Watercolor Story: Practice the Essentials | Amarilys Henderson | Skillshare

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Watercolor Story: Practice the Essentials

teacher avatar Amarilys Henderson, Watercolor Illustrator, Design Thinker

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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.

      Intro to Watercolor Story


    • 2.

      Paint Types


    • 3.

      Paper Types


    • 4.

      Water to Paint Ratio


    • 5.

      All the Colors


    • 6.

      Color Mixing


    • 7.

      Value Study


    • 8.

      Resist Techniques


    • 9.



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About This Class

Three elements: basics, exercises that become polished finished pieces, and my story of how I learned these principles. It's a basics class that doesn’t feel like a textbook.

We learn by doing, right? So let’s just get to it! Each exercise will teach you the essentials while creating something to show for it! Paint these simple pieces to learn big principles while dabbling with these trendy subjects: wood grain, pineapple, florals, monograms, and more.

Questions addressed in this class:

  • Why are some paints so expensive? Which should I buy?
  • What's the different among watercolor paper types?
  • How much water / how much paint to use?
  • Which colors should I pick? How do I create a color scheme?
  • What are resists and how do I use them?

This class is great for beginners and those looking to explore their knowledge in watercolor. Have you been curious about watercolor or feel bogged down by the details? This class is for you. 

Other classes to learn from in the Confident Watercolors Series:

Brushes  |  Dealing with Mistakes  |  Start with a Shape

Meet Your Teacher

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Amarilys Henderson

Watercolor Illustrator, Design Thinker

Top Teacher

Hello! I'm Amarilys. I process on paper and I problem-solve with keystrokes.

As a commercial illustrator, I've had the pleasure of bringing the dynamic vibrance of colorful watercolor strokes to everyday products. My work is licensed for greeting and Christmas cards, art prints, drawing books, and home decor items. My design background influences much of my recent work, revolving around typography and florals.

While my professional work in illustration is driven by trend, my personal work springs from my faith. Follow along on Instagram


Learn a variety of fun and on-trend techniques to improve your work!

