Art Essentials: Learn Watercolor Painting Basics | Katie Rodgers | Skillshare

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Art Essentials: Learn Watercolor Painting Basics

teacher avatar Katie Rodgers, Artist

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.

      Supplies & Color Mixing


    • 3.

      Painting Patent Leather


    • 4.

      Painting Suede


    • 5.

      Painting Sequins


    • 6.

      Painting Other Textures


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About This Class

Prepare, paint, and polish beautiful watercolor illustrations in this painting basics class with fashion illustrator and blogger Katie Rodgers, founder of Paper Fashion!

This class is for anyone that wants to learn the basics of watercoloring in order to start on their own fashion or illustration projects, but even the most experienced painters might pick up a new technique or two. Grab your brushes and palettes and join!

In this class, you will learn:

  • how to use watercolor paint on wet paper
  • how to use watercolor paint on dry paper
  • how to mix a color starting with the primary colors
  • how to create texture using brushes or accessories like salt and paper towels

As a way to emphasize the lessons and show off our new skills, we will all be painting a subject matter that has amazing color, texture, and structure (and also happens to be one of my favorite fashion items): SHOES!

It takes practice and experimentation to get good handle on how watercolors work and react to different processes.  While we won't be going over how to draw shoes (shoe drawing downloads will be available for you to practice on), you will know key takeaways like when to use more or less water, how to use different brushes, and how to make a basic color chart with the paint you have. 

Watercolor Fashion Paintings by Katie Rodgers, Paper Fashion


Class Outline

  • Illustrating with watercolors. With the help of Katie’s art classes, you will learn how to paint with watercolors and use them to create your own illustrations. She will start with the basics, showing you the tools you need to amplify your creativity process and help you make beautiful pieces of watercolor art. Towards the end of her class, she will move onto more advanced lessons, detailing new techniques to inspire your paintings even further.
  • The importance of paint supplies. In these art courses, Katie will walk you through the collection of watercolor sets that she works with to create her very best art. You’ll come away with Katie’s recommendations for beautifully pigmented paints, as well as her secret tips for maximizing their vibrancy and life span.
  • The best surface materials to use. As every true artist knows, paints are only part of the picture! Katie will show you the brand and grain of paper that she prefers to use and discuss why texture matters when it comes to choosing the right paper surface or sketchbook. She will also teach you how secure your paper to avoid tears or warping – a common challenge for artists who work with water-based paints.
  • How to choose your pencils. Katie will describe the types of pencils she uses to sketch her watercolor illustrations. She will explain why and when she chooses a softer lead, and how she relies on different points to get variations in line weight, color, and blend.
  • The brushes that you need. You will explore the wide range of brushes that Katie works with, from pin-stripers that create fine details, to angular brushes that create wider strokes and fan brushes that conjure texture. She will demonstrate the types of lines that you can create with each brush, and how to use them to create patterns or solid washes.
  • Professional color mixing. Artist courses aren’t complete without a little color theory. In Katie’s lesson, you will learn how to take basic primary colors and mix them together with water to make gorgeous hues of any shade. She will share her tricks for creating very light colors, multidimensional grays, deep jewel tones, and washed out pastels – and will include a surprising way to create only a “hint” of pigment wherever and whenever you need it!
  • Painting from real-life inspiration. Depicting shoes as a departure point, Katie will walk you through how to paint watercolor textures of all kinds, from suede to patent leather to sequins. You’ll download Katie’s premade shoe sketches, or create your own and then follow along as she teaches you different techniques to bring your watercolor works of art to life.
  • Advanced watercolor techniques. Once you master the basics, Katie will show you how to use watercolor and household items, like salt and paper towels, to bring out new texture, pattern, and composition in art that you create. Katie will end her class by demonstrating how to paint with watercolor on prewetted paper to add extra movement and interest.

Meet Your Teacher

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Katie Rodgers



Katie Rodgers created the site Paper Fashion in 2009 as an outlet to share her fantastical watercolors with the world. It has since taken her on an incredible journey…

Katie grew up in a small country town just outside of Atlanta, GA. Living in the country with three brothers, she would often escape into her own imaginative worlds. Her aunt gifted Katie her first professional set of watercolors before the age of 7, and needless to say, she fell head over heels in love with them. Fashion, whimsy, and nature have forever been lurking inside her mind and onto the blank pages of her sketchbooks.

