A Watercolor Painting Tutorial

A Watercolor Painting Tutorial

Painting Penguins

From time to time, people ask if I can do a tutorial on my watercolor painting process.  Though I am not brave enough to do a video yet, nor do I feel “expert” enough to teach, I thought I would share a little step-by-step process of some of the ways I go about doing a painting and some of the tools I use.

I am a completely self-taught artist.  Everything I learned over the past almost five years in my adventure in discovering watercolor painting I learned by watching YouTube videos, reading blogs and books, and experimenting.  (You can see and read about my very first watercolor painting here.)

This past Sunday morning, I woke up early with a burning desire to paint.   I had to get up and go to my art room and paint.  Early morning hours on the weekend are my most creative time.  I think I might dream about ideas, because I wake up thinking about something I want to paint and how I want to do it.

The muse woke me at about 3:30 am.  I tossed and turned until finally getting out of bed at 5:00 am to just do it.

A friend had mentioned penguins the day before.  So a penguin painting it was.

I started by searching for some photos on the internet, and I saw a cute Christmas tree ornament of a penguin daddy and baby.  It was my inspiration.  I drew a rough pencil sketch on plain copy paper where I also created the shading for my lights and darks and medium values.

I wanted to create a colorful cool-feeling background.  Creating granulating effects and blooms with watercolor pigment is one of the things that gives me the greatest joy in the watercolor painting process.  I chose a blue (Daniel Smith Mayan Blue Genuine) and purple (Daniel Smith Quinacridone Purple) to go with a little of the black (Daniel Smith Lunar Black) I knew would be the main color I used for the penguins and practiced with them on a scrap of watercolor paper to see how it would look.

Time to transfer all of these ideas to my painting.  I most often paint on an 11×14 inches piece of Arches 140 lb. Cold Press Watercolor paper.  I buy the paper in large 22×30 inch sheets and tear them into fourths to paint on.

Instead of re-drawing the penguins, I simply cut out the outline and lightly traced it onto the watercolor paper.  I then painted the shape in with masking fluid, so I could create the background effect first.

The masking fluid resists paint and water allowing you more freedom to splash and tilt your paper and assure you don’t get background paint into the place you want to paint the main object.  It only takes a few minutes to dry – about the time it takes to grab a fresh cup of coffee.

I then taped my paper to a board to prevent it from curling too much since I knew I was going to make it quite wet.  I spritzed it lightly with water and randomly dropped in my watercolor paint.  I spritzed it some more and tilted it back and forth and sprinkled a few grains of salt here and there.

Then the hard part…..  waiting for it to dry.

So off on a walk I went – with Charlie and a friend – in the crisp dawn of daylight.

After a walk and breakfast with hubby, I returned to my art room to a dried background.

I removed the masking fluid by gently lifting with an eraser, and began painting in the penguins.

There really wasn’t a lot of paint needed since penguins are basically black and white.

One of the most important and hardest things to learn in watercolor painting is to allow white, unpainted space.  It is the light, and it adds so much to the painting in the end result.  It cannot be added back in and takes restraint!

The only colors I used were the same Lunar Black as in the background and a tiny bit of Daniel Smith Quinacridone Gold.  And isn’t it amazing how much you see that gold even though such a tiny amount was used?  The black and grey were done using the same color, but in varying ratios of water and paint.

One of the most fun parts of finishing a painting is peeling off the painter’s tape creating a crisp, clean line on the edge of your painting.

The last step is signing my name.

And here is the finished painting when fully dry.

I take high resolution photos of my paintings for prints and cards, which I sell on Etsy and in a local gift shop.

Matting and framing adds so much (though it is hard to photograph without a glare)!

An important thing I’ve learned about watercolor painting is the importance of using good quality paint and paper and brushes.  I love Arches watercolor paper and Daniel Smith watercolor paints.

The brushes I used for this painting are ones I use most often:  Princeton Neptune Quill #4 for the background wash,   Escoda Versatil #10  for the penguins, and a Creative Mark Mimik #3 Rigger for a few of the very thin fine lines.  With these three brushes, I can do most any painting.

I hope this was informative for those who have asked about my process.  I am still learning, and I continually try different methods and products.

I don’t always do the background first.  Sometimes I paint an object and then decide to paint a background around it.  Sometimes I don’t paint a background, but just an object.   Other times I paint complete abstracts.  I never try to do exact photographic duplicate type paintings.  I prefer painting looser and more impressionistic.

I’m not sure I’ve refined my style into any particular area yet.  I may never.  But the journey is filled with so much joy.

And that is what matters most… finding joy… at life in between.