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1. Intro to Watercolor Story: Watercolor. It's so popular. Isn't that gorgeous? You're afraid you're going to hate it. What's great about this fast medium is that you can also learn pretty fast. I'm going to teach you the only way I known how. You're going do it for your first time along me. Through my watercolor story, I'll answer your lurking questions. That's a nice, little trick. I'll give you lessons along the way. We learn by doing, right? We're going to do different exercises with some very odd trend subjects. I want you to have as much fun with it as I do. I just want to inspire you to create your own, start your own, continue in your own watercolor story, and say, "Yay, I did this". Start you watercolor story. 2. Paint Types: So I remember beginning to paint in watercolor in high school, and Mrs. Wagner, with arms a bit folded, the tip of her glasses in her mouth, this very studious made you feel like this was a total legit art critique. She encouraged me to continue in one week. So this was the set of watercolors that I bought. It tipped me off that it wasn't the best quality with the very bland branding. But I was just enamored with the number of colors. When it comes to buying your first set of watercolors, here are some tips. There are three types of watercolor paints. Tubes. You squirt out the paint on your palette, just like you would any other paint, the difference is that you combine it with water. Fluid watercolors, also called concentrated watercolors. These come in liquid form and you'll need an ear dropper if it doesn't already come with the paint. Squirt it on your palette, you'll mix it with water and it's great for creating large paintings that flow and bleed. Pans, these are watercolors that are baked into the square pads. What's the difference? Well, all three of them need to be activated by water. First, I'm trying out the tube watercolors. This is good if you want to do a large painting. Fluid watercolors and tube watercolors are great for that. Pans will constrict you a little bit as far as how much paint you can use. So when you look at a paint, especially, let's think about a tube of paint, to make it fluid, to make it work as a paint, there are a lot of binders and those are just the stuff that holds the pigment, the color together. Viscosity is that combination of how that pigment and binder work together. Higher-quality paints. These two elements are going to bind better. Lower-quality paints. You will notice that there is sometimes a breakdown in the viscosity. So when you paint with a cheaper watercolor, you feel like you are literally stretching a piece of a plastic of plato across the page. That means that the viscosity is not so great because the binders are low quality and maybe the pigments are low quality, they are not blending really well. When you're looking at paints and you're wondering why are some more expensive than others? It's the same with food. So you have a higher quality of the stuff. Those are the things to consider when you're looking at paints, at least to better understand why some things are more expensive than others. When people ask me do I need to get expensive paints? I would tell them to get the best paint that they can afford. 3. Paper Types: Something that have always appreciated about the medium is how quickly you have to work. Probably, doesn't come as a surprise that I don't often stretch my paper. Stretching your paper is a process where you soak your watercolor paper, stretch it out on a board, on a surface, tape it down. It helps your paper to be more receptive to the watercolor once it's dry. It also helps that it won't buckle and curve and bind when you're painting. I personally never do it but what I often do is, I'll use masking tape and I'll put masking tape along the edges if I know that I'm going to paint the entire sheet of watercolor paper. It just helps keep down some of the buckling that happens. It looks cool, it looks really professional. You know what, while we're here, let's talk about paper. I'll show you my recommended paper. This is a paper that I don't use all the time, but I really do like the texture. It is very inexpensive and this is the Master's Touch brand and it retails at 350. First, I like this square format, there are not too many out there that are squares, and I like that it's a rougher texture. It's still cool pressed, but it has a bit of a tooth. I'll show you a sample right now. You can see there's some grid it it whenever I do these simple shapes. It leaves a little bit of, it's almost like a chalk, white chalk went over it kind of texture. The paper that I use the most is this, Canson brand. I like that it's a pretty bright white. It's also inexpensive, doesn't have much of a tooth to it, It is cool pressed, it's my all around go to paper. Those are my favorite papers. I'm going to introduce you to another paper kind. Arches paper is the trademark, awesome watercolor paper as it stands. They also come in large sheets, they sell pads that are bound together, you wait for that to dry, you use an executive blade to slice it off and there you have your paper. I really like the idea of the blocks, those pads and since I have this huge role of Arches, rough paper then, I use this in different of my big paintings. We're going to dabble in that right now. I want you to get a feel for things and to not feel intimidated, to use what you've got. This is my Arches paper, rip it, you want that edge and then tape it down. Grab any brush you have an all I want you to see doing this exercise, grab any paper you have, I want you to see the effect that these papers have so that you can see how this rough texture is relaying here on this paper. With this, I can keep going, I can keep adding