Watercolor Fundamentals: Make a Technique Book | Charlotte DeMolay | Skillshare

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Watercolor Fundamentals: Make a Technique Book

teacher avatar Charlotte DeMolay, Art | Writing | Nature

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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.



    • 3.



    • 4.

      Wet on Wet and Layering


    • 5.

      Dry Brush and Stippling


    • 6.

      Texture &and Resists


    • 7.

      Your Project


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About This Class

In this class you will learn fundamental techniques for creating watercolor paintings. We will begin with an overview of watercolor supplies. Then we will explore washes, wet on wet, layering, dry brush, stippling and a variety of texture techniques. You will gain experience in using these common watercolor basics and feel more confident for future classes and art projects.

The class project will be practicing the skills taught and creating a technique book or file for you to use as a reference for future classes or watercolor projects.

After you practice and create your technique book, try your new skills with this class:

Watercolor Fundamentals: Paint a Seascape

Meet Your Teacher

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Charlotte DeMolay

Art | Writing | Nature



*I'm taking a break from Skillshare for a little while...if you need to contact me you can fine me on the sites below* 

click Facebook or @charlottebdemolay

click Instagram or @charlotte.demolay

click demolay.com for my website, email list and blog


I don't just see the world as it is, I see the possibilities.

Part of my passion for art is teaching others. I have taught students of all ages for over 35 years. I love teaching the creative soul who thinks they 'can't' do art as well as the advanced student wanting to push their work to a new level.

I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. I work in acrylic, wa... See full profile

