Watercolors for All - Fun + Simple Exercises to Get Started | Sandra Mejia | Skillshare

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Watercolors for All - Fun + Simple Exercises to Get Started

teacher avatar Sandra Mejia, Illustrator + Pattern Designer

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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.

      Project and Supplies


    • 3.

      Tips and Tricks


    • 4.

      Painting Characters


    • 5.

      Painting Florals


    • 6.

      Painting Leaves


    • 7.

      Painting Abstract Shapes


    • 8.



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About This Class

If you’re a beginner, watercolors might seem intimidating.  Fear not! This class is for you. Lesson by lesson I will walk you through some simple and fun exercises that will not only make you lose the fear of using watercolors but also train your brain and hand so you can get better at it faster. The more you practice, the better you become. 

I’ll teach you my tips and tricks to make things easier, like using colour pencils to add details and shading. I’ll provide a print out so you can follow along with me (and even your kids!) or you can easily create your own illustrations because we’ll be using very simple shapes and brush strokes.  We’ll create some cute characters, some florals, some leaves and some basic shapes.

By the end of this class you’ll be able to create a beautiful sheet of watercolor icons that you can use as stickers or paper cutouts or you can even take this further and use them to create a pattern design by following my other pattern design classes. Come on, let’s start painting!


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Meet Your Teacher

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Sandra Mejia

Illustrator + Pattern Designer

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Hello! I'm a Freelance Illustrator and Pattern Designer. I was born in Medellin, Colombia (puedes escribirme en Espanol!). I create detailed, stylized, playful illustrations, patterns and characters from my studio in Ottawa, Canada.

I have very big eyes and I love animals. Most of my inspiration comes from nature and animals.

My art has been licensed by companies around the world for use in: Fabrics, Stationery, Kids, Editorial, Greeting Cards, Fashion, Puzzles, Gift and Home Decor.

Sign up to my email newsletter to get news and freebies: -> https://www.artbysandramejia.com/freebies