colors. I'm adding color right into that wet part of my painting strokes of a lot of color, because I want you to see how this sits on the paper. Now, I'm going to use just a piece of card stock paper. This time I'm going to go with blue and I want to show you how these papers work. This is card is dark, and you can see that the colors aren't soaking in as well they're glossing on top of the paper. I'm going to do the same thing of adding in another color on top. You can see that since this is a very smooth paper, card stock, you can compare how these edges are very rough and that same brush created these different edges depending on what paper it's coming in contact with. Its bleeding a little bit on the edges because the grains of the paper are not compact together on a card stock and yet they are basically clean lines. I'm going to add the same color over here so you can compare the brightness here. This color this a little brighter than this. Again, you see why watercolor paper is watercolor paper. This is the Canson, this is the Master's Touch brand that has a little bit more of a tooth to it. When you're looking at your paper, there is a right and a wrong side. Remember that if it has a little more of a texture, that's going to be the right side, the back is very well pressed together. The same thing goes with this paper. Let's do the same. I am grabbing a lot of paint, I really just want to show you again the texture you're seeing as my brush gets drier than you see a lot more of that texture add more water. You can also appreciate how much water it takes and it does, it's a little harder to see. Its gleeing on the seat, but over time it will soak in, this one now, the Canson watercolor cool press. There are both 140 pounds, so they both have the same thickness. It's really more of a matter of the tooth, the texture. The poundage here, it's the topic, the papers. You can see that the colors are very bright on both of these. I'm going to add in some orange in here, add in another color, add in more stuff, see how the paper holds up. I'm going to put a ton of color into this. You can see a bleed nicely, gorgeous, this is happening, is beautiful. Let's do the same thing with this guy. I'm putting a lot of paint on because these parts are already wet, so I don't need to add in a lot of water and there you have it. Those are those two papers. My truth is, take whatever papers you have and I want you to try out this exercise. Create stripes in different colors. If we want to create exercises and experiment, but I like having something to show for it at the end of the day. We're going to make these crafts into a nice finished piece that maybe you'll like a lot better. Ever letting nothing goes to waste, I'm going to make much of these little striped paintings we did. You can glue yours down however you want, but I have A5 by seven cards. I'm going to make a little birthday cake out of it. What's fun about cakes is, there are so graphical, everyone already knows what it is from just a few details to make it fun. 4. Water to Paint Ratio: I remember my first watercolor painting, a swimmer underwater and really I was just playing around with washes. What I was trying to do with that was play with a really wet background and well, with the portrait, I new that I had to get a lot more control with my water to paint ratio so that I could render faces and I'll not be a blobby mess. How much water to use? How much paint to use? It's the same question. I am going to show you and leaded you in an exercise to feel out how much water and how much paint to put in. We're going to create a tree out of drops. The first thing we want to do is draw a circle. Grab a pencil and make your very light circle. I'm going to use a really big brush so that it holds a lot of water. You can use whatever brush you want, I just want you to be able to see how much paint and water I'm using. Right in my tree I'm going to start creating circles, and I want you to see that I'm doing this right now with just a lot of water. Let's do a green. This is very very wet and I want you to just get a feel for how much paint versus water we're using. I have not gotten more paint, I'm just reworking these. Filling it, obviously, the lighter colors and watercolor have more water. The darker you wanted, the more pigment you use, the more paint you use. But the most common mistake for newbies is to use too much water. The ones that had a lot of water, if you see there are some dark rings around those circles because as the paint dried, it actually dispersed. If you think of a bubble, the highest point being in the middle, and that's where the paint is being pushed through, so the paint is coming off from the middle, the center, and coming out to the edges and that's why you seen darker edges. If you like that, that's how to do it. You add too much water and wait a really long time to make sure it dries. Everything is dry. I'm going to erase this circle that was helping guide my eyes. I just used a kneaded eraser because you can erase a little or a lot depending on how much pressure you put on it. The brush I'm going to use to make the tree trunk is an eight-round. For the tree trunk I'm going to start with the middle. I'm doing it in more of a graphic style and I'm trying to make my edges very crisp. I'm washing my brush, I'm going to use a different brown just because I can, and with the tree, the center, the trunk is going to be your thickest part. Then from there stem, the medium-size branches and then they get smaller and smaller as they branch out. I'm working from large to small. To make sure that this all blends well, I'm adding a lot of water and pushing it forward, smudging it in so it makes it nice transition. 