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Tutorial: Traditional Watercolor Painting Done Digitally

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Are you a watercolor painter who has always wanted to paint digitally but haven’t been able to make the leap? If so, we have a great tutorial for you.

Our intern Mohammad is a talented artist who has been hunkered down in SketchBook Pro making things. He’s been learning every tiny detail of the app (of course), but he’s also been creating a lot of great art. We asked him to share some of his expertise by making tutorials that focus on his particular strengths. These tutorials are great examples of how a traditional artist approaches creating in our app. Whether you create art like Mohammad does or something wildly different, we think you’ll learn a few things about his process that might just change how you set up your own workflow.

You can check the video below to see how he created this Expressive River Painting your leisure, but we wanted to provide a few extra details on what we really like about Mohammad’s process.

The big takeaway: Use a textured background 

If you’re shooting for the look of traditional watercolor start with a background that looks like textured paper. Mohammad had a great idea — go grab an image specifically made to be a canvas background. We found one on Creative Market, but you can find tons of images online like this for free. However, keep in mind that you want your background image to be at least as large as the image you’re creating. Mohammad started with a 3300 x 2550 size canvas with 300 pixels/inch resolution, which will allow him to publish or print this just about anywhere. Three important details that Mohammad points out that are worth considering adding to your workflow:

  1. Multiply mode: He used the Multiply blending mode so that his drawing would look as if it was being applied to watercolor paper.
  2. Texture on top: He made sure this texture layer was always the first layer.
  3. Start strong, lower opacity later: Start with your textured paper fairly strong in its opacity. You can always tone down the effect of your textured paper later by lowering the opacity.

Of course, keep in mind that using blending modes like this and messing with the opacity of a “paper layer” will affect your colors. To compensate for that, Mohammad toggled off the texture at certain points like when he was laying down paint to establish his background. This helped him get the proper tones. At the end of his painting, after he had added all of his highlights, he used a Color Dodge blending mode on some details. This really made the highlights on the rocks and river pop out. The final result is lovely and has a traditional look but also a bit of a digital feel. Nicely done, Mohammad! It’s a great introduction to traditional watercolor style painting in SketchBook.

Lucky for us, Mohammad recorded his work so you can see exactly how he does it. Watch him in action on the SketchBook Pro YouTube channel.

Download Mohammad’s brush set

As an added bonus, Mohammad created a special brush set for this tutorial. He started with a set that he admired on DeviantArt (made by SirCassie), altered many of the details to fit his own style of drawing, and added some extra brushes for smudging and other details. After he was done with this tutorial, he exported his customized set as a .skbrushes file. We thought it was so good we made it the Free Brush Set of the Week. Go download it and install it in SketchBook Pro to use in your own watercolor adventures. Of course, you can always alter it to your liking and even export your set and share it yourself. Sometimes sharing your brush set can be a great complement to sharing your art.