Level: Beginner

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1. Introduction: Do you to watercolor or have thought about trying watercolor? Have you ever looked at a watercolor painting and wondered, how did they do that? Have you been thinking about trying to watercolor class? They're a little bit overwhelmed by some of the projects. This class, we'll walk you through the fundamentals of some of the basic watercolor techniques. Like washes, wet on wet, dry brush. And even learn some interesting texture techniques. You'll make technique book, you can use as you take more watercolor classes. Not only will these fundamentals give you more confidence in your own painting, but you'll start to recognize it and other artists' work as well. I'm Charlotte DeMolay. Welcome to my studio. I've been an artist and instructor for many years and I look forward to starting your watercolor journey with you. 2. Supplies: Let's talk about the basic supplies we're going to need to create our technique book. A good watercolor set, I've used for years in my classes is a Winsor and Newton Cotman watercolors. These are tube watercolors basically get a red, blue, yellow, green, a good brown, and a black. Now, if you have other types of watercolors like I have quite a collection with different brands. I kind of favor Winsor and Newton, but I've got Van Gogh and a few other types. Feel free to use whatever you have. Great thing about watercolors is when they dry on a pallet, you can still reuse them, unlike when acrylics dry and they're just stuck on your palette. This is my larger palette set, and you can see that these are dry and all I need to do is add some more water to them and get to painting. This is a small set I've used in classes before the nice thing about it is if you're going to be painting on the go or travel painting it has a little thumb holder and folds up nicely. This palette is a nice size. It has large wells to hold the paint and a good mixing area for mixing up the washes and different things we'll be doing in this class next, you need brushes. If you already have a collection of watercolor brushes, that's fine, use what you have, you don't need anything special for this class. I have some expensive brushes like this particular blue one I bought when I was in college, it was about $12. That was like buying gold back then. And these are my less expensive brushes. Loew-Cornell makes an excellent set that I use in both watercolor and acrylic painting. I don't use the same set of brushes for both though. These are some brushes I've used in acrylic classes. They don't always get washed properly. Sometimes they sit in the water too long and the ferrules get loose. So whatever types of brushes you have, just be sure they are at least dedicated to watercolor painting. I like this water bin because it has a lid. I've had cats in my studios. I don't like them drinking out of it. I also have a separate one just for acrylics, it's good to keep them separated. You don't need anything fancy, even just a plain cup will work, especially if you can keep one with just clean water and another one for washing off your brushes. Let's talk paper. In one class I used Canson Aquarelle paper quite a bit. I went to get more of it and couldn't find it. So I've picked up some Artist's Loft. I'm using half size sheets for my demonstrations, but you're welcome to cut it down to quarter size or even use the full sheet if you like. If you don't want to cut up paper, you can get pre-cut watercolor paper like this Strathmore pack. Now notice this says hot press on this pack and the other pads say cold press. The difference between hot press and cold press is the texture on the paper. It's determined by the manufacturing process. So if you want more texture, you usually use cold press, less texture, hot press. For our technique book, it's okay to use an inexpensive paper and not worry about cold press or hot press, but be sure to use watercolor paper. If you use copy paper or cardstock, it will not hold up to the water very well. The paper will buckle, the paint will not interact the same. So definitely use some sort of paper designated for watercolor. Even with using watercolor paper, when water is applied to the paper, it will curl or buckle. So I always taped down my paper at least in two corners. You can tape it down further on all four corners or all the way around the paper if you'd like. The surface I do this on is foam core boards. I get these inexpensive boards at Walmart or Michaels. They're designed for student projects. As you can see, they're not very thick, but they're ideal for what we're doing here. As for holding down your paper, you can use tape designed for watercolor. Or what I prefer to use is inexpensive painter's tape. That's what you'll see me using throughout this class. 3. Washes: Let's start with our first technique, washes. I'm going to grab some of the widest flat brushes that I have. This is my expensive brush, but I'll do the majority of these techniques with inexpensive brushes. It's always good to have several flat brushes on hand. I like to use one just for clean water and then a couple of more if I don't want to wash the brushes in-between laying down different colors. First I'm going to show you a wash on dry paper. For any wash, the first thing you do is to mix up a large quantity of the color that you want to use. It's hard to stop in the middle sometimes and mixed new paint. To lay down your wash, start at this top of the area where you want the wash, go from one side of the paper to the other and then come back catching just a bit of the paint. You'll repeat this, dipping and getting more paint in your palate all the way down the paper. And remember, I did not wet down my paper before doing this wash. As you can see, it's already getting streaky and not very smooth. Here's what it looks like after it's dried. It's not very smooth. There's a lot