Illustrating Quirky Birds in Watercolour and Pen | Kate Willis-Crowley | Skillshare

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Illustrating Quirky Birds in Watercolour and Pen

teacher avatar Kate Willis-Crowley, Author and Illustrator

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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

7 Lessons (24m)
    • 1. Introducing: Illustrating Quirky Birds in Watercolour and Pen

    • 2. Quirky Birds Class Overview

    • 3. Simplifying Shapes

    • 4. Composing Thumbnails

    • 5. Experimenting with Colour and Application

    • 6. Painting Your Quirky Birds

    • 7. Adding the Quirk

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About This Class

An introduction to illustrative process through applied pen and watercolour techniques, ideal for beginner illustrators or anyone looking to free up their style. In this class students combine observation with imagination to create individually styled 'Quirky Bird' artworks. Once learned, the class methodology can be applied widely, enabling students to progress with confidence in their artistic practice.


Meet Your Teacher

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Kate Willis-Crowley

Author and Illustrator


I'm Kate, and I'm a children's author and illustrator. I'm also known by my pen name, INKY WILLIS, and I'm creator of the SCRIBBLE WITCH series.

I've a Fine Art degree, and a Masters in Communications Art and Design from the Royal College of Art, London, though the bulk of my experience is industry based. Clients include Puffin, Bonnier, Chicken House Books, Faber and Faber, and Hachette Children's Books.


I work commercially in a few different styles, using a mix of traditional media and digital. I also make art purely for my own enjoyment, and there's often an overlap between the personal and paid work. 

I've taught art techniques and approaches to classes of school children ... See full profile