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Level: Beginner

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1. Introduction: Do you feel intimidated when you think about painting in watercolors? Fear not, this class is for you. Hello. I'm Sandra Bowers, and I'm a freelance illustrator, and pattern designer based in BC, Canada. I create patterns and illustrations for different companies around the world. Watercolors were my first approach to surface design and illustration. But sometimes they might feel intimidating. Lesson by lesson I will walk you through very simple and fun exercises that will not only make you lose the fear of watercolors, but they will start training your brain and your hand, to make you a better painter. The more you practice the better you become. I'll provide a print out so you can follow along with me, anywhere with your kids, or you can easily create your own illustrations because we'll be using very simple shapes and brush strokes. We'll create some cute characters, some floral, some leaves, and some very basic abstract shapes, and I'll teach you my tips and tricks to make things easier. Like using colored pencils to add shading and [inaudible] By the end of this class you'll have your own sheet of watercolor icons that you can use in so many ways. You can create paper cutouts on a paper garland, or you can scan them in and creates some stickers. You can even take these further, and take one of my classes on pattern designs, and use these to create your first pattern designed collection. Join me, and let's start painting. 2. Project and Supplies: For our project, we will create a set of icons that we can later use to print on sticker paper, or you can just cut out the originals and make a little paper garland, or you can scan and then create a collection on your computer. I will provide this sketch in case you want to print it and follow along, or you can create your own. I've used very simple shapes that I will show you how to create, so you can come up with your own stuff. This is how you can download the attached files. For the materials, you can use any watercolor you have. This is pen watercolors. I love pen watercolors because they are very portable, but when I'm in the studio, I love painting with these liquid watercolors. Here, I'm using Dr. Ph. Martin's radiant concentrated watercolors and Hydrus fine art watercolor. The difference between these two is, this is pigment based, so it's lightfast. This is dye based, so it's not lightfast. What that means is that, these ones you can use for things that don't have to last for a long, long time, or things that you're going to keep on a sketchbook or things that you're going to scan. Since I scan most of my paintings, this is not a problem and these have amazing colors. But again, you can use whatever watercolors you have at hand. You will also need a pencil and some watercolor paper. Here, I'm using a Canson watercolor paper. Whatever brush you have at hand will work, usually round brushes for watercolors are the best. Some colored pencils. If you have an nip pen that is really useful for creating details or for adding white. For my white, I use Dr. Ph. Martin's bleed-proof white, it's very opaque. Or you can also use some white wash paint or pigment ink ballpoint pen. I have a plate for my palette and some water, and a little paper towel. Remember to post your project to the project gallery, I would love to see it, and I'm sure your classmates will love to see it too. So let's get on with it. 3. Tips and Tricks: In this lesson, I'm going to give you some tips and tricks to make your life easier for getting your sketch onto paper. If you don't have a light box, you can use a window. Just bring the dryer image in a regular piece of paper and place it underneath a watercolor paper and trace, make sure to use very light strokes so that you don't create impressions on your paper and it's easy to erase the lines afterwards. Maybe you want to try this out first and draw something on a scrap piece of paper and use your watercolors on top and see if we can erase the pencil marks underneath, because some brands of paint don't let you do that. The Dr. Ph. Martin's do and that's one of the reasons I use them so much. If you don't feel too confident about using brushes yet, you can use color pencils to shade and create details. Not only is it easier to do this way, it also creates a super cool style with lots of texture. When you are working in water colors, you need to preserve the white areas of light, but sometimes it's hard to control the paint or you simply forget to do it. You can use whitewash or acrylics, white ink or a white gel paint to add the highlights and the details at the end. Using paper scraps to test your pain before you paint your piece of artwork is super important because this way you can see if you like the color, how dark your color is before running your painting. In wider colors, you have to go from light to dark so you don't want to paint too dark if that's not your intention. Finally, a little demonstration on the two ways to paint with the watercolors. The first is wet on wet, so that basically means that you add water first and then you drop in some paint and let it flow to create textures. You can add one color or as many colors as you want. If you're going to paint big areas of your painting with this technique, you should take your paper down so it doesn't buckle. It is also good to use 300 gram papers, so a very thick paper if you're going to use a lot of water. You can also paint wet on wet, but not use so much water, so these will create different effects because the paint will move around less, like this. The second way that you can use watercolors is to paint wet on dry. Which means that you don't apply water first and you just paint on the dry paper. These gives you more precise results. If I create a line here, it will stay crisp, but here it will fatter because of the water, so it depends on your style and what do you want to achieve. I usually paint on dry, but sometimes I'll use the wet on wet if I need more texture, my final tip is to have fun. Don't stress about the outcome and let's go to our next class on start painting our characters. 