The Botanical Tea Wash Technique -- A Watercolour Tutorial

I'm finding more often than usual that students taking my watercolour classes show up feeling uncertain about their artistic voice and can be especially hard on themselves about getting their technique right. I can't stress enough that art and *human*, creative expression is for everyone -- the notion that watercolours can only be mastered by a talented few should be discredited. With that in mind, I've put together this tutorial of one simple technique we cover in class, the tea wash, which is simple and fun -- and great for botanical watercolour compositions.  

 

The best way to start, always, is to get your workspace ready with everything you will need for your composition. Here I have some Eucalyptus leaves, my favourite Windsor and Newton watercolours, some hot pressed Arches smooth 300 gsm watercolour paper and a couple of mid-range soft, round tip brushes. You may also want to grab an HB pencil for sketching, a jar of water,  a palette to mix your colours in and some paper towel to blot your brush.

The best way to start, always, is to get your workspace ready with everything you will need for your composition. Here I have some Eucalyptus leaves, my favourite Windsor and Newton watercolours, some hot pressed Arches smooth 300 gsm watercolour paper and a couple of mid-range soft, round tip brushes. You may also want to grab an HB pencil for sketching, a jar of water,  a palette to mix your colours in and some paper towel to blot your brush.

I've picked out a few of my favorite leaves and lightly sketched them out on the page, making sure to capture all of their asymmetries and rough edges. I wouldn't worry about drawing the 'perfect' leaf -- even if there were such a thing, it doesn't make for a very thought provoking composition. Damaged leaves are complex and challenging subjects that turn out to be really interesting.   

I've picked out a few of my favorite leaves and lightly sketched them out on the page, making sure to capture all of their asymmetries and rough edges. I wouldn't worry about drawing the 'perfect' leaf -- even if there were such a thing, it doesn't make for a very thought provoking composition. Damaged leaves are complex and challenging subjects that turn out to be really interesting.   

I have taken a pinch of dark green and a pinch of brown watercolour and blended them into a couple of spoons of water on my palette. Then, I have made a second pool of water and tapped my colour soaked brush into it once, giving me a consistency that looks like very diluted tea (hence, the name!). This is a great way to establish a foundation when painting with watercolours because we want to build up the complexity slowly -- this is preferable approach because, unfortunately with watercolours, we can't go back when a mistake has happened. Starting at the tip of the leaf, I have traced my brush downwards so that there is a slight puddle being pulled downwards as I give my leaf its first 'wash'. With the right amount of moisture on the brush, you will hardly need to touch the brush to the page. It's good to be mindful of this technique because you won't need to panic about the page drying out too fast -- and that will allow your colour to dry in a single consistent tone without any brush marks or messy clouding effects.

I have taken a pinch of dark green and a pinch of brown watercolour and blended them into a couple of spoons of water on my palette. Then, I have made a second pool of water and tapped my colour soaked brush into it once, giving me a consistency that looks like very diluted tea (hence, the name!). This is a great way to establish a foundation when painting with watercolours because we want to build up the complexity slowly -- this is preferable approach because, unfortunately with watercolours, we can't go back when a mistake has happened.

Starting at the tip of the leaf, I have traced my brush downwards so that there is a slight puddle being pulled downwards as I give my leaf its first 'wash'. With the right amount of moisture on the brush, you will hardly need to touch the brush to the page. It's good to be mindful of this technique because you won't need to panic about the page drying out too fast -- and that will allow your colour to dry in a single consistent tone without any brush marks or messy clouding effects.

After my first layer dried, I have placed a second tea wash overtop to build up some more context. You can use the same diluted pool of color from the palette, or you can make it slightly darker by tapping the brush into that first color mixture a few more times, then place a few more drops into the tea wash. You can use this second layer to build up a bit of background shadow on your leaf -- and because we are painting 'wet on dry', we should start to see a nice, crisp edge that sets the second layer apart from the first one.

After my first layer dried, I have placed a second tea wash overtop to build up some more context. You can use the same diluted pool of color from the palette, or you can make it slightly darker by tapping the brush into that first color mixture a few more times, then place a few more drops into the tea wash. You can use this second layer to build up a bit of background shadow on your leaf -- and because we are painting 'wet on dry', we should start to see a nice, crisp edge that sets the second layer apart from the first one.

