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Maybe you are thinking, “I would love to be able to learn to paint realistic watercolor birds. But can I learn to paint a round shape (form) in watercolor?”
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Maybe the perfectionist in you is convinced that you can’t paint. Or maybe you’re worried about possible criticism (from your own negative voice?)
We are here to get past the self-doubt, past the worry that maybe that teacher was right, and you really don’t have any “talent”…
Let’s get started
Copying doesn’t “stick” with me. I need the “how” and the “why” to learn to paint watercolors.
So I am going to start with a ball. I am going to show you step-by-step how you can learn to paint a round shape that looks three dimensional in watercolor.
To paint the illusion of a three dimensional shape in watercolor, you will use the elements of “color” .
Elements of Color are “Hue”, “Value”, “Color Temperature” and “Saturation”.
In addition, you will learn how to paint soft edges in watercolor to make things look round.
(Hard edges show plane changes. Our brains recognize objects with hard edges and abrupt plane changes as rectangular objects).
Watercolor Painting Tutorial: Learn to paint “form” using a ball
Start by tracing a circle template or the outside of a jar lid to create a series of circles.
Circle 1. Paint the first circle with a “flat watercolor wash”.
A “flat wash” is the smooth application of a watercolor from top to bottom of your object.
Two ways to paint a flat wash:
- Pre wet your painting area with clear water. Let it dry just until it still has a “shine” on it. Drop a thin uniform wash of color into the wet area.
- Begin by tilting your watercolor painting surface
- Paint a juicy line of color starting at the top across the form
- Place the next juicy brushstroke into the leading edge of water (the leading edge is the wet paint edge that forms by gravity at the lower part of your previous brush stroke).
- Continue to cover your circle line of wet paint into each leading edge.
- Touch the edge of a paper towel to the lowest leading edge of paint to lift it gently. Lifting the final wet edge will prevent a bleed back of color.
You can see in my example, that I am not a master of flat washes (you clearly can see lighter and darker areas of paint in circle #1).
I confess that I don’t stress very much about beautiful flat washes in my work.
I chose instead to enjoy the irregularities and accidents in my paintings rather than put in the practice (=time) to get flat washes perfected.
Use this flat wash circle to compare to the dimensional balls.
Review of COLOR Elements
- Hue (the NAME we call the color)
- Value: (How Light or How Dark ?)
- Color Saturation: (also called Intensity or Chroma): (How BRIGHT (not light) or how DULL (not dark) ?)
- Color Temperature: (Instead of “how warm or how cool” a color is, I find it easier to teach
- How much Yellow or How Much Blue is in a Red color?
- How much yellow or red (purple) is in a blue color? and
- Does your yellow seem to lean green or lean orange?
Note: Understanding color temperature is important when color mixing (see the post about mixing greens to think about this further).
For circle #2, imagine you have a light aimed at the top of a ball.
Learn to Paint Form in watercolor: 1. CHANGE IN VALUE CREATES FORM
Better, get a ball, light it and look for yourself.
- The light bleaches out some of the ball’s color where it hits at the top.
- Therefore, paint the upper part of your circle a lighter value.
- Notice that the the side furthest from the light is darker that the color in the middle area of the ball.
- Use smooth gradual value transitions from the lighter to darker areas of the ball.
- Smooth value transition are achieved with all soft edges.
IMPORTANT: ROUND OBJECTS HAVE SOFT TRANSITIONS AND SOFT EDGES.
Any hard edge flattens the illusion of roundness. That is because our brain knows that lines (hard edges) define plane changes.
Because a round object gradually slopes away from us, it doesn’t have obvious plane changes.
Compare your flat wash circle to your graduated value circle.
You can see that Value changes give objects form.
Learn to Paint form in watercolor: 2. CHANGE IN COLOR TEMPERATURE CREATES FORM
To paint the third ball in circle #3, imagine that you are touching it.
- Paint the part of the ball that is closest to you (the middle area) with a warmer color temperature of your parent color (For my red, I painted this mid-area an orange-red: a red that has more yellow (warmth) to it).
- As your hand moves back from the closest area, paint the next color with less warmth (less yellow) in it.
- Continue changing the temperature of your color arriving finally at the coolest version of your color (more blue-containing) at the area that would be furthest from your touch.
- Remember that the ball moves away from your touch in two directions (farther from the central area sideways in addition to moving away at the top and bottom)
- Make certain that your color temperature transitions are gradual.
- Use all soft edges.
ROUND OBJECTS HAVE SOFT TRANSITIONS AND SOFT EDGES.