Now working under her own name, Katie Rodgers is presently based in New York City & Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Clients include Estée Lauder, Veu... See full profile

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1. Introduction: Hi, I'm Katie, and I'm the fashion illustrator behind the blog PaperFashion. Without watercolor, I couldn't have gotten to where I am today. Watercolor is something I'm super passionate about, and I really want to share that passion with you and show you the basics from the very beginning of how you can use watercolor to create your own illustration. We're going to go over the basic tools you're going to need for this class, the types of pencils and brushes, and how each one works differently. To how to mix different colors from the primaries, and we're going to apply that to actually creating different textures on shoes. Shoes are great objects to practice on because there are so many different materials that are made out of so many different textures. Just really getting down to that basic level where you can fully understand the process behind it and how you can take this palette of color and create beautiful works of art. 2. Supplies & Color Mixing: In lesson 1, we're going to go over the basic tools you're going to need for this class and some supplies. We're going to go through the different characteristics of types of pencils and brushes, and how each one works differently, and how to take the primary colors that are red, blue, and yellow, and how to mix pretty much any color you're ever going to need from those colors. To get started with this class, we're going to go through the basic materials that you're going to need. I really love these. They're called Gold Class Mijello Missions. They're on the pricey side, but they're some of the best watercolors you can get. They're just very pigmented, and bright, and just vibrant colors. Another cheaper option, which I also love, are Winsor & Newton's or Winsor & Newton Cotman, which are student level, which is what I basically used forever until the past couple of years. You'll notice my palettes are very messy, but we'll get to that later that you want a messy palette. This is a travel pack, which I love those the most because you can take them anywhere and you can refill them by buying tube watercolors. With the tube watercolors, I like to put them in actual palettes so you have them ready to go. I also like the watercolor from the tubes to dry out a bit once I start using it. So when you put it in here, it gives it a chance to dry and you just add water later. I don't know why, but I really prefer working once it's been dried a bit. You can get the amount of paint that you want, rather than when it comes straight out of a tube, it's already really wet and it's a little bit harder to control how much you get. Another option if you're working with tube paint is to use just this separate quick palette. You're never going to want to wash out your watercolors, because they last pretty much forever. You just rewet them to use them again. You don't need to clean them out, which is why I prefer the real close palette over this, but this is still an option. For paper, I like to use Aquarelle Arches because it's really high-quality paper. As you know, I scan most of my work and put it on the Internet, so I really stick to the grain satine. Because I think it's nice because it doesn't have a lot of texture to it, so you can easily scan it without getting that background texture. But then again, it depends on what look you want, because a rougher paper gives more of a watercolor quality too. This has a texture, but it's still fine that you can't really notice it. You can find out more about the papers that I use in the PDF that is located within the classroom. When I'm working on this paper, it comes in a block like this. I usually work straight on the block, because when you're working in watercolor you want to have the paper, use masking tape to tape it down to a board or your table surface. Because with the water, your paper might warp a bit. So the more it's pressed down on something, the less you're going to get. Once you're done with the painting, you can take a palette knife, which looks like this, which you can get at any art store or you can use a kitchen knife. But these are a little bit nicer because they're thinner, so you're not going to break the paper. You just slide it in, and then you just start breaking along the edges, and then you have your paper off of the block. Another option is, if you're working in a sketchbook, you can buy many different types of watercolor sketchbooks. I usually get the Moleskine's, because they are really nicely made and the watercolor paper is still nice quality. You can get something like this and paint directly into a sketchbook inside. So it's really your option of how you want to work. So with pencils, which I use sometimes to begin my sketches for the watercolor drawings, I like to use these Staedtler pencils. I usually like to get a softer lead because they come out a little bit easier and you get a nicer variation and line weight. A 2B looks a little like this, it's a little more controlled, and you can do a wide line. Then there's a 3B, which starts to get a little bit darker, but it's nice because it's a little bit softer and you can get variation. The 4B starts to get even darker and easier. It's just much easier to