Painting a Bird in Vivid Watercolours | Tips and Tricks to Painting Bright Images | Annika Theron | Skillshare

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Painting a Bird in Vivid Watercolours | Tips and Tricks to Painting Bright Images

teacher avatar Annika Theron, Illustration | Painting | Digital Art

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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

20 Lessons (39m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. Class Project Description

    • 3. Tools and Materials

    • 4. Stretching Your Paper

    • 5. General Principles of Watercolour

    • 6. Preparing Your Image

    • 7. Discussing Masking Fluid

    • 8. Masking Fluid_Layer 1

    • 9. Painting_Layer 1

    • 10. Painting_Layer 2

    • 11. Masking Fluid_Layer 2

    • 12. Painting_Layer 3

    • 13. Painting_Layer 4

    • 14. Painting_Finishing Touches

    • 15. BONUS: Painting a Background

    • 16. BONUS: Masking the Bird

    • 17. BONUS Wash 1

    • 18. BONUS Washes 2 & 3

    • 19. Finishing Up

    • 20. Wrap - Up

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About This Class

In this class, you will learn how to paint a bird in bright vivid watercolours.

While painting a bird, you will learn how to layer your watercolours, use masking fluid, stretch your watercolour paper, and as a BONUS, how to create a gradient wash.

Building up watercolour is a fun process and doing it correctly will prevent dull and muddy colours. You just need to understand some general principles of watercolour and learn the right steps to achieve your desired outcome.

This class is orientated to more intermediate painters, who already know the basics of watercolour. However, anyone is welcome, of course:)

Meet Your Teacher

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Annika Theron

Illustration | Painting | Digital Art


Illustration | Painting | Digital Art


I'm a self-taught artist, working in multiple mediums.

When I'm not busy making art, I'm out hiking or busy learning new things.