Learn to Paint Form in Watercolor: Add Value Changes to Color Temperature Transitions:
Now light your ball with a warm light bulb and look closely.
You will now see the color temperature changes that we just painted.
While you light this ball, also notice that the part of the ball closest to the light source is bleached out by the light (therefore, lighten the value).
The part of the ball farthest from the light has some shadow added (so darken the value).
How do you paint Soft EDGES in watercolor?
- When you can see a distinct line between two areas of a painting, you are seeing a “hard” edge.
- My example shows a hard edge created by a patch of dark paint beside a patch of light paint.
- a hard edge (perceived as a line) is created by a strong value change
- Compare to my example of two patches of paint beside each other that are close to the same value. Now it is harder to see the “line” between them. This edge has become “lost”.
- Then look at the gentle transition of color from
- gently scrubbing the paper after it is dry with a slightly stiffer brush (see article for recommended “scrubbie” brush),
- by using a graded wash
- or painting slightly wet into wet paint.
CAST SHADOWs TELL US THAT AN OBJECT HAS WEIGHT
Look at how, without a shadow, the painted circles appear to be flying through space.
How to Paint Cast Shadows:
- Paint your shadow darkest directly under the edge of your object (because the light there is completely blocked by the object).
- As the shadow moves away from the object, paint the shadow more soft-edged and lighter in value.
Once you can paint a round form, you can print and use the watercolor backyard bird templates to practice. A bird head and a bird body are each a round form.
Because compelling bird paintings depict the glass-like transparency of bird eyes, let’s also learn to paint a beautiful transparent marble and then an eye in watercolor.
Learn to Paint A TRANSPARENT ROUND BALL in watercolor
A colored clear marble is a perfect transparent round object to use as a subject to paint.
The illusion of transparency uses COLOR SATURATION.
In the marble painting example, you can see that the most saturated (chromatic) color is the yellow color in this painted marble. (The area of highest saturation is located where light travels through and then returns in the transparent object). The highlight in the painted marble shows you the location of the light source. In this example, the light source was a north window, so it was cool (slightly blue-white).
PAINTING A REALISTIC EYE
Okay, we’ve got round and transparent. Let’s paint an eye.
What I want to capture in my watercolor paintings of birds is both the roundness and the catchlight of the bird’s eyes.
An eye is a transparent ball.
- I begin to create the illusion of a round transparent eye with line of yellow on the lower outside edge of the iris.
- Because an eye is usually in the focal area of the painting, I save my darkest dark (true black (=ivory black)) for the pupil.
- The eye is round so the transition from the pupil to the iris must be soft-edged
- Try painting a soft edge by controlled wet-into-wet (moist) paint at these borders.
- The highlight of an eye is either a very light blue or very light yellow (depending on the temperature of your light source) not a true white.
- Many animal eyes also have a dark outline around the iris.
- Once you paint this, the eyes look alive.
Here is a short video of an animal eye “being born”.
If you want to use the watercolor backyard bird templates to practice, your exercises can also be used as handmade greeting cards or small paintings.
The watercolor backyard bird templates include two Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds, a Goldfinch, a Cardinal and an Eastern Bluebird.
Each little bird visits my feeder and has a unique personality, that I hope you enjoy painting.
How to print templates
However, before painting the bird templates, I want you to learn how lines around objects flatten them.
Look at these two little watercolor sketches of rudbeckia.
Can you see how the dark ink lines make the flowers look less realistic?
Left is an example of a printed image of the goldfinch template that was traced with transfer paper before painting.
Compare it to the goldfinch template (right) that was directly painted over printed template lines.
To me, the visible lines make the bird look less realistic.
Lines are especially an issue with lighter colors (like the yellow goldfinch), because it is not possible to paint over the dark print lines.
However, visible ink lines can be a great design element if you are using your templates to paint freely and loosely. Lovely, loose carefree watercolor cards or paintings in your bullet journals often are more compelling with visible lines. The choice is yours.
As you get ready to print your templates, Consider the Ink Lines:
- Dotted lines on the PDFs suggest that you print the image onto regular letter paper.
- Then use artist transfer paper (link) to lightly trace the image outline onto your watercolor paper or cardstock.
- Don’t press too hard with your pencil when using your transfer paper or you will also have troublesome lines.
- Light transfer paper lines can can be lightened even further with an eraser rolled over them or with water before or after painting.
Here is a short video about learning to paint form in watercolor using the template of the goldfinch.
Click for a collection of already-painted watercolor backyard bird card packet, to use as ready-made cards.
To learn more about the watercolor pan palettes that were used for these backyard birds continue reading here.
You may be interested in painting spring floral watercolors.