Unwind with Abstract Forest Illustrations in Watercolor & Ink | Ewa Rosa | Skillshare

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Unwind with Abstract Forest Illustrations in Watercolor & Ink

teacher avatar Ewa Rosa, illustellar | Find Bliss in Making Art

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.

      Class Project


    • 3.



    • 4.

      Painting: Watercolor Background


    • 5.

      Doodling: Hazy Summer Forest


    • 6.

      Doodling: Mysterious Dark Wood


    • 7.

      Final Thoughts


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About This Class

Escape the concrete jungle and create your own magical forest with a little bit of watercolors and some doodling!

There is something magical in the woods. Calm, majestic trees force us to slow down and let go of distractions of everyday life. Observing sunlight filtering through the leaves, breathing in the fresh air, and listening to the branches whispering in the wind allows us to immerse in the beauty of nature, destress and clear our minds. In Japanese culture, this meditative practice of connecting with nature is called forest bathing and is thought to be crucial for our wellbeing.

If you’re like me and you live in a big city, experiencing nature in such a way might be quite a challenge. In this class, I invite you to run away into the woods in your imagination, by creating a playful and relaxing mixed media project inspired by the forest.

In this class, we’ll look at the forest in a more abstract way, by focusing on overall shapes, colors, and textures rather than on individual trees. We’ll try to emulate masses of greenery and recreate the feel of a lush forest, by building layers of simple leafy patterns upon a watercolor background.

First I will guide you through creating an abstract watercolor base for your illustrations and then I’ll show you two different techniques for adding leafy doodles to your prepared backgrounds. We’ll experiment with loose patterns to achieve a delicate, hazy summer effect and then we’ll focus on building layers of dense greenery to create an illusion of a dark, mysterious forest.

Whichever technique you choose, both exercises will allow you to relax and unwind, even in the middle of a concrete jungle. So grab your art supplies and let’s escape into the woods!


Looking for more pattern ideas? Check out my class: „Patterns Everywhere: Finding Fresh Embellishing Ideas for Your Projects”

You loved these exercises and want more nature-inspired projects? Jump into my class: „Slow Drawing, Slow Living: Get in the Flow with Ocean Doodles”

You don’t have much time on your hands, but you'd like to incorporate art into your daily routine? Watch: „Pocket-Sized Creativity: Make Time for Art Despite a Busy Schedule”


Hi, I'm Ewa and I’m an illustrator and embroidery artist based in Warsaw, Poland.

Feel free to check my Profile here on Skillshare!

You can also visit my website here.


Post it on Instagram and tag me @illustellar


Meet Your Teacher

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Ewa Rosa

illustellar | Find Bliss in Making Art

Top Teacher


Hi there! My name is Ewa Rosa, and I'm an illustrator and embroidery artist in love with all things nature. 



I love combining organic elements with geometry and I draw inspiration from the underwater world, plant life, cosmos, and Japanese patterns.

I’ve always been incorporating tons of details and intricate patterns into my drawings and lately, this practice translated to my embroidery, which consists of hundreds of french knots and other elaborate details.

This repetitive act of embellishing my art with copious dots, circles, lines, and dashes is something that helps me destress and curb my anxiety.