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1. Introducing: Illustrating Quirky Birds in Watercolour and Pen : Okay, hi, I'm Kate Willis Crowley, and this is my class illustrating quirky birdss in watercolor and pen. This class is ideal for beginner illustrators or anyone looking to try and new fun approach to image-making. I've been a commercial artist for over a decade now, working largely as a children's book Illustrator. But I've also created artwork for galleries, for editorial and for greetings cards, as well as private commission. And actually the quirky bird approach suits all of those. This class is all about freeing up your style. Learning to use the traditional tools of pen and watercolour in new experimental ways. Through these lessons, I hope to support you to develop your own illustration style. I'll also be showing you how to record your experiments. So that when you discover a color combination or a style choice that really worked for you, you'll know how to go on and recreate it. So join me to illustrate your very own quirky birds. I can't wait to see what you come up with. 2. Quirky Birds Class Overview: So why quirky birds? Well actually the great thing about this upright is a needn't be birds. So you could just as easily make quirky cats, cars, socks, you name it. The core teaching points in this class are not about subject matter. They're about finding that middle ground between observation and imagination, having the confidence to play, and recognizing that the most interesting, exciting results are often quite unexpected. Say let's look at a quick lesson overview. You'll start with a drawing exercise, simplifying bird shapes, paring down bird silhouettes into their most basic forms. Next, you'll arrange these simplified shapes into thumbnail compositions. And this is a great way to envisage how your project piece might look. And once you've chosen a favorite composition it's time to experiment with color and application. And I'll be showing you a kind of painting shorthand, a quick, easy way to record your experiments for future use. Then you'll be referring back to that thumbnail composition and laying down the painted components of your project piece. And finally, it's time to pick up your fineliner and start drawing using minimal mark-making to transform your abstract painted shapes back into birds again. So let's look at the tools you'll need to get started. You're going to need basic watercolor supplies. So watercolour, paper, paints, and at least one decent round tipped brush. You'll also need to grab yourself a pencil and at least one fineline pen. Now I'm a bit of a pen addict, so I'll probably be using a few different pens, but all you really need is one. You'll also see there's a downloadable printable PDF for this class, but don't panic if you can't access the printer. When we get to that part, you can draw straight from the screen if you prefer. So gather your things and let's get started. 3. Simplifying Shapes: So we're going to start by simplifying some bird shapes. And this is an exercise in abstraction really. It's a drawing exercise. So you need pencil and paper handy. And you're simply going to redraw these birds in their most basic forms. To help you do this, you can either use the attached printable PDF, or the onscreened image, which runs for a few minutes at the end of this video. So here I'm just showing you an example of what I mean by basic forms. Looking at simplified shapes within the more complex silhouettes. So let's get started. Okay, I'm not going to worry too much about accuracy. I'm just looking at those really basic shapes. There's a little indication of a tail there. And here again, looking for the shape within that more complex shape. And here I'm gonna keep it really loose. So we're not really seeing that wing, just that kind of banana-smile shape. I think I'm working a bit too tight so I'm going to loosen up for this one. Okay. See if you can find a few, different shapes as that will really help you have more option when it comes the composition stage. I'm just going to leave these up here on screen in case that's useful to anyone. For example, if you're unable to print out that PDF, if you don't need it, then feel free to zoom ahead to the next video and I shall see you there. 4. Composing Thumbnails : In this lesson, you're going to turn your simplified shapes into quick thumbnail sketches. Thumbnail sketches, are literally thumbnail sized or slightly bigger. And they are a great, easy way to envisage how your finished piece might look. So draw a bunch of rectangles or squares depending on the shape of your watercolor paper. And start experimenting. I recommend not using a ruler to draw your mini rectangles. Just try not to be too precious. This is not a precious stage. So just keep it fun and speedy. Now already I'm starting to get a feel for which compositions I like. But of course this is just personal preference. So I'd love to see your compositions; the ones that get you really excited about starting painting. So please do share. I've drawn straight onto my watercolor paper here. But you see I've also filled a double-page spread of my notepad with thumbnails designs in case you need some inspiration to get started. But please do just go for it and see what happens. And once you've decided on the composition that really stands out, be sure to remember the shape will shapes invoked as you're going to be using those in your paint experiments in the next lesson. 5. Experimenting with Colour and Application : Experimenting with color and application. I'm going to show you how to record your experiments in my painting shorthand. Just going to walk you through it. So I start by numbering my paints and by making a really simple little diagram with those numbers. And from this point on, I'll be using these numbers to represent the colors. Though at some point it's really a good idea to jot down the colour names in case you get yourself a new paint set. And if you are using tube paints, then just list those paints down and number them. You don't need to do the diagram obviously. Okay, so when I'm mixing colors together, I'll show it with this plus sign. When I have one color on top of another, I'll show it like this with the top kind of at the top and the base color at the bottom. When I'm painting straight onto wet paint, I'll show it like this with W slash W, wet on wet. So to demonstrate this, I've painted one shape in color number five and another with color number four. And now I'm mixing those colors on my palette and labeling my new shape as four plus five. Just painting into wet paint now. This gives that wonderful bleed effect. So I've labeled with my Ws for wet on wet. And I've shown that nine is my top color. And my base color is a mix of five plus nine. Now a quick application tip, I find it quite helpful to paint with a loaded brush. So I actually apply more paint that I need. And this helps the paint flow nice and quickly and evenly so that I can get the shape I want. Then I just give the bristles are quick squeeze with some tissue and that dry brush can then suck the excess paint back up again. Now, I'm layering wet on dry, so I don't need to label it. And because I'm painting on a flat surface, this is allowing any excess paint to kind of flow back on itself, which I actually quite like. So I might recreate that in my project piece. Of course there are advantages to painting at an angle. For example, if you are applying a wash. But because I'm just painting small shapes, a flat surface is totally fine. And there we have it. I'm all set with my page of paint experiments. Ready to put my findings to use in my project piece. 6. Painting Your Quirky Birds : Okay, it's time to get started on that project piece. If you're like me then two project pieces. So you need to look back at those thumbnails to remind yourself of your choice of composition and have you experiment page handy so you can refer back to that also. Now I'm using my stacked birds composition as you can see in the top corner. And I'm recreating that wet on wet effect, applying second color to one half of my crescent. And I'm going to recreate this in different color combinations. Getting larger as I go. Now, if your composition uses large shapes, you might want to paint out a little bit of a tilt to allow the paint to flow down the page. And that previous lessons given me some ideas for colour combinations which are working quite nicely with my wet on wet effect. You can see I'm looking back to my wet and dry stripes on my experiment page and I'm using that on just one side. And here is my alternative project piece, recreating a few of these techniques but much smaller and with less regularity. So this piece is a bit more chaotic, but I think it works still. And it just goes to show you you can really make this exercise your own, trying whatever appeals. So to summarize this lesson, you are combining your favorite thumbnail composition with your favorite experiments. And you are laying down the paint for your project piece. 7. Adding the Quirk : I've called this lesson adding the quirk because your pen drawing can add so much character to your birds. Now I know drawing in pen can actually be quite daunting because once that pen's down, there's no going back. So I suggest testing out your ideas by drawing on top of your experiment page so that you can feel more confident committing your pen to your project piece. You see here that some of my drawings were better than others. My green and pink stripe crescent has turned into a slightly disturbing dragonfly croissant hybrid. But some of my simpler drawings are actually looking quite effective. So for my project pieces, I'm going to keep everything really basic, just dots and lines. Again, do what suits you. If you're a fan of more intricate drawing, then just go ahead and test out some more detailed pen work. And when that's complete, please don't forget to share. I can't wait to see your artwork.