sketch with, because the lead just melts onto the paper. Then a 5B, which is my favorite because it's just super smooth and you can really get these dark, nice lines that blend well. For all these, I just use a simple handheld pencil sharpener for this. This is a pinstriping brush and it's great for details. I'm going to go through what each of these brushes can do and how it looks on the paper with paint. With a pinstriper, you're going to get a lot of detail and a very thin line. You can get something that thin, and you can also do a little variation. It's just a really nice brush to detail with like eyelashes or stripes, little things like that. I typically mainly use angular brushes. These are nice because you can get a point that's thinner, and you can also get a wider stroke with them. I get them in various sizes. The eighth inch, the quarter inch, and a half inch, are the basics I used for the size that I work. You can see what these do. Here you can get a really nice thin line, but you can also do a thick line, or vary and do more with that. It's about the same for every size, just a little bit wider. Then a nice detail brush also is the fan brush, which is nice to get textures with. You can take a fan brush and grab some color. You can get little details. A lot of people would use these for trees, or flowers, or even just a nice textured pattern. You can do some really cool things with this. Then we have a larger brush for something like a wash. So when you're painting with watercolors, sometimes people like to do a solid background on their painting. So I would use something like this for it, because it holds a lot more water and paint and it'll last longer across the page. So you can see here how I do something like that. It's nice because it's really lets you pull the color through, and you can get different intensities if you want to create a little texture. But it's a nice brush for a large background. So now we're going to talk a little bit about how to mix colors from the primaries. I think it's really important to learn this way, because you can create pretty much any color from just the three primaries, which are red, yellow, and blue. You don't have to get a specific red or a specific blue, but the blues are going to make a big difference between a light blue and dark blue. So I'll show you a little bit of both, but these are just basic. This one is called a permanent red. So it's really basic red. Then we have a permanent yellow, which is again, really typical basic yellow. Then I'm going to use the deep ultra marine blue, which is just a nice blue. I'll just give you a little general color lesson here. Most of you will probably know if you mix yellow and red, it makes orange. With watercolor, it also depends how much water you have. So here I can get a nice red-orange. But also the more water you have, it makes it a little bit more of a yellow-orange. You really just have to play with how much water you're adding. You can really get a variety of colors just from these three. So for instance, if you add mostly yellow but just a little, and just a tiny bit of red, maybe a little more, you'll get this nice peachy tone. Whenever you want to make a color lighter, if you were using this color on a skin tone, you want to add a lot more water, if you want a really light skin tone. Another thing you can do is if you feel like you have a little bit too much color on there, just take a paper towel and you can just blot it over, and that's going to lift up a lot of the color, but you'll still have a hint of it there. Sometimes you place a color on there and you realize you did too much. You just want to have a paper towel near you, so you can do that right away. Because the longer you wait, the more it'll dry in to the paper and you won't be able to get it off. Adding a tiny bit of blue to this color. You really just want to add the tiniest amount. You're going to get almost like a gray color. Because when you add a little bit of orange with a light blue, that creates a grayish color. Before I said you really have to play with how much you're adding because it's going to vary, even the slightest amount when you're adding different amounts of color. So there you get a little greenish, bluish gray. Then when you add a little bit more blue, and I'm using the light blue for this, you can get a nice washed-out baby blue color. Then you can get your greens with a little bit of blue and yellow. The more blue you add, you'll get a little bit more of a turquoise color. That's a little bit more emerald color, almost. Then if you add a little bit of red to this, you'll go back to a deeper grayish, and all your colors are going to have a little tone of another color in there. When you have a gray, this is a red-gray because you're using mostly red as the base. Then we can do a purple, which is a little bit of red and blue. So I get a lavender color, and you can get a little bit deeper purple by adding more color, and a little more red, here you get a plum color. Then if you want to go in and use the deeper blue, that will give you a dark base. So you can make really contrasting, a really deep violet purple color, which I use pretty much the same mixture as this first purple here, but I used the deep blue instead of the light blue. So the blue, like I said, is going to make a big difference. So maybe to your primaries, you might want to have two blues. You can get a deeper