I adore watercolors, and I like to explore the... See full profile

Level: Beginner

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1. Introduction: Hi, my name is Eva, and I'm an illustrator and embroidery artist in love with all things nature. I like to explore organic shapes and transform them into abstract patterns and compositions. Forest is one of my biggest sources of inspiration. There is something magical in the woods. Tall, majestic trees forced us to slow down and let go of distractions of everyday life. Observing sunlight filtering through the leaves, breathing in the fresh air, and listening to the branches whispering in the wind allows us to immerse in the beauty of nature, the stress, and clear our minds. In Japanese culture, this meditative practice of connecting with nature is called forest bathing. It is started to be crucial for our well-being. Living in a big city means that I rarely have a chance to experience nature in all its glowing. However, I can still get the benefits of it by exploring it in my art. It's substitute, of course. But when you get into the flow of creating, you can experience a similar sense of glaze and joy. When I'm stuck in my tiny apartment, I take out our supplies and escape into the woods in my imagination by creating playful and relaxing artworks. That's precisely what we are going to do today with the mixed media projects inspired by the forest. In this class, we will look at the forest in a more abstract way by focusing on the overall shapes, colors, and textures of the tree crowns, rather than on individual trees. First, I will guide you through creating an abstract watercolor base for your illustrations. Then I will show you two different techniques for adding leafy doodles to your prepared backgrounds. We will experiment with loose patterns to achieve a delicate, hazy summer effects. Later on, we will focus on building layers of dense greenery to create an illusion of a dark, mysterious forests. Whichever technique you choose, both exercises will allow you to relax and unwind, even in the middle of a concrete jungle. Grab your art supplies and let's escape into the woods. 2. Class Project: Your project for today will be to create a magical forest illustration using one of the techniques you'll learn in the class. The first exercise will be great for you if you don't have much time on your hands or you prefer loose messy link. Choose the second one if you love details and you have patience for creating intricate compositions or if you want to challenge yourself a little. Know that you don't have to commit to preparing a full-size illustration. You can also create smaller versions to test out these techniques and see if you enjoy them. Also remember that you can customize these exercises to your skills and needs. Feel free to use different patterns, colors, and even different mediums. You can make your forest blue or violet, you can add details with metallic pens, you can create an abstract layer in procreate and doodle on your iPad, or prepare a traditional paper collage and throw your patterns on it. You really don't have to copy what I'm doing to a T, I'm only giving you some ideas which hopefully will spark your imagination. When you're ready, take a photo of your artwork, then go to the ''Projects and Resources'' tab. Click the ''Create Project'' button and upload it. You can share what you have learned and encourage others to give it a try. 3. Supplies: Let's go over the supplies you will need for this class. To create a background for your illustration, you will need some watercolors. I will be using blue, green, and yellow hues for a lush summer forest, but feel free to choose your own color palette here. We will be preparing an abstract wash full of random blobs. So I'd recommend you use a big round brush for this. I have Number 12 here, but you can choose even bigger one like Number 20. You will also need a pallet, a water jar, and some paper towels. As for paper, make sure it is at least £140 or 300 grams, so it can handle a lot of water. I'll be using even heavier acrylic paper in this class, but a standard watercolor one will do. When choosing your paper, also take notice of the surface. A smooth hot pressed paper will be best for this project, as we'll be using gel pens and ink pens to embellish the background. It will be much harder to do if the paper is too grainy. Speaking of pens, for the first exercise, we will be using a white gel pen. This uni-ball Signo is currently my favorite. For the second exercise, you are going to need some black ink pens. I will be using my trusty micron Number 5 for line work, and micron Number 10 for filling in the smaller spaces between the elements. You will also see me using a thicker black tumble marker, but it's not necessary to have unless you want to really speed up the process. If you're feeling extravagant, you can also add some metallic details to your composition. That's it. So let's jump into painting our backgrounds with watercolors. 4. Painting: Watercolor Background: In this class, we will be looking at the forest in a different, more abstract way. Instead of painting individual tree trunks and branches, we will focus on masses of greenery as seen from afar. Take notice of different shapes and sizes of leaves in this footage. Look how different areas blend into each other. Forget, these are three crowns for a moment. Just let your eyes relax and that is the blocks of color and texture. We will try to emulate this effortlessly and recreate the overall feel of a lush forest by building layers of simple leafy patterns upon a watercolor background. The first step is to create an abstract color base for the entire illustration. The key here is to paint a background interesting enough, with many blobs in different shapes and colors. Ideally, you want your blobs to match with each other, so you should work pretty quickly adding subsequent layers while the paper is still wet. Try not to overthink it. I rely a lot on happy accidents here. Believe me, I have no idea how this background will turn out, while I'm painting it. It's a really enjoyable process because it's impossible to mess it up no matter how hard you try. The bottom line is, even if you are not happy with a particular area, the whole background will be covered with patterns later on. You can mask any issues then, so don't be too precious about it. You just start slapping paint on paper like a kindergartner and enjoy the fun. Clearly, I am doing just that. As you might notice, the paper is buckling like crazy. The paint is pulling on the sides. What I'm doing here would give every watercolor master a heart attack. Technically, you should use masking tape to tape down the paper to a flat surface before you start painting, especially if you plan to use a lot of water and cover most of the page with paint. It's a very basic and very important rule of watercolor