Friday, 28 November 2014

learn: Watercolour in-process, with Nicky Johnston

I am often asked to explain the steps I take to get from an initial idea to the final completion of an illustration. So, I decided to take progress photos from my most recent illustration, Week 45: LEAVES.

STEP 1 - Idea
A lot of my ideas begin on scraps of paper, backs of envelopes or sticky notes.

STEP 1 - A very quick initial sketch

 STEP 2 - Refining the sketch

I like to refine my sketches in my sketchbook so I always have them for any future reference. When I visit schools, I also like to show children my rough sketches, to demonstrate that not everything I do is a work of art!

Here is the refined sketch of the bear in the leaves.

STEP 2 - Refining my sketch
STEP 3 - Masking Fluid
STEP 3 - Masking Fluid. I have tried many brands, and this is the only one I use.
I lightly traced my final sketch onto water colour paper (300gsm). I wanted to have a brightly coloured  background for this piece, so I decided to use Masking Fluid to make the painting process of the background quicker.

Masking fluid is prone to wrecking your brushes so for this reason I have an old brush that I always use. Thanks to some helpful advice from members of the Challenge, I now lather soap into the brush before using the masking fluid which helps protect the bristles and makes it easier to wash out when finished.

Masking fluid creates a barrier over areas on the paper that you DON'T want watercolour paint to touch. I applied Masking Fluid to the areas I wanted to keep clear of the background colour.

STEP 3 - Masking Fluid
STEP 4 - Background

Once the masking fluid was completely dry, I mixed my background colours. I mixed two tones of blue/green making sure I made enough paint to cover the large area.

This is the part where I work the quickest, adding water to the brush to create lighter/darker areas. Because I only used masking fluid around the edge of the bear, I had to pay attention to where my brush went, making sure I didnt paint anywhere except on the background area.

STEP 4 - Background.
Once the background was completely dry, I lifted the masking fluid from the paper*.

*With dried masking fluid that peels off, I roll it into a ball and keep it. I use this to help lift the dried Masking Fluid from paper. It sticks to it and helps roll it off reducing the chance of ripping the paper.

STEP 5 - Bear

STEP 5 - Bear
Once the masking fluid was removed, I began painting in the bear. I mixed a couple of shades of brown, using additional water to thin out the colour while painting (making it lighter).

STEP 6 - Leaves

STEP 6 - Leaves
Again, with a range of orange/brown tones, I painted the blank area with leaves.

STEP 7 - Pencil Outline

STEP 7 - Pencil Outline of leaves
To outline the leaves I used a chocolate brown pencil.

STEP 8 - Pencil outline of bear

STEP 8 -  Pencil outline of bear
To finish the illustration I used a sharp black pencil to outline the bear, giving him a fun, playful expression.

To see more of Nicky's work:


Author/Illustrator Facebook Page

Happy Hero Facebook Page


  1. Thanks so much for this. I love watercolour and experiment with it but many aspects are still a mystery to me. Looking forward to trying some of your ideas ;)

  2. Thanks Nicky. I always wondered how you did your background.

  3. This is brilliant, Nicky! LOVE the use of masking fluid in this way.

  4. This is my third attempt to get this comment to load!!!:(
    Shortened version;)
    Loved the tute. I use same masking fluid- best one. Thanks for tip on brushes- lots of mine gone to brush heaven!!!!
    Love your work:)
    Skye x


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.