Simple Watercolor Techniques: Make a Personal Mandala | Ria Sharon | Skillshare

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Simple Watercolor Techniques: Make a Personal Mandala

teacher avatar Ria Sharon, Practice Makes Better.

Watch this class and thousands more

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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

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Lesson 1: Supplies


    • 3.

      Lesson 2: Dry Surface


    • 4.

      Lesson 3: Flat Wash


    • 5.

      Lesson 4: Gradients


    • 6.

      Lesson 5: Textures


    • 7.

      Lesson 6: Blending


    • 8.

      Lesson 7: Resists


    • 9.

      Mandala Demo


    • 10.

      Parting Gifts


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About This Class

Join artist/illustrator, Ria Sharon for this fun 20-minute exploration of watercolor techniques. You’ll learn how to make flat washes, gradients, and a variety of textures — all while she demonstrates how to make a personal mandala.

In seven short lessons, Ria shares her thoughts on:

  • Managing water and pigment
  • Water is your friend: how to harness its natural properties
  • Art for self-expression and self-awareness

This class is great if you want to add watercolor to your arsenal of techniques as a designer or illustrator or, just for the pure fun of playing with watercolors!

Watch to the end to receive Ria’s mandala templates! What you’ll need:

  • a starter watercolor set
  • a round brush and a square brush
  • watercolor paper
  • a light box

Follow Ria on Instagram and sign up for Secret Sketches, her free weekly behind-the-scenes/inspiration email.

Meet Your Teacher

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Ria Sharon

Practice Makes Better.


There is no path to mastery that does not involve doing something over and over -- that's been my experience as an artist and illustrator!

So I encourage my students to take small consistent steps by creating bite-sized classes that make art a simple, easy, daily practice -- one that is joyful and fun!

I occasionally post what's in my own sketchbook on a brand new Instagram page. If you're interested in what goes on in my art-making process behind-the-scenes, join my private Secret Sketches group. That's where I share things that are not ready for the interwebs yet. :)


