Urban Watercolor Sketching on your iPad + FREE Digital Watercolor Brushes | Liz Kohler Brown | Skillshare

Urban Watercolor Sketching on your iPad + FREE Digital Watercolor Brushes

Liz Kohler Brown, artist | designer | teacher | author

Urban Watercolor Sketching on your iPad + FREE Digital Watercolor Brushes

Liz Kohler Brown, artist | designer | teacher | author

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5 Lessons (44m)
    • 1. Urban Watercolor Sketching on your iPad

    • 2. Downloads Password + Setting Up Your Document

    • 3. Watercolor Painting

    • 4. Complex Shapes

    • 5. Finishing Up and Changing Colors

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About This Class


I want to show you how to turn a photograph into an ink and watercolor sketch.  I’ll show you:

  • how I create an ink drawing of a photograph in Procreate.
  • how to paint over the ink drawing with watercolors to create an effect that looks like real pigment on paper.
  • how I use lightening and darkening methods to create variation that mimics real watercolor paints.

You don’t have to be good at drawing to take this class!  I’ll show you how to trace over a photograph, so you don’t have to worry about learning how to draw perspective or proportions.  Although if you love to draw by hand rather than tracing, you could certainly do that with this same technique.

This process will give you a great way to preserve a memory of a trip, or you could create a gift for someone that turns a picture of their home or neighborhood into a watercolor painting.  

I created 9 watercolor brushes and a watercolor texture paper that I want to share with you as a free download when you take this class (The password for the downloads is at the very beginning of Video 2). 

All you need is an iPad, and the app Procreate. I recommend the Apple Pencil since it is pressure sensitive, but you could also use a regular stylus for this class.


