover the whole of the area. I don't care if I go past the lines I drew as a blueprint. Don't worry about that now. So now you're going to see what I mean with this. I'm going to select the last brush in this list is the "Large dense brush" And I'm going to make my brush big, as I said, and I'm going to start painting all over my bird. Notice how I paint inches one go without lifting the brush from the canvas. The next thing I'm going to be doing is picking a darker color and I'm going to lay this paint on top of the first wash. I'm using the same layer. you can use another one if you feel more comfortable. You can see in there, I left this mark because I lifted my brush, I don't really care in this case because if you see the image, there is a darker area there also in the bird, in the reference. So anyways, I will be covering later on and you won't be a big deal. And that's exactly what I'm doing now for other parts of the bird. For example, in the top area where the crest is and the area for the eye and the beak what I'm doing now is blocking shadows exactly using this method, which is just passing a second time with a stroke. But be very mindful where you place the second strokes. I just want you to know that just as in real life, the more confident you pass your strokes, the better results you will get. But don't worry because that is something that you get with time. And if you don't, you can always Control + Z, go back and repeats. And that's the beauty of digital. And basically this is what we're going to see in this lesson. As you can see, I go adding different hues, more and more layers, identifying the shadows and the darker parts. I go changing a little bit the flow and then opacity. And I'm using all the time to same brush. Let's go now to the next lesson where we will keep adding color. See you there. 4. Integrating Colors: Okay, so before we continue, just remember what I always say: name your layers. So you know where you're at, for organization purposes. Now, I'm going to talk about integrating colors in digital. So, yeah, these watercolors are pretty realistic, but we can increase the realism by using this little trick: With your paint layer selected, now go two layers, then click on "New Live Filter Layer", then Distort and then Displace. You will see how the Live Displace dialog opens and a displacing map is added to that very layer you have selected. Now the next thing you're going to be doing is clicking on "Load map from layers beneath." And now as you move the slider up or down, you're going to see how the paint spreads, integrating the paint with image it has below, which in this case is the paper layer, the background we put at the very beginning. Now you have to be careful because somehow the outline that we created at the very beginning, the blueprint is also leaving a deep mark and we don't want that. So before doing what we just did, You might want to hide that layer in such a way that he won't be affected by the displacement map. So now you see we are going to repeat the action without the outline showing. And initially the slider is gonna be set to 10 pixel. Now we move it up and you can see the perfect integration. So this is going to make your watercolor look much more realistic. You can take advantage of it anytime you want in some of the layers and all of them, up to you. And another great thing about this is that this is non-destructive which means that you can switch it ON or OFF as you go. If you decide all of a sudden that this is not what you wanted or you want to change the percentage, just go ahead, click on it and just decide what is it that you like the best. You can now safely switch back ON your outline to guide you through your process while you're painting without it being affected by the displacement map. And this is it for the little trick that it's going to help you integrating a little bit more your colors over your canvas. Let's go now to the next lesson where we are going to add more color to our bird. 5. Blocking Colors: Now we're going to block more colors. I would like to start creating some colors that are much darker. This is just the way I work. It's my workflow. I'm quite impatient and I like to start seeing things to just, you know, give some candy. to my eyes. Otherwise, I just never see the end of it. And I'm impatient as I said. So we are going to proceed the same way. I'm going to be trying some different brushes over the canvas. And before continuing... This is another thing I always like to do. You see I have the reference to the right, but now I want to zoom in. The more zoomed in I am, the easier it will be for me to paint and draw. So what I'm going to be doing is cropping the part that I'm going to be working on. In this case, it's going to be the head and I'm going to proceed the same way I did at the very beginning. I'm going to use the marquee tool. I'm going to drag it over the head of the bird and then I'm going to cut it and paste it right beside it. So when I zoom in, they are side-by-side and it's very comfortable for me to work. Now I decided that I'm going to go with the brush that is the third from the bottom, the one called fine-to-wide-spongy. And this is the one we talked about in one of the previous lessons that is very versatile and very responsive. It's going to allow me to place a lot of color if I want to. And it's going to allow me also to vary the line in such a way that if I press more, it's going to be thicker And if I press less is going to be thinner, it's very responsive. Remember to work in different layers just in case do something that you don't like and so you don't ruin the whole thing. Okay? I'm going to pick a dark color from the palette. It's almost black, but it's not black. It's not good to use complete black colors. So it's going to be almost there, but not completely. And so because these bird is on the red and orange side of the wheel, it's going to be some very deep orange or brownish orange color. So that's what I'm going to be using in order to paint the feathers, the dark feathers on the face, for the eyes also. And I'm gonna do the same with reddish color for the beak and the rest of the feathers. You can see that I'm changing the brass whenever I need the shock to be Weiner. And again, I first always draw over the canvas and then I proceed. I also recommend you to every now and then look at your reference and squint your eyes and try extract, the main colors you see in there, even if it's just a small amount of it, like for example, I'm going to start also blocking a little bit of blue because these bird is orange, but it also has some shades of blueish or gray-ish, but on the blue side color. So I'm going to add that too, and really I'm not being very concerned about if I'm putting exactly the number of feathers it has and this is a loose painting so I'm a free in this case to just go and leave my creativity and my brushes flow all over the canvas and see how it works. So are we gonna end this phase just working without fear Be fearless just put everything in there. Remember these digital and we can go back and erase as much as we want. And I'll see you in the next lesson. 