of streaks. Now we're going to try one with the paper wet. I use a clean brush to wet the paper beforehand. The brush you're going to see me use on the first one is called a mop brush. I did not show that in the supplies because I thought I'd walked away from my collection. I found it later in my acrylic set of brushes. A mop brush has a wider head and absorbs more water, which makes it particularly good for laying down washes. But a mop brush is not necessary as I'll show you in the second demonstration, again, mix up a large amount of the paint, move from one side of the paper to the other in slightly overlapping strokes so that you can grab the paint at the bottom and pull it into the next stroke. I always paint watercolors with my board or my surface at a slight angle for this particular demonstration, as at maybe a five to ten degree angle. The slight angle helps control the paint a little more. You know it's going to go down to the bottom of your stroke and it makes it easier to grab next wash stroke. So just slowly go from one side to the other, again, overlapping your strokes. I got this paper a little bit too wet because you can see it's pooling up on the left side, I'll try to pull a little bit of it out, but we'll see how it looks when it dries. It dried smoother, but you can still see the dark spot where the buckle was. So we're going to try this again using the flat brush. Again, I'm going to wet my paper beforehand to help the paint distributed more evenly. This time I'm not going to get the paper quite as wet so that it won't buckle as much. You can also use more tape to keep it from buckling. Just like before. Grab your paint and move from one side to the other, overlapping just slightly to that that it grabs the paint from before and pulls it down into that stroke. Go from the top to the bottom, getting more paint off your palette as needed. This wash dried a lot smoother at the end without that buckle in the middle. Now we're going to do a graduated wash where it's darker on one end than the other. Again, I will prewet the paper with clean water. While you're wetting the paper, It's hard to see on camera where the dry spots are, but you'll see it in feel it as you're doing it on your own. You start the same with a graduated wash. You move from one side of the paper to the other with a brush loaded with paint. After a few overlapping strokes, you don't reload with paint. You reload with plain water. Don't wash your brush, just dip it in the clean water. Between the paint in the stroke beforehand and the paint left on your brush, it will give you enough color to lighten up the wash without going to completely clear. I got a little heavy handed with this one at the top by redipping it into the paint instead of water and you can see that. But sometimes that's the effect you're looking for, especially when painting skies with this technique. Next, we're going to do a graduated wash with two colors. Again, start off with clean water on your paper before you get started on the wash. Make sure you have both colors mixed up so that you don't stop in the middle to mix up the other color and, in turn, let the first one dry. And I'm going to lay down blue at the top and do the same technique with a graduated wash before of grabbing the paint and the slightly overlapping motion, I'll dip and clean water this time instead of paints so that lightens up as it goes towards the middle of the paper. Now I'm going to stop, grab another brush and pick up the color that I want to bring up from the bottom. In this case green, again at overlap slightly. See that line. I must not have had my paper wet enough. Overlap slightly and go in an upward motion. And then in the middle, have a fairly clean brush to blend the two colors. And this is what it looks like dry. Let's do this technique again with two different colors. The red I'm using as cadmium red pale hue, the yellow I'm using is cadmium yellow hue. Instead of doing a graduated wash on each one, I'll do a flat wash into the middle of each color, and then a fairly clean brush to join them in the middle. And this comes together nicely after it dries. A note about watercolor washes. This is the hardest technique, I think in watercolors. It takes a while to master. And even when you think you haven't mastered, you'll get an unexpected bloom or color spot and you just learn to live with it. Several factors affect the watercolor wash, such as the quality of the paper, how well it's taped down and how patience you are while doing it. That's usually my problem is lack of patience. I did quite a few examples for this class, and I'm only showing you just a few of them and they're not perfect, but that's okay. If you're getting frustrated with this, practice at a time or two and then move on to another technique. It's something you can always come back to another time. Let's look at some examples using washes. In my paintings, I use washes most often for skies. In this mission painting, I did a flat wash for the sky. In this Marina painting I did a graduated wash. I also did a graduated wash in this small sailboat painting. 