After letting the second tea wash dry fully, I have placed down a third layer where I will make some subtle color distinctions by using only the same green as before, in a separate pool of water. I have started around a few edges I'd like to emphasize, and then I have spread the color over top by clearing my brush in the jar of water and using the wet brush to lightly diffuse the color across the leaf. Once again, you will find that you get some really great effects around the edges when you take the time to let each layer dry before laying over the next one.

After letting the second tea wash dry fully, I have placed down a third layer where I will make some subtle color distinctions by using only the same green as before, in a separate pool of water. I have started around a few edges I'd like to emphasize, and then I have spread the color over top by clearing my brush in the jar of water and using the wet brush to lightly diffuse the color across the leaf. Once again, you will find that you get some really great effects around the edges when you take the time to let each layer dry before laying over the next one.

And now for the final and most crucial step, adding in those details that give your leaf character and make your painting unique. Making sure the the previous layers have dried first, I have cleared up my brush and blotted out the moisture on some paper towel, then I have taken another pinch of brown watercolour -- only this time I haven't added any water to it, rather I have dipped the brush directly into the concentrated paint. I have picked out a few places that I want to draw the attention to -- where this leaf looks like it has been burned and pieces have been torn out. I have tapped the brush at the edge of those places and made a very small mark. Then, while it dries partially, I have cleaned off my brush again and soaked it in water. Now, using only water on the brush I have gently extended the colour out into the leaf so that there is a diminishing gradient running over the colors underneath. If you take your time with this final step and really look closely at those markings on your leaf before blending them into the undertones, you will be sure to create a striking juxtaposition when your composition is complete. The most important thing to know about all forms of art is that there is never an incorrect way to creatively express yourself. Art really is important for the heart and your spirit; it is *always* worth making time for. I teach watercolours every term on Saturday mornings at CIT Solutions Short Courses -- here is the link for more information if you are interested -- thanks for reading and I hope to see you there! Link: CIT Solutions Short Courses  

And now for the final and most crucial step, adding in those details that give your leaf character and make your painting unique. Making sure the the previous layers have dried first, I have cleared up my brush and blotted out the moisture on some paper towel, then I have taken another pinch of brown watercolour -- only this time I haven't added any water to it, rather I have dipped the brush directly into the concentrated paint.

I have picked out a few places that I want to draw the attention to -- where this leaf looks like it has been burned and pieces have been torn out.

I have tapped the brush at the edge of those places and made a very small mark. Then, while it dries partially, I have cleaned off my brush again and soaked it in water. Now, using only water on the brush I have gently extended the colour out into the leaf so that there is a diminishing gradient running over the colors underneath. If you take your time with this final step and really look closely at those markings on your leaf before blending them into the undertones, you will be sure to create a striking juxtaposition when your composition is complete.

The most important thing to know about all forms of art is that there is never an incorrect way to creatively express yourself. Art really is important for the heart and your spirit; it is *always* worth making time for.

I teach watercolours every term on Saturday mornings at CIT Solutions Short Courses -- here is the link for more information if you are interested -- thanks for reading and I hope to see you there!

Link: CIT Solutions Short Courses

 

Imaginary Creatures: An Introductory Fantasy Art Tutorial

The classic fantasy art book 'Faeries' by Brian Froud and Alan Lee was a childhood favorite for me, and I like to show this book to my students whenever I am teaching fantasy art. Since there is a great deal of interest in this genre locally, and many students tell me that they weren't sure where to get started with drawing out their ideas, here is a quick tutorial where I will re-draw one of my favorite mythical characters, the Merrow -- or perhaps more aptly, the evil mermaid -- as shown here in a sketch by Alan Lee. 

When getting started with a creative idea, I think it is perfectly acceptable to refer to a source image that sparks your imagination. You don't have to copy the image exactly, but you can use it as a guide to work out your ideas. Grab a fresh sheet of paper, some sketch pencils and some compressed charcoal or your favorite drawing medium.

When getting started with a creative idea, I think it is perfectly acceptable to refer to a source image that sparks your imagination. You don't have to copy the image exactly, but you can use it as a guide to work out your ideas. Grab a fresh sheet of paper, some sketch pencils and some compressed charcoal or your favorite drawing medium.

