Sunday, March 15, 2015

A Pair of Koi: Watercolor Tutorial

Hi all!  I just finished a large watercolor and took pictures throughout the process so I could share.  Perhaps you're looking to paint something similar, or maybe you just want to see how I do it.  Either way, here it is:

Step one:  I lay down a layer of clean water and loosely paint cerulean blue over it.  Even though there will be white spaces on the fish - I want the fish to look like they are in the water, and not just on top of the painting, so it's important to have some blue all over.  I do leave the eyes alone, though.  I want to make sure there is some white on the eyes.

Step 2:  When the light blue is completely dry, I mask off the fish.  If they are small, I'll do it with masking fluid, but these are big fish and it would be a big pain in the butt to smear that much masking fluid over the paper.  Instead, I cut pieces of clear plastic and taped them on with artist's tape.

Then, I lay down another layer of water and go to town with darker blues, greens, and a bit of brown.  I paint fast and loose and tilt the board up, down, and to the side to get nice blends and streaks.  I spatter water and paint with a brush.  I keep all of this up until I am happy with how it looks.

Step 3:  When that is completely dry, I remove the plastic and tape.  Some of the blue has seeped under the tape - that is to be expected.  Since I paint wet, some paint will sneak under.  I do the best I can to lift the colors off the fish (this is why I buy high quality watercolor paper.  A good sheet of Arches can handle a lot of abuse.)  I don't worry about making it perfect, just get it as light as I can so it's not obvious.  Then I under-paint the shadows on the two fish.  Most of the shading is in shades of blue, but I like to throw in some violets, pinks, and ochres as well. 

Step 4:  I do the shading ahead of time, because I like to paint the signature koi colors on wet.  The key to adding color to koi is that when you put the water down, you don't put it everywhere.  Make shapes with the water, then make other shapes with the paint.  Some paint will hit the wet spots and mix and spread and some will hit the dry spots and you'll get a harder line.  I do this with a medium yellow, orange, red, and a bit of black.  (I always leave plenty of white space.  Sometimes it's hard because spreading the bright colors on is very satisfying.  Key word = restraint.)

Step 5:  Paint the eyes.  I have a lot of photos of koi.  I've taken some, and some are from the lovely internet.  I don't think I have ever seen a highlight in a koi's eye, BUT I just think they look dead in a painting without a highlight, so I always add them.  I use blues, pinks, and greys in the rings around the eye, and do more shading in the flesh around the eyes.

Step 6:  At this point I step back from the painting and try to see what it is lacking.  I feel it is too busy.  The background doesn't have enough rest space and there isn't a strong vertical in the composition.  I darken the blue under the lower fish and above the upper fish to calm the space down and create a vertical.

I do a bit more painting on the fish.  I lift some color to create the illusion of scales, I add darker lines around some of the gills and the outlines.

 Step 7:  I add my seal that means "Double Happiness" and my signature.  All done!

A Pair of Koi 2015         2015         j. c. phillipps
It took me about a week to paint this.  There's a lot of drying time in a big, wet watercolor like this, so I'd paint for 30 minutes one day and maybe 45 minutes the next.  Very stop and go.  You also have to back up and take it all in often.  I find when I work on big paintings, it really helps to take pictures of it.  It flattens the image and shrinks it (or course) and you can see things you might not notice when it's big and in your face.

Thanks so much for stopping by!
Have a great day!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot. I'm learning and love to see how this is done.