by: Karee Nation
Spring is just around the corner and lately I’ve wanted to infuse my home with everything light and bright. Subsequently, since I live in Arkansas, spring may not actually be just around the corner but instead down a dark alley, two streets up, diagonal from the drugstore, cross the ditch and hope for weather above 50 degrees. However, my brain is ready for bright sunshine and warmer temps and I’m going to drench my house in it, even if it snows. One of the easiest ways I’ve found to usher in bright colors is through artwork. Plus, it’s relatively easy to change out and very inexpensive if you learn a few techniques yourself. This tutorial is going to cover the very basics of making your own abstract floral watercolor print.
You will need:
Paint brushes (a small set of inexpensive brushes work just dandy!)
Fine tipped marker (sharpie style)
Watercolor paper (thicker paper absorbs best)
Palette watercolors (Kids’ Crayola watercolors work fantastic for florals!)
First, let’s talk a little about watercolor pencils. These are not the same thing as regular colored pencils. These are almost completely water soluble, meaning that when you touch water to an area that you’ve colored in the effect looks just like watercolor. The advantage to using these instead of regular watercolors is that you have more control over where your pigment goes. They really are an ideal tool for beginning watercolor enthusiasts. They come in a variety of price ranges, but I’ve found that most work equally well. For this project, I used the economy pencil set. These are the types of watercolor pencils you’ll get when you buy an entire watercolor set at a craft store. The set will usually include some tube colors, pan colors, and pencils. It’s a great purchase for those who are interested in learning, but don’t want to go overboard buying a ton of expensive supplies (and believe me they get expensive).
To begin this print, you’ll want to start with a sketch. It most definitely doesn’t have to be fancy. For this project, a couple of center circles and some oddly shaped petals will be all the foundation you need to begin painting.
2. Make use of your new watercolor pencils.
Once your flower shapes are drawn, start filling in the color with the pencils. Don’t press too hard; just a light even coloring will work best. Then add some darker complementary colors to give your petals some dimension. Do the same with the leaves and flower centers. Since this project is more abstract, you can get totally crazy with the color and it will look awesome. Petals are naturally more saturated toward the center so that’s a great place to add hints of darker color. It looks a little streaky at this point. Don’t worry, it’s supposed to! Once you add water all of those lovely colors will blend. I also like to add some color throughout the background to tie it all together as well.
3. Add water.
Once your colors are situated to your liking, it’s time to add water! This is the most fun part of the entire process because it magically blends all of those pencil strokes. A bigger, softer brush will work the absolute best for this part. Start with small sections and work in circles, blending as you go. You’ll find this process to be far less daunting than it seems.
4. Steal crayons.
When your flowers are all blended, they might look a little faint, which is where the kids’ Crayola watercolors come in handy. There’s no shame in stealing them from the littles, they’re only going to destroy your walls with them anyway. But, they work amazingly well for adding a brighter layer to your flowers and leaves. I just really like my paintings to be saturated like gummy bears at a fourth of July celebration.
5. Let dry, then outline.
After you’ve finished your final coat of color(s), let that baby dry. Luckily, it only takes a couple of minutes with watercolor. When it’s good and dry, add a sharpie outline for some visual interest. I try not to make my lines too perfect, and often I overlap them. I like mine to look very messy and abstract, but it’s all a matter of personal preference.
6. Splatter, splotch, and hang.
Finally, the last step is here! Just to add a little texture, I add a good bit of water to one of the color wells to make it very liquid. For this piece I used both the dark purple and the blue wells. Then I dip my brush into it and tap it lightly across my pen to ‘splatter’ it onto my artwork. The more water you use, the bigger the splotches will be. Generally I try to make it heavier toward the bottom in florals so that it ‘anchors’ the plants. And that’s it! All done! Time to mat and frame it!
If you’re not an artist, doing any type of artwork can be incredibly intimidating. I promise you this, it’s a series of steps and every single time you do it you will get better. Getting comfortable with it is a process—and it’s a process that you have to allow to happen naturally. When I started watercolors years ago, my first pieces were awful. It’s been really great to be able to look at those old pieces and see how my skills have improved over the years. I bet you’ll feel the same. So, go raid your kid’s art stash and welcome to your new hobby! Happy painting!