painting. If you want to have any control over what you're doing and how the paint is behaving, you should stick to it. But that's just it. In this case, I don't need any control. I won't random things to happen, and even if I end up with some ugly leaks, or weird blobs, they will disappear under the patterns in the end. Also, I don't want any white borders in these illustrations. I want the paper to be fully covered. That's another reason why I'm not using the masking tape. Of course, you can use it and trim down the borders afterwards. Or maybe you love your borders and you want them to frame your artwork. It's totally up to you. The paper will flatten after it dries and if it's still slightly curved, I can press it down with some books and live it for a while. That's not an issue for me. One more thing you need to take into consideration is your color palette. If you're about to use a white gel pen for your illustration, watercolor layer needs to be dark enough so the patterns can stand out from the background. On the other hand, if you want to use black pens, your background should be fairly light. Otherwise, the patterns will blend in and won't be clearly visible. I've created two backgrounds here and we will be exploring both options. In the next lesson, we will cover our dark background with white patterns to create delicate, abstract, hazy summer forest. 5. Doodling: Hazy Summer Forest: Now that we have our dark background ready, we will start adding white patterns to it to emulate masses of greenery. This is the part I love the most because you can just go with the flow and let these messy and chaotic background shapes guide you. There is no right way to do this exercise, which outcome will be unique? So you can just focus on filling areas with chosen patterns and unwind doing this calming and meditative practice. I'm starting with a simple pattern just outlining some basic leafy shapes. I draw them at different angles so they fit together nicely and create an illusion of a tree crown. During this class, I will show you some ideas for leafy patterns but you don't have to stick to them. If you like geometric shapes, you can draw a bunch of tiny triangles and achieve a similar effect. If you have your favorite motifs, go for them. On the other hand, if you need some more inspiration for creating patterns, I encourage you to take my class patterns everywhere, finding fresh embellishing ideas for your projects. Now I'm jumping to another blobby area and I repeat the same pattern, but this time I'm filling the outlines with solid white color. This simple addition completely changes the look and feel of a pattern and allows for a nice contrast between the two neighboring tree crowns. For this third pattern, I'm drawing clusters of dots in different sizes, and afterwards, I will also add some loose dots between them. When creating such a busy composition, try to differentiate neighboring patterns, otherwise, it will all look just too flat and dull. Juxtapose outlines with solid shapes and bigger elements with smaller ones and use at least several different patterns in one illustration to add interest to it. During such creative practice, you can light a forest-centered candle or listen to the nature of sounds on YouTube. The more senses are involved, the more pleasing and deeper the experience. It's worth going the extra mile and doing little stuff like that, so we can truly unwind and turn your drawing session into self-care time. Now I'm going to fill this whole strip of lighter green paint with tiny shapes that look like butterfly wings. These minuscule elements will be contrasting nicely with bigger leaves below them. Of course, you didn't have to stick to the borders of your blobs exactly. Nothing terrible will happen if you go outside these areas. Sometimes you might even want to do it so the overall shape of the tree crown looks nicer. But in case you want to stick to them, you can start with marking the border of the whole area with the elements of your chosen pattern, and then fill in the rest of the blob. Even if you get lost in thoughts and spaced out during your practice, you will have more precise boundaries to stick to. Now I'm filling this area with tiny butterflies. I even go down between spaces of the previous pattern so they blend with each other and create an effect of chaotic mass of greenery. As before, I'm rotating the elements so they face up and down and sideways. This makes the pattern look more messy and organic. Notice that in this technique, the elements of each pattern are not touching each other and subsequent layers of patterns are also separate. This is a deliberate choice on my part because I want to create an illusion of hazy clouds of greenery, leaving some breathing room between elements and using white color mixed from aery and delicate composition. Now I will repeat the second pattern to make the composition more cohesive. After all, in a mixed forest, different types of trees grow next to each other and they repeat quite often. So don't hesitate to do that. Again, I'm making these leaves bigger so they don't blend too much with the tiny butterflies below them. It just makes the whole arrangement more pleasing to the eye. In This next layer, I'm combining the first and second patterns. Some of the leaves will be just outlined and some will be filled with a solid color. This blob was not distinctive enough, so I just established borders myself. I left this little pocket of free space in the middle for another pattern to make it even more interesting. When adding subsequent layers, remember that the drop and marks need a moment to dry. Be mindful of the direction in which your hand is moving so we won't smudge the freshly drawn shapes by accident. When the border of your blob is as sharp as here, you clearly see the area to fill, and you don't have to mark it in any way. Here I'm combining lots of these whole flowers and I'm rotating them so they fit together like a puzzle. If there is a space left between the elements that I don't like, I fill it with similar-looking but smaller shapes or parts of them. I'm filling the last layer with some wavy snakes consisting of little dashes going in different directions. This is an easy way to quickly cover a bigger space and create the illusion of large masses of greenery. I will finish this off with a bunch of tiny dots at the top, and that's it. In the next lesson, we will dive into building leafy patterns using a black pen and try a different technique to create an abstract forest illustration in a completely different mode. 6. Doodling: Mysterious Dark Wood: In the previous lesson, we've avoided placing pattern elements too close to each other. In this lesson, we will do exactly the opposite. Not only will most elements be touching, but we will also fill any of the spaces between them with black ink. This will allow us to create an incredibly