I was looking at my blog posts recently and noticed that my tutorial on paper butterflies has been quite popular. Since I've been working with watercolours lately, I thought it might be a good idea to prepare a step-by-step tutorial for a simple watercolour project—a silhouette painting.
What you'll need:
- A photograph of the person/animal/object you'd like to do a silhouette painting of
- Watercolour paper. I did this project on a page of my Moleskine watercolour sketchbook. You can use any type of watercolour paper or even cartridge paper (as long as it's 100 gsm or thicker).
- Watercolours in pans or tubes
- Masking tape
- Scissors or craft knife
- A pot of water
- Watercolour brushes, one large and one small
Step 1. Cut out your silhouette from the photograph. In my case, I wanted to do a little girl's silhouette, so I quickly sketched one on paper and cut it out. Try to make your cuts as accurate as possible so the resulting silhouette will be nice and sharp.
Step 2. Place your silhouette on your watercolour paper. Plan where you'd like the silhouette to be in the painting. I put mine in the middle of the paper, as I wanted a floating head effect.
Step 3. Secure your silhouette on the paper by using rolled-up strips of masking tape. I normally use painters' masking tape as it doesn't leave any marks on the paper. You can get this from any DIY shop.
Step 4. Now that you've stuck your silhouette on your paper, you're ready to get on with the fun part!
Step 5. Get your large watercolour brush, dip it into your pot of water and start brushing water all around the silhouette. Take care not to get any water on or under your silhouette.
You're wetting your background because this is where you'll be applying your watercolours. You're keeping your silhouette part dry because the watercolours will only go on the wet part of your paper.
Step 6. Ready to start painting? Take your brush and choose your first colour. For background colours, I normally use just two colours and add a bit of white to vary the tones. For this picture, I chose crimson and intense blue.
You'll find that as soon as you dab your paint-loaded brush on the wet paper, the colour will just start swimming. You can tilt your paper to control the flow of the paint. I normally leave it to flow and just watch that it doesn't get too close to the silhouette.
Step 7. You can start adding your second, third, or even fourth colours. Let them swirl and move and find each other. You can guide them with your brush, but try not to control their movements too much.
Tip number 1: Remember to avoid combining complementary colours (red and green, yellow and purple, blue and orange) or you'll end up with a muddy mess.
Tip number 2: If you do find that your colours have gotten mucky, quickly dab the offending part with a tissue and paint over it.
Step 8. Once you've laid down your colours and are happy with them, just go over the bits near the edges of the silhouette which you might have missed This is where a small brush will come in handy.
Step 10. Peel off your silhouette. If you find that you have stray bits of paint on the silhouette, dab them off with a tissue.
Now here's the important bit: Walk away from your picture and just let it dry. Sit down and have a cup of tea (or if you're me, go and do your laundry then do some work). Don't judge your work straight away.
Right, have you had that break? Now go and look at your painting. Are you happy with it? If you are, that's terrific. Go and display it and make a few more.
If you don't think your painting is perfect, you can easily do another one. (Can I let you in on a secret? The silhouette painting you see in this tutorial is actually a second attempt!) Or, if you want to just jazz up your silhouette a bit, you can turn it into something like this:
I put on a very pale yellow ochre wash on the skin, a brown (burnt umber) wash for the hair, a little pink on the cheek and lips, then drew the eyes and strands of hair with a watercolour pencil.
Another option: If you've used bold colours for your background, you can paint your silhouette black.
I hope you've enjoyed this tutorial. Please show me your pictures if you do decide to give this project a go. And please feel free to contact me if you get stuck or even if you just want to say hello. :)