4. Painting Characters: In this lesson, we will paint some fun and cute characters. We will start with this, which are probably the most complicated to make. Because as you progress to the other exercises that require less control, I hope you'll start relaxing and feeling more confident in your work. Don't put too much pressure on yourself. The more you practice the better you'll get. If you want to create your own characters and not use mine, just use very simple shapes like I did here, and move around the eyes and nose and mouth until you end up with something that suits your style. Here I'm using these yellow and a tiny bit of brown. In the first layers, I like to paint light colors so I can start building up the shadows. This is way too yellow, so I'll add a tiny bit of pink and more brown. I add more water to make the color lighter, and I like that. Play around with your colors until you find something you like. If you want to learn my approach to color theory, checkout my class here on Skillshare. I'll leave the link on the notes. I have added a large amount of water here. There's always an area that puddles and that area always dries darker. So push that darker puddle to whatever you want your shadows to be. I'm going to paint the tail in the same way. Don't worry if you go outside the lines, they're there to guide you not to constrain you. You can also drop in more color to those areas so they're even darker. I'm going to add a bit of this color, but I want more control so I'll dry my brush a bit before painting with it. I will just fill the shape, but notice that I'm not creating the outlines first and then filling it in. Doing that we'll create a noticeable outline, and I don't like how that looks. Because the head is still wet, if I touch it, the water will flow towards the body. If this is not the effect you want, just let the head dry completely before painting the body. I'm going to paint the ears now and I won't be using so much water. I'll add a bit of yellow, pink, and brown and paint the top of the ears, and some on the tail and the paws. I do this to create some details on high contrast areas to make my paintings more interesting. Now let's move on to the next character. See how simple this shape is? It's just a bluff with ears and legs and paws and the tail. So really easy to make. Try creating your own bluff friend. I'm going to make him pink. Well, actually this color is called persimmon and it's one of my favorites. But it's super vibrant, and I don't want everything to be super vibrant in my painting because then it's too much, so here's the trick. If you add a tiny bit of brown, it will mute the color a bit, but it will still look nice. See that it's still a super nice pink. You can do this to any color. I'll add a bit more brown to these and add it to the bottom so I can create more textures and shadows. You can also go really bold and add more. If you want to soften the edge, you just clean your brush, dry it, and blend the paint to soften the transition. Now let's paint a little unicorn. I'm super excited about him. I'll add some brown to the turquoise and a lot of water because this is a dark color. If you paint on your paper and you realize it's still too dark, clean your brush and just paint on it with just the water and move the pigment around and make it lighter. If you want to add a bit more color in some areas just drop in more paint. I'm going to let everything dry. Actually, I used a hair dryer from very far away so my water wouldn't run around my page and they're dry now. Now, we're going to create our second layer and add some shadows. I'll use a round size tool brush for these. These brand is called Princeton Art and Brush Company and it's lasted me ages, so I really like it. We'll start adding shadows under the neck. But it's really important that you don't go too dark at once because you can never come back from dark when you're using watercolors. I'll use the brown and create a shadow here. My brush is not too wet and I'm dragging it down so it creates this soft edge. You can leave it like that or if you want to soften the edge a bit more, you just clean your brush, dry it a bit, and then go around the edge of the shadow to blend it. If you're using pan watercolors and you go back into a dry spot of paint, it'll move the paint and blend. These doesn't work with these liquid water colors, so you have to be fast if you want to blend something. If you add a very dark line like these, you can just clean your brush, dry it a bit, and then go in immediately and you'll be able to blend it. I'm going to make these area darker so you can see the paws because they're blending in too much. Try your paint as many times as you need, so you're sure you're using the correct amount of color. It's better to try it out a lot than throwing your painting. I will add a bit to the tail and soften the edge. You can add as many layers as you want until you get the effect that you're after. I'm going to make the neck darker and move on to the next guy. I'll add some brown to the pink to create