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Liz Kohler Brown

artist | designer | teacher | author

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1. Urban Watercolor Sketching on your iPad: Hi everyone. Today I want to show you how to turn a photograph into an ink and watercolor sketch. I'll show you how I create an ink drawing of a photograph in procreating and how to paint over the drawing with watercolors to create an effect that looks like real pigment on paper. I'll show you how to use lightening and darkening methods to create variation that mimics real watercolor paints. I'll also show you how to change the colors of your painting so you can come up with a perfect color palette for your finished piece. You don't have to be good at drawing to take this class. I'll show you how to trace over a photograph, so you don't have to worry about learning how to draw a perspective or proportions. Although if you love to draw by hand rather than tracing, you could certainly do that with this same technique. This process will give you a great way to preserve a memory of a trip. I'll be using two pictures from my trip to China and I chose a couple of pictures that have a lot of variation in terms of architecture, people, and other objects in the photos. You could also use this process to create a gift for someone by turning a picture of their home or their neighborhood into a watercolor painting. I created nine watercolor brushes and a watercolor texture paper that I want to share with you as a free download when you take this class. All you need to take this class is your iPad and an Apple Pencil or a stylus. I like the Apple Pencil because it's pressure-sensitive, but you could use any stylus. Let's get started. 2. Downloads Password + Setting Up Your Document: You can find all of the materials that I mention in this class in the about section of the class page, and here is the password that you'll need to access that page. The first thing we need to do is set up our document with the watercolor texture paper, and set up a few blending modes on each layer of paper so that the water color blends really nicely into the paper. I'm going to click "Create Custom Size." I'll choose inches, and then I'll just choose nine by 12 inches and I've got 300 DPI. You can make your canvas any size. This is just the random size that I chose that I know works well with the photograph I have. The next thing I'm going to do is click the "Toolbar" and click "Insert A Photo" and then I'm going to find my watercolor texture paper. That's something you can download from the course documents. Then I'll click the little "Expand" button on the bottom here. I want to make one note here, if this seems a little bit fast for you, or if you're not really comfortable with Procreate, you may want to start with my first class. I go over all the basics of all these tools in Procreate, and how to set up your document, and step backwards, and things like that. You may want to start with the first one if you're a beginner in Procreate. I've got my first layer down. I'm going to click the "N" symbol and I'm going to change this to Multiply. Now I've got one texture paper layer on Multiply. I'm also going to reduce the opacity here to about 50 percent or 60 percent. You can change this later, it just changes the lightness of the paper. This is totally up to you. Next, I'll swipe left and click "Duplicate" and then on either one of these layers, you'll click "Linear Burn". Now I've got two duplicate layers, one's on Multiply, one's on Linear Burn. I'm going to select one of them, click the "Move tool" and hit "Rotate" a few times. That evens out the shadows. There's a tiny bit of shadow on the paper, just like there would be on real watercolor paper, but, rotating that one time evens everything out. Now you've got a nice even document. The last thing I want to do is click the "Plus" symbol, move that new layer down, below these other layers and you're always going to paint below your paper layers. I'm going to set that layer to Multiply, and all your painting layers will be set to Multiply. Make sure every time you add a new paint layer, you just change that blending mode. Now that I have my document all set up with my texture paper, I've got Multiply layer, a Linear Burn layer, and they're both on about 50 percent. I'm going to create a new layer and this one can be on Normal, and this is where I'm going to insert my picture. I'll click the "Tool" symbol, click "Insert A Photo", go to My Photos, and I'm going to choose one here, picture that I took in China, and the reason I'm choosing this picture, is because it has a really nice balance of architecture and water. You'll be able to download both of the photos that I'll use in my demonstrations today from the link in the class description. If you want to use my photos just so you can use something to practice the technique, you can download those and you're free to use those for anything at all, personal use, commercial use, anything you want to use them for with this process. I might, pull this down a little bit. You can see there's a lot of sky up here. I might just let the top of my image be sky and let all of the weight of the image be at the bottom here. Let's go ahead and place that image. But you can see what I like about this picture is we've got a little bit of color down here. We've got a lot of different buildings at a lot of different angles, which makes for an interesting picture. We've got some water, we've got some trees, and then a huge swath of sky, which we can just use for getting some nice watercolor sky effect up there. I'm going to go to this layer and reduce the opacity a little bit. That'll make it a lot easier for me to see as I'm drawing. Then I'm going to create a new layer, and that's going to be my drawing layer. One thing I like to do, is swipe left on my picture and click "Lock". I don't want to accidentally paint on my picture because it's eventually going to go away. I want to make sure I never paint on that and locking