lush, dense, mysterious with illustration. I'm dwindling a bunch of elongated leaves here using micron pen number five. They are not touching but they are placed really close to each other. Now, I'm switching to micron pen number 10 to fill all these spaces between them with black ink. I find this step incredibly satisfying and also meditative because your only task for a little while is to get to all those nooks and crannies with your pen. You can focus on the shapes of your leaves and observe the ink flowing onto the page. I'm finishing this part by drawing a thick black outline around the entire leafy cluster so later on, it will stand out from the layer above it. For my second layer, I have chosen similar leaves, but they are even more elongated and thinner with sharper tips. I'm putting them together in the sets of two or three leaves converging at one end. I will fill any bigger spaces between such clusters with smaller singular leaves. I try to stick to this line more or less, and I fill all the gaps with leaves so the pattern is really dense and interesting. If at any point you realize that layer looks too flat and boring because of how the watercolor blob turned out, feel free to draw outside this imaginary line to make the outline of the whole cluster more irregular. These watercolor shapes are here to guide you, but not to constrict you. Again, I'm switching to micron number 10 to fill the gaps with ink. If I notice too much free space between some elements during the filling process and I see I could squeeze another leaf there, I don't hesitate to do it so the pattern looks well-balanced and there are no unnecessary big black gaps in the end. I'm adding elements to such space intuitively as I go. I think this is actually a much better way to work. If I try to plan every single leaf, it would be much harder for me to find a way among the chaotic lines to see which spaces to fill with black. Again, I'm outlining the whole cluster with a thick black line to create a border between this layer and the next. On a side note, don't worry if you accidentally fill the leaf instead of the space next to it. After you finish the illustration will be so intricate and busy that no one will notice such minor mistakes anyway. I specifically designed these exercises to help you relax, unwind and get into the state of flow. However, if you do not have patience for such details and you are in here for quick results, the first technique will be much better suited for you, and you can try it out with a black pen as well. Of course, you could speed up this process by drawing much bigger leaves. However, the results will be very different and it will be harder to achieve this illusion of dense greenery we're going for here. The other thing you can do is to use a much smaller piece of paper for this exercise. The patterns will have to be smaller as well and even more intricate, but overall surface to cover will be less overwhelming. Now, let's take a break from tiny details and create a layer that will be nicely contrasting with the previous ones. I'm going for a micron number 10 here straightaway because there will be a few spaces to fill afterwards and the elements are big enough to allow that. We will draw a pattern consisting of slightly bigger leaves that will be superimposed on one another. As you can see, I'm not sticking to the shape of the paint blob exactly, and I will even stretch this layer to the left to create a buffer between the bottom layers and the one I'm planning on next. Now, after creating a layer of big leaves without much black between them, I will play around and make a layer containing a lot of black for a change. I'm drawing a bunch of smaller scattered elements, leaving quite a lot of space between them. It's a similar pattern to the one we've created in the first exercise, but here we will add a black background to it. I went ahead and started filling spaces with a lot of black ink. To speed up this process, I switched to Tombow marker number 15. It's pretty thick, so it covers the spaces fairly quickly. This amount of black provides a great contrast for the layer below and makes both of them pop. Occasionally, I add smaller leaves between spaces, but generally I keep this pattern pretty loose and scattered. Now, let's start with the new layer. I will be filling this nice cloudy blob with teardrop shapes connected in sets of three, four, or even five so they look a little like chestnuts leaves. I will also incorporate these tiny butterfly wings to fill the whole area nicely. We've worked with similar patterns in the first exercise, but here I will allow them to touch and I will differentiate the size of the elements even more so they all fit together like a puzzle. I'm squeezing single leaf elements into these tiny spaces that are left just to minimize the amount of black backgrounds I will be adding later on because there is so much of it in the layer below. The spaces here are so tiny that I'm just using Micron number five to fill them. Now, I'm repeating these big leaves to create a contrast with the incredibly busy and intricate layer below. It will give the whole composition a little breathing room. Now, I will try to add some interest to the illustration with these new oval shapes. Notice that I'm filling the spaces between them with black right away as I go. It's easier to do with circles and ovals when you naturally build the layer by gluing elements together. Now, I'm embellishing these ovals with vertical stripes for fun. I decided to repeat the chestnut and butterflies pattern to finish off the top layer of the illustration. To add a little bit more interest in the end, I will fill this last area with circles and ovals in different sizes, and filling the spaces between them for a strong black accent on the top. That's it. Our dark mysterious forest is ready. 7. Final Thoughts: Thank you so much for joining me today. I hope you feel relaxed and inspired, and you will create your own magical forest with a little bit of watercolors and some doodling. Remember that you can dive into this exercises by creating tiny versions of the illustrations. It's a great way to incorporate art practice into your daily routine, even if you don't have a lot of time. If you're curious about the strategy and you want to learn more tips and tricks that would allow you to create on a regular basis, checkout my class called Pocket-Sized Creativity. Make time for art despite a busy schedule. If you love doodling and you crave more nature-inspired exercises, you might enjoy slow drawing, slow living, get in the flow with ocean doodles. As always, I would love to see what you will create. Please don't forget to share your project into the project's gallery. If you enjoy this class, I would appreciate it if you'd leave me a review. If you want to stay tuned for my next classes, follow me here on Skillshare. Happy creating, and see you next time.