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1. Intro: In this class, you will learn seven different Watercolor Techniques, and then I'll show you how to incorporate them all into an illustration project. In this case, a personal mandala. I'll cover the difference between painting on dry paper versus wet, how to make flat and textured washes, how to make gradients, how to blend and layer colors, and how to use salt and masking fluid. You can follow along with me and recreate my mandala step - by - step with the template I provide, or you can make your own design. In the last video, I'll share additional templates with you so you can continue to experiment and have fun with them. This class is perfect if you're just starting out using watercolors, or if you already enjoy using watercolors but want to learn different techniques and apply them intentionally into a composition. So if this sounds like you, click enroll and let's get started. 2. Lesson 1: Supplies: In the next eight Bitesize lessons, I'm going to demonstrate how to achieve seven different effects with watercolor. For this purpose, I've created a practice sheet by taking a piece of cold press watercolor paper and taping it to some cardboard. You'll want to do this anytime you work with watercolor, because it prevents your paper from warping as different parts gets saturated with different amounts of water. I have a variety of brushes handy, but to be honest I usually end up using just one or two. I have two glasses of water, one to use for paint and the other to rinse. I have a basic set of watercolor paints, this is a travel paint set made by Koi. I also have some two paints, but I want you to know that unless you want to become a true watercolor master you don't have to invest in super expensive watercolors just yet. You'll also want a cleaning paper towel close by. 3. Lesson 2: Dry Surface: This technique involves applying paint to a dry surface. With the damped brush, I'm going to mix up enough paint to fill the area that I want to cover. Because my paper is dry, note how the paint will not flow easily. I have to push and drag it into all the areas I want to cover. That also allows me to have the most control over the paint. You can actually see the brush strokes, that's how rigid the paint is on a dry surface. 4. Lesson 3: Flat Wash: Next, I'm going to demonstrate how to get a flat wash. I'm going to take a clean brush and wet the surface with just a little water. The secret here is how much water to use. You want just enough so that you have a shiny surface on your paper, but not enough that it forms a bubble. That's a sign that the paper has reached its saturation point, and that's generally too much. Then I'm going to load up my brush with paint and drop it right in the middle. The water helps carry the pigment and it spreads much easier to all the areas that were previously wet. I feel like this technique is the essence of watercolor. Water is your friend, and you can use the properties and behaviors of water to help you achieve what you want. You can add pigment knowing that the water will help you spread it. You can also remove pigment by drawing off your brush and letting the water soak back into your brush and taking pigment with it because that's what water does, it goes from wet to dry. I'm adding and removing color in this space that I've defined to create a flat wash. Another way to think of it is that water is creating a channel for your pigment. The pigment will only travel in the areas where the water is, and we can use this to our advantage. 5. Lesson 4: Gradients: In order to create a gradient effect, I'm going to again harness the natural behavior of water. This time, I won't moisten the whole surface of the circle as I did before. Instead, I'll start at the top, adding paint at the top of this circle, like the dry technique in less than two. Then I'll add water to the edge and use that water to pull down the pigment, because remember, the paint will go where there's water. But since I'm not moving all the pigment, just some of it, the proportion of water to pigment changes over the surface area. It gets more and more transparent and hence the gradient. You can use this same technique to blend colors together to get a soft transition between colors. I'll start with the blue at the top of this circle again. This time at the bottom, I'll add red, and then as I add water, red and blue make purple. Although it's mostly water in this case, so it's quite diluted purple. 6. Lesson 5: Textures: I'll start, once again, by pre-wetting, the area that I want to work on. Then I'm going to drop various pigments in this area to create an organic texture. You can see how different this is compared to the flat wash right next to it, even though the technique is actually similar. I'm just using different colors and deliberately adding more pigment to areas than others. If you want to lighten areas, you can blot with a paper towel or take a clean brush and draw some pigment out, or you can add water to an area and therefore change the pigment to water ratio, essentially diluting it. Another way to dilute water is by adding salt. It creates a great effect simply from the random way the particles land on the surface. So you can experiment with cold sea salt or finer table salt and see what happens. Leave the salt on the paper until the paint is completely dry and then brush it off gently. 7. Lesson 6: Blending: There are two ways to blend watercolors. The first is when the paint is still wet, and the other is when the paint is dried. What's the difference? Let me demonstrate. If you lay down two colors next to each other, but they are not touching, they will remain isolated because of the channel effect we talked about in lesson three. Once you break the seal, so to speak, those two colors will start to flow together. One of the magical effects of watercolor is that you don't control exactly how the paint will behave. There are all physical things going on on a molecular level that will move individual paint particles around. The more water is involved, generally, the more unpredictable it is. As a rule, water will flow from wetter areas to drier areas. That's what creates the blooms that you see here. This is very different from what happens if you blend two colors when the first is already dry. When I add this green to the orange area that I painted earlier, you can see the color underneath because watercolor is transparent, but it's not blending in the same way as wet on wet. It's layering instead. This is an important technique to have in your toolkit. 