the shadows. I'm using the same base colors and just adding brown to them to create shadows so I know that they will all work well together. I don't want that to be so harsh, so I'm blending it like I taught you before. This is also the time to straighten some lines. So I just added some more paint to the leg and made the line straight, so now it looks good. Now we're back onto the unicorn. This is a turquoise I used before, so I will add more brown and add the shadows with it. These are the back legs, so I'll make them a bit darker and add some water to blend that. Maybe we should add some darker color on the tail and on the ears. Again, you can keep darkening some areas or leave it as it is. Now, this is the third layer which is details. You can create the details in different ways. I love using nib pens. If you have ink, you just deep the nib pen in the ink and draw with it. But if you don't have the ink or you want to use your watercolors so your colors match, you can just use your brush, add water to your paint and load your paint directly on to the nib. Make sure it's loaded, but it's not too loaded so it's dripping. Always try it out first in a scrap piece of paper. You can also check out my class where I go into detail about how to use a nib pen. I'll leave the link on the note. You can also use pigment liners or pens. These are very portable and they're very easy to use. You just draw with them. Or you can use a brush. You can use different types of brushes to create different weights of lines. You can find super thin ones if you want. Controlling a brush needs a bit more practice, so practice and you'll get the hang of it. The last option is using color pencils, but here I'll add my features with my pen. Experiment changing the size and position of the features of the characters to create different ones. I'm going to add some details with size 2/0 brush. I'm going to create some tiger marks to the cat, so now he's a tiger and not a cat. It is also what brings the characters to life. Just let your imagination go wild and have fun. Maybe you can dress them up or you can add some goggles. They're your characters, so make them fun. Sometimes learning a new technique feels intimidating because we look at other people's pieces of art and we want our work to look as good as theirs. It's a bit scary but no one ever created a masterpiece in their first time they were learning a technique. I have put in so many hours and I have still so many to go. We're all on the same path, it's just that some people are further along than us. This is why these exercises are so great because they're meant for you to experiment with your paints so that you learn how the paint works and your brain learns how to use the brushes and move your hands, but you're having fun. Since we're not trying to create a masterpiece or even a full painting and just little icons, you can feel more at ease. And if it doesn't work, you can just cut that icon out and trash it. I'm going to give him some spots. Maybe I'll also add this yellow to his belly. Just by making some areas darker, you add interest to the character. This is my favorite part of painting because adding details is what brings the paintings to life. When everything is dry, I'll make sure that my eraser is clean by erasing on a scrap piece of paper first and then can erase my pencil marks. Make sure that you erase the pencil before painting anything with your colored pencils or you'll be sorry about it. I'm using gold farva and poly [inaudible] colors, but use whatever colors you have at hand. I just color in softly where I want the shadows. I'm not pressing hard at all because this not only creates shadows, but also texture. If you're going too heavy with your colors, you'll just create a shiny area and I don't like that mixed with watercolors. You can also create the outlines with these. If you want, you can create this step with watercolors or with pencils, whatever you prefer. Here I'm defining the ears and adding more shadows to the head. These works great for defining shapes that might not be too clear. For example, here, I can create some definition. You can also create hair, for example, let's make him fuzzy. Now create stronger shadows here. Here I'm defining this area. You can use the same color or you can use different colors to create different effects, for example, I'm using a different type of blue. You can create lines too if you're not very confident about creating them with the brush yet. One of my favorite things to do with the color pencils is add some ink cheeks to my characters by drawing a tiny circle under the eyes, so I'll do that. Finally, the wide details layer. For this you can use whitewash, acrylic paint, the white gel pen or the bleed white ink. Wide details will bring everything to life, but it's totally up to you if you want to add them and even if you like them. In the next lesson we will be painting sunflowers. 