Useful Tips

How to draw watercolor illustrations: 7 professional tips

Hello! You really asked me to publish watercolor lessons, and I thought for a long time where to find the suitable material, because this topic is not new, and there are already a lot of different information on the Internet, so I decided not to invent, but use the materials of foreign authors. This article is the first, but far from the last. I hope you enjoy it and find it useful!

This article covers the basics you need to know to get started with watercolor. However, if you continue to scratch your head after reading, then please feel free to ask questions in the comments! I will be happy to answer you!

Before I started writing this article, I decided to do a little research on the Internet on painting watercolor for beginners. Thus, I reasoned, I would not miss a single moment, and would write a better post. But God right .. I have been painting with watercolors all my life, and the information I found on Google stunned me. After three overwhelming overwhelming articles, I raised my hands and decided that I would show you how I personally work with watercolors - and the adjective to my watercolor approach is “simple”.

Tools and materials

First, I want to talk about the materials and tools that you need. Of course, the most obvious tool will be a set of watercolors.

I prefer the kit from Greenleaf & Blueberry. He is a little expensive, but I'm delighted with him! However, if you are just starting out, there is no need to invest in expensive sets.

Go to the nearest art store and buy an art set of watercolor paints that suits your price, the main thing is that it is not for children 😉

If you live in the outback, where such a product is difficult to find, then you can order a set through the online store. So that you can be guided by cost, I throw off examples of sets that are easy to find in our country:

Whichever kit you choose, the first thing you should do after you buy and bring it home is create color palette. Take a piece of watercolor paper and cut to the shape of your set so that the palette can be stored in the same box. This is very convenient: the palette is always at hand, and the colors can be arranged just like in a box for clarity. Get inspired to create your own color palette by google various examples.

It's time to talk about brushes.

Each artist has his own set of brushes, since I write about my personal style of watercolor painting, I will talk about my collection. I like the small details, so I have tiny brushes in my set:

* For some reason, I can’t find links to these two brushes, but I purchased all of the above brushes at a local store. You do not have to buy exactly the same brushes as I have listed, a pair of small brushes should be enough!

To start, three brushes will be enough:

The most popular watercolor painting is the squirrel brush number 6. Squirrel brushes collect water best of all and give it longer. They allow you to draw very smoothly, without uneven streaks of paint and blurry spots. These advantages are especially appreciated when working with glazes. At the same time, the squirrel tail keeps its shape well, does not fluff, due to its subtlety it is able to create a clear contour.

It is also advisable to purchase a core brush. Round brushes from the column easily form a good sharp tip and are very good for making contours, fine-tuning the details in watercolor painting.

The last brush you will need at the beginning of the path is a flat wide brush for fill. It is used mainly for applying strips of uniform tone over the entire working surface. They create a smooth and uniform tonal fill.

Paper is also very important!

I usually use the Strathmore 300 cold press series because it is available locally. Watercolor requires special paper because of its absorbency. Watercolor paper, in fact, allows the ink to be on top of the paper until it dries. If you draw, say, on printer paper, the watercolor will creep over the sheet, because such paper has good absorbency. You can also buy hot-pressed paper, which has a smoother texture than cold paper.

You can also buy watercolor paper at your nearest stationery store or order online. For a start, A4 and A3 will be enough. Watercolor paper should have a density of at least 200 g / m2.

Share in the comments what kind of paper do you use?

Finally you will need clean water and cloth (I use an old dining napkin) or a paper towel to get my brush wet.

Any dishes will do, I use an old mug.

Watercolor transparency

The great thing about watercolor painting is that you have complete control over the transparency of the paint. Observe how one color can change depending on the ratio of water to paint on the brush!

The picture on the left shows what the smear looks like when there is a lot of water and a little paint. The illustration in the middle shows a more equal ratio of water to paint. The right picture has more paint than water.

You might think, “This is all good, but how can I control this water / paint ratio?” Before you do anything, apply a drop or two of water directly to the cuvette that you plan to use. This will moisturize the paint and make it ready for use. Then, you can do one of two things:

1. Use the palette
You can take a palette and mix on it three different shades of the same color. For the first color, use a brush to apply about eight drops of water in the recess. Then, lower the still wet brush into the already wetted watercolor, and transfer the color to the palette.

In the second recess, apply approximately five drops of water. Again, lower the still wet brush into the watercolor and transfer the color to the water. Be sure to shake with a brush so that all the paint comes off it! If this new color is very similar to your first, add more paint.