green with this, a lot more cool tones with the deep blue. If you're trying to make a black, typically, I'll use a deep brown and a dark blue that will make a black. But while we're working with the basics right now, you got to play around with how much you are using of each, but you want to use a little bit of all three. Now I've got a nice dark color that will appear to be black, but when you add more water, you know it's not totally black. But the thing that's nice about watercolor is the more color you have in it, even if it's super dark and appears as a black but you get those different colors that come out with more water, and it creates this really beautiful effects. Up here, you can see all the different shades I'm getting just from that one color. Maybe add a little bit more blue if you want it deeper. Again, the more water you add, the lighter you'll get, and the less water you add, the darker and more vibrant of a color you're going to get. With watercolor, you want a little bit of both, because it creates contrast and makes it a little more interesting. But you can really get pretty much any color, just with those three. So if you don't want to go out and buy a full pallet of watercolor, just go out and buy a red, a yellow, and a blue and you'll be good. 3. Painting Patent Leather: Now that we're done with Lesson 1, we're going to go into Lesson 2, where we're going to talk a little bit about how to create different materials and textures with watercolor, and use the basics you learned in Lesson 1, and tie them in to actually painting on shoes. Patent leather shoes versus suede or sequence. Towards the end, we're going to get into how to create different textures using elements like sole or paper towels and how you can create a whole different look by using this extra tools. Shoes are the perfect object to use because there are so many different textures and looks for shoes that watercolors are great way to represent them. Like here, there's a suede, so it would be totally different looking in watercolor than something like this, it's a patent leather and it's going to have a lot of shine to it. With other textures like sequence, watercolor can make a really nice effect to give you that look on paper. I'm going to start by showing you how you can achieve a patent leather look like here I use watercolor to give it that shine. The thing about watercolor and working with things that have a glare or they show a little bit of white, is that you need to know where you want that white before you begin painting because watercolor, it's not something can go back over unless you use a different medium over it to create the white. It's working backwards from a way you would work with acrylics or oils. You're going to want to know the light areas first. We're going to start with the patent leather and I'm going to show you how I'm going to use paint to recreate that look. I have a sketch done here of a stiletto. You can use the pre-made sketches that you can download from the classroom or you can sketch your own shoe. If you're interested in learning more about sketching, take a look at the Skillshare website. There are more classes that go in-depth with that portion of what we're doing today. But in this class, we're going to focus mainly on the watercolor. We used the primaries before, but for this, I'm going to use deep brown. I take the deep brown and I mix it with some dark blue. That's going to give us a really nice colorful black, where it's not a true black, but you're going to get that feeling from it when you look at it. I'm demonstrating how to paint wet paint on dry paper to begin. You're going to want to just start almost like outlining a little bit. Just to get that main shape on there. Keep in mind that the lighter your pencil drawing is, the less you're going to see it when it's done. If you don't like that look, make sure you sketch really lightly. I like the pencil to shine through a little bit, so I don't mind it. For the glares in the shoe, you're going to want to think of them as you paint because you're not going to want to cover them up. You can either sketch them out prior, which I would do something like maybe there's a little glare there. You're just going to want to paint around that and just make sure you're using a lot of water, so the paint isn't too intense at first. It's nice to have an actual shoe in front of you when you're doing this or the material because you can see how it looks on an actual shoe, like how the glares are, how it goes with the shape of the shoe. It's okay if it's not looking totally perfect right away, we're going to go back over it, but we're getting that main glare right there. Then we're going to keep pulling the color down, creating more glares. The more water you add to your color, the easier it is to move it along the page. The less water, it's going to be a little bit more tough. There we have some glares on and you can already get the idea that it's a shiny material that's on the shoe. Then we're going to want to do the same thing on the heel, where you leave a little white glare. If there are other colors on your palette already, I just let it go, I just go with it. Like I said, it doesn't matter if your color is exactly the same every time. That's the nice thing about watercolor. You want that color variation. Now, I have a little bit of a deeper color and I'm going to create a little more contrast on this. The