8. Lesson 7: Resists: You might remember doing resists in kindergarten using crayons and then brushing poster paint or watercolors over them. Anything that will repel water can be used as a resist. So you could experiment with glue or wax. But in my experience, there's no way to remove those from the paper later, so they have to remain part of the finished art. Masking liquid or masking frisket is specifically made to resist water-based paints and then be removed so that the paper can show through wherever it has been applied. For this demonstration, I use Blick's masking frisket in the demo. It's fluid with the same consistency as watercolor, although very stinky and I imagine quite toxic. It drys into a sort of gummy plastic that rubs off watercolor paper without damaging the surface. Here, I'm using a dark color so you can see the effect clearly. I'm applying it with a chopstick, but you can also use a brush. Just use a brush that you don't want to use for any other purpose because it'll get gummy. After it's dry, you can rub or scrape off the resist pretty easily. So there you have it. Now you know seven new techniques to apply to your illustration projects and now I'm going to show you how to incorporate them into a personal mandala. If you're enjoying this class, please leave me a review that makes it easier for people to find and it helps me continue to make great classes on Skillshare. 9. Mandala Demo: The word mandala comes from Sanskrit, meaning circle. In Hinduism it's a ritual symbol that represents the universe. But in truth, it's a motif that has been around ever since humans have thought to trace their fingers on the ground or on cave walls. It's a perfect subject for this project because mandalas can be as simple, as complicated as you want, and can incorporate shapes and forms in which we can apply the watercolor techniques we've just learned. You can personalize the mandala to include symbolism that is significant to you. This is what I truly love about mandalas, they become an expression of your inner universe that you embody in the art-making process so that it can exist in the external world. I've found that creating my own mandala is a powerful self-awareness tool, and as an artist, the process is truly gratifying. As you think about your project, think about symbols and images that you might want to incorporate. Your end result could even be a collage with a watercolor portion serving as a backdrop for motifs and imagery. The first thing I do is create a sketch of my mandala. Mandalas are usually symmetrical and radiate out from a center point. My sketch serves as my master plan so I can isolate each area. Remember when we were working on our practice sheet and we use the water to create boundaries for the paint, I'm going to use that technique throughout this project. I'll refer to my sketch often during the process because I've written down what colors, textures, or symbolism I want for each space. In the classroom, I've included the actual sketch I use, so feel free to download it and print it out if you'd like a jump start on your own mandala. You can do that and follow along with me for the rest of this demo video. Note that I speed up the footage just to save time, but you can always stop and start it as you go. In the last video, I also share links to more mandala designs that you can use as templates. Once I have a plan, I'll prep my paper. Today, I'm using Canson watercolor cold press, fine. But I'm not super particular about the brand, just that it's cold press and fine, which gives me the texture I like. I take my sketch and use a couple of pieces of tape to secure it to the back of my sheet to keep it from moving around. Then I use my light box to transfer my sketch to the watercolor paper. I'm using a 6H pencil to do this, which is a hard lead so I can create the finest thinnest line, barely visible. Then I check the sketch to make sure I've copied all the lines and fill in any that are missing. Once my sketch is copied over to the paper, I can take the sheet down on a board like I did with my practice sheet, then I can prep my first color. In this case, the fuchsia I've picked for that eight lotus petals that represent the eight aspects of nature in Hinduism. Earth, water, fire, air, ether, the lower mind, the higher mind, and the ego. The key to mixing the color is to make sure that I have enough. For my sketch, I know approximately the area that I'm going to need to cover. Let's get started. I'm starting with the technique that I demonstrated in lesson 5, moistening the area for one lotus petal. I'm using water with a little pink in it already, just so that it shows up on camera. You would probably use clean water, but obviously it doesn't matter so much because this is the color I'm using for this space. Once the area is moist, I drop in my pigment, and spread it gently with my brush. I'm not going for a flat wash for the petals. I want to feature the flowiness of the water for this section, but I do want the shape of the petal to be clear. Notice I have a paper towel handy in case I need to dab or remove pigment. I will also use it to clean off my brush. I'm removing pigment here by using a clean brush to pull some of it up. I'm going to drop in more pigment in areas that I want to be more saturated, like the tip and the corners. I'll repeat this process eight more times around the circle, allowing the water to create a unique texture for each petal. The next technique I will use is the masking or resist technique I shared in lesson 7. I'm using the liquid frisket again. Yes, I'm applying it with a fork because