Loose watercolor techniques made easy: a fun whale and ocean scene | Anne Smerdon | Skillshare

Playback Speed

  • 0.5x
  • 1x (Normal)
  • 1.25x
  • 1.5x
  • 2x

Loose watercolor techniques made easy: a fun whale and ocean scene

teacher avatar Anne Smerdon, award-winning watercolour artist

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

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

8 Lessons (28m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. Materials & setting up for success

    • 3. Drawing up your whale

    • 4. Getting loose!

    • 5. Wet on wet technique

    • 6. Overcoming the #1 mistake

    • 7. Painting your whale

    • 8. Final thoughts

  • --
  • Beginner level
  • Intermediate level
  • Advanced level
  • All levels
  • Beg/Int level
  • Int/Adv level

Community Generated

The level is determined by a majority opinion of students who have reviewed this class. The teacher's recommendation is shown until at least 5 student responses are collected.





About This Class

The first thing that attracts most people to watercolour is it’s loose, effortless feel. Yet many fail to achieve it. Why? Well, it takes confidence and experience to be brave enough to work really wet! But that’s where I come in. I’m renowned for helping people to loosen up, find their style and have fun with their artwork! And this class is all about helping you to break your perfectionist mould, relax and use watercolour in the way the medium was intended - wet and loose!

At the end of this class you’ll have a frame-worthy artwork of a beautiful whale swimming through the ocean. But you’ll gain so much more than that: you’ll have the skills, knowledge and confidence to go forth and push yourself to new heights with the medium of watercolour!

In this class you will learn:

  1. Drawing techniques - the foundation of all good painting!
  2. The two main techniques for using watercolour paint: wet-on-wet and wet-on-dry
  3. Which brush to use and which paper to use and why the #1 mistake most beginner watercolorists make is using the wrong materials!
  4. How to use watercolour to create the effect of water
  5. How to let go, loosen up and stop overworking your watercolours
  6. The importance of tones and why your art will always look dull, flat and lifeless without them
  7. How to paint less but achieve more! Let the watercolour do the work so you don’t have to!

Who is this class for?

This class is perfect for those who are sick of being tight and controlled in their work. Watercolour is a fluid medium and it should be fun and loose to use!

This class is absolutely suitable for complete beginners, even if you’ve never used watercolour before. But it’s also perfect for advanced watercolorists who want to loosen up their style and learn how to let the watercolour do the work! I’ve tried and tested this project with my local Artory Art School students and the results were fantastic! And the best thing is, you only need 3 watercolor paints!

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Anne Smerdon

award-winning watercolour artist


I’m an award-winning professional artist (view my works) and art teacher from Australia. I’ve been using watercolour, oil and charcoal for 10+ years now, exhibiting and selling my work both nationally and internationally. I’m known for my loose, effortless-looking watercolours and my realistic oil paintings of birds. I’ve won awards, been represented by commercial art galleries and sold my work to high-profile collectors. But the thing I’m most proud of is my art classes!

You see, I’m proud of breaking the stereotype that “some people are naturally creative and some people aren’t”. There is nothing more satisfying than finding someone who “isn’t artistic” or who “can’t draw a st... See full profile

Class Ratings

Expectations Met?
  • Exceeded!
  • Yes
  • Somewhat
  • Not really
Reviews Archive

In October 2018, we updated our review system to improve the way we collect feedback. Below are the reviews written before that update.

Why Join Skillshare?

Take award-winning Skillshare Original Classes

Each class has short lessons, hands-on projects

Your membership supports Skillshare teachers

Learn From Anywhere

Take classes on the go with the Skillshare app. Stream or download to watch on the plane, the subway, or wherever you learn best.