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1. Introduction: Welcome to this class on painting vivid watercolors. Tips and tricks on how to create bright images. My name is Annika and I'll be your teacher today. We will learn how to create vivid images by bolding up multiple layers. We will also learn how to stretch our paper to keep it from boggling, how to use masking fluids, and as a bonus, how to make a gradient wash to use as a background in your paintings. This will be a fun project-based class act with insights that you can follow along with step-by-step. Join me in this very special class and together, let's create something that you can be proud of. 2. Class Project Description: This class will be based on painting a lilac-breasted roller in vivid colors. We will learn how to stretch our paper, build multiple layers, and create gradient wash as a background. When practicing watercolor, it's easy to stop too early on in the process or to simply give up just because the result doesn't always look as you expected it. We often underestimate how many layers it takes to create a truly vibrant watercolor. Chances are, if you're not satisfied with your result, it's probably because you're not finished yet. In this class, you'll get the opportunity to follow along step-by-step as I paint a lilac-breasted roller from beginning to end. This will give you a better understanding of all the steps that is necessary to complete a watercolor painting. You'll also get an idea of how long it truly takes. Note that there will be a lot of waiting time in between as we have to wait for our different layers to dry. You can use this time to practice some of the things you are unsure of, or to watch ahead to see what will happen next. Once you're comfortable with the techniques and have a better understanding of the entire process, you can follow along in real-time, stopping the videos when needed. In the next lesson, we'll take a look at the tools and materials you'll be using. 3. Tools and Materials: Just to give you a heads up, there will be quite a lot of things that we'll be using. Depends a lot, you probably already have these things. If not, then this will give you a good idea of what it takes to create watercolors. First, let's talk about the paper. I'm using 300 gram pure cotton of pressed paper. What this means is that paper is quite thick and has a smooth surface. If you prefer more texture on your paper then try couple pressed. The pure cotton is more absorbent than say wood pulp and helps a great deal when you use a lot of water. It allows you to play around with your color a bit before it gets sucked into the fibers of the paper. If you don't have this type of paper, just use what you have lying around. Test it out, and if you don't like the results, just try something different in the future. I used to only paint in sketchbooks, but the paper keep on buckling and I've found that the color seeped into the fibers too quickly. When you use stronger paper like I just described, you will have to stretch it out beforehand, so it can take a lot more water and not buckle in the process. We'll innovate how to paper to take up a lot more color, which will lead to bright vivid colors. Let's talk about stretching our paper. To stretch out paper, we will need a large container or in my case, just use a bath tub. We'll also need a board to mount your paper on and some gum tape to keep it in place. I will explain how to use these things as we get there. You will also need some scissors to cut the gum tape with and a sponge to wet it. Gum tape gets activated by water and that enables you to stick your wet paper onto the mounting board, but more on that later. Alternatively, you can also try stapling your paper to the board or use masking tape. But that has never worked for me. For the painting process, you'll need two big containers with clear water. The one will be to wash your brushes in to remove excess paint, and the other one to ensure that you have clean water to put in your brush for a new layer. You can use a paint of your choice. I prefer to use tubes which are squeezed out in a palette like this. You basically leave it to dry and then you have your palate always ready. You can just activate it by spraying some water on it and then you're good to go. You'll probably have to clean up this section to start a new painting. But I actually like to leave some of my old paint on it, because you can just use it for the next painting. For my brushes, I just use some round brushes. You'll need a big one, especially for your washes and then a smaller one, and then my favorite is a line brush. This works great for creating long fine lines, like maybe some small tweaks or failures in this case. Then something I also really like is a fan brush, but we won't really use it in this project. Next up, this we can consider masking fluid. You get different types of masking fluids, some are removable and some are permanent. I use a removable because I want to take it off at the end. What masking fluid does, it keeps some of the areas white. This is especially harmful when you want to create highlights. To make your masking fluid practices a bit easier, I suggest you get two small containers, a syringe, a drop of dish washing liquid, and some clean water. Just take note of that for now. We will discuss it in more detail in an upcoming lesson. Additionally, I also like to use them in connect, to create finer details with my masking fluids. Then lastly, regarding the image we'll be painting, you'll need a scrap of paper to draw your image on. In my case a little bird. For that, you'll need a pencil and an eraser. If you don't want to make your own drawing, you're more than welcome to download the outlines to this image under the resources tab. To transfer image to the, watercolor paper, you will need carbon paper and a pen. Again, we will talk more about this in an upcoming lesson. Just from my side, try not to be too overwhelmed by this list. We will tackle each task as we go along. If you don't have all the materials, just follow along to the best of your ability with what you have. Keep the extra materials in mind, and the next time you're in an arts and crafts store, buy something extra for your collection that you can try out in the future. In the next lesson, we will learn how to stretch our watercolor paper. Once we're done and waiting for our paper to dry, we will move on to a quick lesson on some general principles of watercolor. Let's get started. 