If I had to put a name to John Hoyle’s painting style, it would be “wild watercolour”! In this FREE demo, artist and designer John shows us the rules of watercolour then how to break most of them in a whimsical, exciting way.

Hold on to the seat of your pants – this one requires some fast finesse!

Step 1: Water First

John spends quite a bit of time in London, which has fuelled his love for both the post-industrial and old architectural areas. His art reflects that love as a playful contrast between the traditional and a style that breaks those boundaries.

It’s why the reference photo we’ll be using is of American Street (in London!), which has both the old bricks from the pre-industrial era and the modern Shard Building in the background.

He also greatly emphasises speed, so this is an excellent style to practice if you’re the type of artist who likes to keep things short and sweet! So to keep up, I highly recommend preparing all the tools you need ahead of time.

Your tools are a container of water, a large mop brush, round brushes, a Fude or fountain pen filled with waterproof ink, waterproof graphic pens, a sheet or block of A4 hot press watercolour paper, watercolour paints, a palette, some paper towels, and a white gel pen.

Tip: John also uses a hairdryer to speed up his drying time and create some curved dripping effects, but don’t feel like you have to use one.

Also, if you don’t have a Fude or a fountain pen, you can use a brush pen with waterproof ink, giving you a similar varied line thickness. 

Bonus tip: Because we’ll be using quite a lot of water, you may want to clip or tape down the edges of your paper with artist’s tape. Doing so will help keep the paper flat, although John doesn’t mind the paper warping. 

The main colours John uses in this particular demo are cobalt and cerulean blue, violet, quinacridone gold, yellow, orange, and raw umber.

If you don’t have some of these colours, just find the closest hue. Make sure you have a good balance between warm (i.e. yellow, orange) and cool colours (i.e. blue, violet)!

Prep these colours by spraying them with clean water, and arrange your tools as needed. Once you’re ready, take a deep breath – this process unfolds pretty quickly!

First, “draw” the main features of your painting with some clean water and a large mop brush. This means wetting some shapes on your paper that correspond to the wall on the left, the Shard Building in the background, and the bridge and wall on the right.

It will be a bit difficult to see where your water is, but the sheen will give away your wet areas. Leave the sky and the road dry, though, and don’t paint the cars.

Step 2: Colour Next

While your paper is still wet, take the chance to drop in some washes of paint. Starting with cobalt mixed with a little cerulean blue, paint in the Shard Building, a bit of the background and road, and the bridge. You can also outline the pavement a little. 

Tip: If you see puddles of paint beginning to form, that’s good – you can tilt your paper, so the paint drips downwards! Don’t be afraid of splashes or spots of colour that might have “accidentally” dripped from your brush.

This adds a bit of character to your painting and a “grungy” feel that’s perfect for London.

Next, drop in quinacridone gold for the wall on the right, and let your paints bleed a little into one another. This is the “wet-in-wet” technique, which allows the paint to blend freely with one another while on the paper, and produces some unique effects!

Add raw umber to your gold, and paint the left wall in a splotchy kind of shape. This whole part will look pretty messy, but don’t worry! It will all come together in the end.

Don’t forget to leave some white gaps here and there, as they will add to the luminosity of the painting.

Bonus tip: John shares a tip he got from another watercolourist, don’t pick up the same colour twice. He means that while you may be picking up the same colour, the bit of leftover paint on your brush and palette will mix and create a different colour each time.

It will take a bit of practice to understand your colour mixes and avoid muddying your colours, but with a limited palette, it should minimise the chances of that happening. We've got a great blog post where we go more in-depth on the common beginner mistakes and how to avoid them if you want to learn more! 

Step 3: Ink Fast

While your paint is still wet (yes, we’re going for all the bleeds!), use your Fude or fountain pen to draw in the main lines. Don’t press too hard because the nib might damage the wet paper surface, and allow the ink to run in the wetter areas.

If you're new to fountain pens, we've got a wonderful inking beginner course that will take you from total beginner to feeling confident about inking original drawings! We also have an article on what you need to know about fountain pens if you just need a quick introduction! 

Remember, it’s okay if your lines are a bit wobbly and/or messy! We’re not looking for a photorealistic painting; we’re just trying to capture the atmosphere of this area in London.

Draw the tunnel, and outline the walls, arches, pavement, and bridge, all the while making sure that you don’t accidentally smudge the paint and ink with your hand.