1. Introduction: So I heard that you love that loose, effortless look of watercolor, but you don't know how to achieve it. Have you ever spent hours on an artwork only to find that it's dull and overworked in the end? Well don't worry, because that is all about to change. I'm Anne Smerdon, professional watercolor artist from Australia. I run the Artory Art School where I help artists to loosen up, find their own style, and discover their creativity. Many of my students have gone on to sell their work and even win art competitions. And I am so excited to be able to help you to do that to. Today, we're going to paint a loose dynamic watercolor featuring a humpback whale swimming through the ocean. I'm going to show you how to effortlessly create the effect of water using wet on wet techniques. I'm also going to help you to create a 3D effect with your whale that you can apply to any other sea mammal that you choose. So let's get started. 2. Materials & setting up for success: We're going to get loose and messy today. So you might want to put down a sheet or some newspaper so you don't have to worry about it while you're painting. We want to set you up for success, not failure. What you'll need is a board and some blocks or some books to hold it up so that your board is on an angle. We want gravity to do the work here so that you don't have to. You want good quality watercolor paper here. So make sure that you're using a good quality one that has good sizing. You'll also need some artists budget tissue paper. It's just toilet paper... a jar of some clean water, some masking tape to tape your paper onto your board. You need your pencil and your eraser to draw up your whale. And the colors I'm using. Alizarin crimson. White gouache or titanium white, and a beautiful color called Pthalo turquoise. You could use a Prussian or just a Pthalo, if you don't have that long. To go ahead and grab your palette, grab your paints and your brush, or using a natural hair brush that's round, that comes to a tip about this size is perfect. Go ahead and get yourself setup, grab yourself a cup of tea or a wine if you fancy, just don't dip your brush into your drink. And we'll get ready to paint. 3. Drawing up your whale: To start off with, I have taped my paper onto my board. And I'm going to start with the whale in the middle of the page, making sure that I have plenty of room around the outside to create our water ocean effect. The first thing you wanna do is get the angle of the whale right. So start off with the angle line. Try and match the angle in your reference, but remember it doesn't have to be perfect. From there we're going to put in the general shape of the whale, a little bit like a jelly bean. So it's a little bit higher. Then the starting angled line. And it's a little bit deeper below. And then we're just curving the tail up at the top. So it just looks like a little bit of a slug at the moment. But we're going to refine the shape from there. About halfway is where our first fin will sit. So we can put that in. It's got a few little bumps and changes of direction. Again, don't worry if it's perfect or not. People aren't super familiar with what whales look like. They're not something that we see every day. So if it's a little bit incorrect, it's really not going to matter. You'll notice that this fin is a lot bigger. It's almost double the length of that fin there, that's on the other side. Now the top of the head is quite narrow and it's got a little bump at the top and it goes back down. There's a little fin on the top of the back and then a little bit of a curve and a point to the tail. We'll do the tail at the end. At the front, There's a little bit of a bump for the lip, a little bump below. And then we can curve that belly in. Now to add in the tail, we're going to put a little bit of a straight line, then a bit of a banana bend. So it's going to go out and then bend slightly, we're going to match the angle of our starting line here. Putting a little vase shape and then just add the other side of the tail. This section of the tail here will be a little bit wider than that section there. If you need to, just pause the video so that you can see the image on the screen and you can catch up. Now let's put in our mouth. It follows the angle of our starting line. Then it's going to bend down just a little bit as if it was going to line up with feet. And then it follows along this angled line until it gets just about past this fin here. I'll draw this feeling a little bit darker. Because we're going to be putting a lots of watercolor. We can actually go quiet dark with our pencil lines here. Now we're going to add in the eye, which sits just in this little bend here. I'll just do it like a little swirl for now. And then that is literally all you need to do for your drawing. We are now ready to paint, just rub out your starting line or any other working lines that you might have. You can use a kneadable eraser or a normal eraser just to lighten your lines that you don't need, but keep your whale lines nice and dark. 4. Getting loose!: Before we get start painting, I just want to give you a little pep talk because today it's all about loosening up. So really I want you to worry less about your work. Just put it on and don't fuss about what it looks like. The best watercolorists