Watercolour walkthrough – Impressions

Step 1: The Sketch

As this piece was only an exercise I skipped my normal preparation. I merely clipped it to a board as I knew I wouldn’t be doing any washes or heavy wet into wet sections. The paper is Arches Cold Pressed 300gsm 100% Rag gelatin sized. It’s fairly thick and has a lovely tooth.

I sketch fairly loosely in a HB/ B pencil, preferring to sketch straight onto the paper. I do however detail anything that I want the pencil marks to show through the washes of colour – like the hair.

Step 1 - Impressions

Step 2: Initial Washes

I prefer to start with skin – generally the face. However for pieces such as Soliloquy where the background is detailed I generally start with the sky/ background.

I mix cadmium orange + alizarin + cadmium red and a lot of water to get the colour that I want. I start with light washes and blend the colour to clear with a clean brush and water. I leave white paper at the lightest point of the painting like her nose, cheekbones and whites of her eye.

To add “shaping”/ “sculpting” to the skin I add successive washes, adding a small amount of ultramarine & raw sienna to the mix. Rule of thumb I work to is that the shadows are the opposite to the light area. If I’ve used warm orange skintones, the shadows will have cool blues.

Initial Washes


Step 3: Underlying colour for hair and mask

I lay in a light wash of raw sienna mixed with raw umber. I’ve decided on light brown hair. I keep on building the skin tone and hair. The mask will be a blue-lavender colour.

Building up layers of hair Mask 3


Step 4: Detailing the hair

After layering the hair with raw umber, raw sienna and the occassional touch of blue and yellow ocher, I define strands with a fine liner brush.

Detailing the hair

Step 5: Working on the skin tone

I add a few more washes of colour to the skin, adding in stronger washes of orange to the shadow below her chin, deepen the shadows in her ear, add colour to her lips (a redder version of the skin), and add eyelashes in sepia.


Mask 5


Step 6: Refining the mask

I add shaping to the mask using a stronger wash. I prefer mixing my own purple from magenta and ultramarine. I add the jewels and finish off the facial features. I continue to work on the ear, and revisit the skin.

Step 6


Step 7: Refining the clothes

I’ve decided to have the clothes reflect the colours in the mask. Using the same colours plus a small amount of viridian I make light washes to indicate the clothing folds.

I’ve finished the ear using a liner brush, some pinker washes of the base skin tone, and a small amount of burnt sienna.

Step 7

Step 8: The background

I wanted a fairly abstract background, something suggestive of leaves. This is something I played around a few years ago when I did collage work for a series of paintings I did at art college. Originally I was using the tissue paper to collage with, but found it left interesting patterns on the cardboard below.

Basically you take a piece of tissue paper, lay it over the paper, then drop watercolour onto the tissue paper, allowing the colour to soak through onto the paper below. The paint needs to be saturated with colour, and you can drop colours together so that they bleed into each other.

Remove the tissue paper after a it has sat there a little while (don’t allow to dry or it may attach to the paper.

Step 8

Step 9

I repeat the previous process until I’m happy with the background.

The final painting.

Step 9


Detail of the skin Beads detail