5. All the Colors: It's been very comfortable with color. As a kid, I loved Lisa Frank, those wild notebooks with every color you can imagine, especially if it was anywhere near neon. In this segment, we're going to explore color. But first we're going to start with a pencil. It really doesn't have to be anything fancy. We're just going to draw out an oval. It'd be great if I had a reference in front of me right now to do this pineapple with. But for the sake of just doing it, sometimes you just have to forget the whole referencing. That's what this class is about. I want you to actually do it, even if it's not perfect. We're going to make a grid here on the pineapple, and the grid is going to be diagonal. So I'm making my lines go from the upper right corner to the lower right corner. I'm going to do the same coming from upper left to the lower right. All I'm trying to do here is create a lot of little sections, little interesting looking squares because that's where we are going to lay down all the colors we want, label them, and we will have our color chart down on paper. We will know what each color looks like on paper. But it'll look great and that will be something that we actually want to hang up in our creative space. Whatever paints you have, bring them out. We're just basically going to create a piece that says, these are the colors that I have. I'm going to keep these pieces up here to be the neutral pieces. So we're going to start there. Let's start with the neutral colors. Now that we've done the neutrals then the crown of that pineapple, we're going to start with these shapes, and that's the fun part. I'm going to start with yellows, and then go from the yellows, to oranges, to reds, to violets, to blue, to green. Let those pencil lines be boundaries that I'm not going to let the colors touch. I also don't want them to bleed together because I really want each shape to be that color. So we have here what looks like a pineapple wearing a bizarre, very colorful sweater; little shapes, these little diamonds. So I pulled out this palette, I'm sure you've seen it around or maybe you have it yourself. So I wanted to give you a chance to seen it in action. If your paint palette is like mine and it has different colors mixing together, scrape at it, get it wet, activate it, and then wash it off. Since these paints don't have names on them, then I'll give it a grid name. Think Battleship. There is one crazy pineapple. When I'm looking for that right shade of whatever, I can go to this funky painting and say, oh, I'd really like to use this one, and we'll found out the name of it and use exactly that shape. Now to mix it up, I'll bring in sum very dark black and outline my pineapple to make it a really fun piece to hang up in my studio. 6. Color Mixing: To explore certain color schemes and limit my color palette, and something that I had to make myself do. But I learned a lot from it. I'm going to lead you in creating a color scheme. I'm going to select four colors, two warm colors and too cool colors. Those are the only colors that I'm going to use for this piece. We're going to do some florals, which are not as scary as it sounds. We'll make them very simple. I'm making these angled petal shapes. They are almost like glorified asterisks, just a little fatter. Then on top I'm doing that first color that's at the bottom there with some dots and I'll embellish a little bit. Something that I'll have to do is work a little bit on wet meaning that those petal colors, those pink shades are not dry, but I'm going to dab a little color in them so that they will bleed naturally. The cool colors will be my leaves, very simple leaf designs. We're going for a very simple look because we're really wanting to explore what it's like to use a limited color scheme. Here I'm finishing up using all the four colors that I have in this simple design of two flowers. Now comes the fun part. I'm going to mix number 1 with number 3, so that first one color and that first cool color and it mean this's very dark gray. Let me do the same with those two colors that are left. The second warm color and the second cool color, and you see the combination that it creates. I'm mixing right here on my paper. You can do that on a pallete. But all of a sudden now I have two more colors, if not four, underneath them. I just made them a little lighter so you could see the difference. I'm mixing right here on my paper just so that you can really appreciate how these colors blend. That darkest tuck, I'm using for the details. Combining the colors that you have really helps unify your piece. You've taken my florals, thus you've heard me say that before. Details make the piece, and that's exactly what we're going to do. We're going to add a little vase, just to give it a little context to ground it a bit, and make it feel finished. Now, how would this work with some different colors? I'm going to give you another take. We're going to do the exact same thing. I'm going to choose four colors, two warm, two cool, and start doing a floral from there. Later, we will mix the first warm and first cool together, second warm and second cool together, and make two neutral shades. The reason why I'm using warm and cool is because when you combine them together, then they make a desaturated neutral color. It'll be a brown or black, something that can be used to be a grounder for these very bright colors. I could very well create more combinations of these colors. There are four colors. There is no special recipe to using the first, or the second, or the third. I'm just keeping it consistent for you, and we couldn't keep exploring mixing colors with different ratios, may be more of this color and less of that one. But this already gives you plenty of colors to work with for just a single piece. Again, it creates a very unified look, and you create