actually don't care that much about their painting. And that's the great attitude to have in this exercise. Don't worry, put it on, I promise you it'll look good in the end and don't be a "wus" when it comes to using water here, we want to use plenty of it, slosh it on. Don't worry, your watercolor paper can handle it. 5. Wet on wet technique: To start, I'm going to squeeze out some of my phtalo turquoise, so it's nice and thick so you can get a bold background. Now for this bit, you really need to paint like the wind here. We're going to use some clear water and you're going to paint most of the background darker all the way up to your paper edge, but put water in most of the background except for your whale. I'm using a big brush here because we really want to go as quick as we can. Don't worry so much about painting perfectly around your whale, if you go over your pencil lines or you don't go right up your pencil lines, that's ok. The key here is to go as quick as you can to cover the top and the bottom. And you'll note that if you're covering the whole background by tilting your paper, if you tilt your paper, you'll be able to see the shiny surface of the water of the paper. And that will tell you if you've missed any spots. The key here is to use a natural hair brush and natural hair brushes going to hold a lot more water than a synthetic hair brush. Say plenty of water all the way around underneath on top of your whale. And if you're a little bit slower than I am, you might want to go scroll back up to the top to put a little extra cart of water on. Really fast here. Now you're going to use some of that Thaler color. And we want to move so that it's nice and strong. And you're going to adopt that onto some of your page. Even get a little extra water into it and you can squeeze your bristles of your brush out. So you gotta have some lovely big splatters. You can get some smallest gluttons with some paint and water on your brush. How the brush at the end and do little taps. This is why we've put some protection on our floor or nasdaq is it's around us. Make sure you add some splashes than some dots underneath your wireless as well. I don't do too many. Just enough that when we flip our board, it's all going to run straight down. You can move your board around different directions as well. And if it looks like it's going to drip over the top of your whale. Just get a little bit of tissue, some dry tissue and just dab up any sections that look like they're going to drip where you don't want them to do. If you get some argue, well, that is not a problem at all. Just keep dabbing up any drips that might go over the whale underneath. You can let them do whatever they wanna do. And once that's starting to dry, you can very carefully put your board down. If you have a few spots where it's perfectly white around your waile like I drew, just tap in a few extra dots of color. What we don't want to get is a halo around our whale. So just a few little extra spots, maybe a little extra water on them. And hold your board up again, add a little extra water to help them to flow. That's just if you get some spots around your whale that you don't want to leave white. Again, mop-up any drips that are forming above your whale. And you can leave them at the bottom underneath, that's fine. Once it's starting to dry, just pop that down and let it dry. 6. Overcoming the #1 mistake: While you're waiting for your ocean background to dry, I wanted to talk to you about how to avoid the number one mistake most watercolorists make. And that is not being bold and brave with your colors. To do that, we need to do what I call "moozsh, moozsh moozshing". When we want a light color, we use the white of the paper without paint. So if I just tap my brush once onto this paint, I have really mild color. Nothing too intense. But if I moozsh, moozsh, moozsh my brush, spinning on that color so that any dry paint becomes nice and thick. Or you can squeeze the paint freshly out of your paint tube so it's already thick. The more I moozsh moozsh moozsh, that darker and bolder, my color will be. So as we go through the layers on our whale, we want to get darker and bolder. So don't be afraid to "moozsh moozsh moozsh" or use thick paint freshly squeezed out a tube that you get a nice level of darkness. 7. Painting your whale: Now that the background is dry, I've propped my board up on a little bit of an angle. And just to help the water just to sit a little bit at the bottom as we paint. I haven't bothered to change my water. It's still dirty and blue, that is all fine. And I'm not worried about darker spots or bits where I've gone over the whale or I might have missed, sorry, painting right up to the whale. Don't worry about any of that. Remember, we're being loose, we're not caring as much about that, it's all going to look fine in the end. What is important though is that you squeeze out enough paint. So I've put out some fresh white, some fresh Pthalo turquoise, and some fresh alizarin crimson. You want to put out about a pea size or a little bit bigger. You don't want to run out of paint as you go through. It's really important that you squeeze it out enough. Remember watercolor you can leave in your palette and you can let it dry and just reactivate it again. So you're never wasting paint if you put out