5. Painting Florals: In this lesson, we will be printing some simple flowers. Do you see that my paints have dried on my palette? I can just add some water and they'll be back to normal again. I'm going to create some free shapes here. Don't worry too much about the outline. Just let your brush do the work. Nature is usually symmetrical but also random, so the pedals shouldn't be perfect anyways. I'm going to touch here were the petal start to add a darker area because usually, they look darker where they attach to the middle. You can also add some color to the edges. The paint has already dried here, so I'm going to wash my brush and add some water here so the paint moves around a bit. Before that dries completely, I'm going to add some yellow. I'll just let it touch the pink a bit so that it blends in with the petals. Watercolors are amazing because of the way these colors blend. Now I'm using my size 2 brush to create some varies. I'm leaving a white spot on each, but you don't have to. You can just come in at the end with the white ink and create it. I'm grabbing paint from different sides of my palette so they have some variation in colors. Some look more pink, some more yellow. The little berries and flowers are great decorations for your watercolor paintings and they fill up space really well. While they're still a bit wet, I'm going to use some brown to create a stem, and I'll go in a bit into the berries so that it blends in a little bit. See the the bleed there, if you don't like that, just wait until they're totally dry, and then paint the branches. If you don't have the precision with the brush yet, you can create this with the color pencils or the black pigment liners, or even paint pencils, whatever you want, it's your art. Now we'll create a different type of flower. I'm going to let my brush define the petals. I'm adding a lot of water to the middle petal. This is so that the paint will flow. Just push your brush in, and let it guide the shape, and don't over think it or fiddle with them to much. I'll use some teal for the branches. The flowers are still wet and I want to take advantage of that because I really want them to bleed at the base of the flowers. This is totally dry, and before adding any details, I'm going to erase my pencil lines. We're going to add some more details with the brush and with the colors. Let's use this dark turquoise to create some little dots. You can also create some veins or anything that you imagine. Everything that we're doing here is designed to make your hand and your brain practice, and explore different aspects of watercolor painting. Brush control, water control, color management and precision, amongst others. All this techniques are making you a better painter by having fun, and they're making you understand how your paint behaves because every brand is different and every paper behaves differently too. That's why you should just use this as a guideline, and not let it constrain you. You can paint whatever or however you want because there's no wrong way in art. I'm okay when you're painting my designs for personal purposes and to practice, but just make sure that if you're sharing online, you mention that it's my design and you tag me as a creator because it's still my copyrighted work. Again, tag me at @sandrabowersart on Instagram. Try to experiment with different details and different ways to make marks, and that's how you'll end up with your own style. Maybe you like very precise details, maybe you want more crunch lines and bolder textures. Experimenting with this is the only way to develop your style and understanding your way of painting. If you're always copying or following an outline, you'll never be able to create things from your imagination. By turning the paper around, you'll be able to create some marks easier. See, it's easier to draw them like this than like this. I just don't want to make it easy, but if I wasn't recording, I'd be turning this paper constantly. I'm going to create a green shade here with a yellow that was in my brush. If I use a super thin brush, I can create shapes like these. But if I use a slightly larger brush, I can create different effects. I can't even go bigger. This is one way to create varied shapes just by using different brushes. Colored pencils. You can use them to define some areas, or to darken, to give more depth, or to add different shades or details. I'm not going to add a lot to my flowers because specially with flowers, I like the softness and subtleness of the watercolor effect, and I don't want to cover them with the color pencils. I'll use yellow to brighten up some areas. I'm not overthinking this at all. I'm just adding colors here and there. I think that's enough for that one. If you push softly, you can create nice textures because of the grain of the watercolor paper that will still show through. If you're going to create precise details, make sure that your pencil is sharp so it's easier to be precise. This way, the colors create very thin lines, and you can't really notice the difference between watercolor lines and the pencil lines. For my leafs, I'm going to use watercolors, so I'll grab some very dark turquoise. You can always practice in a scrap piece of paper until you feel confident to paint your original. Try different things, dots, lines, whatever you want. This is the final layer, the white details. I'll show you how the pen works, and then the bleed proof white ink. I'm just painting the light sources and adding decorations. See here that the pen is not extremely white. The bleed proof ink is so much more opaque, so I like to use it in areas that require the widest details. 