4. Wet on Wet and Layering: Now let's do some wet on wet techniques. Wet on wet is exactly what it sounds like. Where you have either wet paint or wet paper and you're putting more wet paint on top of it. It's unpredictable and hard to control but to me it's what makes watercolors so beautiful. First I'll paint a simple blue ball. And then I'll put more of the same color on one side of it. And then let it blend in together. I'll do another simple blue circle. And this time put a spot of green in it. You can tell that my surface is at that slight angle again because the paint is pooling at the bottom. Next I'll do a stroke of green and then a stroke of yellow and see how they interact. Finally in application, I'll put down some blue that maybe looks like water. And then add a touch of green on top of it to blend in. Another good use for wet on wet, is highlights and shadows. I'll paint a quick apple at a touch of yellow to one side for the highlight, then a touch of blue on the shadow side. I put a little too much paint, so I'm using my dried off my brush and I'm lifting some of the paint away from it. And here is the wet on wet after it's dried. I want to show you how the wetness of the paper affects your wet on wet techniques. At the top here I'm getting the paper very wet. And then doing a stroke of green. In this section, it's wet, but not as wet as in the top. And now for the third example, I'm just doing a quick swatch of water. And then I'm actually going to blot it dry with a piece of paper towel so that it's still damp. But there's not water sitting on top of the paper. See those bubbles that are formed, that sizing, sizing affects the absorption of the paint into the watercolor paper. Those will smooth out. In the first example, the paint spread out into the paper, giving us some interesting lines. The second one's definitely more controlled, but it's still not a clean edge. And the third one has a much crisper edge. Now let's try a stroke on completely dry paper. In this example, the paint didn't spread at all. And here's what it looks like dry, you can definitely see a difference in the edges on all three. One's not any better than the other. It just depends on the look you're trying to achieve. Now let's talk about layering when you don't want your colors to blend in as dramatically as wet on wet, you let the colors dry in-between painting, this is called layering. I'll do an example with some leaves and flowers. I'm just using viridian hue to paint some quick leaves. Do a little stem to join them together. We'll also do a plain stroke here. Next I'm going to paint some cadmium red hue flowers just dipping down for each petal. And then I'll go back and spread it out into more of a flower shape. These are very quick, whatever shape you choose, don't spend a lot of time on it. It's just more to practice and to show you how the layering looks. Next, we've got to set this aside and let it dry. I'm going to use a mixture of the blue and the green for the leaves on top, the colors will still blend slightly and blur that edge, but it's not as strong of a mixture as wet on wet. Each leaf still has a very distinct shape and doesn't blend into the other leaves. And then here's our overlapping stroke. Now for the flowers, I'm actually going to use the same color red, the cadmium red hue. This is a good technique if you're wanting to show some depth where there's maybe a lighter flowers in the background and darker flowers upfront. I'm using just a little bit more pigment on these, but it's the same color. I didn't change color at all. You can see that the line of overlap isn't super crisp, but it still keeps a distinct shape between each flower. If I tried to do this without letting the lower layer dry, it would just end up one big red blob. All the flowers would blend in together and they would lose their individual shapes. Now one key is you don't want to overwork it too long, because as you've seen from your watercolor palette, the paint is dry, but they're not permanent if you add water to them. So as you're using wet paint on top of the layers, it actually reactivatea the paint underneath, and that's why they blend in together. So the faster you can work on the top layer, the less they blend. And just another little quick stem here. Here's how it looks dry. You can see that there are individual flowers and individual leaves. Now let's look at some examples using wet on wet or layering techniques. These are two paintings I did for a child's nursery. I wet the entire paper ahead of time and used a lot of wet colors during the whole painting process. There are very few distinct lines, but where there are, I did let the previous layers dry and then layered on top. For the palm tree, you can see the layering effect up in the palm leaves. To keep each leaf looking slightly separate, I waited until the base layer dried and then went on top with highlighting color and shading color. The background of this giraffe was very wet on wet, I had the paper wet, I had my paint very wet. And then I put a few drops of just plain water to create those blooms around his head. The background for this painting is another wet on wet technique. I wet the paper. I added the yellow like a sunset and then added the colors around it to blend in as I went down the paper, the trees are done in dry brush. And thus the next technique we're going to learn. 5. Dry Brush and Stippling: Now I'll talk about dry brush and stippling. Dry brush usually indicates that the paper is dry. Of course, your brush is going to be wet because you're gonna have some of the pigment on it. But it's not always as heavily loaded or painted as heavily as when you want a wash or covering large areas that blend in together, look at this stroke of paint on dry paper. You see bits of white through it. You can tell that it's actual brushstroke. Now I'm going to show you some finer dry brush by using some smaller brushes. Again, my collection is mainly inexpensive brushes so just use what you have. Dry brushes are often used for grasses. So that's the example I'm going to use. I apologize. My hand is covering my actual strokes, but I'm just holding it and flicking upwards with the paint that's loaded so that it is thicker at the base and finer on top. You can tell my flicking upward motion laying in a couple of colors on very quickly. Again, by keeping the paint on the brush drier, it's less likely to blend in for the wet on wet look. Now let's try some of my favorites, sea oats. I'm using a little bit of burnt umber. And then the cadmium yellow on top for the highlight of the oats, just doing very quick strokes, not very precise. And then put a little bit of green grass down at the base of it. Grasses, an