more than you need. To start off with, we're going to use some of that water, just the dirty water that you have. And we're going to paint that all over the whale. As long as your background is dry, you'll be fine. So when gotta go straight over the eyes, straight over the mouth. What you weren't be doing is painting over these fins just yet. So we're going to go around those. Just paint the body of the whale. Don't worry about the tail at this point either. So water all over the top, but not as much as we used when we use painted in our background. Then I'm going to get some of that Pthalo turquoise and just moozsh it down so it's a little bit thinner and lighter as you can see on the palette. We're then going to paint not right at the top, just below. So that's going to help it to bleed and leave us a nice light section at the top. So we're leaving the top and just painting some of that light Pthalo all the way down to the tummy. So I haven't got too much water on my brush at this point. I have enough to help it to flow. But we don't want to add so much water that it's starting to pool at the bottom. So just enough to let it to flow. And you can see that it started to bleed up to the top, which is perfect. Now I'm going to get a little bit more of that phthalo turquoise, but I'm going to make it a little bit thicker. So I'm adding a little bit more color and just enough water. So it's not sloshy or going to run along my palette. But it's not so thick that it's going to stay in place, either. Now we started painting just here. We're going to go a little bit below that line this time with a thicker Pthalo and you're following the shape of the body of the whale. So following that curve, I'll get a little more and then just start to paint down. Now, the humpback whales have a little lighter section of ribbing along their tummy. So we're going to leave that nice and light and white, well slightly lighter than the rest of the belly. So I'm just going to paint over this little section of what I had left there when I did my background. And now I'm going to get some of this Pthalo. I'm going thicker again. So it's getting pretty thick now. It's almost the consistency of straight out of the tube. And again, I'm just going starting a little bit below where I did the previous coat. And I'm following the curve of the body. I'm leaving this section whether the ribbing of the whale is. I might go a little higher into that bottom lip and then down into the belly. Now this time I'm going to use really thick Pthalo. So basically the consistency that it comes straight out of the tube and I'm adding a nice thick dollop of alizarin crimson. So that's our red, that's going to make this a purply color. And now we can stick just to the bottom of the whale, because that's in shadow because it's swimming in the ocean the light is coming from the sky. So we want it to be nice and dark underneath. And I might blend that up just into this middle line. And I did that at the end because the pigment on your brush starts to disappear as we get to the end of our section that we're painting. So you'll have less paint on your brush at that point. Now I'm going to rinse my brush and take most of the moisture off it, dabbing that on my tissue. And get some of my thick white. And I'm going to sit that just along the top. And that's going to hide any pencil lines. And it will bleed in with some of the color that we have below. And that will create that nice light effect coming from the top. If you get a little bit of a hard edge of a line like I have here. Just use a bit of a damp brush to take most of the moisture off. Get a little bit of your Pthalo. And just really lightly as if you're just touching the top of the paper with a bit of a whisker. Just start rubbing back and forward. And that's going to just put a little bit of moisture in the top and help it all to evenly flow. What you don't want to do is add too much liquid in there that you'll get a big watermark or what's known as a "cauliflower". Down here as well, that edge is looking just a little bit hard so I can do the same thing. Just enough water on my brush to help it to flow, but not adding too much extra water. Just going to re-wet this section, rub over the edge where it wasn't quite joining up how I want it to be or blending how I want it to be. And this leave it like that, just adding a little extra paint just to help that to be a nice blend or a transition of color. I think I can go just a little bit thicker down here. So I'm going to get more thick blue, more thick, red, really thick. And just add that in right along the belly because we want that bottom section to be really dark. And now while that's all drying, that's where we can we can get some of that dark color and put some dots in some little barnacles, little features. On our whale. We can put a little bit of an eye dot in. We weren't put the lip in just yet. I'm going to rinse my brush and I'm gonna do the exact same with the whites. So get some thick white, and just dollop that in, maybe a little liquid in your white if it's not bleeding enough, just add some little barnacles in while it's drying. It's okay if they bleed a little bit more, a little bit less. This is a great exercise to get to know your watercolor and how much you need on your brush. When you're adding little