6. Painting Leaves: In this lesson, I'm going to show you how to create leaves by using different types of brushes. First, we're using the quilt brush. If you don't have this exact same brushes, it's okay, just experiment with whatever you have at hand. Even if it's just different size brushes, they will all give you different effects. It's quilt brushes, hold a lot of water. Try your brushes in a scrap piece of paper first, and see what your brushes can do. First, push down hard and barely touched the tip and start pushing down and lift again and see what it can create. Do this with all of your brushes, so you know what they're capable of. Here, I've created a dark green and I'm going to touch with the tip of my brush and then push it to the paper and lift. I can create a second area here, trying to leave a little gap, so it looks like a vein. By creating leaves. I like to pick different colors from my palette. Then when you lay the color down, you'll see these differentiates emerge. I can use at the tip of my brush, to create the branches. Here I'm picking up a bit more blue and do the same thing. Now, I pick a bit more yellow. I'm just laying my brush, create the shapes. I can also re-touch some parts. If you laid down too much paint or water, just dry your brush with your paper towel, and go back in and absorb the extra water. You can also add very little water and very little paint to create solid and transparent leaves. If you wanted to add a second color, drop it in while it's still wet. That's how you create gorgeous leaves in a super easy way. In these one, we're creating it with a small round brush. I'll just make this line. Now, I'll press and lift, using my brush like a stamp and picking up different colors to create variations in shapes. I'll show you how to make the lines with the pencil, if you're not comfortable using the brush yet, because you will be, remember to add a lot of water to breed more transparent leaves. See how easy these is. we are done with that one. This one is going to be similar, but we'll draw a little dot and then pull it, draw a little dot and then pull. I'm not thinking too much when I'm doing these, I'm just disconnecting my brain. I'm playing and letting the paint guide me. You can see I'm not following my pencil guidelines too much. If you're worried about the outcome, it's probably not even going to look as good as if you just let it flow. This is my favorite brush to create foliage. It's a one eighth inch dagger,this one is by Royal and magneto. It creates some awesome shapes. You use it to create very thin lines. Then you place it down and drag it and it creates the most beautiful leaves. You can also pointed down on its side and drag it, and it creates a different shape. If you've seen my work, you've seen that I'm fascinated by nature and I love adding leaves to my art. There you go, four easy ways to create foliage for your paintings. I'm not even going to add details to these. You can if you want, but I like mine as they are , so I'm not going to touch them. In the next lesson, we're going to create simple, basic shapes just as a way to relax and have some fun with wet-on-wet techniques. 7. Painting Abstract Shapes: Here I'm going to create a cloud. Remember that you can start your project with these exercises if you just want to loosen your hand a bit before getting into the character. You can take this class in any order you want. We'll let that dry a bit before adding some detail. I'm going to start creating these little mountains meanwhile. Painting several icons at a time is great because you can work on something else while your other areas dry. I'm going to drop in some pink here to give it variety. Finally, I'm creating a circle. For me, circles are the hardest to paint, so this is a good exercise. Just try to make it as round as possible, but also don't worry about it too much. Before this is totally dry, I'm going to use my thin brush to add some darker details. I'm just adding some random graphic details. This is so you can see how the paint behaves, and I'm always happy to see the paint move around on its own. When you paint when it's dry lines won't spread out but once it touches the wet area, you can see how it starts to spread. I'm going to do the same to these so I'll speed that up. You can also try creating very precise shapes like little drops of water, so you can work on your brush precision and control. Did you see that my yellow there got muddy? When you're working with yellow and very light colors, you want to use clean water, so that doesn't happen. huh, Now Putitu is here to inspect our work. I think he likes it and he says well done. So that's it. I'll just erase my pencil lines on meet you in our next lesson, which is why we say goodbye for now. 8. Conclusions: We've come to the end of the class. I hope you had a lot of fun and that now you feel empowered to create your own watercolor illustration., imagine everything you can use these for. You can create paper garlands, your own frames, your original watercolors. You can scan these and create sticker sheets or pattern collections or even make web graphics. The possibilities are endless. If you want to learn more about my techniques for creating patterns using watercolor icons, or removing backgrounds, or creating digital illustrations, I have lots of classes here on Skillshare that you can check out. If you completed the assignments, you should feel more confident about your painting skills by now. If you're not happy with your results because, hey, that happens to all of us, it doesn't matter, just scrap it and start all over again. Even if you practice a lot, I can assure you sometimes you won't be happy with what you've painted. But it's your art, it doesn't matter. Don't judge yourself and just keep going. Move on to the next painting. I promise you'll get better or happier with your result. The Important thing here is to have fun. Remember to post your project to the project gallery. I would love to see it and I'm sure the whole world would love to see it too. If you liked the class, follow me here on Skillshare so you get notified when I post new classes. You can also follow me on Instagram at @sandrabowersart. Don't forget to leave a review here in the class and share it with your friends. I hope you had lots of fun and I'll see you in the next class. Bye.