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How to: Create Fine Paintings with Watercolour

How to: Create Fine Paintings with Watercolour

We gave Fine Art student, Lucy Roberts, the chance to show off her painting skills and play around with the Cass Art Watercolour Starter Pack. In return, she's offered to share her knowledge of fine watercolour work, and show us how to paint the perfect rainbow trout.

As a keen watercolourist, I always try to go for the best of the best (within a student budget!) so it was great to find that Cass Art's Value Watercolour Pack offers three great products, which amount to pretty much everything you need to start you on your watercolour journey. Each pack contains:

  • A set of Winsor and Newton Cotman Watercolours, which are my top choice for both quality and price. Each set contains 36 small half pans of paint, which are highly pigmented and really bring your paintings to life. Each half pan can be easily replaced once it runs out- so this is really something you can keep for a lifetime!
  • 5 Cass Art Sable Brushes that range in size to accommodate a variety of watercolour painting styles and scales. Since these brushes are made with sable, they are amazingly soft, and allow for incredibly detailed painting (and also feel amazing when brushed onto your face).
  • An A4 Cass Art Jumbo Gummed Pad, with a generous 50 sheets of watercolour paper. The sheets are the perfect thickness, and strong enough to withstand plenty of water without wrinkling or buckling.

With these materials at my disposal I was ready to start playing, and get to work on my watercolour rainbow trout...

When doing fine painting, it's always worthwhile beginning with a pencil and lightly drawing out the outline of your shape. I started my piece by pushing lightly with a harder-grade pencil to sketch out my rainbow trout. Drawing in this way helps to produce a faint but visible line, which can be easily disguised later in the painting process.

Once your outline is in place, add a thin wash of light colour. It's always best to start with your lightest shade, and build up colour depth and darkness with multiple layers- if you start out too dark it can be very hard to correct or paint over later. I used a pale shade of yellow, which forms the base of my trout's scales.

Try not to rush your work, and continue to add delicate layers of light colour to your piece. Subtle variety of colour and shade will help to build realistic tones and add depth to your painting. When layering colour onto my fish, I gradually moved to darker shades with each wash. Patience is key to a good watercolour painting, because if you don’t give each layer a little time to dry, the paper can get too soggy and your colours can bleed and become muddied. 

Once you are happy with the base layers of light colour, you can begin to introduce darker tones to your piece. This is the time to be reserved- the very darkest shades should only be used in select places where lowlights are absolutely necessary. My trout called for a dark wash along its head and back, to mimic the shading of its markings and encourage an authentic three-dimensional appearance.

Try to avoid the tempation of outlining your piece with dark lines- while this can be great for stylised or illustrative work, it can ruin the realistic effect of this type of painting.

Detail is key in fine watercolour painting, and one benefit of working with small, natural brushes is that you can easily add delicate elements which bring your piece to life. Once my underlayers were dry, I selected my smallest brush and began to add subtle lines to my rainbow trout's fins and tail, and a splattering of speckles across its back and body. By varying the stroke size, pressure, and using complementary colours, I was able to reflect the uneven patterns and delicate details commonly found in nature. 

When you've finished adding the darker details to your piece you can add a few small highlights for a final flourish. A great "cheat" for this step is to use white gouache, which is thicker and more opaque than watercolour paint, and can be applied over even very dark base colours. Once again, I selected my thinnest brush to apply the flashes of white, which glisten on my rainbow trout's scales, fins and eye.  

And there you have it: a perfect, and simple, watercolour rainbow trout- no fishing rod required!

Feeling Inspired?

Take a look at more of Lucy's work.

Shop for the Value Watercolour Starter Pack and more watercolour products online at Cass Art.