Start by placing down the foundations of your creature. Where are the joints and where is the center of gravity? I find continuous line sketching and 'connecting the joints' like they were locations on a map are two great ways to break out of drawing modes that can result in two-dimensional, or flat-looking drawings. Be sure to use an HB or other sharp and light sketch pencil, so that your sketch can be worked over. Alternately, you can sketch on a digital paint application on a foundation layer.

Start by placing down the foundations of your creature. Where are the joints and where is the center of gravity? I find continuous line sketching and 'connecting the joints' like they were locations on a map are two great ways to break out of drawing modes that can result in two-dimensional, or flat-looking drawings.

Be sure to use an HB or other sharp and light sketch pencil, so that your sketch can be worked over. Alternately, you can sketch on a digital paint application on a foundation layer.

Once you have mapped out the position of your subject on the page, you can start to build up some context with a darker pencil -- compressed charcoal and a smudge pencil are great for this. Try not to overdo the shading at this stage. Instead, try to pick only a few of the darkest contours in a few crevices. When it comes to shading, less is more and it forces you to consider nuance and detail in the early stages.

Once you have mapped out the position of your subject on the page, you can start to build up some context with a darker pencil -- compressed charcoal and a smudge pencil are great for this. Try not to overdo the shading at this stage. Instead, try to pick only a few of the darkest contours in a few crevices. When it comes to shading, less is more and it forces you to consider nuance and detail in the early stages.

Now the fun part begins -- building up a bit of detail! I would recommend starting with only one color and using it as a base to establish a palette of other colors from. If drawing by hand, a mix of soft and compressed colored charcoal will work great. Alternately, you can do what I did here and scan the image, then use a digital airbrush to lay over some more contrast and tone. I think it's important to emphasize the some of the best fantasy art uses limited colors in order to keep the imagery convincing -- it also helps keep the focus on subject and execution.

Now the fun part begins -- building up a bit of detail! I would recommend starting with only one color and using it as a base to establish a palette of other colors from. If drawing by hand, a mix of soft and compressed colored charcoal will work great. Alternately, you can do what I did here and scan the image, then use a digital airbrush to lay over some more contrast and tone.

I think it's important to emphasize the some of the best fantasy art uses limited colors in order to keep the imagery convincing -- it also helps keep the focus on subject and execution.

Here I have begun to lay over some highlights for detail and better shading distinctions. Try to pick a color that is complementary and close in hue to your undertones. In this instance, my foundation color was a dark teal, so I am using a light green to bring out the illumination. Keep in mind that you can suggest a great deal about textures by how you blend colors into one another. I want my mermaid's tale to look slimy, so I have reflective strips where the light would be coming off from.

Here I have begun to lay over some highlights for detail and better shading distinctions. Try to pick a color that is complementary and close in hue to your undertones. In this instance, my foundation color was a dark teal, so I am using a light green to bring out the illumination. Keep in mind that you can suggest a great deal about textures by how you blend colors into one another. I want my mermaid's tale to look slimy, so I have reflective strips where the light would be coming off from.

Now, time to elaborate on some details and extend out the midtones. You can do this by adding in a few more colors, just enough so that there is plenty for the viewer's imagination to build on. I am using Photoshop here, so I have built up the detail on the layers panel by stacking the details and light tones overtop of the shadows and undertones.  Note that you can achieve pretty much the same results by using the same techniques on the iPad with Procreate, however you will be more restricted by the graphics and memory capabilities of a handheld device.

Now, time to elaborate on some details and extend out the midtones. You can do this by adding in a few more colors, just enough so that there is plenty for the viewer's imagination to build on. I am using Photoshop here, so I have built up the detail on the layers panel by stacking the details and light tones overtop of the shadows and undertones. 

Note that you can achieve pretty much the same results by using the same techniques on the iPad with Procreate, however you will be more restricted by the graphics and memory capabilities of a handheld device.