dots are barnacles like this. It's good to keep in mind to do little clusters of them, like a little group here, a little group there and then some sparse, ones there. Naturally your brain is going to want to try and make things evenly spaced and even sized. So it's a good idea to try and focus on doing clusters, having areas where there's no barnacles and then having a little clusters of barnacles and some sparse ones, as well. As that dries, we can start to do the same effect on our flippers. So it's basically the same technique. You're going to start off with just water first. And don't worry if some of your body bleeds in. Get a little bit of your Prussian blue, but a little bit more watery this time. We're not going to paint right on the edge. We're going to paint just a little bit back from it. And then get your thick Pthalo blue and your thick red. Or whichever color you're using. If you're using a different blue, that's fine. So as you go darker, you're going to go thicker with your paint. And you're going to paint that along just a little bit back from where you first painted. And always finish with a nice thick section or strip at the back. We'll do the same thing with the barnacles on that side. So get some thick white. You might want to put some water along this edge. And that's where you're going to clean up any of your pencil lines or any of the section where your background hasn't quite covered. And add some of the little bumps just with some thick white on the edge here. They'd have a little, few little bumps and textures on their fins here. And maybe add some little barnacles on the fin as well. We'll do the exact same method on the other side, so a little bit of water first. Don't worry about changing your water at this point, just use the dirty water that you have. A little bit of your blue slightly watered down, you're going to paint just back from the edge. And then get some of your thick blue with a little bit of red and paint that at the back. And then always finish with a nice thick bit of blue and red at the end. Just on that back edge. And before that dries, we're going to switch over to some nice white, clean white, put that over any pencil lines, add any little wobbly bits on the fin. And we can do that at the front of the whale as well. On it's little chin is some little bubbly bits. So I'm going to use my thick Pthalo and my thick red to paint those on. Just at the chin there. Now that this is mainly dry, I can use my brush with some of that nice thick mixture of blue and red together. And you can switch to a smaller brush if want, just really thinly. Just enough water on your brush to help it to flow. Just paint over your pencil line to put in the mouth. Paint over your eye, and put some of that ribbing in along the underside of the head. Now the ribbing is going to follow the curve of the body. You want to get this as thin as you can. So if you don't do a continuous line, if you do a little bit of a broken line like that, It's absolutely perfect. I'm going to add a few little barnacles on the fins here. Just to clean up some of the edges and use some of that dark that I have on my brush. I might put a little bit of thick white on the top of the back as well. You'll find with the white it does disappear. It ends up drying a lot lighter and a lot more transparent than you want. So sometimes you need to do a few coats and that's absolutely fine. While we've got the white on our brush, we might just put a really thin line along some sections of the lip. Or the mouth just to help it to sparkle and a few sections around the eye just to help that to stand out, really give us a little sparkle. All that's left to do now is the tail, which is the same technique, water first. Then a little bit of your Pthalo watered down and you're going to paint just below. Remember the light is coming from the top. And a little bit thicker of your blue, your Pthalo or Prussian, whichever blue you're using. Go a little bit thicker again. And then use your thick Pthalo and your thick red together to make a purple to really darken up this underside. So as you go darker, you need to use thicker paint. It'll be the consistency that it is as it first comes out when you squeeze it out of the tube, that's the consistency you want to use. And add a few little barnacles or shapes on the end of that. If you want, rinse your brush out, dab any extra water off, and use thick white along the top. And that will bleed down as well. Just to highlight that little bit of tail. And then from there, just have a check over your work, make sure that that the darks are dark enough and you've got some nice lights so that you're whale stands out from the background. Let it dry, and then you're done. 8. Final thoughts: How did you go? I would love, love, love, to see what you did, and to be able to give you any feedback. So please feel free to post your work onto the project gallery. And if you need any help or you have any questions or you want to see more of my work, jump onto my sorry shoes and send me a message. Remember, now that you know how to paint the well in the aeration thing, you can jump onto Google, find an image and apply it to your own choice of whale or to any other sea mammal that you choose to have. Give it a try, let me know how you guard and see you on the assertions.