Sunday, September 21, 2008

Watercolor Goldfish: A Tutorial

I thought it might be nice to take you through a step-by-step of how I paint my goldfish. I did it once with koi, but I think this one is a little more thorough.

I start with my sketch. Sorry, I know this is hard to see. But there are three fish: a main fish, slightly off center, a secondary fish to the left, and a third fish in back. I take some artists tape and cut out shapes for the eyes and put them on the paper. This does two things - it keeps the eyes clean for a different approach to painting them, and it helps me see where the fish are when I am lifting.

I put the first wash of background color on - right over the fish. I used Cerelean Blue, Prussian Blue and Sap Green. I have already started to lift out the first fish with a damp squirrel hair brush. This is done while the paint is still wet. See the eyes on the other fish?

Now I lift out the other two fish - leaving some blue on the bodies for shading.

Now that I can see the fish clearly and the back wash has settled, I do another wash below the fish - pumping up the Prussian Blue where I want a stronger contrast.

I do the same thing on the top part. (I also sprinkle some drops of water to give the illusion of air bubbles.)

I underpaint the fish with a combination of blues, grays and Burnt Sienna. One of the reasons I am using Burnt Sienna is because the frame this will go in is that color - so it will look like it fits. I mainly paint on the bottom, where the natural shadows would be.

After the underpainting is completely dry - I can lay the yellows, oranges and reds in on the top fish. Before I paint, though, I do a loose water pattern on the fish (NOT a full wash). Then when I put the color on - some will bleed and some will lay flat giving me wet and dry areas of paint which make it more interesting and true to life.

Now that I have stronger colors on the front fish, I can see the background fish is looking pretty pale. I have to intensify those shadows.

That's better.

Now I can put the colors down on this one too. I went for a fully colored fish, just to be different. If they are all the same - it can be a little boring.

Now comes the time for finishing up. I rework anything I think needs to be darker and show more contrast. I lift some scale highlights out toward the top and add some darker scales in toward the bottom. I also remove the tape covering the eyes and paint those in using light blue, yellow ochre and black for the pupils.

When I finally think it looks good - that nothing I can add will make it better - I put my seal in the bottom corner and sign it.


Jessica said...

It is really exciting to see your process and watch the fish come to life! Thank you for sharing that!!

Again, I have to tell you that your washes are beautiful! I am a big fan of washes, and tended to use them a fair bit when making lithographs.

How big is this one, and what size do you generally work?

You must be so happy to have more free time to work on your paintings!

Julie_c said...

This one is small compared to the other one. It's only 16" by 12". I have two cherry wood frames so I am making a pair of goldfish to fit. But I'm also doing them smaller b/c that's what sells better at the November show. I'll probably ask about $350 for it - and that's a higher priced item for my stuff - but reasonable, I think.

sara said...

Squirrel hair brush!?!?! So that's what's happening to all those varmints... and why you're not phased by picking the dead ones up....

Julie_c said...

Aw man - you figured me out - you crafty Canadian, you!

Can I help it if squirrels have absorbent hair?

Natalie said...

Elisa would love this post...I must email her immediately. ;-)

Jay said...

Thanks for the lesson, I just whipped up a painting last night when I got home from work. So easy once you know what you are doing :)

Shelley said...

I love seeing the process. And the outcome. Lovely!

Mothertrucker said...

What a lovely sight I am so happy to have found it.
I always wanted to paint but thought that this was for other people - artistic people - not the likes of me.
But at the age of 62 I went to a class a few weeks ago and now there is no stopping me!.
i think fish are a beautiful subject and am dying to try. As soon as I have the house to myself tomorrow I will be following your advice and hope for a lovely fishy picture.
Thank you so much.

Carolyn said...

Nice tutorial!