excellent use of dry brush technique. Bare trees and tree limbs are also a good dry brush technique, like the last example in the wet on wet section. Now we're going to do stippling. Stippling is applying small dots or strokes of paint, and then adding another color in the same method. It blends a little bit of wet on wet and dry brush because you get some hard edges from the strokes where they don't touch. But then where they do, they blend. Now, how you use your brush effects, how big it is. The first one I push down harder and have more of a stroke. This one is more simple dots. This is kind of in-between and I changed the brush size as well. By varying in your spacing it determines the density of how the stippling looks. You can even turn your brush around and use the other end for actual dots. Just do it the same way you would your brush except that dip the end of your paint brush in the paint and do a straight up and down motion. The more paint you have, the darker the dot. As you dot around without reapplying paint, it lightens up the dot. Now why would you use this technique? This is a good technique for creating texture such as the inside of a sunflower. This is a quick example of that using some of the burnt umber. And then I'll add some of the yellow as a highlight stipple that on top. And then I'll add a little bit of the blue with the base for a shadow. Again, you're getting the advantage of both wet on wet and dry brushing with stippling, parts of the stipples blend together and parts of them stand alone. And this is how these look dry. Here's some examples using dry brush, as I mentioned before, sea oats are one of my favorites. The petals of these daisies are dry brush. Here's some stippling on the back of this little cheetah. This was a one-color stipple, but I used varying amounts of the pigment on my brush. Now let's move on to texturing. 6. Texture &and Resists: There are lots of fun ways to create texture in your watercolor paintings. We'll start with two very different techniques. Wet your paper, get it pretty decently wet, and then put down a quick wash. It doesn't have to be even or graduated. This is just getting pigment on the paper so that we can try some texture techniques. The left half of the paper, I'm going to use sponges. This creates a very subtle texture. You can use any sort of man-made sponge or natural sponge, even a household square sponge. It doesn't matter. What sponge does is it picks up some of the pigment and softens edges, blending things together. A lot of times I'll use sponges when I want a soft background or if I want to absorb some of the paint and the water on the paper. On this side, we'll do a very different technique using plain plastic wrap, push it down into the wet paint. I didn't crinkle it very much, but you can you can vary the texture with how much you bunch it up. As you can see on this left side, it's a lot more subtle. You can use the sponge to, to pull some of the paint off, scrub some of the paint in. This right side's going to be a lot bolder texture now that it's dry, I'm going to pull the plastic off. And you can see these lines are very distinct, very sharp as opposed to the wet sponge on the other side. And this is how it looks completely dry. Two different textures but creates interesting effects. Now let's try another one. Again wet your paper, and then put in a solid wash of any pigment color. Don't worry about making your wash, even just get some pigment down on the paper. This technique is called scratching. One of the easiest things to use is the end of your brush. The end of a round brush creates a darker scratching. You use the flat end of a brush, it'll actually scrape the pigment off and create a negative scratching effect. Again, this technique is really good for grasses, branches, leaves. You can also use a credit card or a reward card. It'll have the same effect of scratching the paint off of the surface. You can use the flat end or can use the corners and the edges. Now we're going to do one of my favorites. I use this technique a lot for texture and it's just fun. Get your paper good and wet, the wetter, the better for this technique. In fact, I realized afterwards, I probably didn't use enough pigment because I did have my paper so wet. So if you're doing the techniques with me, get more pigment on your paper than I have on here. Now we're going to use ordinary table salt. Nothing special, it doesn't have to be kosher. Just plain white, cheap table salt. Scatter it all over your paper. Be careful not to touch it after you've scattered it. Now normally I set these aside to dry. But for this one, I'm going to speed this up to 2000 percent and let you watch it dry. As the salts sits there on the wet paper it affects the absorption of the pigment into the paper and it essentially spreads as the salts dissolving into the water. So you see the areas around the Salt getting larger as it's drying creates a really, really interesting texture effect. Here it is completely dry. After it is completely dry, you can get the salt off by simply rubbing it off. Now we'll look at resist techniques. The most common form of resist technique is masking fluid. I'm using two different types here. One I'll apply with a brush and one already has a pen built-in. You can see a little bit of blue here in the bottle. Most masking fluids have a slight amount of blue coloring. So you can see where you've applied them on the paper. Don't use expensive brushes for masking fluid. It will ruin your brush. It is impossible to wash out all the masking fluid out of the brush. And after using it a few times, you can't even reuse it for masking fluid itself. You simply have to throw it away and you definitely don't want to use it with watercolors after masking fluid. So I'll mark the end of mine with tape. I know a brush that has tape on the end has been used with masking fluid. I don't use it with anything