Sometimes, it’s good to just paint and use it as a time to relax. Artist Nuraya Karsan shows us how she does so to unwind after her day job of being a nurse, so do chill along with us in this tutorial!
The best thing is you’ll get a painting that looks like it took a lot of effort, but actually was created during your break time!
Step 1: Quick Sketch
Before we begin, you’ll need to gather: a sheet of hot press A5 watercolour paper (or sketchbook), artist’s tape, watercolour paints, a palette, a size 3 or 6 round brush, 2 containers of water, paper towels, an HB pencil, an eraser, and a 0.1 and 0.03 black waterproof fine liner. If you need, you can also print or pull up a copy of the reference photo.
For paint colours, you’ll need: phthalo blue (a.k.a. Winsor blue), sap green, and cadmium yellow.
Tip: Nuraya uses Winsor and Newton’s Cotman set of 12 watercolours, but of course you can substitute these with your own paints!
Once you’re ready, tape down your paper with artist’s tape to minimise warping. If you want to turn your paper around while you paint, tape it to a wooden board that’s small enough to easily move during the painting process.
Next, do a quick sketch of a bunch of leaves attached to a branch. You can either follow the reference photo, or do one on your own. Try to keep your lines light but clean, and don’t forget to vary the leaves in terms of the direction they’re pointing in and their shape.
For example, you can see that some of the leaves Nuraya draws have curled edges, which makes the composition more interesting.
You can use the eraser to help get rid of unwanted lines, but in general, the sketch shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes.
Step 2: Outline Ink
Next, use the 0.1 fine liner to ink the outlines of your leaves and stem. Again, this should be done cleanly, which should be pretty easy because of the smoothness of the hot press paper and the pencil sketch which acts as your guide.
Once you’re done, wait a few moments for the ink to dry completely before erasing all the pencil lines that are still visible.
Tip: You want to make sure that the ink is completely dry before erasing, because if not, the ink may smudge despite being waterproof!
Step 3: Painting Gradients
Of course, the next step is to paint! Using your round brush, mix some phthalo blue with cadmium yellow for a leafy green. Then, prep pure sap green on your palette and a mixture of sap green and phthalo blue.
Starting with phthalo blue, paint around the outside of the bottom right leaf. Use pure sap green to blend in the leaf-green mixture for the middle area and for the part connecting the leaf to the stem. Drop in a touch of cadmium yellow on this connecting part as well, and blend out the gradients if needed.
Tip: Try to work quickly, so the paints create a smoother blend! This is the key to getting a good gradation in colours.
For the leaf on the middle right side, outline it with the leaf-green mixture, then use sap green for the middle. Again, try to use a different sequence of blended colours for each leaf to make it more interesting! You can also touch in a little more phthalo for the outline, creating more contrast.
Keep doing something similar for all the leaves, though you can switch out the leaf green mixture for sap green, or create different blends with some leaves having cadmium yellow, and other leaves having a phthalo blue outline. For each leaf, remember to blend out your colours, working from the tip of the leaf to its base.
Step back once in a while as well to see where a leaf could use more contrast, or if it needs more blending and smoothing out. Try not to overwork your leaves, though!
Step 4: Finer Ink Details
Leave all your leaves (heh) to dry, then pick up the 0.03 fine liner for the finer details. If you don’t have a 0.03 pen, 0.05 works as well. It just has to be a thinner pen than the one you used for the outlines.
Starting from the middle leaf, start drawing the contour lines for the leaf, making the lines as close together as possible. Try to go at an easy pace without overthinking it, and don’t worry if some of your lines overlap or are a bit further apart.
You can also add in some “shading” along the edges by flicking half a line from the edge towards the stem, or to fill in some of the gaps you may not want.
Tip: You can turn your paper around to get a consistent angle on each leaf! Also, try not to press too hard on your paper, as you want to keep your lines thin while also preserving your pen’s nib.
Make sure to avoid going over the folded over parts of the leaves! This is to break up the monotony of all these lines and to add more interest and contrast to your painting. Also, if you accidentally draw outside the outlines, don’t worry – we’ll fix these in the last step.
Step 5: Reinforcing Outlines
Switch back to the 0.1 fine liner, and go over your outlines. You can thicken the line in some areas, especially if you need to cover any lines and/or painted areas sticking out.
Going over your lines will also help bring them out again, as sometimes painting over black lines can cause them to fade slightly. Once you’re done, you should also fill in the stem so it’s a solid line. And last but not least, feel free to sign your painting and share it with our art community! We always love seeing what you’re creating.
If you’d like to watch the video version, you can watch Nuraya's class on our website. There’s also a bonus Q&A session at the end!
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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.