4. Stretching Your Paper: Here I have a piece of 300 grams hot press pure cotton watercolor paper, that I cut from a bigger sheet. Again, use what you have, and depending on the results, try something different in the future. Underneath, is a piece of wood from an arts and crafts store, to which I will mount my paper using a gum tape. Cut the gum tape into four pieces, long enough to be pasted around the edges. To make it easier, I suggest that you draw a light border about a centimeter from the edge using a pencil and ruler to serve as guidelines, the way you want to paste your gum tape. Remember, you won't be able to completely remove the gum tape and those areas will either have to be cut away or hidden underneath a frame. Soak your paper in a container, or if you don't have a big enough container, use a bathtub. Use the edge of your nails to press it down to prevent making fingerprints on your paper. Make sure your tub is clean, with no soap or oily residues that might negatively affect your paper. Let it soak for about three minutes after which you turn it around and soak it again for another three minutes. Again, try not to leave any fingerprints. Now that it is soaked through, gently place it on your board and get ready to activate your gum tape. I use a moist sponge to wet the underside of the tape. Take it about a centimeter from the edge or use your guidelines if you made any. Now, go ahead and do the other three sides. When you're done, leave your paper to dry completely. You might have to wait overnight. While you're busy waiting for your paper to dry, let's move onto the next lesson where we will talk about some general principles of watercolor. 5. General Principles of Watercolour: When we work with watercolor, we can add color, but we can't take any away, which means we start from lights and go darker. This means that you'll have to know, in advance, which areas you want to keep lighter and also which areas you want to keep white for highlights. Another thing to take note of is that watercolor is very translucent, which means underlying layers will shine through the layers put on top of it. This is what makes it great for layering and it is through this technique of layering that you will create vibrant colors by creating thin layers upon layers. The bottom layers will shine through creating a beautiful rich image. This [inaudible] takes quite a while as we have to wait for each layer to dry in between and for the paper to dry in between layers. It is important that you follow the steps and wait for the paper to dry completely before moving on to the next one. Not waiting for your paper to dry completely between layers will just end in a dull muddy result. So it's important to be patient throughout the process. In the next lesson, we'll quickly go over how to prepare your image. 6. Preparing Your Image: To prevent your watercolor paper from damaging, it's always better to draw your image on a separate piece of paper first where you have the freedom to erase and make changes. Now again, you can either sketch your own bird or you can use the outline provided under the resource tab. Once you're happy with your image, then you can transfer it to your watercolor paper. I do this using carbon paper. If you're not familiar with carbon paper, then go ahead and take a look at lesson 8 from my other class, Toning and Shading, how to draw a bird on a branch. In this lesson, I'll show you how to transfer an image using carbon paper. Now remember to wait until your paper is completely dry before you do this. When you're ready, I'll see you in the next lesson. We will discuss how to use masking fluid. 7. Discussing Masking Fluid: Masking fluid or resist is used to cover areas of your painting that you want to protect from the paint. You can either apply it before starting to paint to keep some areas white or at different layers to keep the underlying layer protected from any further paint added on. In this painting, we will use it mainly to keep white areas white. As mentioned earlier, I use removable masking fluid that you can lift from your paper when you're done. Here, I have an old brush that I used to mask out bigger areas. If you don't clean your brush properly, the masking fluid will dry in the bristles and you won't be able to remove it. Most of the time, I use my liner brush to get finer details. Because this is my favorite brush, I make sure to clean it properly so that no masking fluid gets stuck on it. Lastly, to achieve very fine lines of masking fluid, I use an ink knob. This works great and can be cleaned easily by just wiping the fluid from it or waiting for it to dry and simply cleaning it off. Masking fluid starts drying the moment it gets into contact with air. To keep it from drying out, don't use it straight from the bottle. Either pour a little bit into a small container or in my case, I take a little bit at a time using a syringe. This allows me to squeeze out only a small amount at a time while the rest stays intact without drying. This is the container I'll be using for the masking fluid. Is just an old milk bottle gap. In the second gap, I have a drop of dish-washing liquid that I will use to clean my brushes with. Not shown here is some clean water that I'll use to rinse after using the soap. In the next lesson, we'll start applying the masking fluid to the areas that we want to keep white. 8. Masking Fluid_Layer 1: Here I have a little lilac-breasted roller in the bottom left. These guys can be seen in certain areas here in South Africa. And you always see them as these bright spots of color standing out against the [inaudible]. On the screen I have a reference photo. I don't own this photo so I cant provide it for download. But if you take a look under the project discussion tab, you will see a link to a Pinterest board with more of these guys. In the photo, you will notice all the white feathers and the wide spot in the eye, these are the areas we'll be covering with masking fluid to keep white until later on. Here I have two small containers, one for the masking fluid, and one containing dishwashing soap to clean my brushes with. Just removing some old gunk here. I squirt a little bit into the one container. I'm going to start with my line brush for the fine lines of the feathers. This is one of my favorite brushes, and I don't want to mess it up, so I'll be sure to wash it regularly in-between. Using quick strokes, I make fine lines for the feathers. Be sure to wash it frequently so that the masking fluid don't get stuck on your brush. For larger areas, I use an old brush that I only either use for masking fluid. You can see that it has seen better days. I'll just quickly shade it here, on the head, even though the fine liner, would have been fine in this example. Now another technique degrade even finalize, is to use an ink nib. At first, I'm just using ink to create some rough edges around the big blob on the head. This will help the area to blend in once you remove the masking fluids. On the rest of the head, I used an ink nib to make extremely fine lines that will serve as some highlights at the very end. I'm going to make this guy really scruffy, with lots of feathers poking out. I'm also using it on some of the breast feathers and down on the tail. Remember, you can always add color lighter if you feel like you've lost that too much. Now we wait for it to dry completely and then we'll move to the next lesson. We will repaint our first layer. 