And finally, the best part if you are going digital -- you can play around with the color curves of the various layers of your drawing to get some great color distributions and bring out the tones however you see fit. I've decided to make my Merrow a little more red and purple than my original sketch would have allowed. And there you have it! You've drawn your first fantasy creature and hopefully you have had a bit of fun too.   I am running my first Digital Fantasy Art Course at CIT Solutions next month and this tutorial is an introduction to the kinds of techniques we will cover.    Course Dates:   Sat 26 Aug – 16 Sep enrollment code | RED2500 10am – 12pm | 5 sessions | CIT Reid   Tue 10 Oct – 7 Nov | RED2501 6pm – 8pm | 5 sessions | CIT Reid   For more information : CIT Solutions Short Courses   All you need to get started for this class is an iPad and the Procreate Drawing app which can be downloaded for 10$ -- and is an *excellent* introductory software which can ease you into more advanced programs such as Adobe Photoshop (which I also teach privately and in group classes along with the rest of the Adobe Software Suite).   Thanks for reading this tutorial and I hope it was helpful for you! =).    

And finally, the best part if you are going digital -- you can play around with the color curves of the various layers of your drawing to get some great color distributions and bring out the tones however you see fit. I've decided to make my Merrow a little more red and purple than my original sketch would have allowed.

And there you have it! You've drawn your first fantasy creature and hopefully you have had a bit of fun too.

 

I am running my first Digital Fantasy Art Course at CIT Solutions next month and this tutorial is an introduction to the kinds of techniques we will cover. 

 

Course Dates:

 

Sat 26 Aug – 16 Sep

enrollment code | RED2500

10am – 12pm | 5 sessions | CIT Reid

 

Tue 10 Oct – 7 Nov

| RED2501

6pm – 8pm | 5 sessions | CIT Reid

 

For more information : CIT Solutions Short Courses

 

All you need to get started for this class is an iPad and the Procreate Drawing app which can be downloaded for 10$ -- and is an *excellent* introductory software which can ease you into more advanced programs such as Adobe Photoshop (which I also teach privately and in group classes along with the rest of the Adobe Software Suite).

 

Thanks for reading this tutorial and I hope it was helpful for you!

=).

 

 

Painting on the iPad with Procreate

I would highly recommend Procreate to any beginner in the digital arts -- you won't find better value for money anywhere with respect to quality graphics, and it's a great interface for learning how the more comprehensive programs work.

Here are some links if you are preparing to take the course:

Procreate Official Site

User Manual Free Download

Official Forum and Tutorials Site (with login).

The most common problem we face in class is iPad freezes. A few things you can try if this is a frequent occurrence on your device:

  • Reboot your iPad by pressing both the power button at the top and the circular button at the bottom together until the screen goes blank. Give the iPad a minute or two and then turn it back on.
  • Identify whether you have an interfering app loaded that needs to be uninstalled. After removing it, you can download it again. Sometimes having too much running at once will put a strain on the working memory of the device.
  • Worst case scenario, you can restore the iPad to factory settings and this will help it run smoother.

To get the most from the course, make sure you have some uploaded images you would like to work with. Photos, scanned artwork, or transferred digital drawings will all work, generally stored as JPEG files for starters.

See you in class!

 

Fantasy Art – Course II : Recommended Supplies for Advanced Techniques

Thanks to high interest, this is the continuing course from the First Fantasy Art module. You are welcome to enroll without having previously taken Course I, but feedback suggests that more time is preferable. See below for a list of recommended supplies from course 1 posted below to start. Otherwise, you may also want to bring the following:

  • A small range of drawing pencils (see previous post).
  • Proper eraser for your medium (kneadable, gum or regular types) and smudging     stick if possible (tissues will also work).
  • A ruler and roll of masking tape of medium size.
  • Your choice of a small selection of coloured dry media (for example, oil or chalk pastel, colored pencils or pens). I would recommend 3 or 4 coloured pencils of your favourite complimentary tones.  A small selection of water based media such as a few watercolours or inks (netwon and Windsor brand is an excellent choice), and related materials that may help you with impressions—we will talk more about wet media techniques in class. A good paint brush or inking pen.
  • A sample of objects or textures you would like to work with, where suitable.  

Digital

Due to fees and licensing software restrictions, there’s a limit to what can be provided to students. However I would like to gauge what we can bring in as individuals, and tailor the course accordingly. Feel free then, to bring in any of the following:

  • Personal laptop, ipad or drawing device (simple devices can also be great platforms for understanding the basics of more advanced programs).
  • Drawing tablet, digital pens and other creative rendering hardware intended for use.
  • Pre-scanned and uploaded images you would like to work with.

