Gems are one of the most beautiful and surprising things in nature, and they happen to be transparent, just like watercolour! It may look complicated to paint a gem convincingly because of the facets and reflections.

However, if we follow a calm step-by-step approach like Isabella Kung in her FREE Live Demo, complex subjects like gems are suddenly not so complicated after all. Let’s begin!

Step 1: The Sketch

Draw a light outline of the gem’s basic shape, taking care not to indent the paper with the pencil. Then, we begin painting with masking fluid to cover the places we want to leave white.

Remember that watercolour can be lifted somewhat, but the paper will never be truly white again, so it’s best to preserve the whitest areas with masking fluid at the beginning.

Another helpful thing to know at this stage is that masking fluid leaves a sharp edge, so if you’d rather have a soft edge for a white area, it’s best to leave it alone for now.

Step 2: The First Layer

Let’s rid ourselves of that blank page! Isabella uses a bit more water and less paint than I do at this stage, so if your ratio is different from mine, it’s okay. Just take care that it’s mainly water. I’m using the colour “Ocean Turquoise” out of the Etchr 24 Half Pan Set.

Step 3: Adding Depth

Work quickly, so the first layer doesn’t dry! Tap the surface with some additional Ocean Turquoise, making sure that the brush is somewhat dryer than it was earlier.

You don’t want to pick up any of the first layer; you just want to add more concentrated paint in the places that need to be a little darker.

Your finished Step 3 should look something like this, with the primary colour of the gem showing well, but still with light peeking through to make it sparkly.

Step 4: Adding More Color

Mix some yellow ochre and Prussian blue in various gradations to add sparkles of yellow, blue, and green to the picture. While the rest of the paint is still wet, gently place your mixes and let the water flow to create soft edges.

Light reflects around the inside of gems, creating many different colours, more colours than you think. Hence, it is a good idea to make some gradations between analogous colours in gemstone paintings.

Step 5: Defining Shapes

While it’s still wet, evaluate your picture and be sure you blot out any areas where the dark colours flowed but shouldn’t have.

I realized that I had let too much dark green reach the top of the gem, so I blotted it with a paper towel before it dried. As your paint dries, some of the edges might not look as soft as they did when wet.

Don’t be tempted to work over them because it won’t do anything helpful.

Step 6: Darkening Colors

Watercolour tends to dry lighter than it is when you first apply it. Once the layers you’ve done so far are dry, you’re likely to need to paint more to get the necessary contrast and edge definition.

I’m going in here with some Prussian blue on a dry layer to define the gem’s hard edges some more, and to soften the edges where they need to be softened; I’m blending out the paint with a dry brush.

Step 7: Raising the Contrast

Now it is time to revisit the lightest area of the gem that we haven’t put masking fluid over, where the light reflects in the lower centre of the gem.

We want to keep these edges soft, so be careful when rewetting the area and scrub it with a dry brush. Don’t create any hard edges or add too much water. Then, let the entire piece dry.

Step 8: Additional Deepening

Return to your deep mixture of blue and yellow ochre, and add any necessary indigo or other colours to make it just a bit darker. Start on the top of the gem’s sides, and paint a soft layer over the upper half of the gem to deepen the contrast.

You’ll find this unifies the colour scheme because now all the colours are layered with the same colour.

Step 9: Making it Pop

Use your yellow ochre and your dark mixture to make a little backdrop. You’ll find that the yellow ochre really makes the gem stand out because there’s already enough of the ochre in the painting to tie the areas together.

However, the gem is still predominantly turquoise, creating a lovely contrast. For the cast shadow, make sure there is a significant contrast between the bright gem and the dark shadow.

By contrasting both colour and value in this background step, you’ll make your painting look a lot more lifelike.

Step 10: Removing the Masking Fluid

Gently take either your finger or a tool of your choice and rub off the masking fluid to reveal the beautiful shiny areas of the gem! Isabella Kung uses a rubber cement eraser, which I think is a wonderful idea.

I used my finger and the wooden end of a paintbrush because I had it on my desk. Be careful not to tear the paper!

Step 11: Cracks and Highlights

In this world, nothing is perfect, so to add more realism, you add flaws to things. This gemstone has a few cracks that can be added with either white gouache or a white gel pen.

I used a gel pen because it works just fine. Don’t get carried away with these cracks because you will lose the realism if they aren’t subtle.

Now it’s time to look at your beautiful work! I see a few parts of mine that could have been nicer; Isabella Kung has definitely practised more than me.

I would like to make more precise edges and corners with watercolour, which will be a goal for my next painting. But I’m also pleased with this painting because of how the colours came out.

Isabella knows how to use a limited palette to create richness and unity in a painting.

If you enjoyed this sparkly treat of a Live Demo, check out Isabella Kung’s Mini Workshop.  Also, subscribe to our Etchr email newsletter to know when new instructors are joining us! 

Elsa Wahlstrom is an illustrator and graphic novelist based in Minnesota. She specializes in all things cozy and calm, but adds humor where she can. When she isn’t drawing, she enjoys playing musical instruments, but you’re more likely to see her staring at some silly tree or something. 


  • Dean Kutzler said:

    Such beautiful work! Thank you for sharing the process!

    March 02, 2023

  • Lin said:

    Thanks for this. Iit came out really well for a beginner like me.
    Etchr Studio replied:
    That’s awesome, Lin! 🧡 Don’t forget to use the hashtag #etchrstudio when you post your work on Instagram for a chance to be featured in our stories!

    November 06, 2021

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