How to add drawn features to watercolour backgrounds

Hello, excellent ones! It’s Essie again, this time with a really simple post about adding pen details to watercolour artworks.

I feel like I need to start this post with a disclaimer: I’m an impatient artist, so this is not an easy technique for me. It requires doing your painting, waiting for it to dry, and then coming back to add details afterwards. I find the best way to deal with this impatience is simply not to stop painting. Just paint and paint and paint until your first painting is dry, and switch tools without skipping a beat.

Watercolour is, by it’s nature, a soft medium. It lends itself to the dreamy, the slow bleed, the undefined edge. Pairing this quality with some more sharply drawn details can have a really fun and interesting effect.

You might set out on a project like this with a particular idea in mind, like “I want to draw a flotilla of watercolour balloons” and that’s totally legit.

You’ll put your paint down in balloonish shapes:

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And then, once they’re dry, add the details right over the top:

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But even more fun, and perhaps more in the spirit of the whimsical, daydreamy themes of this season, is to start playing with your paints in a less planned manner.

Let them make what shapes they will, and then interpret those with your pen later.

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For example, these yellow dots were the result of me testing out different intensities of colour. I was just messing about aimlessly, seeing what the yellow would look like at different degrees of concentration:

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When I came back to them later, they looked so much like buttercups, that I had to make them into some:

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On this piece of paper, i was experimenting with how magenta and purple bled into each other. As I was doing this, they started looking like a bouquet of flowers, so I added in a little tiny bit of green in anticipation of what I would want to do with them later:

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I love the way the natural bleeding of the colours suggests shapes to you when you draw over them.

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This was an attempt at a background that went wrong:

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I discarded it, but picked it up again when I saw something different in it, and quickly penned it in. Trash to art journal page in a few strokes of the pen!

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These were experiments with seeing how different colours would blend together in a contained area:

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But they looked so much like gems, I turned them into some quick and dirty bling:

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I love the interplay you get between the media when you do this. I’m often much more relaxed with a pen when I’m doing this, and I think it’s because the softness of the watercolour encourages a less rigid line.

I hope this technique helps you to get creative in your journals, and explore that in-between space where dreams live.

Essie

Essie is basically a Unicorn. She has healing powers, magical properties, and she refuses to be handled by men.

4 Comments

  1. Sasha Zinevych

    Amazing article, Essie! I love how you teach to use your intuition and personal interpetation of things when you create art! <3

  2. Clare Davis Etheridge

    Love this, pen and watercolours are some of my favourite media. I see a face in the yellow gem too!

  3. Gilly Welch

    You make it look so easy, thanks Essie for a lovely tutorial!

  4. Chelsea Corbett

    Ahhh I love this so much! I’m going to cut up some watercolour paper tomorrow, bring out the watercolours and see what happens 🙂 great article!