Most artists will do linework first before painting. This was made possible ever since the invention of waterproof ink! Plus, I think all those colouring books we’ve coloured in as kids have conditioned us to colour within the lines, so it feels more natural to draw before painting what we’ve drawn.

However, have you ever wondered what would happen if you were to do it the other way around? In this blog post, I’ll show you what it looks like to let your linework be guided by the shapes created by your paint, so feel free to follow along below!

Pick Your Paints and Plan

The first step is to choose what colours you want to use, and what kind of plan you want to follow. On one end of the scale, you can have a more detailed plan, knowing exactly what you want to paint (and thus, draw).

For example, if you were planning to paint a zebra, you would guide your brushstrokes to more or less resemble that of a zebra (as I’ve done above). Colour-wise, you can go with a more realistic palette, or something more psychedelic as I’ve done! In general, your tones should be in roughly the right place, and make use of the wet-on-dry technique to get more controlled shapes

If you want a looser feel, lean more towards the wet-in-wet technique, where you add wet paint onto a wet surface. This allows for a much more fluid blend of colours, though take care not to make the paper too wet, or to mix too many different colours at once in case the paint begins to turn to mud.

You’re also free to splatter paint wherever you wish, which means it’s probably best to go with a bigger sheet of paper for this style of painting. And remember to leave some areas of white for highlights! But in general, feel free to do this however you wish.

Adding the Linework

Once your painting is dry, look at the shapes formed by the paint, and try to find something that fits that shape. If you were leaning on more of the “planned” side, then you should be able to draw in what you’ve planned.

If the paint shapes didn’t quite turn out to be what you wanted, that’s okay, too! Italian artist Michelangelo used to say that he would see what a block of marble wanted to become, and would chisel off all the excess bits to reveal what it wanted to become all along.

Similarly, try to pick out what your painting wants to become. If you’re struggling and it looks extremely abstract, then just go with it and pick out some shapes that you like. Try to find the story within the different colours, forms, and contrasts.

And you don’t even have to follow the shape of the paint, either – pick out the shapes you like the most and outline those, while for the rest, you’re free to draw the shapes you originally planned to. Try shading certain areas too, and add some dimensionality or patterns to your painting. 

A Colourful Free-For-All

Of course, this style of painting may not be for everyone. It may even feel “too loose”, especially if you’re trying it for the first time. But it’s still pretty fun to try, whether it works out or not! And who knows – it might be just the right style for you.

Have you tried letting your painting determine your linework? What’s your artistic process? Let us know in the comments below!

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Nicola Tsoi is a practising 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. 


  • Shifu said:

    Such fun! I love doing this…thanks for the timely reminder when I’ve hit a bit of a road block.

    August 07, 2022

  • Elizabeth said:

    Oh this may be just what I’m looking for to loosen up. Also good for when I’m lacking in inspiration. Lovely paintings thank you

    July 27, 2022

  • GS said:

    Love the concept and a great technique to experiment with.
    Paintings delightful.

    July 26, 2022

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