9. Painting_Layer 1: Finally, we get to the painting board. I start by wetting the entire bird. Make sure to stay within the lines because the paint will go where the water goes. Now, looking at the lightest colors on a reference photo, I'm going to drop in some very diluted pink and blue and yellow. Don't worry about the exact colors that I'm using. Just play around with what you have. It's always a good idea to test on another piece of paper. At this point, however, the color is still so light that you can't really miss it out. Remember it will look much lighter when it's dried as well. Try to refrain from dripping in too much color. This will come in later layers. Now, we are just creating the faintest tints for the lighter areas of the bird. Here I'm just wetting the feet at the branch. The paper was a bit dry there, so I went in with a clean brush to add some more water. There we go, layer 1 done. Leave it to dry completely. Then let's go over to the next lesson. 10. Painting_Layer 2: Now that it's completely dry, let's move on to the second layer. Again, I start by wetting the entire bird. We can now go in with a slightly less diluted pink. This is what I love about water color. Just look at those beautiful patterns forming. Here I mix a bit of orange in with my pink for the upper breast and the side of the head. Try not to disturb what you have already put down too much, just let it do its thing. In the head, I see a bit of the green grayish tint. I'm basically just using some dirty paint water on my palette for this area. On the wings, I'm dropping a yellow ochreish color. You can also blot out areas with clean [inaudible] paper. I only add dark blues, so I diluted a lot and mix in a bit of green to try and get a turquoise color. I'll do that again later in the future layer. Again, try not to go overboard. We are only in the beginning stages and we will add more color as we go along. Dropping in a rich blue, I start focusing on the darker feathers. Again, resist the urge to do too much work with your brush. Let the paint run. If you feel like you've put too much paint on, simply drop clean water on your painting, and the water will move the paint to side. Here, I'm also going ahead dropping in some darker purple. Careful with the beak. You don't want the black to run all over the face. Just drop a little bit in at the tip. I'm leaving the eye for now, because my paper is too wet, and it will end up running over the whole face. Stop before you overwork this layer and let it dry. There you see, I couldn't leave it, I had to drop in one more splash, and that's too close to the eye so I've add a drop of clear water. There we go. See you for the next layer in the next lesson. 11. Masking Fluid_Layer 2: Before we bind the next layer, I'm going to put a bit more masking fluid on some of the feathers. This will help define the borders between feathers when we add more paint later on. Again, I'm using the ink nude to just put in thin layers on the sides of the feathers where I think the [inaudible] will catch it. I'll see you in the next lesson when we will paint our next layer. 12. Painting_Layer 3: Again, I start by wetting the entire bird. Now we can start painting with thicker color. Larger brush with enough paint to get vivid colors. Remember don't over saturate your page because we still want the light colors from underneath to show through. Notice how the masking fluid is pushing the blue away. Here I'm just adding some green to give the illusion of turquoise. I'm just darkening the feet and the twig bed, but I'll work more on them in a later lesson. Stop here and let it dry. Once you're done, go over to the next lesson. 13. Painting_Layer 4: Before we go further, it's time for us to remove the masking fluid. I made a mistake though, I was supposed to paint the eye before removing it. So try to keep the speck in the eye intact if you want to follow along. Otherwise, skip ahead a few minutes to where I paint the eye. Do that and then come back. You can use a new razor to help you gently remove it. Make sure your paper is completely dry, otherwise it might rip. Because I put it on so thinly, it's quite hard to peel away without using an eraser. Again, we try not to touch the paper too much. Notice the areas we've unveiled under the masking fluid is much too bright. You want to keep most of the white that will blend it in a bit more as we go along. Now I'm wetting the area of the eye and the beak, so we can give this little guy a face. Yes, it is here that I realized that I should have done this part before removing the masking fluid to keep the white speck in the eye. Keeping that in mind, I'm just painting around the area where I want the white spot to be. I'm just using clear water to blend the beak with the face. Careful in the eye area, you don't want your eye to go running away like mine is about to. Now it's time to put in more darker areas. Instead of painting the entire bird again, I'm just doing it section by section. After wetting the area under the tail feathers, I apply thick glue with a blurred line consistency. Now if you leave it like that, It will just dry as a hard line and that's not what you want. By taking a clean brush and wetting the area around the line, starting from further away and moving closer, we can create a softer edge. I'm using the same technique to create some feather outlines. Always soften your edge to one side, so that it can be blend in. I will carefully rub the white areas to keep them light. Using my liner brush with very little paint on it, I lightly make lines