Software tutorials we will likely cover in class include:

  • Corel Painter 12
  • Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign
  • Procreate painter App for iPad
  • A few well known free open-source software alternatives

A *brief* look at:

  • 3D rendering programs for character and environment design including industry standard Maya , Poser and voxel-based design programs.
  •  Manga and 2D style rendering programs such as Manga studio, however keep in mind that this is a short course and you should think of the digital component as an introduction to further exploration. = )

Also note: at this stage wireless internet access can’t be guaranteed, meaning that personal cloud-based memberships (such as the new Adobe Creative software) may not be accessible from the room. Whatever the case, much of the digital part can be shown on a projector depending on interest. Please contact me for further clarification – we’ll see what we can do!

Remember that this list is a guide and that you are welcome to bring whatever supplies suit you best. A pencil and paper *is always* enough for a creative thinker!

 

Finally, here is the link to enroll:

Fantasy Art - CIT Solutions Art Courses

 

 

See you soon!

Fantasy Art - Course I : Recommended Supplies

This is a reference list for students taking Fantasy Art: Create Your Own Characters and Worlds. Of course you may bring whatever supplies you prefer to class (as recommended on the CIT webpage), however if you are new to the arts I highly recommend these items (all of which can be purchased at Eckersley’s in the CBD).

Also, I am a huge champion of the idea that less is more. Don’t worry about what you don’t have, working with less can challenge you to think more creatively in the first place!

Due to time constraints we're mostly working with dry media, here's what I'd recommend.

 

Pencils

  • I personally don’t find it useful to worry about pencil sets at this stage; they can be confusing and it takes time to work with them. A standard BIC mechanical pencil is great! They’re cheap and the lead (.5 mm HB standard) is highly responsive to pressure while also perfect for detail. Available at office works for $3.00.
  • If you’re ready to work with shading, you could get away with buying one 5B - 8B pencil (the dark graphite range in most pencil sets). 

Charcoal

  • There is hard and soft charcoal; both can be tricky to start with. I will provide soft ‘willow’ charcoal in class, if you would like to work with compressed charcoal, I’d recommend one of the following:
  • ‘Conte’ Paris Compressed Charcoal
  • General’s, or Conte’s Chalk Sticks set
  • Faber-Castell Pitt Charcoal pencil and other oil pastel pencils are great for    impact if you can keep them sharp.
  • Erasing charcoal is messy and requires a kneadable eraser.

Colour

  • Because of class time limits, students generally work best with a small selection of 1-4 colored pencils or pastels. I will bring coloured pencils to class, however if bringing your own, I’d recommend:
  • Prisma Color or Faber-Castell drawing pencils, even buying 2 or three of your favourite colours should be enough.

Paper

  • I personally prefer not to work with cheap paper for several reasons; It erodes, breaks and damages easily, makes your artwork hard to sell, and can make a wonderfully drawn image look like less than what it could have been (trust me!). Here’s what I’d bring:
  • A sketchbook is fine for scribbling and practice, but key words for paper that I look out for with dry media are, ‘Hot Pressed’, ‘Smooth’, ‘Cream Inlay’, and absolutely nothing under 185 gsm -- meaning that the paper has some depth to withstand wear and tear (say no to cartridge paper if you can afford it!). Arches paper brand is generally considered to be the best paper ever . . .and I drive this point home because it’s likely you will create a beautiful piece of artwork, and perhaps you will want to sell it. We will talk about this dilemma in class.
  • I highly recommend Moleskins or Leuchtturm notebooks even just for sketching, because when the paper is that nice you will value your effort more. Pepe’s Paperie in Canberra Centre sells top of the line paper products.
  • For our final projects, I recommend purchasing one or two large pieces of Arches smooth pressed paper, which are about 10$ a sheet. For all other in class projects, use whatever you are comfortable with and if on a shoestring, butcher’s paper does just fine (also, can be purchased in notebooks at Office Works for $2.00

 If you are living in the Canberra region, you will likely purchase these items at Eckersley’s, the nearest one to the CBD being on 42 Mort street.

 

Here is a link to their Online Store, which also has excellent discount clearance sales:

 

https://www.eckersleys.com.au/products

 

Here's the link to enroll if you haven't already:

Fantasy Art -- Create your own Characters and Worlds

See you in Class!

