unusual tools for watercolor | Erin Kate Archer | Skillshare

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unusual tools for watercolor

teacher avatar Erin Kate Archer, art & illustration

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.

      unusual tools zentangle


    • 3.

      creating a magical forest illustration


    • 4.

      outro & project


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About This Class

in this class we'll learn about unusual tools for watercolor from those you may have heard of before to some that you'd never guess! we'll create a zentangle inspired piece to illustrate each tool, and then i'll walk you through a magical forest landscape illustration inspired by real life magical forest images in japan

Meet Your Teacher

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Erin Kate Archer

art & illustration


erin kate archer is a new york-based artist & illustrator with an ethereal, magical style. her work aims to calm, comfort, and transport. from immersive fairytale landscapes and glowing high-key celestial pieces, to charming flora & fauna and children’s book illustrations – erin makes what was once a static image a tranquil visual journey. 


erin has illustrated children's picture books; was selected for the sing for hope NYC piano painting project; is a skillshare top teacher, and has created work for a number of consumer brands. 


follow along with her on instagram, check out her portfolio for some finished projects, and visit her etsy shop to purchase prints... See full profile

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1. intro: Hi, there. I'm Erin Kate Archer. I'm a watercolor illustrator, and this class is, unusual tools for watercolors. We'll be using a zentangle inspired piece to illustrate how each of these tools can be used, from salt to special brushes, and beyond. Then we'll work through how to create this magical forest landscape using some of the tools that we've learned in class. If this sounds interesting to you, enroll now. 2. unusual tools zentangle: To start off, I have masked out all these random triangle shapes to show all of the different ways that we're going to use our new techniques. The first unusual tool is a simple ballpoint pen. We can't just go out and get any ballpoint pen, has be this specific one. It's a uni-ball Vision stick rollerball pens, and this is what the package looks like. The great thing about these pens is that they're really cheap. They came in like pack of 12, and I want to say they were $10 or $11, which is an amazing deal if you want to use these for watercolor illustrations, and they are really waterproof. I've done a few tests on them, and you'll see here. Right now, I'm just doing a little doodle in one of the triangles, and I'm going to do a few more. Then once that's complete, I'll go over with a watercolor wash, and they won't smudge at all. This is a great tool to use, especially if you're just starting out with illustration, and you don't want to spend a lot of money on your new tools. In this triangle, I decided to do a little bit more of a detailed doodle, so going to draw some flowers and some curly vines and that thing. If you're looking for inspiration for how to fill your own triangles, you should check out Zentangle patterns. A lot of people are doing the Zentangle, which is basically what we're doing here but only in pen, not for different watercolor techniques. A lot of people have been posting different ways to get you started on Zentangles, which are basically different patterns that you can fill up this box with, although you can never go wrong with like the scales I have on the left-hand corner or the spirals. Up in the right-hand corner, I'm going to go ahead and just do some hashed work. Those are a few ideas to get you started. Next up, it's time to do your watercolor washes. You do want to let this pen set a little bit before you start pouring water all over it, or else it will smudge a little bit. But if you are concerned, you can just go ahead and do a tiny corner for a test to make sure everything's going to be okay. But you can see here that I'm going with a pretty wet brush and there isn't any smudging and the pen's not really moving at all. That's great. Next up for tools, we have an interesting little thing which are these nail brushes. There are these tiny tips, and they're really cheap. You can find them on Amazon, and they work perfectly for doing detail work. I think this set I got, it was a set of six, and I think I got them for $2. They're not the most high-quality brushes, but for that price, you can basically use them as throw-away brushes. Although I've gotten pretty good use out of these and they're also really great if you're using them for masking fluid because if you've seen my other tutorials, I've talked before about how it's really easy to mess up your brushy doing using masking fluid because it dry so quickly. With these ones, I don't really mind if they get ruined because they were so inexpensive and they are so great for detail work. As you can see here, it was really easy to color in my little floral doodle there. The next tool you might have had some experience with if you ever did walkthroughs, easter eggs, or anything like that. But we're actually going to use a chunk of beeswax here, and I'm just going to rub that on the paper. It creates a really nice effects because of picking up the texture in the watercolor paper. It's difficult to see here, but later on, when I darken up the colors, you can see that there's a nice like speckled zigzag going on. I'm going to go ahead and just do a wash in this triangle here. The next tool we're going to use is actually sea salt. I'm taking this sea salt and just dabbing it on to different places. We're going to leave this to dry, and then later, when we come peel it off, it'll be a nice interesting texture back there. Again, another wash. This interesting tool is actually vodka. I have a little tin vodka here, and we're going to do a wash that has something great to react to. You can also use rubbing alcohol, but I had this vodka on hand. You