else. And then when it gets too gummy and I can't wash the masking fluid out. Like I said, I throw it away. You can tell this has a slight blue coloring on the paper. So now the pen can just gonna do a few strokes with it. The blue didn't mix up as well, so it's whiter, but we can still see it fairly clearly. So our next resist is wax resist. A good source of wax is a crayon and especially a white crayon, so it doesn't show up on your paper. I don't have any crayons in my house. I found a birthday candle and it's going to leave a slight bit of yellow on the paper because I couldn't find a pure white candle. But that's okay. It doesn't show up very strong. Unlike the masking fluid which will remove later, you can't remove the wax. So that's why you want to go for white or light color. So I'm just putting down a few strokes with the wax. Our next method is tape. And in fact, I'm sure you've noticed that taping down your paper leaves a little bit of whitespace on it. You can do the same thing on purpose with bits of tape. Or if you want some interesting lines, you can use washi tape as well. Okay, we have to set this aside until the masking fluid is completely dry, you can test it by lightly touching it and if it doesn't come off, you know, it's dry. I'm gonna do a little bit of blue and green on here. kind of wet on wet to test our masking techniques here you see going over the wax, it just simply doesn't paint where the wax is. That one's the easiest to see right away. Now remember you can't get the wax off the paper. So if you're using the wax technique, you need to be okay with that being part of your final art. Again, you have to set it aside until it's completely dry. Once it's completely dry, you can rub the masking fluid off with your finger. You can also use a pink eraser or kneaded eraser. Both of those will help get masking fluid off. It leaves the paper underneath completely white. The same thing with the tape. I'm sorry, I didn't realize the camera focused on my hair as opposed to the tape. So bear with me for a second. There we go. Now we can see the tape and just like with the masking fluid, the paper underneath is left completely white. Now let's do some splatter and pour. Pouring is easier when you have a large piece of paper and a bigger surface, you can still do it with our technique book though. For the first pour example, the paper's going to be dry. I mix up a large amount of the, green dotted on top and then tilt the board to let it pour down. I'm not really guiding it, I'm just letting it go wherever it wants to go across the paper. Now let's try it with the paper wet, doing the same thing. Wet the paper, then add the paint on top, tilt the board, and let it pour down. Now I'll even add a second color into it. Because the paper's wet, it goes down much more rapidly, but the lines aren't as sharp as on the dry paper. Let's add a second color into that dry. Again, I have my board tilted and I'm just adding it until it breaks that surface tension and heads down the paper. Pouring can give you some really interesting backgrounds. Now we're going to try some splatter. I love using splatter in some of my looser watercolors. You can use different types of brushes to do different types of effects. You can use a flat brush, a toothbrush. One of my favorites is a stencil brush. The way to do it is load up the brush with paint and then flip it across the paper. It does get a little messy on your finger. It's okay. You can even sling the paint off your brush to get some larger splatters. I really like the stencil brush as it holds a lot of pigment and does a good splatter effect. Now when would you use these techniques? This is one of my favorite quick projects. It will show up in Coffee Break Art at some point. This is a winter abstract using resist and salt and this Marina picture, I used masking fluid to mask the white of the paper for the masts for all the sailboats. And this little chive blossom picture, I used wet on wet for the blooms and then splattered on top just to give it some extra energy. And that concludes our techniques. Let's talk about your project. 7. Your Project: Congratulations, you made it through Watercolor Rundamentals: Making a Technique Book. Now it's project time. I hope you enjoyed it. I hope you enjoyed trying the different techniques. If there are any that were challenging, remember, just go back and try again. Now for the project. If you've been following along with me in your project's almost complete. Making the technique book and practicing the techniques that are taught in the class are your project. If you weren't doing the techniques along with the videos, now's a good time to go back and practice them. I was using a half sheet, but you can also use a quarter sheet either size works whatever you want if you want to be able to do it many times over, go ahead and do a quarter sheet. So that way you don't feel like you're wasting paper as you practice. You can take all of our practices and just leave them loose like this if you'd like. You can also punch a hole in the corner, put a brad in it, and make a neat little flip book. One thing I would add to your book is right down on the back of each one, the technique that you did. And any other note...the name of the paint or maybe the type of brush...any other type of notes that you want to remember in the future when you're trying that technique. As you've completed your technique book please take a picture of it and upload it here in the project section. I love seeing the projects and I try and comment on each and every one. And if you have any questions, feel free to reach out. I love talking with students and I'm happy to help you with any questions you have. I hope you enjoyed this class. If you did, please follow me here on my Skillshare channel and you'll know when I put out new classes such as projects that will use these techniques to create a work of art.