areas that might have a little bit of shadow, you're going to want to go back over those and make it a little bit darker because that will really make the highlights in the shoe that are shining stand out. You do want to use a lot of water, but at the same time, we don't want to use too much water because you want it to dry as you go pretty quickly. Otherwise, you're going to get this mess that'll turn into a blob. For instance, I'll do a little example here. I'm using a ton of water, and that's not going to dry very quickly, so I can't go back and layer over it or it's just going to get muddy, and bleed, and look messy. You can do that for certain things, but for something like this, you want a little more control. You need to make sure you're controlling how much water you use. You can go back and add even more highlights on the shoe and a little shadow underneath the heel. You can see how the different colors are coming through. There's a little bit of a greenish blue color, but it still appears like it's a black shoe. Then I'm going to use a little more water and just add shadow on the inside. That part is not really shiny. You can add a little bit of water around it to make shadows. You have this look of a patent leather shoe. But I'm going to go back one more time to add a little more contrast. The thing about watercolor is, you want to layer. The more layers you go back and go over, you're going to have a more interesting-looking piece because all those layers start to blend together and you can see them. If you think you put water over when they are white spots and you don't really like it, you can use a paper towel and soak it up a little bit and get some of that color off and bring the white backup. Now, you have your shoe and you've gotten that patent leather glare a little bit throughout it. Each one is going to be a little different, but you get the idea of it and you've created that look. The nice thing about watercolor is it's super loose. Having that little bit of messiness looks nice and gives it a little more interest. I'm just going to go back and clean up some of the edges of the pencil, which you don't have to do. But I like doing that just to make it a little bit more clean. You can even use a black pen or a marker, whatever you want. Here's my patent leather shoe. You can always wait for it to dry and go back and add even more layers, and get more of a dark black in there. But that's just something you just keep layering over time. 4. Painting Suede: So now that we've gone through how to make a shiny fabric or a material, I'm going to show you how to do a matte. Suede has a tiny bit of texture to it, so we might play around with some ways to create that. What you want to do with this is, make sure you cover all the area because you don't want any white showing through because this is a very matte. So I'm going to do like a blue suede. I'm going to take maybe two blues and mix and then just start filling it in. Nothing too crazy yet. The suede is more about adding shadows. So now we have it all filled in with a blue. You're going to want to give it maybe like a minute just to set a little bit. Then we're going to go back and we're going to add some more. I'd like to add a little bit of another color, just so give it a little more variation. It doesn't matter if it's totally dry because this is one that you don't need it to be super detailed. Having the water spread the watercolor around, makes it a little bit nicer for suede. You still want to keep in mind, there will be highlights, but they're not going to be very distinct highlights. Like on this heel, I'm leaving this one line, giving it less layers just so it gives it a slight light appearance wherever the light is coming from. Just add shadows where the shadows are on the shoe and pull the water color up. I'm using the angle brush for this because it's going to give me a lot of different widths I can use. So like the last shoe, you just want to keep layering. The paper's pretty wet where the color is, so it's almost like giving you the style of working directly on wet paper. When you add color to that, you can see how it's furthering now and it's not creating any lines. When you have more water on the paper, it just spreads the watercolor for you and it doesn't create any harsh areas. So even the paper itself and the paint on it or giving you a little tiny bit of texture, like suede actually has, which is nice. So sometimes you can't always control watercolor totally, which is a nice thing and you have to just start appreciating that instead of thinking of it as a frustrating part of watercolor because that's what makes watercolor really pretty is that, it has a mind of its own sometimes, especially when you're working on a wet surface. To go back in and get a little more detail, you're going to want to let it completely dry, so you will be working again on dry paper. So I'm going to let it dry for a minute and then we'll come back and add more. So now this is dried so we can work on it like we're painting on dry paper again. So I'm just going to add a little more brown to the blue and just do a little more shadow and detail. Just make your details really soft so you're not making it look too shiny. You can go back and use the brush and pull color down to minimize the highlights a little bit, even it out and then you have a really matte looking finish on the shoe. 5. Painting Sequins: So now