is the easiest way to do that. I'm on my drawing layer. I'm going to grab a brush or inking pen that comes with Procreate. I really like the studio pen and that's because it has really nice line variation. If you press hard, you can get a dark, thick line, or you can press really lightly and get a thin line. It's almost like you have a lot of pens at once. I like that pen, but if you prefer a more steady line, you could get the graphic or the gel pen. You could use the technical pen, which has just a little bit of variation. Any of these pens up at the top here would be nice. I would recommend just playing around with them and seeing which one you like best. But I think for me, I'm going to go at the studio pen today. The first thing I want to do is decide what details do I want to keep, and what do I want to let go. There's a lot of detail in this picture, and I'm definitely not going to try to capture it all. But I'll probably start with just mapping out the biggest details. This home here, is really nice, and I'm going to go through and just map out the main portions of it, and you can see, I'm not trying to be perfect. I'm letting there be some little offset areas, just so it looks more natural. It looks like drawn from rather than tracing. Now, your style may be more tight and straight to the detail. That's perfectly fine. This is just my personal style. I'm going to go through and really loosely, map out some of these windows. I can always add detail in these areas later. But for now I'm just going to start with the big general details. I would start and go through and do the same process with all of these buildings, and then maybe go through and do the same thing with these trees. I'm not going to try to capture the trees perfectly. You can see I do a really rough line with the trees. I like to just, move my pencil really quickly, because the slower you go, the more forced it looks. I'm just letting it be loose in my hand, and just let the pencil's weight wobble the brush around. There's a place here where the tree goes off the page. I'm just going to guess and say, that's probably how that tree went, something like that. I'll speed up my video here while I trace the rest of this image, but you can see, I'm really just going around to the main shapes, choosing which details I leave out, and this is really going to be to your personal style. You can do this however you want. We'll pick back up when I finish this sketch. As you're watching this, I wanted to note that you can see I'm really loosely following what's in the picture. There's some places where I can't even see what's in the picture. I'll guess and take reference from other parts of the picture. Like with these doors, I could no way see the bars, so I just copied what was on the other doors. Feel free to use your artistic license here and totally make up parts that you can't see or that you don't like in the picture. Another thing I like to do is make sure that I vary my line a lot. I try not to make the same line over and over. I try to do it a little bit differently each time, and I think that adds a lot of variation to the piece and it makes it look less traced. It looks more like a hand-drawn piece, just like on these fabrics, you can see with the wrinkles, I tried to make the line really varied, and making sure it goes from thin to thick all the time. Has a lot of variation and a lot of boldness in the line. 3. Watercolor Painting: I'm done with this sketch. You can see that I've left out a lot of detail. I totally ignored all the reflection in the water, because I am not going to translate that into my picture at all. I just left the details in the background really loose, and let the details in the front being more prominent. That can help show the perspective just to have a lot of detail in front, and not as much in the back, just like you see it in the picture. I can make my picture invisible now, and I want to go ahead, and start painting watercolors. I'm going to create a new layer. I'm going to set this layer to multiply, just like we'll do for all of our watercolor layers. I'm going to totally forget what's in the picture, and just go with, what I feel like for this. I'm going to choose a nice blue for the water, and I think I'll go with a slightly darker blue. Then I'm going to grab my urban sketching brushes, which you can download from the class page. I'm going to choose my heavy bleed brush. I'm making sure I'm on that new layer that's said to multiply. I'm going to put my, Apple pencil down, and drag, and I'm not lifting. If you lift, and then start drawing again, you can really see the line where the new brushstroke was, and that's fine if that's the look you're going for. But for this one, I'm going to try to hold my brush down for the whole painting. You'll notice if you hold your brush down really lightly, you get a lighter stroke. Whereas if you really push down, you can get a much darker color. That's a little blotchy right now, but we're going to lighten that up. Don't worry too much about this first layer. That firstly, I'm going to duplicate it because I want to darken it a little bit. Then I'm going to merge those two layers, and grab my eraser tool with the cloud brush, and I'm going to go through, and just clean up these edges, lighten them a little bit, and create that really soft watercolor feel. You can see when I'm just dipping into this color, it fades it just enough that it really just disappears like a watercolor brush does when you have a lot of water on it. I'm going to do that on all these areas where it overlaps with my landscape. Then, I'll do that a little bit on this blotchy area just to clean it up a little. I can also get my blending tool with the cloud brush, and just blend these pieces together a little bit, and you don't have to do that. You may like the blotchy version, it's totally up to you. Next, I want to start working on my trees. I'm just laying down my major colors here. I'm choosing random colors that I like, but obviously, you could do this with