Beginning Watercolor Tutorial: Silhouettes

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Painting with watercolor can be a great activity for adults and kids alike. A great way to explore the medium is to paint simple shapes, like silhouettes, with watercolors. I’ve assembled this tutorial to do just that. We’ll play with two different techniques: “wet-in-wet” technique and a salt technique.

What you need:

  • watercolor paper
  • watercolor set
  • palette
  • brush
  • water jar
  • pencil
  • salt
  • scissors
  • straw
  • stencils (bunny, fox, owl)

Let’s Begin!

Pick a stencil. Print it. Cut it out and use your pencil to trace the animal shape onto a piece of your watercolor paper. Begin painting: Dip your brush into your water jar. Wipe off excess water on the lip of the jar. Take your brush to the watercolors. Swirl the brush around in a color, feel free to mix a couple colors together. (Although be careful: mix no more than three colors, or you may start to get a muddy brown color.) Use this color to outline the inside of your shape on your page. Outlining it first will help keep the rest of the painting inside the lines.

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Now fill the inside of your traced shape. You may need to add more water and color to your brush.

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Once you’ve filled in your shape with one color, switch colors. Load your brush up with a different color and more water, and touch the (wet) watercolor on your page with this new color. This is called “wet-in-wet” technique. You will begin to see the colors bloom and blossom out. You will see the effects much more once it dries. Optional: you can take a straw, and lightly blow the colors around within the painting while it is still wet.

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Now, while the paint is still wet, take a pinch of salt and drop it in different spots. The salt repels the color. When it dries, the areas with salt in them will have a crystal-looking appearance.

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Allow your piece to dry. You may be tempted to paint back into it and add more colors, but resist the temptation! Know that patience is important in watercolor—as is allowing for happy mistakes. Most likely you will be surprised when your piece dries, and you see how much it has changed. This is how mine looked while it was still wet:

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Once your piece is dry, sweep away the salt crystals (depending on how much water you applied to the painting, this may take an hour or a few minutes). Notice the blooms and rings of color where you did the wet-in-wet technique and the salt technique. Here is how mine looks, after it has dried and I have scanned it into the computer:

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What a difference drying makes!

Now that you are done, you can repeat the above steps with a different stencil. You can also try making your own stencil: you could trace your hand, or have someone trace your profile onto a sheet of paper and use this silhouette of your profile as a stencil. You can also try cutting around your finished painting, and gluing it onto a different paper or surface. The possibilities are endless!