we're going to do one more shoe, and I'll show you how you could recreate a glittery or a sequent pattern using watercolor. So we can get a look that's a little bit shiny or it has sequence all over it or glitter, whatever you want. So this can be applied to multiple looks. So what I'm going do is, you're going to have, again outline your shoe with their watercolor. Doesn't have to be perfect. You're not going to want to use too much water for this, because you want it to be really controlled. So what I'm going to do is, is I'm going to go in and start doing this circle pattern, and paint little dots on so that it's leaving some dots white in between. You can fill it all in at certain points just to show there's a little more shadow in some areas, and show a little more light through it where you want there to be a highlight. So you're painting with these little circles, which are the sequence. I'm not going to have the heel have sequence, so I'll just do it straight there. There will be a little more shine over here then shadow. Just fill it in more where there's a shadow. So already it has that sequent look to it, but we're going to go back and add a darker tone just to give it a little more definition. If you want to make a pink darker, you just want to add a little bit of green or a blue to it, and it's going to give it a deeper color. So now I have a darker color, I'm going to go back and do a little more detail. Like in the other ones, you want to layer a lot. So the more layers you get, the more detailed and 3D it's going to look. So I'm going to make a little bit darker, and almost used like a little black. Remember you can get black by mixing dark brown and navy blue. I'm not getting to taking too much time to be too detailed, because I think you just need to get a basic shape of that circle and you don't need to worry about too much if it's perfect, just go with it. Now you have the look of a sequential. 6. Painting Other Textures: So now we're going to go through some different techniques that you can use to make different textures. I'm going to do these on just a blank sheet of paper so you can see them pretty up-close. Before I demonstrated how to use a wash brush to paint a big background. I just want to show you what it did. It creates this little pattern and texture just from the water drying on its own. I think this is something I try to achieve all the time because I think it's the most beautiful part of watercolor. So I'm going to layer a lot of water and color on. Make sure you have a lot of water. I'm painting this on dry paper,. The more water you add, you're going to get these. It's going to dry with those different textures as the water spreads out. So then I'm going to take a little bit of salt, and this is just like a kosher salt that's a little bit thicker and coarser so it'll pick up or when you put this salt on the paint, the salt picks up the color and soaks it in to give you a nice texture. I'm just going to throw some of that on there and you can already see it picking up the color. The more you put on its going to soak up a big area. If you want a little pattern, maybe use a little bit less water and more paint so I'm just going to paint. Now you're going to want to let it dry completely so that there's no water at all left. Then once that's dry, we'll take off the salt and see what it did. So now the paint is dry so you can take off the salt, but you can already see there's patterns all over it from the salt so you just want to wipe it off. We can use a paper towel. If you do with your hand, you're going to get some of the paint on there, and that could smear over where it picked up the paint so you might want to use a towel. Now you can see how much texture we got just form adding that salt and you can use this for something like a tie-dye pattern. If you look up here, there's little almost like starburst throughout it. So you can use it for our tie-dye or just like an interesting pattern in general. It also creates these little almost like lightning bolts through it. So you get a cracked leather look in a way that just makes it really interesting texture. So you can apply it to pretty much anything. Now, I'm going to demonstrate just a close up of how you can do wet on wet, which is painting on paper that's already wet. So just want to take a bunch of water and I'm keeping a little tint in it so you can see the water. Well, I'll do just a little pattern and make sure you put a lot of water on. I left a few little circles dry and you'll see that the paint will just go right around this. So then you want to take a lot of paint and you can just dab it on and see the paint is just moving where the water is. You can add more water and it's going to create this cool looking texture and it's just going to start flowing around wherever there is water it'll continue to go. This is a cool technique if you're painting the entire page or painting a sky, and you can connect it and the color is going to bleed into itself. So you can see and get the idea that if it's wet, it's going to just go wherever it wants to. But it's only going to go where there's water. So these dry areas, you can keep details dry and not have the color bleed into it. Something else you can do is you can take a paper towel and you can go in and pick up amounts of paint and create more texture that way like a stamp. But those are techniques you can use on pretty much anything.