Monday, October 3, 2011

Creation of a water colour cutie

I sat down to draw this picture of a character of mine called Big Ol' Bear, and in a moment of blinding clarity it occurred to me that you might like to see a little of the process behind how I create a watercolour design, and how this picture went from a rough sketch to the finished painting (left).

1. First off I lightly pencil the idea onto smooth grain water colour paper, making sure not to make the lines too hard

2. Then I move onto laying a liquid mask over the character and it's scenery. This is done so none of the background colour washes over the Bear, as unlike normal water colour paintings, these designs are pastel and require light layers

3. With a sponge I cover the area with clear water that I'm going to use to paint the sky. I usually use a natural sponge for this: Once the initial sheen has gone off the water I start a drip line, going from left to right with a watered down wash of cobalt blue--- then I leave it to dry thoroughly.

4. The reason why it needs to be thoroughly dry is when I go to peel off the now rubberized liquid mask, if there is still wet paint sitting on top of the mask, it will smudge all over your previously protected artwork.

But once it is cleanly removed, spend a few moments making sure all of the shavings have been removed to save yourself heartache later if you happen to paint over a piece you missed and it remains white

5. Now it's onto Big Ol' Bear: I mixed up some Yellow Ochre with water on a plate (this is what I use as a palette, nothing expensive needed, just practical) and I carefully coloured his whole body in sections using the slow, left to right drip-line technique.

Once again, and as with all the stages, I allowed it to dry thoroughly before moving on.

6. Next I laid the flat wash of Sap Green and left it to dry.

7. Next came the tree's first base wash, this colour was a mix of Phthalo Blue and Light Purple. It gave the nice summery feel to the picture that I would ultimately be looking for.

8. The final wash was that for the grass underneath Big Ol' Bear and the tree on which he languished. This was a mix, once again on the plate, of Sap Green, the colour I used for the leaves and a dab of Ultramarine Blue for a bit more body and depth.

9. With all the washes down and dry it was time to start building up the layers. First was Big Ol' Bear's fur.

I did the same drip line only this time using a wash of Burnt Sienna, and before each section could dry I ran some water down its extreme edge which gave it the effect of blending into the lighter Yellow Ochre beneath.

10. Having put the pale blue background for his top on earlier I now went over it all, defining the light and shade with a watered down hue of Prussian Blue.

I also used the same blue shades for his nose.

11. Next came the leaves on the trees. These were mixed by adding Prussian Blue to the previous green mixes. For every layer I just added more blue, for the final dark shaded areas in between the leaves I mixed green with red and blue to give the classic wine shadow colour that works so well.

12. To give the grass more depth I ran a fairly dark wine red to give the dappled effect on the grass below the trees. I also added the shadow directly beneath Big Ol' Bear. Previous to this I'd detailed in the shape of the bark on the tree using the wine red colour.

Wine red is a fantastically versatile colour. It is used to give shade to whatever colour it is laid over. It's made up from Alizarin Crimson and Ultramarine Blue.

13. Using the same wine red colour I began to add a dappled leaf shade effect onto Big Ol' Bear. This gave even more power to the effect of a lazy summery day spent in the half shade of a tree's canopy. In my mind I fancied I could almost hear a bee buzzing.

Once I'd finished the dapple effect I moved onto the final shading of his fur by accentuating his sleeve and the lazy foot dangling on the other side of the branch.

14. The final stages of the painting were made up off adding the grass and colouring in the flowers that were breaking like his big old heart from the feeling of unrequited love.

15. To give a little definition to Big Ol' Bear I lightly pencilled in around the character and the tree---nothing else.

Some artists use slightly watered down Vandyke Brown, but I feel that pencil gives the finished illustration  more life and freedom.

Notice I didn't go around any of the shaded areas; that, I wanted to remain with a subdued  look.

  16. And finally, the all important signature so everyone knows who you are and hopefully looks for you again and again.

And here, once again, is the finished thing.

If you wish to see any of the pictures in more detail,  just click on the image to view a larger version in another box.

If you like this then let me know and I'll produce more tutorials

All best wishes



  1. Thanks Mike.

    It's weird when you document something that you normally take for granted

  2. Thanks for sharing your process Karl - excellent work! More tutorials please :)

  3. Thanks Tim,

    I most certainly will; I'll keep you updated as to when but it will be soon




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