any color. You can totally change the color of your piece. For this one, I'm going to grab the blunt edge controlled brush, on a medium size, and I'm going to go through, and just barely, go over the edge of these inclines where my tree is. I'm just going beyond the incline. I can do one tree at a time, or I can do them all at the same time. I think I'm going to do one tree at a time because I want each one to be a tiny bit different in terms of shade. You can see I made a mistake here,I put my tree on my same layer as my water, and that's not good. That means I can't duplicate my tree layer without messing up my water layer. I'm going to undo that, press the "Plus" sign, click "Multiply" to make a new layer, and now, I can start painting my trees. That's just something to keep in mind with this particular process. You really need to work on a different layer for each color that you do. I'm going to grab a slightly different color, green. Let's make it a little bit different. Go ahead, and paint this tree. I'm not worrying so much about going outside the lines because I can go back, and erase that later. I'm just letting it be like a real watercolor painting where it just goes outside the lines a little bit. I'm going to grab a darker green for this high tree, and I also let these overlap a little bit. I think if you're doing a real watercolor painting, you often overlap your color. I let that happen on the page 2. Let's get a really light green, for these trees in the back. Usually, with a landscape painting like this, you want the colors in the back to be a little bit lighter, but it depends on your style in the atmosphere, but for this one I'm going to go with lighter in the background. I'm just going around choosing a different green for each plant here, and I had some tiny little plants here. I'll color, and then one in the background. You can see I'm keeping this really loose. I can always erase later. I'm not worrying too much about how that looks at this point. I'm going to duplicate those trees, merge them together, grab my cloud brush, and start erasing in select areas. You can see that makes it nice watercolor variation. I tried to keep it really random. I don't come at the area from the same angle every time I try to switch around a lot. Let's duplicate that one more time, and go in with just a little bit more lightening. Okay, let's leave it at that we can always make that lighter later. Let's say you want to make that a little bit lighter, we can reduce the opacity. Let's stick with that for now. Now we can decide what we wanna do with the buildings. I would probably go with some different shades of tan and brown because that's how it was in the picture, and then these doors are really dark brown. Typically with this process you'll work dark to light, but that's not set in stone. You can totally change this to be however you like to work and play around with a lot of different options. Again, I'm not painting on a new layer, so I'm going to go back, get a new layer. You'll notice this is really easy to forget as you're working and you get really into the painting. It's not something you have to think about with a real watercolor painting. You just have to get used to thinking about that with this process. Same idea that I did with the trees, I'm going in and I'm selecting a slightly different shade for each building. Then I'll go back in with a darker shade and work on these roofs and the doors. You get the idea here, I'll speed up my video as I show you how I color this piece, but so I'm just laying down color in each new layer, duplicating the layer and then going through the cloud brush and erasing. I noticed as I was working on these doors that I actually missed a few black lines in my original drawing. That's totally fine because we can go back to the original drawing, get our black color, go back to the inking brush studio pen, make sure it's the same size, and we can just go through and add in anything we missed. That's the cool thing about this process. It's never too late to go back and fix something that you don't like. Now I've worked on painting all these doors, and I've got them on a separate layer from the houses. I could go ahead and paint all the doors and do them all at once but I think I like these doors on this house being a little bit different from some of the doors and windows on the others. I'm going to stick with all of these on one layer together. I've also realized I'd like to add a little bit of color to these, they're like really dull brown right now and I want to add a little bit of red. I'm going to go to the hue saturation and play around with what other colors could I get with this? I like that where it's getting a little bit of red in it. We could also increase the saturation to add the red. Okay, I think that looks a little bit better. That's a little more close to the actual color of this type of window. Another option I have here, because these interior pieces are actually glass. I'm going to go through with my eraser and my cloud brush here and let's get a sharper edge brush. I'm going to go through and not with the regular eraser because that would totally remove the pigment. I'm just getting a light blend edge controlled brush. That doesn't erase all of the pigment you can see it just creates a wash effect there. That makes a nice window color I like that. Go ahead and do this with all of the windows on all of the houses, and then do the same thing with the roofs as well. Let's go ahead and call that mostly finished. We could add in a sky or we could just leave that section blank, it's totally up to you. If you want to add a sky, we could grab just a nice blue gray here and get our heavy bleed brash and just do one big swath of sky. Or you could go in and create a sunset effect or whatever you wanna do here, this is totally up to you. I could keep going in and adding more detail of color. I could add a lot more detail with the drawing. Really it just depends on what you're going for here, but let's go ahead and call this