can use whatever works. I'm using a q-tip here and then just dotting it into the watercolor. You see how cool that is. Just so you know, it does fade away once you first put it down. I usually do look a few layers of this, but then it creates an awesome effect. Then next up, we have the toothbrush. If you took my watercolor galaxies class, you would have known this already. But two brushes are great way to have little speckles. Just a little splatter effect. It's great for stars, and in this case, I'm doing it for the texture. It's a great tool though. Now we have the plastic wrap. I'm going to do another wash of color here. This is an interesting one, and it also takes a while like the salt. You just do a wash of watercolor and then press it down, and then we're just going to leave that to dry. I'm adding a few more alcohol drops just to give all of it more vibrancy of that. Next, we have the tissue. You've seen before that in watercolors, you often use a paper towel, but I just wanted to show you that a tissue works just as well, and it is a little bit of a different effect. It's more soft than a paper towel is. If that's something you're looking for, it's really great if you're doing soft clouds or if you work in between using paper towels and tissues. Now, I'm just filling in the rest of these spots to get ready for the next tool. Just a reminder, your best tool is always lots of water. You can see in this spot I'm creating my tie-dye. This next tool comes with a warning. If you're trying to save money in art supplies, you should turn away now. Consider yourself warned, but I'm going to go ahead and take the plastic wrap off to reveal that cool texture and do the same with the salt. I've gone ahead and made the mistake of taping my paper to my desk. I normally do this over a trash can, but I can't right now. This beautiful palette on the left is the fine tech palette. It's a calligraphy ink set. What you have to do with this, there's a little secret. You have to douse some water on it and let it set. I've actually had mine for a little bit, but it's a little dried [inaudible] more, and this way, you can mix it into a more of a paint consistency. I'm taking my paintbrush, and I'm going to add details to these little spots that I don't have cool textures in right now, and then later, I'll show you how gorgeous it looks when you reflect it against the light. I'm going to go ahead and give you a close-up of this beauty. You can see there's a whole range of golds. My favorite, you can tell, is that champagne gold on the second to the right. It's a little bit used up, but the silver is really beautiful as well and depends on what you prefer, but definitely would recommend this. Just a little bit more expensive. Now, for the grand finale. I'm going to go ahead and remove my masking tape and reveal the pattern underneath with all of the beautiful textures. Make sure your paint dries before you do this, or else you'll peel off the paper as well. You can already see how that gold looks in the light when I just press on the paper. It's really nice. There you go. A Zentangle made with unusual watercolor tools. Next up, we're going to put these into practice and create a landscape illustration using some of these techniques. 3. creating a magical forest illustration: Now that you've got a bunch more tools in your watercolor tool box, we're going to do a landscape illustration. The idea here is that we're going to do a forest, and this is inspired by a beautiful photo series I saw it of an enchanted forest with fire flies in Japan. I'll leave those pictures in the class description, but I'm going to walk you through step-by-step of how we're going to create this landscape. I'm starting out with a really wet brush and just doing a whitewash of medium blue to have our base for the sky. I've added a tiny bit of red in here too because I love that little hints of lilac. Next, I'm going to take my tissue like we learned and dump out some soft clouds. You can see how the effect is really soft and subtle, I really love that. I'm going to mix up some more paint so I can darken it up a little bit, and go underneath the clouds to create a little bit of a shadow. So this process basically is adding a little bit of shadow and then taking a little bit of the way until you get the effect you're looking for. Now here I'm taking more for purply-blue and doing some darkening up of this space as it's gotten basically white as its stride. So we're going to go ahead and do that and then add in a little bit more of a red-purple to the shadows of the clouds just to bring in some interest. Now I'm going to add some salt. We're loading up on texture in this piece. Anywhere where there's not much wet paint, you're not going to get any texture, so I'm going ahead in adding just some water droplets to where I've added the salt there. So I've let this dry completely and we're going to go ahead and sweep the salt away. It's a really satisfying part of the process, which is always fun. Again, I have taped my paper to my desk, so I can't do it over the trash can, but I guess it's okay because I want to show you guys the whole process of it anyway. But don't do it when you're at home because spilling salt, bad luck and everything. There we go. That's a nice texture in the sky. It's not very realistic, but it's really beautiful and I love it. Now I'm mixing up a darker color, so I'm going in with the dark blue and adding reds and making really nice deep purple. I'm just using this to darken up the sky because the factor I want to create is more like dusk, and this way it makes the clouds pop out a bit more. Now I'm going in with a bit of a darker color with the layer here. So I've added a little touch of brown to this color to really darken it up. I'm just adding layers up to these clouds until they look how I'd like them to be. I really like to switch back and forth between cool colors and warm colors, I think that gives you the most vibrant effect. I'm just pulling this down now, make sure that it's a nice clean gradient even though we're going to be painting over this part, but you want to