Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Copper - Watercolor Painting Tutorial

I wanted to share with you all a brief watercolor painting tutorial of my new steampunk painting, Copper. Well, I say tutorial for lack of better words! I guess you could call it more of a walk through of my entire painting process. I hope you enjoy it and maybe even pick up a few tricks along the way!

If you're interested in purchasing the original of Copper, she is available for sale in my Etsy shop here.

This was my initial sketch of Copper. I sketch with plain old pencil and paper. I actually just use a cheap mechanical pencil with .05 lead I believe. And my favorite sketch pad that I've found I bought at Walgreens for only $4! I was really happy with the way the sketch turned out. I liked the shift in body weight that I was able to achieve and her cute little hiked left shoulder. I also liked her face and hair style. But I didn't feel like the composition was balanced. There was too much negative space on the left side. So I went back to work on it.

Usually when I don't like a sketch, I take it into Photoshop and play with it a bit. For me, this is the quickest and easiest way to play around with the composition to see what works. What I did to fill up the space on the left side was first to elongate her top hat. Then I added a draped pocket watch around her right arm. I also found some awesome free gear Photoshop shapes online that I added to the piece. My idea was to make these gears part of the background. After I came up with this composition, I was much happier with it and decided to move onto the next step.

My next step is to create all the clean linework in Photoshop using the Pen Tool. I use this linework for a variety of different reasons including rubber stamps, coloring pages and to print off on my final watercolor paper. I create the lines in Photoshop because it's the best way I've found to "clean up" my messy sketch lines and get them super smooth.

More linework in Photoshop.

Here, I have created her clothes with the pen tool. I also reworked the rough sketch of the pocket watch so that the draping made more sense.

And here is the finished linework! Those chain links took forever!

Next, I always work out a rough color scheme in Photoshop using the paint bucket tool. I just drop in rough color. I like to get an overall sense of what colors to use and if it's all going to be cohesive. Sometimes I make changes as I'm painting, but I usually stick to this initial idea fairly closely.

Here, I've printed the linework very faintly onto my watercolor paper. But I reink all the lines by hand before I can start painting. For my work, I just prefer to ink everything instead of painting it with no inked lines. I think the final piece turns out cleaner and sharper looking. I ink my pieces with a dip pen and brown waterproof ink. It does take a steady hand, but you would be surprised at how some shaky lines get easily hidden once everything's painted. I always ink the face first, because I feel that is the hardest part to hide mistakes. Once the face is finished and looks good, I move onto the rest of the painting. I have been able to successfully cover up major mistakes before, but never on the face. So best to get that out of the way first so that you don't save it for last, mess it up, and then have to redo the whole thing. One tip is to use pen cleaner to lift out major splashes. It doesn't get rid of it completely, but it does lighten it considerably making it easier to cover up with watercolor.

This is always my favorite part. Copper is part of my Portrait Series and in this series I always create a textured background using salt. For this particular background, I used tan, brown, red and dark brown colors to create a really grungy, steampunky (yes it's a word!) background. I sort of blended together the tan and medium brown colors, then dropped in really saturated colors of dark brown and red. Then I sprinkled plain old table salt on top to create the texture. I was so happy with the way it turned out.

Next, I decided to take a light brown color and paint in the gears. I was afraid of losing the lines of the intricate gears and not being able to salvage them, so I wanted to make sure that they stood out enough for me to be able to work on them later. I didn't want to get them too dark though before I worked on the character a bit. So I left them a lighter color knowing that I would finish them off later. Then I started working on her clothes by painting the base colors. For the most part, I use wet on dry watercolor techniques. And build up layer after layer. Once the colors are as vivid as I would like, I then blend everything together with a soft, wet brush.

Here you can see that I built up the layers of the brighter orange/red color so that it's nice and vivid. Then I blended those layers all together so there weren't any hard edges. Then I started on the darker crimson red color. I typically work one color at a time.

The darker red color is now finished and blended. I love creating folds in skirts. They're one of my favorite things to paint!

In this picture, I finished all of the gold/tan parts of her clothing and blended everything together. I also laid down the base color for the brown and leather parts of her outfit.

Here the brown parts are finished! I tend to use the types of watercolor paints that have some granulation in them. I'm not sure what the technical term for those are, but I use them for creating leather. It makes them nice and splotchy and gives them an awesome texture. Now that I had the darkest parts of the character all finished, I could go back to the gears. I usually finish the background first before moving onto the foreground. I do this because it's easier to fix any watercolor splashes on the foreground when it's not painted. You can easily lift them off or cover them up with more paint once you work on the character. But sometimes, I have to work in a back and forth method in regards to the background and foreground so that they are well balanced. This was the case with the gears. I wanted them to stand out, but not overwhelm the character. So that's why I finished the character first before I finished them up.

And here's the finished painting! I worked on her skin tone. I did have some problems with the skin tone. I mentioned before that I use a wet on dry technique most of the time and blend everything at the end. But for some reason, the lighter colors don't like to blend as easily and can sometimes turn blotchy. This is a very nerve wracking time for this to happen, right at the end of the painting! But after I complained to my husband for awhile about ruining the painting, I set back to work to fix it. I added a lot of red and pink tones and lots of water with a smooth brush. This really helped with the splotchy skin tone and in the end I was happy with how it looked! I also painted the pocket watch in a really bright copper tone so that it stood out from the background.
And here are some pictures of the finished painting!


  1. Now THAT was fun! Well written and fascinating to walk with you through your creating. You're really pretty good at this stuff! :D

  2. Hi Nikki
    just love your creations..I would like to know if any of the witches or steampunk images will be done in rubber stamps???would just love that option...thanks again for your beautiful work!

    1. Hi!! Thank you so much for your kind words. I'm so happy that you like my work. =) I actually am licensed with Sweet Pea Stamps for rubber stamps. You can find all my stamps here: http://www.sweetpeastamps.com/category_50/-Nikki-Burnettes-Art-Collection.htm

      Unfortunately, I have no control over which of my images get released as rubber stamps. So the best thing to do if there's an image you would like as a rubber stamp that's not available is to contact Sweet Pea Stamps directly and let them know which image you would like! I can't guarantee that they will release it, but there is definitely a chance. =)

      I also sell my own digital stamps myself through my Etsy shop. These are printable files of the black and white linework that you can use for scrapbooking, card making and more! I have a line for personal use and one for light commercial use.

      You can check out all my selections here: http://www.etsy.com/shop/aurella27/search?search_query=coloring+page&order=date_desc&view_type=list&ref=shop_search

      I hope that helps! If you have any other questions, just let me know! You can contact me at nikki@aurella-art.com. =)