A word about privacy

In light of the recent changes happening at ASIO in Canberra, I feel compelled to 'give my two cents' on how privacy impacts the arts, and the livelihoods of people working in creative fields of all sorts.

Here are two links explaining recent amendments to National Security policy, which is the tip of a much larger iceberg:

http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/inspectorgeneral-of-intelligence-and-security-launches-recruitment-drive-to-monitor-asio-20141013-114wh5.html

http://www.news.com.au/technology/online/spy-laws-passed-in-senate-asio-given-new-powers/story-fnjwmwrh-1227071116071

A disappointing response in this discussion is to be told not to be alarmist or to say, "Well, if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about",  and I feel compelled to express deep categorical opposition to this response, which is dismissive to anyone who has taken the time to understand the broader implications of this event. I don't think the world needs one more unqualified blogger or armchair expert to recycle someone else's expert commentary -- rather, we should be making a stand to support the experts and advocates who have made sacrifices so that the rest of us can continue to live in a safe, civil society which is inclusive of 'democratic rights', free press and other structures that are largely taken for granted.

Any person who has ever had an original idea, worked in research or held a value worth protecting which didn't appeal to popular acceptance understands the need for safeguards, limits of power and self-control over their work. We just can't afford to be apathetic anymore, especially when there are already so many people in the world who are oppressed into silence by the same kinds of policies happening now.

Unfortunately, for those with something of value to say I don't think the solution to this problem will be to "smile more and talk less."

 

This seems like a great moment to acknowledge the brilliant local artist Ex De Medici, by sharing one of her pretty pictures.

"While you talked shit on Facebook, they blew up the world"  2011-2012  

"While you talked shit on Facebook, they blew up the world"  2011-2012

 




More Recommended Tools and PracticalTips

Hi again!

To clarify once more what I'm doing here -- I'm independently working on a graphic novel from start to finish. This blog is intended to document what I'm learning along the way; I hope it can be of use to artists who are new to this field (as I recently have been myself).

Here's a list of tools you may want to use to get started in this field:

Hardware -- It's good to have a dedicated graphics card on your PC. Also, extra memory can't hurt :). One thing I hope buy (but haven't tested) is a screen color calibrator -- this is important because no two monitors show the same colors and it can be painful to print an image only to find things you didn't know were there! I've heard that the Spyder Calibrator brand is a good option, however, I know little more than this.

Software -- I'm sure most artists are familiar with this software, but I'll list what I've used: I do my digital drawings on Corel Painter (specifically designed for artists, and renders almost any medium from watercolor to ink to pencil -- to an amazing standard), then do technical editing (image size, filters, piecing things together, etc) on Adobe Photoshop, and finally typography and final layouts on Adobe InDesign. I've not used much else, however there's a wealth of impressive software around for almost any type of creative project, especially in the Adobe Creative Suite.

Scanning and Printing -- I've found 3000dpi (dots per inch) to be fine for scanning purposes, but I wouldn't recommend using a scanner that does less -- here's a quick link that explains why much better than I can:

Generally, it can be a pain when it comes to cropping or taking segments from an image and enlarging them only to find the image quality is poor. On the other hand, scanning at too high a resolution can be ineffective as it takes up more space on your hard drive and isn't always necessary.

As for printers, Canon is a great brand for this type of work from what I've experienced, and they've usually got excellent built in scanners. Using generic inks with printing can get messy and time consuming, however it can save you a considerable amount on printing (if you're brave enough to try!)

I think in terms of products I'll leave it at that -- as there are plenty of people and online sources that give excellent information on this kind of thing.

 Cheers!

Making a Graphic Novel

I'm not an avid blogger, nor am I likely to become one -- however from time to time I'll post here to discuss some of the technical aspects I've been learning about digital art and editing, and how it relates to independent graphic novels and/or comics. There's so much to know in this area, much of which might not seem apparent initially. So, I hope that some of this information can be useful -- however, please keep in mind that I'm not an authority on these things...only hoping to be at a later stage :).

If I could recommend one thing for starters, it would be: get a drawing tablet!

I'd highly recommend a Wacom Intuos; they are well worth the investment in terms of what you can do with them, long term cost-benefit ratio and the learning curve is not as steep as initial appearances might indicate:

http://www.wacom.com/products/pen-tablets#&panel1-1

Best wishes for the new year!