Now becoming know in DC circles as the artistic wizard, Nathan Brown of Trailhead Design Co. needs very little introduction. A seasoned designer, illustrator and long-standing friend of ours, Nathan really is a creative master. We were thrilled he agreed to share some of his wizardry with us again.
In this session, Nathan showed us how to create stunning watercolor art in Procreate. This hour was packed full of incredible takeaways that will help you on your way to creating your best work yet.
Set the Canvas
Add a new file and set the canvas to 3000 x 4000 pixels. On the top layer, add a watercolor paper texture and set it to multiply. Make sure to start painting underneath it.
Understand the Watercolor Set
The brush set is the largest set and extremely exuberant for painting. It includes a Sketch Pencil as the top brush. Everything else is broken into sections because the set is massive. The categories will make it easier to paint.
The first set includes detailed brushes. Apart from adding details to smaller elements with small brushes, these are also scalable so larger fields and shapes can be covered with the same brush.
Instead of using the Smudge Tool to smudge out some of the strokes, these brushes blend all by themselves with pressure.
The Detail Set consists of several brushes that have a bit of texture and an edge to the stroke. For example, a wet edge.
The next section consists of Textured Rounds and is the biggest section. All of these brushes can primarily be used to fill large shapes. All the variation can be achieved with one brush for an entire painting. You could also use it on dry paper with a dry brush and more paint, or paint with a wet brush into a wet area of the paper to create a different look.
The next section consists of The Flat Brushes. The flat brushes have blunt and flat strokes. There's also a section of Dry Brushes which have bristles.
The next section consists of Wet Texture Brushes. In traditional watercolor, there’s a method that is typically called wet onto wet when you're painting with a water-soaked brush into a wet area of the paper. The paper is wet and the paint tends to bleed out into the wet area of the paper. So this is a section of brushes which helps you paint large shapes and large areas.
Understand Hard Brush and Soft Brush
Some paintings require a level of detail and texture. For example, if you were painting a bird, there's probably areas of the painting that would require you to have a sharper edge or focus as the focal point of the painting. Some would also require texture. Hence, the Hard and Soft Brushes are great to have multiple variations to paint and wash.
There is a method of adding traditional watercolor where you spray or drip alcohol into wet areas, and it creates a reaction where the alcohol and the water don't mix well. It creates a wild texture. So, with a pressure-sensitive brush from the set, the harder you press, the more you get a wild-looking texture. This forms a mixture of wash and splatter.
Another special effect in watercolor is where you sprinkle salt into a wet area and it creates a wild, grainy texture. There’s a similar texture in the same set as well.
Understand Water Brushes
Previously, the water brushes had their own set. This set of brushes is for blending the colors out or blending them together.
The last section consists of washes. It is broken down into stains, water washes, and light smaller washes in the set. There are splatters and stamps as well that can be resized largely with really high resolution.
Splatters are essential to watercolor because they add a finishing level of detail. At the same time, it's fun to do traditional, like dip and just splatter to get drips on the paper. It's also really fun on the iPad because it's the same process.
Understand How to Paint Leaves
There are a couple of methods to paint the petals and the leaves. On a blank piece of paper, switch to a green color for the leaf. Start with a selection and use the washes to drop in some color. Use yellow color to highlight and paint over that.
If you undo the selection, it's painted a leaf, but it creates a really sharp edge, unlike watercolor. So vary that by picking the Eraser and choosing a brush loaded into wet. Erase some bits to create the edge that watercolor has.
You could also switch it over to Alpha Lock, which only paints within the painted area of the layer. Then add a bit more variation like another wash and darken the color. This creates a rough edge. Then pick a round brush or any detailed brush and paint the leaf. Switch it to Alpha Lock and get one of the wash brushes with texture.
Once you’ve understood all the basics along with some amazing tips and tricks shared above by Nathan, follow along to create a beautiful watercolor painting below:
Sketch the Flower
Draw a sketch with the Sketch Pencil from the set. Draw a long stem and a single flower as shown in the reference image below.
Pro tip: You can paint the most beautiful flowers, but if they're not composed well then it all falls apart.
Start with a white selection and then draw the petals around. Fill the petals with white color. Turn the opacity down. Fill in the background with a blue wash. Pick the Wash Brushes from the wash section and stamp in a couple of drips and washes, adding a blue color for the background.
Layer and blend them together. Use the Smudge Tool. Use the water and pull in a downward direction to make it look like the water is pulling the paint down. Add a yellow wash behind that, adding two complimentary colors.
Add contrast by adding some dark colors with a combination of Washes, Wash Brushes and the Smudge Tool. Smudge around the edge of the flower, creating contrast with the dark color and the white of the flower petals.
Pro tip: In traditional watercolor, this is called Negative Painting. When you paint your painting around the subject, do it by not painting any water within the flower petals or the leaves. Mask it off using something like a frisket or tape that would keep the paint out of the area.
Add a dark wash to smudge out the shadow areas. Add details in the center of the flower using one of the detailed brushes. Add a dark wash and then smudge out the border of the flower, eliminating the hard edges.
Turn the sketch off and add leaves. Replace them and adjust the placement and size.
Paint the Petals
Pick a yellow color and paint the petals of the flower using the Wash Texture Brush. Blend it out with the Smudge Tool. Add white highlights or any yellow highlights in the leaves to brighten up some of the highlighted areas. Add splatters to create edges.
The soft edges are made up of multiple edges and it just softens out. The more it goes to the background, the harder the edges get. To obtain a sharper edge bring it to the foreground. In this example, there are a lot of hard edges and that's the main focal point of the piece, so that's where your eye is automatically drawn to.
Add Final Touches
Add lighter color splatters to make the composition sharper. Add an overlay layer because it adds a subtle highlight. Use the Stamped Wash Brushes and stamp a couple of dark and light washes at a smaller size.
Pro tip: Experiment and allow happy accidents to happen.
Do a color balance to balance out all the colors. Swipe with three fingers and press copy all. It copies the paper, texture and everything else. Load it onto a new layer above everything else. Then, do a color balance on the whole layer by adjusting mid tones and pushing some of the shadows to blue. Harmonize everything to blend it well.
Congratulations, your beautiful watercolor painting is ready!