make sure it's all matching. Now, I'm going with the alcohol, which is a super fun apart and you can see those nice spots that will be little magic fireflies in the future. I'm going to let this dry for a little bit and we'll come back in a minute. Actually just a few more spots before we do that. Sometimes I wish they wouldn't bleed out so quickly. Now we've got our gorgeous tie-dye type sky and I'm going to go in with the finetec palette and add in some gold shines to the alcohol spots that we created earlier. So I'm using the lighter color here, the lighter gold, and just tracing around the alcohol that we did before. Then after I do that, I'm going to add another droplet of the vodka inside each circle to give it even more of a firefly look. Just quickly taking a video for Instagram, sorry, I didn't realize my phone would be in the shot. Great. Now that has dried, we're going to move on to the foreground. I'm taking the ballpoint pen here and just drawing in an outline of what I'm going to want. So I have this trees going and little bit of a hill and a farther away fields as well. So I used a few reference pictures for this. Basically any tree you'd like to put it in here, you can make it work if you just study it carefully and draw it in first. Using the pen is helpful because you can usually cover it up with the paint once you start going in with actual watercolors themselves, but it's always nice to have an outline, it just makes it a lot easier. You can use pencil as well. I just I'm a pen purest, always rather use pen if I can. Now I'm mixing up a dark color. I'm just adding in blues and reds and just a hint of what brown and green as well to make not as dark as I can, not as dark as I can. I'm sorry, I misspoke, just making a darker color than the sky. Here I've kept it a little bit more cool toned, by adding in warm tones as I go. So I'm using the very tip of my brush and just pushing it up at the end to give that little grass shadow. I'm using that same color and pulling it up into my lines that I've created for the trees. We're going to keep this pretty simple, the focus here is really on the magical gold orb. I'm just going through and avoiding those when I can, but if I don't, it's not really a big deal because some of them are behind the trees and some of them are in front. I'm just doing a little branches and I'm not even going to do leaves, maybe these trees are in the winter and this can be even simpler if you do only the bottom half the painting where you can only see the trunks of the trees and this could be an even simpler piece to do. Now I'm going back in and darkening this up a little bit more. With watercolors it's always a process when the paint dries it always is a little bit of a different color so I tend to go back over pieces that I need to be a little bit darker multiple times. This time I'm using more of the tip of my brush to create a little bit thinner trees and this makes it so they look a bit farther away, so you can see how it's more of a forest and just a few trees standing in a field. Again, going back in to just darken things up. A little trick to remember is that things appear lighter as they go away if you look at a cityscape or something, like at the top of the rock from New York City, you can see and how farther away it goes lighter, so I keep getting it darker as the trees get bigger and that helps with the perspective. That's the first layer of the foreground complete. Now I'm going to mix up a darker color and I'm actually using some black this time to make it nice and opaque and dark. So these trees matter a bit more about how they look. I would recommend that you go on with pen if you're nervous about doing it. I did not because I was not planning well enough in advance, but here I I'm just using the tip of my brush here to do grass and I've switched to a bigger brush as well so that I can have that perspective of the grass getting bigger even though I'm doing the same exact motion. Now, I'm just going for it, I'm just doing a tree right in front. I'm not worrying about going over that gold spot. I eventually go back and cover it up again, so you can go either way. I wove in and out of the spots and I think that worked pretty well. So you can see already how we're getting a nice depth of field here and just having it go through and you can tell that there's more to the forest than just what is in front. Now I'm going back in with the alcohol and going on the darker bits and taking another video for Instagram, I'm sorry, got to promote the course. But you can see how those look really nice on the really dark parts. It doesn't need a few layers though. So now I'm going in with the darker golds as well and just darkening up some of the spots, and then I'm adding some little specks in the background so it looks like they're even more farther away. So I've let those dry and I'm going to do a whole other layer to really darken them up. You can see here how the sun right now is hitting those top spots in the perfect areas so that they're really metallic, so sorry if they're blinding you. I'm adding these last ones to go on top of the trees. Then add in a few more spot to the alcohol, I'm often going right into the gold. When you do that, the effect is subtle when it goes into the ink, but it still makes it nice and soft and a little ring on the inside. Now the best part, taking off the tape. So now we have a completed enchanted forest landscape and that I've signed it in the gold part too, you can see it when I left off the paper. 4. outro & project: So that's the end of the class. For the class project, it's really open. You can either create your own illustration using some of the techniques we've learned here today, or you could recreate either of the pieces that we worked on during the class. I can't wait to see what you come up with and make sure you post it here in the class description. If you'd like to see some of my work, you can view my blog at www.ekatearcher.com, or on Instagram and around the Internet at E. Kate Archer. Thanks so much for watching and let me know if you have any ideas for a future class.