to give the illusion of feathers. Knowing how much paint to put on your brush and how wet to make your paper, is something you get a feel for over time. Once you understand how your paint will dry, it gets much easier to paint. It's something that comes with practice and gets easier over time. Just a reminder, it is easy to fall in the trap to think that your painting will look like this after applying only one layer of paint. As you've seen so far, it takes many layers to build up vivid colors like this. The bottom layers were necessary to serve as the lighter areas in between. Omitting those steps will result in a dull, flat painting. Here on the wings, I'm making it darker in the areas where the feathers meet. The trick is to have one hard line to define an edge, while the other side blends into the surroundings. With a fine brush, gently lay down the light grays, but be careful to keep the white areas left by the masking fluid visible to give the illusion of fine feathers. Using the reference photo, I'm just painting in some details around the eye using very little paint. Making some areas even darker and redefining some of the feathers again. I give the branch a bit more definition by darkening the bottom side. With the feet again, I make a line to define the digits with one hard edge and one soft edge. I wasn't happy with the feet, so I made another digit and drew the twig a bit larger to cover up some of the other toes. This is why it's important to make sure you're happy with your sketch beforehand because you can easily mess things up at this point. That wraps up this lesson. Let your painting dry, and then move on to the next lesson where we'll make some finishing touches. 14. Painting_Finishing Touches: We're getting there. I think a lot of people stop at this point, and wonder why their painting doesn't quite look like it should. The simple answer is, that it isn't done yet. There are still some details to add into. Here, I'm going back to the eye to add some brown I can see in the reference photo. I'm also making the black darker and doing the same with the beak. Again, I'm darkening on the underside of the dull feathers, just to help them stand out. Again, I'm just using very little paint on my brush, which is quite dry and making these fine lines for the feathers on the belly. Now I'm doing the side with the fine feathers on the head. There you go, the bird is finished. Coming up next, are a few bonus lessons, in which we will paint the background. 15. BONUS: Painting a Background: Now before we start with the bonus material, I would just like to add a little note. Usually, I would suggest to paint the background first, that is masking up the bird before painting it, doing the background, waiting for it to dry and then painting the bird afterwards. I didn't do this because initially I didn't plan on doing a background. This was actually the first time I painted a picture, the bird, and think of editing masking fluid completely. Now I noticed when I removed the masking fluid at the end, it did pick up a little bit of the color. It still worked out fine though, but it's just something to take note of in the future. With that being said, let's move on to the bonus material. 16. BONUS: Masking the Bird: Here I'm taking an old brush that I only use for masking fluid. Be extra careful to keep within the lines. Once I'm done with the entire bird, I'll go in with a fine brush to add more detail around some of the edges. Note that the thicker you apply the masking fluid, the easier it will be to peel off. Here I'm just using the ink net to create some fine feathers around the head and breast. When you're done, leave to dry and meet me in the next lesson where we will do our first wash. 17. BONUS Wash 1: Okay, great. Now that the moistening fluid has dried, let's start with the sky. You'll need a big brush and some clean towel paper. Make sure you have clean water because we're going to wet the entire paper this time. Makes sure it's completely wet throughout. You're going to be needing a lot of paint for this. Make sure to completely load your brush. Tilting your paper, start at the top and make straight horizontal line. It's important that you gather the entire length of the page from side to side. Do this about five times while moving down the page. Load your brush with color each time. After about the fifth line, dip your brush in the water instead of your paint and keep on making horizontal lines moving downwards. Now will be a good time to have your paper towel ready. Because of the bird, it's difficult to get a smooth gradient, so make sure the water doesn't collect at funny places but smooths out evenly. To get rid of the distinct line, I went back and added more water after which I moved down again. Place something underneath your board to keep it tilted and use a dry brush to lift out any pools that might have formed. Leave to dry and meet me in the next lesson. 18. BONUS Washes 2 & 3: Just look how pretty it dried. Notice that it's much lighter now that it's dried. With clean water, let's go ahead and wet the entire page again, every bit what we have done with the first wash. First, using a saturated brush, making straight horizontal lines, and then using only water as you move downwards to let the color run its own path. Remove any excess pools of water that might have formed and wait for it to dry, and then repeat another one or two times until you're happy with the results. If you're using 300 gram paper like this, it should be able to take about five layers or even more, so don't worry about your paper tearing. In the next lesson, we'll finish up our project. 19. Finishing Up: Now that everything is completely dry, let's remove the masking fluid. Yes, it's quite satisfying peeling it off, isn't it? All that is left is the gum tape. Be careful not to rip your paper and leave the pieces that are too tough to remove. You can always [inaudible] away or hide it underneath a frame. In the last lesson, we'll just do a quick wrap up and share what we've learned. 20. Wrap - Up: Great. Now that you've finish your picture, please go ahead, and upload it under projects to share with the community. Today we go with some watercolor basics, masking fluid, how to stretch your paper, and how to create a vivid watercolors by building up layers, and as a bonus, we learn how to create gradient wash. If you have any request for future lessons, drop me a comment. Please go ahead and check out my other classes. Until next time, have a good one.