piece finished. Something we could do here if we wanted to totally change this piece, it would we to merge all of our colored layers. Now we have all of our painting on a single layer, and I can click the hue saturation adjustments. I can go in here and totally change the color pallet of this piece. I can also change the saturation up and down. Sometimes something like that can be much more interesting than what you originally take from the photo. If you're not sure you want to commit to that, you can duplicate the layer, hide that first layer, so it's always there, and then you can start making new color layers. Let's say I like that purple layer. Let's bump up the saturation that looks cool. Then I'm going to hide that layer, duplicate the original layer, and bring it back. Then let's try it this way with the saturation up. Actually, let's take the saturation down I didn't like that so much okay, there we go. Now we have three different color options. We've got this pinkish color, we've got a more toned down mov, and we have our original color. I like doing that just to be able to see what are my coloring options. My original coloring that I did may not be the ideal thing for this particular image. 4. Complex Shapes: For this last project, I wanted to show you an image that has a few complicated issues with it since you may come across this when you work on your own photo. So we have a couple things that make this a little bit difficult; the bicycles, which have a lot of pieces and parts, and then the figures. Humans can be the hardest thing to capture in artwork, so I tend to go with the motto of less is more. If you try to create an exact replica of this person, it's probably going to either take a ton of time, or you're going to need to practice a lot. Whereas if you just do a general sketch or outline, it's going to be a lot more clear that you're just doing an abstract version of this person. So I'm going to grab my studio pen again with black, and I've got my image on about 50 percent opacity, and then I have a regular layer where I'm going to be painting, and I've got my image locked. So for this guy, I'm going to keep his features really simple. I like to start with the head and just do a really simple shape for the head, and then I'm just going to do the upper movement of his eyes and eyebrows. I'm not going to worry too much about getting the perfect shape of his features, or even mapping out all of his features. I'm really going to keep it just the dark pieces that show through here. I like to do the mouth and then the bottom lip, and that's about it. I really don't like to go too far with figures because the further you go, the more kind of forced it looks. So with this guy, once we zoom out, you'll barely even see his face anyway. So just having that tiny bit of detail is perfect. So I'm going to go through with this image and do the same thing I did with the last image. I'm going to map out the big buildings, and then I'm going to go through and get all the little details that are in the foreground, and some of the details that are in the background. So this person who's way in the background, she will get really vague features. Because she's so far in the background, I really don't need to give her a lot of detail. So when it comes to these bikes, I'm really just going to focus on the main parts of the bikes. The biggest areas, not all these little wires and extra pieces on the side. I'm just going to go for the main bars, seat, and wheels. So you can tell it's a bike, but it doesn't have to match the high detail that these bikes have. So go ahead and speed up my video while I work through sketching out this drawing. So just like with the last sketch, I'm really loosely tracing these pieces. I'm trying to do a lot of line variation and I am not worrying so much about high detail in the beginning. I'm really just mapping out the large shapes and getting an idea of what I want my composition to look like in the end. I wanted to make one note here about this window frame. So I kind of like the sketched look here. I like how it's really clear that I did this by hand. But let's say you want something a little bit more straight. This is a great function of Procreate. If you put your pen down and you draw, and don't lift your pen up, just hold it down for a second, a straight line will be created for you. So you can see even if I totally mess this line up, when I get to the bottom, it snaps to a straight line and I can move it around a little bit before I lift my pen up. So sometimes, if there's a lot of lines to cover, I may just go through and snap some of those down like this, and then let the details be more refined. You can make this look a little more hand-drawn by increasing and decreasing the pressure as you draw the lines. That way, even though you're kind of falsely creating a straight line, it still looks really varied because of the way you moved your pen. So on this one, I draw my line all the way down to the bottom, and then I've got this line through my handlebar. That's no problem. I'm going to grab my fine detail brush and just erase that, and then you'd never even know. That's a lot easier than trying to do two lines. Just do one and then erase anything you overlap. Okay, so I'll keep going with the rest of this sketching work. 5. Finishing Up and Changing Colors: Now that I have my photograph basically sketched out, I can make some changes here, I can add some extra lines or I can just leave it as it is. You can really keep this as a really simple sketch. I've actually found that the more detail you add, the less it accentuates the watercolor. If you really want to push the watercolor feeling and this just leave it as a really simple sketch. I do like to add a lot of details in a few areas that are spread across the painting. But in terms of the main middle portion, I tend to leave a lot of blank space for the watercolor. Let's go ahead and create a new layer, set to multiply. For this one, I'm going to start by coloring the most important