Watercolour is one of the most versatile art media because you can use it for loose and spontaneous landscapes or precise, realistic portraits, and either way, it dries quickly and is easy to clean up!

There is advice all over the Internet for how to paint loosely, but not as much information on painting in a controlled and realistic method, so today, we’re talking about precision. We’re learning from KatieBute Art’s Live Demo, where she shows us a masterful control of the wet-on-dry technique!

Let’s get started! 

Step 1: Base Colour 

Once you have your line art in place, it’s time to start painting in golden yellow since we are, after all, painting a goldfish. For wet-on-dry, paint on the edge, clean the brush, then use the clean brush to smooth out a gradient where you want the paint to fade to white.  

Step 2: Shading and Lifting 

We will be using several colours in this painting that you might not expect at first glance, and these colours will make the work look real. When adding blue for the shadowy areas, you may want to lift the pigment with a paper towel while it’s still wet. Doing this keeps it from being too intense too early on. 

Step 3: Another Layer 

Realistic watercolour painting is all about persistently layering colour over time so that the result has the light filtering through the layers of paint as though they’re a  stained glass window. Be patient, add layers, lift them with a paper towel if they feel too heavy, and blend out the edges with a clean but damp brush

Step 4: Colour Contrast 

This picture is primarily composed of a triadic colour scheme, using the three secondary colours: Purple, orange, and green. These sit in the same arrangement on the colour wheel as the primary colours red, yellow, and blue. Splash some purple into the shaded areas to create this triadic effect.

Step 5: Fish Scales 

We don’t need to paint each scale on the fish because that would be visually cluttered and not necessary. Instead, paint the upper scales by rewetting small places in the dark orange and then lifting those places with a paper towel. Paint the lower scales by splotching on tiny dots of purple, then lifting them with a combination of a clean wet brush and paper towel. The resulting scales will be convincingly shiny! 

Step 6: Deeper Detail 

By detailing the gills, the contour of the face, and the eye facing us with gradual layers, we’ll bring out the realism of the fish. Don’t overwork these areas because you would lose the nuance of the gradual layering.  

Step 7: Transparent Fins 

Now, this step is satisfying! You get to create the layered effect of the veil-like fins. Once again, you’ll be working by painting and then blending or lifting any excess pigment.

By leaving some pencil lines on the tail and then painting the other branch of that fin behind the sketch, you’ll enhance the three-dimensional look of the fish as well as emphasise the flowing and ethereal fins that make goldfish so prized!  

One of the most important takeaways you can get from this Live Demo is that you don’t need expensive materials to make a great painting. Katie uses a super basic paint set and only one small brush, and her paintings are stunningly realistic.

Don’t let your basic materials stop you from practising, as long as they’re good enough to get the job done and create the effects you like.  

Another small note to keep in mind is that you might find that your pigments react differently to the paper towels and blending than Katie’s did during the painting process here. Depending on how your paints are made, they might be easy to lift or stain the page and be somewhat permanent. The only way to learn how your  paints behave is trial and error.  

If you found as much value in this Live Demo as I did, be sure to click on this link and check out Katie’s 90-minute art class! In this class, Katie goes even further in-depth, teaching her beautiful techniques.

Also, you can subscribe to our email newsletter to receive lots of good updates on classes and products. Happy painting!

Elsa Wahlstrom is an illustrator/writer living in the south Idaho hill country. She  loves to create cozy, homey pictures and populate them with funny little creatures  having surreal little adventures. Her biggest inspiration is the music and comedy that  came out of England in the late 60s. When she’s not busy making art, she goes for long  hikes, plays a few instruments, and collects vinyl.

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