the tip is smaller than the chopstick I used before. I like that there's still an organic quality to the dots and makes some are bigger than others. Notice that I haven't completed all the petals yet. This is because I'm letting adjacent areas dry completely so that the paint doesn't flow from one petal to another. Watercolor does require a certain Zen patience in this way. It's a lot of hurry up and wait. It goes on fast, but then you get to work on different areas or you could meditate as you're waiting. Once I'm happy with my dots, I'll let this area dry and move on to another non-adjacent area. I'm switching to a flat square brush, which will help me when I define the straight edges along the top and bottom of my mandala. This symbolizes heaven and earth. Again, I'm using the wet on wet technique here, wetting the area first because I want the water to create the organic swirly patterns inside this geometric shape. For earth, I'm starting with the new green color as a base, and then adding blue to it. Then I switch to the other side of the mandala where I'm using the moon to represent heaven. I use the same technique, defining the edges with my square brush and then adding the blue-gray to the moisten surface. But for the moon, I'm going to add texture with salt like I did in lesson 5. I'm placing the course sea salt in certain areas and then also adding pigment to those areas to make the effect more dramatic. Remember, salt naturally dilutes water, so wherever the salt grain actually is, should be lighter and then you have a dark ring around it. If you splat or make a mistake, you can remove some of that pigment by adding water to the spot and then dabbing it with a paper towel. But you have to be quick, if it's sets into the paper, it will be more difficult to remove. Now that my masking frisket is dry, I can paint that area in the center of my mandala. For me, this area represents integration and I'm using alligator as the symbol for that. If you're familiar with animal guidance, alligator is an animal of both darkness and light. It lives in the shadows yet gets its energy from the sun. From alligator, I learn how to embrace my sorrow as a compass, guiding me during times of darkness so that I can find my way back into the light. Heavy ha. But incredibly relevant to me right now, which is what a personal mandala and mandala meditation is all about. Helping you to really be present to what's calling to you so you can grow from it. I'm using adult chartreuse that reminds me of alligator skin. That's also why load those organic dots I created with the masking medium. This will be perfect. From the center of the mandala, I want the chartreuse to radiate out and blend into a goal like the sun. I'll use the blending technique I covered in lesson 6, starting with the chartreuse on one side, and the orange gold on the other, and using water to blend them. The blend is more subtle than I want, but I can remove some pigment using a clean paper towel. I'm going to go around the circle to fill in the other gradients, but because it was too subtle, using the last technique, I'm going to use the gradient technique from lesson 4 to make sure the transition is more distinct, and drag the pigment down from one side to the other. Much better. Let's refer back to our practice sheet for a minute. I'm going to use the dark blue texture technique from lesson 5 to represent the void, the space where all things are possible. I'm going to add the blue, you can see the water bubbling up that means there's way too much, so I'm going to take some of it away, and then I'm going to add various hues of blue and purple in here. Some fine table salt to those areas will create the blooms of stars. My mandala is taking shape, lots of colors, lots of textures. For some contrast, I'm going to create a flat wash like in Lesson 3 in an analogous color. Then I'm going to pick up the void theme again in the east and west sides of my mandala as if all of it, including the earth and the moon, are emerging from space. Now that the gold gradient is dry, I can fill in the triangle of my mandala. This is actually the root of the whole composition. I chose it because it's based on the mandala of Kali, the Hindu goddess of death and destruction. But also of creation and life. According to the Hindus, she is the creative force of the world, embodying cycles of destruction and renewal. Blood red for Kali, and the inverted position of the triangle symbolizes the divine feminine. Can you sent the pattern between this theme and the alligators, shadow and light? I have one last area of my mandala to fill in. I'm going to use the dry surface technique from lesson 2 and a color that compliments my lotus petals. I also like the green is the color of the heart chakra, and implies that all of this radiant growth, death, and rebirth is coming from an open heart. But after stepping back to assess the overall piece, I don't like how the green seems to blend into the earth below. I know I can achieve a richer or less transparent color if I use the layering technique from lesson 6. Once the green is completely dry, I'll add a darker green to it and the resulting color will be more opaque than either one on its own which provides a nice contrast to the rest of the piece. Finally, after everything is completely dry, we can wipe off the salt crystals to reveal our completed mandala. Now it's your turn, when you're done with your mandala, please share it with us in the classroom, or you could also post it on Instagram. Just make sure to tag me @riasharon, so I know to check it out. When you're done with your assignment, I have a special surprise for you. 10. Parting Gifts: I hope you had as much fun with this assignment as I did. As promised, I'm including a URL below where you can download more Mandala templates. As your gift for joining and sharing your project with us, I'd love to send you a PDF of my Mandala. So once you've posted your project in the classroom and assuming that you want a copy, send me an e-mail at, and I'll send you a printable file of this. Thanks again and happy painting.