Cheers & Hugs,

44 thoughts on “A Watercolor Painting Tutorial

    • Thanks Pam – It is not a technique I always use, but worked well for this painting, and I thought it would be fun to share. I’m glad you enjoyed. I need to catch up on Catching my drift!!! ❤


  1. You’re the best Jodi! Thank you so very much for sharing your painting process with us! I really enjoyed this tutorial and I have been hoping you would post a tutorial and I was so excited when I saw your post for today😁 I was so happy you added in the pigments you used and photos of your process. Please, definitely do more tutorials this year, I throughly enjoyed this post and learned some too and that’s the joy of your post, reaching out to all of us with your watercolor skills, I definitely feel blessed to have found your blog I always love reading your posts (poems) and I love your watercoloring! Thanks again Jodi!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are so very welcome! And I’m so glad you enjoyed! It takes a bit of work to think of all the things and remember to take photos along the way 😉 – I should have taken a few more when I was painting, but got caught up in it and forgot! LOL! But at least I shared some techniques and some of the products I love 🙂


  2. Jodi! This is wonderful. I really enjoyed this post. I can so identify with being grabbed by the painting muse. I couldn’t fall asleep last night, and part of it was that I had this painting in my head. I had to get up and paint it, and then I was able to sleep. I love this penguin picture! Do you sell regular size pictures in your etsy shop, too, or just cards?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Shelly! I sure do appreciate your visit and support. And I so adore your art and blog – always such a good message. I’ve been a bit remiss in reading blogs – needed a little break – but love following you on IG at least 🙂 I do sell the original paintings as well as prints in 11×14, 8×10 and 5×7 on Etsy 🙂 Here’s a link: https://www.etsy.com/shop/McKinneyx2Designs


  3. Thanks so much, Jodi, for sharing so much information about your creative process. Sometimes when I look at a watercolor painting, I can sort of figure out how certain effects were achieved, but most of the time I am clueless. Your explanations and photos really helped to make it easy to follow what you were doing.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. In Benjamin speak : “Two Thumbs Up and Ten Gold Stars!”. Having learned the value and hard work of earning gold stars since beginning kindergarten and turning the ripe old age of 6, he has recently become less generous in the dispensing of them…no more thousands and zillions! The penguins are adorable! I very much enjoyed a “My Jodi” tutorial and encourage you to continue doing them. I had never heard of masking fluid and must add this to Benjamin’s watercolor supplies. I think that he will find it a great addition so that the object he wants to be seen the most doesn’t get washed away in colors, as has been our experience. He never is disappointed with his results, it is more about splashing color and having fun in the process. Need I tell you that he will be delighted to find a letter from “My Jodi” amidst my inbox on his next visit…it will be saved! I LOVE the beautiful Instagram photo, your eyes are a lovely color! Mayhaps this will become the next thumbnail photo ( is that what they are called?) along with your comments?! Do you remember how upset Benjamin was when you first changed to the present one and the original one that he knew disappeared? Thank-you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh I am laughing at the end of this. It is always sooooo good to hear from you Ellen! I will be so thrilled to receive Benjamin’s stars! Oh how I would love to paint with Benjamin one day!! And meet you! I can’t even picture you as I’ve never seen a photo 😐 Thank you for the sweet compliments. Love to you BOTH!!! xo


  5. Hi Jodi, your penguins turned out wonderful!! 🐧💕 I enjoyed hearing about your painting process. I forget to use masking fluid… I will have to try your brand. I have ordered a pen with masking fluid but haven’t got it yet. 😊 I think the hard part is letting it dry too! ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  6. You are quite the story teller, love the dog photo, too. Love the penguins. Love the details & process sharing. I started watercolors about a year after you. May 2016. But I remember my first attempt I couldn’t get colors to blend at all! Too much water (blooms), not enough water, Mud! Yuk. I think you did pretty well, I looked up Linseys video from your links & as a beginner first painting, I think it would have been hard to follow. She sprayed her background & she herself didn’t have enough water & kept correcting herself. She also had the real photo to refer to which her audience didn’t see as far as I could tell. I have followed many utube videos myself & it is always a struggle chasing the artist which as a newbie you have no clue. Would love to see how you would paint your 1st painting again, today. You have learned so much & have your own approach to painting now. But even back then you put your on your own spin to it, as I see splatters which Lindsy didn’t use. This was a fun one. Well done Penguins. You have a lovely Zoo in your repertoire.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. As someone who doesn’t paint at all, (except for walls, LOL), I was fascinated to see the process you use to paint. You may be self-taught, but you are very, very good! I think one of the things that make you such a good artist is the way the joy that you feel in painting comes out in your finished products. At least, that’s what I always see when I look at them.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. There is a lot of joy here, I started painting with acrylics a couple of years ago, but it is mostly abstract. I suspect if I tried to paint birds, they would look like rocks or clouds.
    I hope you are okay. I thought of you today, and how it had been a while since I had seen you around. Hoping you are well, and all of yours–

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi sweet lady! Thank you! We are all healthy and dealing with stay at home restrictions in our state. Ups and downs and all arounds but mostly very blessed! So nice to hear from you. Just haven’t had the blogging vibe lately but still alive and well on instagram and Facebook 😉. Feel free to visit there! You and all of yours doing ok too?! Hugs!!!!❤️

      Liked by 1 person

      • We are all fine too. Living out in no where land, very low rates of virus. Everyone staying at home. I will look you up on facebook. I dont have Instagram. Glad everyone is safe. Hugs


  9. Hi Jodi, I’ve just noticed I haven’t seen you around for a while (I’m VERY observant, aren’t I?) and thought I’d pop on over. Love this tutorial, I like seeing how people work.
    Hope you’re keeping OK during these most random of times. I don’t mind my own company and keeping myself to myself, but I know others aren’t the same as me! Look after yourself… Summer’s coming on and with it, hopefully, the virus will pack its bags never to return! 😀


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