parts. I think I'm going to go in first and do these lanterns. I've got my blend edge controlled brush on a small size. I think I'll do all the lanterns out once. This is a really key aspect of this photo. I want to make sure these really pop and that anything that comes after these is just an accent to show off the bright lanterns in the background. I'm doing the same process we did before, coloring just one single shade and then I'm going to come back in with these other layers to darken the shade because I want this to be a really bright red. I'll do the same process, duplicate this layer, merge it and I might duplicate it again. I want these to be a really bright red. Then I'm going to grab my cloud eraser brush with a somewhat small size and just go into each circle and do a little tiny bit of shading to bring out some of that watercolor texture. I try not to do any single piece the same as the last, so if I add a big white area to one, the next one I'll come in with a soft white area. That mimics the unpredictability of watercolor. I have those red places in the center here that are actually supposed to be gold. I'm going to grab my fine detail brush on a really small size and I'm just going to raise everything in the center here. Then I can come back through and paint this with a yellow. I'm going to put my yellow on a new layer because I want to be able to adjust that color really easily. If I put it on the same layer as the red, it's going to be a little difficult to make adjustments. I might just leave this as a light yellow though I like how that looks, but I may duplicate that at the end. We'll see. There's my lanterns. Now, I'm going to go through and work on these bicycles and the people on some other areas here. I'll speed up my video while I do this, since you get the general idea of coloring this in. I went through here with the heavy bleed brush and just did a really light wash on all of these buildings. That gives them a nice base to start with. Now I'm going to go through with my blend edge control brush with a slightly darker brown and really accent some of these wooden areas. I'm just going to choose some doorways and some random passages here that I'm going to allow to be darker. Then I might get a slightly different brown. Let's get a reddish brown here and fill in this top area. I'm trying to just incorporate a lot of different shades. I don't want to make this whole street the same shade because obviously it would be a lot of different colors, just like it is in the photograph. I'm trying to just start with one base brown and then go through with a few different shades of brown in different areas and just pull out little sections that I think are important, like this nice little beams here, I might color those and lintel. Then there's some little doorways that I like, maybe that's a wooden beam supporting the building. You can see that this is totally different from the picture. I'm not trying to copy the picture, I'm trying to totally make this my own. You can look at the picture and try to copy it, that's a good practice too. But for me, in this case, I really just want to capture the feeling of the street not so much perfectly mimic everything in the picture. If we want to darken up those new accents that I made, I'm going to make sure those are set to multiply. If you ever notice that your stuff is looking a little bit flat and it's not really looking like watercolor, it's probably not set to multiply. That's duplicated one time. Let's stick with that and go through with the cloud brush on that new layer and do a little bit of erasing here, just to bring a little bit of variation in. That looks nice. For the street, we had a cobblestone street. Let's just start with a gray and see how that looks. I'll make a new layer, multiply, I'm grabbing my heavy bleed brush, and I want to just dirty up the street a little bit. No street looks this clean, so I'm just going to add in some roughness. I'm not going to worry about overlapping my watercolor too much, I'm going to let this part of the street be really rough. We can go even darker with that or we can just leave it at that. We can decide as we go. I'm not sure how I want to deal with that yet, so I'll leave it. I do think I want to come in with a really blue sky in the background though, so I'm going to set this layer to multiply. I've still got my heavy bleed brush and I'm going to come in from the top. I'm not going to worry about overlapping some of this stuff, because it's going to be really easy to erase it. I'm just going to really let my sky bleed into the background here. Let's make it super blue. Then I can grab my brush with the fine detail eraser and just really gently come in and erase that off of my architectural pieces. I'll keep going with this. I'll speed up my camera for the rest of the painting, but I'll show you the final piece at the end. I'm just going to fill in the remainder of this so there's not a lot of white areas. I like to go ahead and at least put some light color down on every area even if I don't fully color it in. Then the last step is just playing around with the hue like we did in the first piece, playing around with the saturation a little bit and just trying to find a color scheme that works. I landed on this one, a vintage pastel tone. I hope you enjoyed this class and that you're ready to start turning your photographs and your watercolor paintings. If you liked in this class you may like some of my other classes where I cover a lot more ways to design and paint on your iPad, like how to paint, wash, and procreate using the free downloadable brushes I created. Check those out on my profile if you want to see more. Also, I share a lot of free downloads on my site, so if you want to get more downloads like the ones you got for this class, check out my website. I would absolutely love to see the words that you make after you watch this class. If you can share it as a project image or tag me on Instagram or Facebook, I would so much love to see what you make. Bye.