When your main lines are done, you can make more paint drips using gravity or a hairdryer, which will also help speed up your drying time. You’ll notice that my painting doesn’t have a lot of drips because I waited too long, so the paint was too dry to create more drips!

You’ll either have to move fast or try to make puddles of paint above where you want your drips to go.

Step 4: Ink Details

While the painting is already coming together with just these few lines, John emphasises that the contrast between the general lines and the fine detail lines makes the painting stand out more.

With a graphic pen (size 03), draw in a few finer details, like lampposts, a fence, trees, signposts, shutters, and the girding under the bridge.

Your paint should be a bit drier now, so the ink shouldn’t bleed, but even if it does, it shouldn’t matter. But this will allow you to get finer lines without having to worry about the paper tearing under your pen (though you should still keep your lines light and loose!). 

Draw in the lines for the Shard Building, the railing pattern on the bridge, and finally, some road markings and curb lines. 

Step 5: Intensifying the Colours

You may notice that the drawing part is coming together at this point, but the colour is a little dull in comparison. So let’s go back to painting, this time with a size 12 round brush.

Deepen your shadows by mixing in violet with your previous blue mixture, and drop it in the underside of the bridge, the tunnel under the bridge, and the bridge’s railing. You can vary the blue to violet paint ratio for a bit of variation in colour for your shadows!

Leave some areas yellow if you wish, and keep your paint diluted enough to see the underpainting’s colours. You can also intentionally splash some paint here and there!

Add some orange paint to the wall on the left to brighten it, which will bring it to the foreground. Add some blue shadow for the same wall but near the bottom, then go back to the orange paint to add to the right wall, in the area above the arches, and wherever you feel needs intensifying.

Paint the sign attached to the left wall using a mixture of raw umber and orange, then paint a blue/violet shadow for the Shard Building and the smaller building to the left of it. Lastly, add some may or sap green to the trees in the background.

Tip: If you notice that your painting is quite dry, you can wet it again with some clean water before painting on top to create some softer shadows. Remember that adding paint onto an already wet surface will dilute the colour a little more, so you may need to adjust your paint saturation accordingly.

Step 6: Back to Ink

Let your painting dry a bit, either by waiting or using a hairdryer. Then, use your Fude pen again to thicken some of your lines, either to create a shadowed edge (like for the girders under the bridge). 

To make certain things pop out, especially things closer to the viewer like lampposts, signposts, and curbs. Don’t forget the details on the support beams for the bridge!

To finish off your inking, use a size 01 graphic pen to add in the smaller details such as bricks, windows, or certain patterns that suggest the material of the urban scene. You don’t have to draw every single brick or window – just a hint is more than enough! The viewer’s eye will naturally fill in the gaps.

Step 7: Final Touch-ups

At this point, you’re almost there! You may need to add more paint to some areas to brighten the colours or darken the darkest shadow area, especially in the tunnel.

Because your previous paint layers are probably dry by now, any paint you add on top will be particularly intense compared to adding colour to a wet surface.

You’ll also notice that this entire process has been a bit chaotic, so don’t be afraid to let loose!

Your lines don’t have to follow the edges of your paint; the perspective can be a bit wonky, each feature can be a little out of place…the main thing is to train your eye to see what your painting needs more of in which area, and to play with your contrasts – light vs dark, thick vs thin lines, cool vs warm colours, etc.

Last but not least, once your paint is completely dry, you can come back in with a white gel pen to pick out some highlights here and there or to add some details in white, including extra bricks, outlines, more detailed signs on the signposts, and so on.

If you don’t have a white gel pen, white gouache paint works too! Again, try not to overdo the white details.

The moment you think adding anything more may ruin your painting, you’re done! It was likely a fast and furious painting session, but I hope the speed freed you to paint “outside the box” like John does. 

If you’d like to try your hand at following John’s blazing pace, you can watch his live demo recording! And if you fall behind as I did, don’t worry – there’s always the pause button (heh). 

Want to learn more from John? Check out his Mini Workshop recordingHe will demonstrate how to freely use vibrant colours and expressive ink techniques for any urban scene!

If you want to learn more about art and watercolour, or love quality art supplies (like me), subscribe to our email newsletter! We’ll update you on our latest and greatest, including our live streams, where we invite amazing artists to share their art secrets with the art community.

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

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