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My Watercolor Process - From Sketch to Final Painting

I recently completed this painting titled "Reflection". It's a part of my Borders & Boundaries series of watercolor animals. Here is a write-up that briefly explains how I go from sketch to final painting.

My paintings usually begin as a simple drawing in my sketchbook. When I’m stuck for inspiration, flipping through old sketches often sparks an idea. Once I find an initial concept that I'm excited about, I begin working on a more detailed drawing on regular printer paper.

When I’m satisfied with my drawing, I’ll transfer the image to watercolour paper with the help of a lightpad. Lately I’ve been using Arches 300lb hot press watercolour paper. I like to add many small details to my paintings and the smooth surface of this paper is great for that. I also love how heavy and sturdy it is. This paper can absorb a lot of water without warping and buckling.

If I’m painting anything larger than 4” x 6”, I usually do a colour study in Photoshop beforehand. This is a recent practice I’ve adopted and I find that it helps prevent unwanted colour disharmonies. It’s easier to figure out the desired colours of a piece in Photoshop than it is on paper. This is especially true when it comes to watercolour paintings because you can’t course-correct quite as easily as you can other mediums. That said, I don’t strictly adhere to the colour studies I create. They act more as guides that leave open the possibility for something unexpected to occur.

After taping the transferred drawing to a hardboard panel, I’ll paint some initial washes usually moving from background to foreground.

Once the initial wash has dried, I’ll add additional layers of colour to increase the vibrancy. This is also the stage where I determine the darkest and lightest areas of the painting. This stage is very important because the values help define the shape of the subjects and the contrast between them.

My favourite stage comes after establishing the colours and values of the painting. This is the point where most of the hard thinking and planning is complete. Now all that’s left to do is what I enjoy most: adding all the details.

When I reach a point where I feel that adding more detail doesn’t help the painting, I (hopefully) stop. I’ll then take a high resolution scan of the painting and make some small tweaks in Photoshop. Often that means adjusting the brightness/darkness. Or if the painting is a silhouette piece (as this one is) then I’ll set the background to pure white to really highlight the painted portion. Now it's ready for prints and social media.



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