Ah, granulation. Whether you’ve cracked its code or have no idea what it is, artist Victoria Karchevskaya demonstrates that it’s quite easy to work with, and offers a tried-and-true method to consistently get granulation.

There are also quite a few techniques that have been combined and used throughout this lesson, so hold on to your seatbelts! 

Step 1: The Right Pigments and A Quick Sketch

Being a Ukrainian artist who loves the textures produced with granulation, it’s no surprise that Victoria has a few tricks up her sleeve to produce consistent results. So to follow along, I highly recommend having paints that have the same pigments listed!

This includes Ultramarine blue (PB29), pyrrol orange (PO73), phthalo blue (PB15), and nickel azo yellow (PY150, though she uses what’s called an “aureolin hue” that has a different name but contains the same pigment).

As for other tools, you’ll need an A4 sheet of cold press watercolour paper, an HB pencil, a palette, a large no. 8 mop brush, a no. 5 round or quill brush, and two containers of water, and paper towels. 

Note: Your paper should be taped to a wooden board using artist’s tape, but feel free to use a watercolour block instead. It should also be propped at an angle during the painting phase.
Once you’ve collected everything, start with a quick sketch of the subject, which is a traffic sign with a bush curling around it.

You can use the reference photos as a guide. Try to keep your lines clean and simple, especially for the bush.

Step 2: Quick Details

It’s time to paint! As you’ll be using a lot of wet-in-wet techniques, you’ll need to move quickly, so it’s a good idea to read a few steps ahead before you start. 

Tip: Having good quality, 100% cotton watercolour paper will also help to keep your paper wetter for longer, while also being able to hold a lot of water. You can spray your paints with clean water beforehand as well, to make the pigments easier to pick up and flow better.

Using the smaller round brush, mix phthalo blue, pyrrol orange, and a touch of nickel azo yellow to create a very dark, neutral grey. Paint in the edges and side of the sign, before diluting the paint slightly for the sign’s pole.

Step 3: Wet-on-Wet Bush

Next, wet the area around and on the bush using clean water and your large mop brush. This is to prep for the wet-on-wet technique, which involves dropping wet paint onto a wet surface.

Mix yellow and ultramarine blue for a light green (use more yellow than blue), and drop this in the topmost areas of the bush, where the highlights are. It’s okay if your paint spreads into the surrounding wet areas.

Then, begin to vary your greens by adding in more ultramarine blue, or even a touch of orange for an earthier green (like olive green). Drop-in these mid-tones to the middle and bottom areas of the bush. For the darker tones, mix a more saturated version by adding more ultramarine or phthalo blue, then paint it in the shadowed areas.

Tip: Have a spare round brush on the side so that when the edges of your paint start to get too hard (i.e. “crisp”), wet it with clean water before touching it along the edges you’d like to soften. This works best when your paint is still damp.

Make sure to paint around the signpost as well, so that it looks like the bush is wrapping around the signpost. You can also touch dots of clean water into the wet paint to add a little bit of texture, but don’t overdo it.

Tip: For the best granulating effects, you’ll need quite a lot of paint and water to cause the pigments to separate! So don’t be afraid to use a little more than you usually do.

Step 4: Grounding Grey

Next, dilute the previous neutral grey mixture, and paint the edge of the pavement and the ground. It’s fine if the bush bleeds a little into the paint, though if you ever think there’s too much bleeding, use a clean dry brush to soak up the excess paint. There should be a little bit of granulation here, but since the paint is quite diluted, it’s normal if you can’t see any.

Step 5: A Negative Background

Next will be the part with the most granulation! You’ll need to premix quite a lot of paint here, so make sure your palette has at least one free well.
Use the large mop brush to mix orange and phthalo blue for a saturated purple-grey, adding a touch of yellow if you need to tone down the purple. Then, wet the background area around the signpost and bush with clean water before painting around them.

Note: Your bush and signpost should be dry by now, so you can cut a refined shape around them (i.e. negative painting) to help them stand out more and to define them better.

Paint from inside to outside, so that the darkest areas are surrounding your main subjects before fading away. Again, if the edges of your paint are too harsh, soften them with a clean wet brush. You can also tilt your paper and let gravity pull your paint into the wet areas.

You’ll notice that as the pigments separate on the paper, they begin to take on the granulation texture, especially since the rougher texture of cold press paper helps define the effect even more.

Again, dot or splatter in some clean water (while the paint is wet) for added texture, and make sure to keep some areas white so the painting doesn’t look too dark.

Step 6: Signpost and Shadows

For the final step, paint the signpost using pure phthalo blue and a small round brush. Remember to leave the white border around the sign! Then, add some black to your neutral grey mixture for a very dark colour, and paint in the pedestrian crossing symbol.

Dilute your neutral grey until it’s a lighter mid-tone, then paint in the rest of the sign’s pole, adding shadows wherever they’re needed.
Lastly, use your dark green mixtures to paint the shadows on the bush, and keep your brushstrokes tapered and loose for a bush-like feeling. Tweak anything that needs tweaking, but if you feel like you’re done, then you’re done!

I hope you managed to get some awesome granulations in your painting! While there are paints that naturally granulate (like ultramarine blue), you’ll find that certain pigments are mixed to produce a more enhanced effect. If not, keep trying and experimenting, and most importantly, have fun doing so!

For the video version, check out Victoria’s live demo recording on YouTube. And if you did follow along, feel free to share your painting with all of us! We’d love to see how your granulation experiments turned out.

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Nicola Tsoi is a practicing graphic designer and illustrator based in Hong Kong. During her downtime, she likes to watch birds do funny things, search for stories, and bake up a storm. She keeps a pet sourdough starter named Doughy. 

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