For the darkest shade, you will simply work directly with the paint from the cuvette, the shade should be very saturated.

2. We work directly from the watercolor set
You can use the concentration of water on the brush to control the shade of the paint. If you want a very light shade, moisten the brush well with water and touch the tip of the brush to the paint. If, when transferring to paper, you find that the ink concentration is too high, dip the brush into water again and apply this water directly to the ink on the paper. Color will become more transparent! For medium tones, you will still apply watercolor to a wet brush, but already using more paint. For dark tones, I get my brush wet with a napkin (it will still be wet, but not saturated), and then I take the paint directly from the kit.


The reason that we have studied transparency is the mixing and blending of colors. Using various shades of the same color, you can make any image real. I am going to show you how to turn a circle into a ball using blending and transparency of watercolor:

1. First, draw a circle of the lightest shade.

2. Assume that the light is in the upper right, as shown. Accordingly, the shadow will be in the lower left corner of the circle. To begin to draw a shadow, take a brush with your middle shade. Draw a shadow as if it “hugs” a crescent-shaped circle, like this:

3. You can see that now there is a certain separation between the shadow and the light part. To get rid of this difference and create a smooth transition, you need to mix paints together - this is a simple task when you paint with watercolors! To mix, immerse the brush in water in order to wash off the remaining paint from the brush. Dry the brush to make sure all the paint is gone, then wet the bristles of the brush with water again. Then, put the brush on the separation between the shadow and the light part and drag the middle shade with water, it will blur. Soon, you will not be able to tell where the middle hue and light end, and where the shadow begins!

4. Now it's time to add a dark shadow to the bottom of the circle. Take a dark shade around the bottom of the sphere, as in the photo.

5. Mix the dark shade just like you did with the middle shade, and voila!

6. You can add a falling shadow if you want. To do this, draw a thin line on the opposite side of the light under the sphere, like this:

Then, it is necessary to stretch the color with a brush dipped in water until it disappears.

Perhaps it will be easier for you to understand the concept of blending / shading if you watch the video:

If you want to practice mixing and shaping more, I would recommend drawing these shapes in different colors:

You could make the sphere green, the cube blue, etc. Drawing shapes like these helps you understand how to make objects look voluminous. Yes, it can be a little boring ... but so useful!

Watercolor blending

To mix watercolors, you definitely need a palette, whether it is built-in to your set or separate. The process of mixing colors is simple: you need to apply one color to the palette, and then add another color. Mix them together and you will get a new color!

If you have a small selection of colors in a set, mixing knowledge will come in handy. There are many sources that describe which colors to mix together to achieve the desired result.

If your blended color dries in your palette, don't worry. You can re-wet it and it will be as good as new, regardless of the amount of time that has passed.

1. The necessary tools

To get the desired result when working with paints, you need to have the right tools. Of course, you don’t have to buy expensive painting supplies, but still I don’t recommend using bad watercolor or paper that is not suitable for it.

Here is a list of basic things you will need to begin your creative journey.:

  • Brushes: my favorites - with artificial sable. They have an acceptable cost, and they are in no way inferior in quality. You may need brushes of different sizes. I advise you to buy round brushes number 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 and 12, as well as one or two large ones, so that there is plenty to choose from.
  • Palette: Choose a palette that will have enough space for placing and mixing colors among themselves.
  • Paints: I like Winsor & Newton the most, but there are many other good brands. If you do not want to pay a lot, remember that manufacturers often create two types of paints - for beginners and for professionals. Winsor & Newton's Cotman Series is for beginners and Artist is for professionals. Despite the fact that the series for beginners is cheaper, they are still of high quality. If you want to save money, but still get an acceptable quality, buy Russian White Nights paints.
  • Water cans: I usually have at least two - in one of my dirty brushes, the other I use to mix colors.
  • Paper: Choose between semi-smooth (cold pressing) and smooth texture (hot pressing). Hot-pressed paper has a smoother surface and the ink falls on it differently. I use semi-smooth because I like the hard texture and, in my opinion, the watercolor on it looks interesting.
  • White gouache: White watercolor is usually too transparent and almost invisible. I prefer to make final strokes and glare of light with white gouache.

2. Start by sketching

Regardless of whether you came up with a drawing yourself or draw it, I advise you to always start with a sketch. I like to draw with ballpoint pen on newsprint - the rigid texture provides a free flow of ideas, and I don’t really care about mistakes.