6. Detailing: Now we arrive to the most fun part of this class, or at least this is what I think, which is the detailing. You can see that basically we've been blocking until now from the lighter colors, then introducing some shadowing, and then just because I'm impatient I put the dark for the face and some other places. But basically what we have in here at the moment is mass of colors that is not very defined. Hold on a bit because this is going to get better. So now we're going to do the detailing. As I said, the most fun part. You can guess that as we get into details, you are going to want to work with brushes that are thinner. This is like either pressing and getting them to and really, really thin or simply making them very, very small. And this is what we are going to be doing it. And you can tell by now, probably one of my favorite watercolor brushes is the Spongy one, the third one at the bottom. And so I'm going to be using it to introduce some of the detailing. I will be changing it as I go. They are not so many. I mean, we could have many, many more because there are brushes out there, like fantastic, but I like to keep it simple at least for these pieces that really don't require much more. So this good amount of brushes, hardly 12 of them. it's more than enough to do this kind of beautiful little paintings. Now for wider strokes I change my brush. I could try and find the one that works for my purpose. You may be thinking now, look at the tail of that bird so crooked , it's not straight as the one in the reference. Don't worry about that because we still didn't see one part that we will be seeing at the end of this lesson. And everything will come into place. Everything will fit together. And so you see this is very versatile and you don't have to be really constrained from the very beginning to do everything perfect. So let's keep on painting and we will see it a little bit later on. So as I go working on the bird and on the wings, for the upper feathers, I'm gonna use a wider brush, whereas for the ones below, I'm going to use a very, very thin one and I'm barely going to trace some straight lines. And again, changing opacity and flow as a go. Not so much the hardness for this piece. Sometimes I do, but not so much. And whenever I find or I feel there is a radical change like for example, when I place them darker feathers, I'm gonna create a new layer. Don't be afraid of creating layers because that will make things easier in the case that you go wrong. There is this thing about dry watercolors. It doesn't matter if it's digital or analog, that it makes it much easier than painting with what would be watery watercolors. This is close to what would be painting with gouache. And this is because you can stack color over color and get them opaque easily. And that makes it much easier. And the results may look faster, better. Not to mention that I love the looks of it in traditional media. I love gouache. I mean, I love also watercolors. But honestly, there are some things about gouache that I really, really love, like being able to use whites, which in other media (watercolour) you cannot do. But I'm talking now, analogue, because digital you can do whatever you want. Now this is other thing I usually do, and this is just my personal choice. When I'm quite happy with what I'm doing, I like to group things in such a way that then I duplicate the group, switch off the first one of the groups so I can not see it and I work again in the new group. Kind of like saving my work just in case. Although Affinity Designer and Affinity Photo allows you to do this in a different way, which is with the Snapshots, which were not covering in this class. But this is something I do. It's, I've been always doing it, so I keep doing it. So I up to you, I grouped the whole thing. I duplicate the group and I keep working in a new one just in case I ruin things at some point. Now as I said, I'm working in a new group. And what I'm doing now is selecting the layers that are beneath in order to erase everything that is past my bird. So grabbing the Eraser tool, I grabbed one of the brushes. Usually I don't grab one that is rounded, I grab one with textures like this watercolor ones in such a way that the eraser will adopt the shape of this brush. And so as I go erasing is not going to be so uniform, I am selecting now and the Smudge tool in order to create the little feathers that spike out from the neck of the bird. I really don't recommend using very much this tool other than in small areas. Reason why being that even in small percentages, it takes paint away. I'm now combining it with the brush tool because as I said, it takes paint away and sometimes it looks bad. So I need to add a little bit more. And now it's the moment to correct a little bit that tail that was a little bit crooked. And I make it look straight. As you can see also, I'm using the eraser tool in order to remove all the paint that I don't need. And now again, I'm going to grab one of the groups and I'm going to right-click over it and I'm going to rasterize it. So it converts the whole thing, the whole group in just one pixel image, so I can keep adding details. Finally, I pick a new brush and I'm gonna work on the branch. I'm going to add some leafs and fruits to make the whole composition more attractive. And so we are done with this little fellow here. I really hope you learned some of my workflow. I hope you are now going to introduce it into your own one. And I really am looking forward to seeing what you come up with. So feel absolutely free and I really encourage you to post your work in the project section for this class. I'm always really looking forward to see what students come up with. And now I send you a kiss and I will see you very soon. Bye-bye.