colors that you wouldn't have expected to use, and they look wonderful with your piece. I'm going to bring in that vase again. Try a little different kind this time. Here are my two mini bouquets I could easily give a friend. I didn't really go into how I create flowers. You're welcome to check out this class for more info on that. 7. Value Study: I remember taking this dreadful class that everyone in art school had to take. I didn't love it because we had to work in gray scale for the better part of the semester and I just love color so much. So that was painful for me. The final project though, was what I learned the most from and I chose to paint, I think it was three foot by four foot portrait of my grandfather's face and it was mimicking Chuck Close's painting style. Close up, you really can't see much. You see the little really pixelated design elements. When you walk away, you see this entire piece come together because your eyes are focusing on those lights and darks. Value being light to darks. We're only going to use one color. We're going to use Prussian blue because we're wanting to focus on light and darks. I'm going to get my brush really wet because I want to start with light. Again, this is my number eight round, I'm going to do a forest. Really simply, I'm just going to do some v-shapes and go from there, not adding any more paint to my brush. I am working with very light colors, more water. It is going to be a very simple painting, but as we layer, it'll look better and better. That's my first layer. I'm going to stop there and I'm going to let it dry. Next time around, I'm going to use a little more paint to do, basically, the same thing on this next tier. 8. Resist Techniques: Watercolor is so versatile and I keep experimenting with it. In college, we had to do this ridiculous art assignment where we had to make a life-size self portrait head to toe. It felt a little bit like pre-school when you trace yourself out on a big sheet of paper and now I don't know what to do with this thing. Now we've gotten a little more familiar, we're going get to play around. We're going to explore a very simple resist using crayons. Maybe you've done this before but I think combined with this subject, it's going to be really trendy and really relevant to something that you might design or use later. I'm going to use just a simple crayon. I'm using a blunt crayon because I want to have thicker lines. I know that it's hard for you to see this but I'm making woodgrains. The way to do that is by starting with a circle and expanding your lines from there. I'm going to get a very big brush and it's going to get very wet and with a lot of paint on it. You're starting to see that resist. You're starting to see my crayon marks. I'm scattering my marks because I'm also bringing in other colors and I want them to blend on their own. I'm working very wet with three colors, an ocher, a sienna and a brown to combine them into this woodgrain effect. This is how it looks when it's dry. You saw me use it in one watercolor arrays. It's basically a really [inaudible] rubber cement medium. I use this brand, Dr Ph. Martin's. That brand has not let me down so I thought I'd buy it again. There are several brands and it will go bad quickly. By I quickly, I mean after a year or so, probably need to fill it out and since it dries so fast and it will dry thick, then you can't use it forever. It's sad but true. I'm using a brush that I will throw away after doing this. I'm making any little design, just little letters for you to see how it works. I lay it down, I let it dry completely. It's very important that it be completely dry before I start painting. I'm painting a mess on top, it looks pretty crazy but once the paint is dry, I'll be able to peel off that masking fluid and those areas that I painted before are going to be left white. Masking fluid is often used to mask out white areas that needs to stay white highlights. For this, I just used it for a graphical appeal. 9. FAQs: Here as we close, I wanted to cover a couple of FAQs that are often brought up. One is what color are you using there? The paint that I use are Mijello Mission. The brand of brushes I use are typically Master's Touch. It's found at Hobby Lobby here in the US. They're not terribly high end. The fluid watercolors I showed are Dr. PH. Martin's, and the paper that I use is Canson. There are a couple of things that I did not cover in this class because I've covered them elsewhere and one would be Brushes. If you want to learn more about brushes, check out that class. Another class in the confident watercolors series that I did is called, "Dealing With Mistakes," and that's super helpful because we all make them. One more. I think a great follow-up to this class would be Start With A Shape. It'll really give you something to do every day if you're needing a challenge, if you're needing a little guidance on what to do next, how to conquer those fears, have fun and explore your creativity. Maybe you've just watched this class and you're soaking in some of these ideas and you haven't really taken anything out yet. You just wanted to see what this was about, and if it was for you. I hope you found that it's for you and maybe one of these exercises would really help you really just don't know how much you can learn from a little painting sash until you give it a shot. Post whichever you're proudest of or that you learn the most from. I love to hear how you guys have taken these little videos I've put out there and have taken to heart and have learned something from it. You just have to start and paint a lot and do all those other corny suggestions that people give you because they're true, it's true. I really feel like they're at a lot of possibilities. Begin or continue? Your watercolor story.