Above, I attached a few examples from my children's book “Pickle: The Little Bird Who Doesn’t Tweet!” To start, I make an approximate sketch with a blue pencil. I draw the same line several times, trying to find the right forms to complement the plot.

If there are too many lines and it becomes difficult to make them out, then I simply go to another page. As soon as I liked one of the sketches, I circle everything with a black ballpoint pen.

3. Study in color

I often create sketches in color before I begin work on the painting itself. To choose the right colors, the sketch must be painted on watercolor paper. Let it be small, for example 10x15 cm or less.

The sketch does not have to be perfect. On the contrary, take note of how colors attract attention and how you can make a picture more interesting with the help of light and shadow. The purpose of the study is to understand what impression the final picture should make.

Despite the fact that “Pickle” is an electronic book, I really wanted it to keep the atmosphere of a classic children's book with pictures, such as “Peter Rabbit”, but also to be modern and funny.

To achieve this, I added subtle, inconspicuous lines and textures to my paintings. And in order to make Pickle look relevant, I used not only modern visual landmarks, but also a brighter and more saturated color scheme than those in classical illustrations.

4. Preparation of paint and paper

There is a common misconception that for the final picture you are obliged to use the same gamut that you chose for the sketch. Of course, then the picture will look exactly like the sketch, but still it’s better to start working with clean drawing accessories and a clean palette. This will avoid dullness and uncontrollability of the paint.

And do not forget to regularly wash all accessories as soon as they become too dirty. This will help maintain the purity and saturation of the colors.

You do not need to worry about the paper not cringing if you are drawing on a sketchbook, but be sure to fix the paper of the final picture. You can either stretch it yourself, or buy a watercolor block that is already stretched.

Thin line pencil

After all this, you can finally sketch. Draw very thin lines so that they can be painted over later. Unless, of course, you have plans to make them noticeable.

People often ask if I use any methods of transferring the sketch to the paper of the final picture. Actually, I just redraw it by hand. That's when I usually refine it and add the finishing touches.

5. Watercolor is a multifaceted tool

There is a common misconception that what to paint with watercolors is to constantly take care of how much water is on the brush. Many people think that if they use more water, then the paint will behave as it should.

In fact, this is not so. It is better to pay attention to how quickly water evaporates from paper. You must consider the weather and humidity when drawing. And also of course - the characteristics of the paper itself, how strong its absorption.

If you are painting on a dry, sunny day, use more water. And if you draw, for example, at a waterfall, then an excessive amount of water on the brushes can create a risk of color spreading. Anyway, it is better to add new layers of paint in a timely manner, given the level of moisture in the paper.

One of the interesting features of watercolors is that you can draw without water at all or with a small amount of it to create a “dry” effect or to convey the look of an oil painting. Watercolor is really capable of a lot.

6. Where to start

You can find many methods and lessons of watercolor painting on websites and in books. But I would like to tell you how to perceive the whole picture. There are many theories about where to start watercolor painting. One of the most popular methods is from light to dark. Although I do not think that you should be constrained by any rules - I saw how artists create amazing paintings, starting to work from the darkest to the brightest.

I usually start with what I like best, for example, from the Pickle bird, and then I turn to secondary characters. And after all this, add the background color with a big brush.

I advise you not to worry if the paint does not lie down as you want, or goes beyond the edges. On the contrary, it is worth perceiving this as one of the most interesting aspects of watercolor painting. You can achieve cool and unexpected effects at any time.

Usually, after I put the background colors, the paper becomes wet, so I let it dry, and only then I think about the details. And this time I really control how the paint spreads.

I almost always leave the place for decorative details empty until the very end, because I use them to improve the composition or direct the reader's attention to a specific place. That is why I do not want to accidentally highlight them too much.

In my children's book, the characters are most of the time in nature, so I usually leave the leaves, plants and flowers in the end, despite the fact that they are an important part of the composition. I want them to emphasize the drawing in the same way as the storyline itself.

7. Experiment

There are no rules, there are only tools! Как и в любом другом виде искусства, в живописи существует множество методов. Экспериментируйте и изучайте новые техники, которые дополнят ваш стиль рисования. Можете использовать белый, можете соскабливать поверхность бумаги, можете накладывать очень много краски. Самое главное – повеселитесь!

If you are interested in my drawing process, you can watch an accelerated video about how I drew the picture below from beginning to end. The video goes on for three minutes, but in real time it took me seven hours: