Elephant Watercolor Tutorial

See how to paint this loose elephant watercolor in this step-by-step tutorial with real-time video. Complete with reference images.

I was thinking the other day that I’d never painted elephants before so why not remedy that and make a new tutorial at the same time? They have such wonderful shapes (those ears! tusks!) that I was reallly keen to dive in and have a go.

I picked the reference image from Pixabay and chose one that had some really strong lights and darks. This allows us to paint loosely but also use those strong darks to define the form. I think they came out really well. I learned a lot about elephants and will definitely paint them again at some point.

Watercolor Materials Needed

My full materials list is here but these are the main things used in this tutorial.

  • 100% cotton watercolor paper. I mainly use Fabriano Artistico.
  • Scrap/student paper for color swatches (I like the Fabriano ‘Fat Pad’).
  • A couple of 10 or 12 round watercolor brushes (sable or a good synthetic)
  • Palette
  • Spray bottle
  • Mechanical Pencil
  • Masking tape if you’re not using watercolor blocks or you want a crisp edge to your painting.
  • Colors: yellow ochre, burnt sienna, ultramarine, black

Full Elephant Watercolor Video

The full video recording for this painting. It has all the gory details and my thought processes and decisions as I go along. Apologies for the sound quality towards the end – my ceiling fan got very noisy and cuts in now and again.

Elephant Watercolor Reference Image

elephants reference image with grid
Elephant watercolor reference image with grid

This is the reference I chose. I’ve overlaid a grid onto the photo to make it easier for people to get the proportions right. For this type of painting the drawing is *really* important so if you need to use a grid go right ahead.

Elephant Watercolor Pencil Drawing

Elephant outline drawing
Elephant outline drawing

Use a Mechanical Pencil for Watercolor Drawing

I’m working on a 11″x15″ piece of Fabriano Artistico 140lb cold press watercolor paper. I usually buy large 22″x30″ sheets and tear them into quarters. It’s a little more work but it is the most cost effective way to buy good quality watercolor paper. Using standard hardware store masking tape I tape a piece of paper to a lightweight drawing board. I also use a mechanical pencil for all my watercolor drawing. I don’t want to put any shading in here as it will show through when we start to paint. A mechanical pencil is ideal as it always has an even width line and never needs sharpening.

Work out the Height to Width Ratio First!

For the drawing itself I started by carefully working out the height to width ratio for the elephants. I found that elephants are actually a lot taller than you’d think and it’s really easy to make them too stumpy in the leg. In fact, even after I did some careful measuring, you can see that my elephants’ legs are still a little too short but I don’t think this matters in the end result.

Once the height and width are worked out we have good reference points to put in the main drawing. I concentrate on the angles and making sure each end point of each line is in the right place with regard to everything around it. For instance that little left knobble of the eye in the right hand elephant is almost level with the point of the ear. Another one might be that the vertical of the left leg is also hits that eye if I extend it upwards. Checking a couple of reference points every time you put a line in can ‘magically’ make the drawing work.

Finished pink carnation watercolor painting tutorials

I have many more step-by-step tutorials and videos!

A Couple of Useful Painting Tools to Help Us

Before we start to paint we’re going to work out our main values and colors. Ideally we’d be doing this as we go and purely using our eyes and color perception. And if you do this enough over a period of years you can probably train yourselves eventually to do that 🙂 But it will be a hit and miss experience and using a couple of tools can accelerate the process of improving our visual perception enormously.

The first tool is an accurate value scale. I really like the Paul Centore value scale (recommend by Paul Foxton and others). It has 20 Munsell neutral accurate steps and a wipe clean surface (more important than you’d think). We can use it on a printed reference and on our paintings themselves to check results.

The second tool is fancily called a ‘color isolator’ (hat tip again to Paul Foxton). This is just a piece of gray card (mid value 5) with a half inch square cut out of it. We can use this on a reference to cut out any distracting surrounding colors to check what it actually there. It can be really surprising how surroundings affect our color perception. You can make one of these yourselves by downloading the image above and printing it on an inkjet or laser printer. Cut out the middle square and you’re good to go.

Planning our Painting – The Values

If you have a printed reference and a value scale we can check the values directly on the reference. We have a strong set of lights and darks so we’re first going to estimate the rough value of the light side of the elephants. I always first have a guess as to the value before bringing in the value scale to check. When you start doing this you’ll be wildly wrong but it’s amazing how quickly you can get surprisingly close to the correct value. I estimated the value on the head of the right elephant to be around a mid value 5 with the left hand one to be a little lighter. And when I brought in the value scale the values were indeed a 5 and a 6. So this is what we’ll aim for on the light side of the elephants.

The shadow side of the elephants is really dark. It’s pretty much as close to black as we can get. We’ll probably not go quite that dark but it’s good to know we need a few value steps difference between the light and shadow side.

The ChromaMagic tool can show use value AND color

Now here is a shameless plug for my ChromaMagic tool. It is really useful if you don’t have a printed reference and also helps use hone our color perception. If you load up a reference image and click anywhere on it it will tell you the value, the hue (orange,red,green), and the chroma (how intense the color is). If you use it the same way as the value scale i.e. by having a guess first and then clicking on the photo to check it can help to teach us to recognize the values in front of us.

ChromaMagic for Still Life Watercolor

Use ChromaMagic now

Fabulous tool to find the color and value in *any* reference photo. Basic version is free to use.

Planning our Painting – The Colors

A color isolator is useful in identifying colors
A color isolator is useful in identifying colors

Ok so we know our main values. We only really need two main ones – the light and the dark. Let’s now think about our colors. Again we only really need two – one for the light side of the elephants and one for the dark. The dark is almost black and we’ll mix this with a combination of ultramarine and burnt sienna. The lighter one is a little trickier so we’ll do some practice swatches first on our student paper to work out the best mix.

Use ChromaMagic or a Color Isolator to Nail the Colors

Our color isolator can help us here to identify the color. We know it’s a mid value and when isolating the color we can see it’s quite a gray brown. ChromaMagic can also tell us this and the nice thing about ChromaMagic is that it can tell us exactly what kind of brown it is.

ChromaMagic can show you the exact color
ChromaMagic can show you the exact color

If we look at the highlighted color in the bottom right panel we can see it’s a value 5 (which we knew already). We can see it’s a kind of orange (5YR means a mid Yellow-Red i.e. orange) but it’s not a bright orange. The color is mid way between gray (on the left hand side) and bright orange/brown (on the right). So we know it’s a pretty grayed out brown.

Use Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Sienna for a Grayish Brown

We can mix this color a couple of ways. First we could take an existing brown like burnt sienna. Out of the tube it’s too bright and orangey. We can mix in a little black to gray it out and it will bring our color to the exact one we want. Be careful to balance the amount of water and black you add in. We want enough water to keep the value at a five but not too much that we make it too light.

We can get to this color another way but using burnt sienna and ultramarine blue. Mixed together in roughly equal parts they make a pretty neutral gray. But if we lean the mix towards burnt sienna we get a nice grayed out brown.

Elephant Watercolor – Paint the First Layer Really Loosely

The first layer of color
The first layer of color

With this value 5 mix we’re going paint the light parts of the elephant really loosely. I find it easiest to put the color on with one brush and then soften the edges with another clean, damp brush. I first put on the color roughly in the area of the elephant. The only care I take is to keep away from the tusks as they are lighter than everything else.

Soften the Edges with a Damp Brush and Water

Soften the edges with a damp brush
Soften the edges with a damp brush

Use Splatter and Water Spray for Texture

While the paint is still wet I come in with my clean, damp, brush and soften the edges and pull the color out into the background a little. Mostly of the color is where the elephant should be but some makes its way through the edges. It will feel really odd but don’t worry – it can look really messy at this stage and still be ok.

Drop some paint in to vary the color
Drop some paint in to vary the color

Before the paper dries I put some texture and value variation in. I drop in some blue gray color and also maybe use a water spray bottle to add in some texture. Again don’t worry that the edges are soft – when we put in the shadows everything will come into focus.

Repeat for the left hand elephant
Repeat for the right hand elephant

I repeat the process for the right hand elephant. At the end of it you should have a couple of very blurry edged elephants that are all roughly the same value. Let this stage dry thoroughly. We need the next layer to have some sharp edges so the paper needs to be dry.

Stage 2 – Putting in the Dark Watercolor Values

Start putting in the darks for the elephants
Start putting in the darks for the elephants

This is where the magic happens. We’re now going to mix up a dark (probably value 2 or 3) brownish gray and put in the darks. Using a fairly thick mix of ultramarine and burnt sienna I take a look at the reference and identify where the major darkest shapes are. I start with the right hand elephant and that big, dark shadow on the left. Most of the edges are hard here but some are soft where the form is rounded (around the eye and on the ear). I soften the transition from light to dark by, again, using a clean damp brush to graduate the pigment. It won’t look like much to start with but as you move through the dark shapes the elephant will begin to appear.

You can see in these two screenshots the elephant’s face beginning to appear. There are only a few dabs of dark on the right hand side to just suggest the shadows around the eye and ear.

Some parts of the elephant are slightly darker than the lightest parts and I adjust the values a little here. In particular the legs and bottom of the trunk are slightly darker. A wash of the same brown over these areas will shift that value slightly darker. The only thing to be careful of here is to keep those darkest values really dark and separate from everything else.

I repeat the process for the left hand elephant and we’re pretty much done!

Finish with a few subtle value changes
Finish with a few subtle value changes

Elephant Watercolor Final Touches

At the very end I step back and take a look. The overall pattern of lights and darks is fine and I make a few very slight value changes around the eyes and face. These subtle marks can make all the difference but only if the major value shapes are right.

Lemon Watercolor Tutorial

A lemon watercolor can seem hard but my demo shows you how you can paint them with only a few colors. The yellows of lemons are so attractive and cheery but they can be tricky to paint convincingly. However, with some careful observation and a couple of ‘tricks’ it can be much easier.

Lemon watercolor tutorial studio shot
Lemon watercolor tutorial studio shot

Watercolor Materials Needed

My full materials list is here but these are the main things used in this tutorial.

  • 100% cotton watercolor paper. I mainly use Fabriano Artistico.
  • Scrap/student paper for color swatches (I like the Fabriano ‘Fat Pad’).
  • A couple of 10 or 12 round watercolor brushes (sable or a good synthetic)
  • Palette
  • Spray bottle
  • Mechanical Pencil
  • Masking tape if you’re not using watercolor blocks or you want a crisp edge to your painting.
  • Colors: cobalt blue, lemon yellow, yellow ochre, burnt sienna, ultramarine, black

Watercolor Lemon Reference Image

Lemon reference photo with grid
Lemon reference photo with grid

Lemon Watercolor Pencil Drawing

Lemon watercolor drawing
Outline drawing

I start off with an outline pencil drawing using a mechanical pencil. I prefer the mechanical pencils as you get a uniform line every time and it never needs sharpening. Also, if you carry it around in your bag, you don’t get graphite over everything which gets very annoying after a while.

The reference image has a grid on it and, if you’re not confident in your drawing please use the grid. I generally grid up the photos into quarters and size the reference to be approx 9″x12″ or 11″x14″. This makes it easier to grid up your paper without doing any convoluted math.

If this were an oil painting we could happily draw the grid on the canvas in the knowledge that the opaque paint would cover it up later. With watercolor we can’t do this as it’s a transparent medium. I find that even if the graphite lines are very very faint they still leave a faint mark when you erase them which we don’t want. To avoid this and still benefit from the grid I put a dot where the grid lines cross. This gives me a reference dot which is useful but doesn’t show up after we’ve put the paint on.

Finished pink carnation watercolor painting tutorials

I have many more step-by-step tutorials and videos!

Two Tools to Help Us Paint in Watercolor

A lot of the basic skills in watercolor painting involve seeing and mixing colors of the right value. To help us with this I’ve adopted two tools used by many other people but in particular Paul Foxton (whose workshops and classes I highly recommend).

A Value Scale is An Invaluable Tool

A good accurate value scale is a great investment and they’re really quite cheap so there’s not much of an outlay. I recommend the Paul Centore value scale which has 20 steps and has highly accurate neutral grays.

A Color Isolator Helps us See Color And Value

The other thing is the rather grandly titled ‘color isolator’. This is just a piece of gray card or paper colored to a mid value with a half-inch square cut from the middle. When we place this over a reference image the gray gives us a buffer between the color we want to see and everything else around it. The mid-value gray also gives us a hint as to the value. If you download the image above you can print this on your own printer. At a pinch painting a piece of card with a value 5 gray and cutting a hole in it would also work well.

Vermont farm watercolor landscape by Michele Clamp

Online Zoom Classes

I run online zoom courses regularly for both beginners and more advanced students. Please check out my workshop page.

Lemon Watercolor – Planning Our Colors

Using our color isolator and value scale we can work out two important colors and values: one for the part of the lemon in the light and one for the part of the lemon in the shadow.

Check the value with your value scale
Check the value with your value scale

Using the color isolator and the value scale together we can work out the two important values. In this case we have around an 8.5 value in the light and a value 6 in the shadow. These two values are enough to create a convincing lemon. The only other thing is the highlight which is so light we can leave white paper for.

The ChromaMagic Tool Can Tell You The Hue, Value, and Chroma

If you don’t have a printed reference the ChromaMagic tool can tell you the color of any region of your reference. Just download the reference photo and go to chromamagic.com and load it up using the button in the top right corner. Clicking on any region of the reference will display the exact color of that pixel. It uses the Munsell System to show the color which is extremely useful for us painters. The Munsell system separates each color into hue (red, orange, green etc), value (light and dark), and chroma (how gray the color is) which makes it more straightforward for us to mix the right colors.

ChromaMagic for Still Life Watercolor

Use ChromaMagic now

Fabulous tool to find the color and value in *any* reference photo. Basic version is free to use.

Give it a try now! The best way to use it is to have a guess first before clicking on the reference. Your color perception skills can improve in an extremely short time by guessing first then using ChromaMagic to check your guess.

Make Some Test Swatches on Some Scrap Paper

Watercolor lemon light and shadow color swatches
Watercolor lemon light and shadow color swatches
Test your color mixes on some spare paper
Test your color mixes on some spare paper

Paint the Watercolor Lemons

Watercolor lemons painted with just two colors
Watercolor lemons painted with just two colors
Owl Watercolor Demo Video

Interested in Learning to Paint in Watercolor?

I have many real-time videos you can paint along to. Please check out my youtube channel or see the selection here.

Do Some Test Colors for the Leaves

Use the color isolator to match a test swatch
Use the color isolator to match a test swatch

Make a Darker Green for the Leaves

Match the darker green
Match the darker green

The Final Thing

Lemon watercolor tutorial by Michele Clamp
Lemon watercolor tutorial by Michele Clamp

Lighthouse Watercolor Tutorial

See how to paint a lighthouse in this step by step lighthouse watercolor tutorial. Includes access to the ChromaMagic color tool.

It’s a bit of a guilty pleasure but I just love painting a lighthouse. Luckily here in New England we have a lot to choose from. Lighthouse paintings have a lot of things I like about painting with watercolor. I love the sunlight on white walls and how they curve into shadow. I also really love hos the white looks against the blue sky, And the small details of windows and railings just give enough interest to make the painting convincing.

A Lighthouse watercolor painting is a good choice for a beginner

If you’re looking for an easy subject to paint in watercolor then lighthouses are a great option. They’re easy to draw and are fairly simple to make convincingly three-dimensional. In this subject the foreground is a little trickier (although I really enjoyed painting it). If you’re at the beginning of your painting journey then simplifying or leaving out the foreground might be a a good option.

Owl Watercolor Demo Video

Interested in Learning to Paint in Watercolor?

I have many real-time videos you can paint along to. Please check out my youtube channel or see the selection here.

Materials Needed

  • 100% cotton watercolor paper. I mainly use Fabriano Artistico.
  • Scrap/student paper for color swatches (I like the Fabriano ‘Fat Pad’).
  • A couple of 10 or 12 round watercolor brushes (sable or a good synthetic)
  • Palette
  • Spray bottle
  • Mechanical Pencil
  • Masking tape if you’re not using watercolor blocks or you want a crisp edge to your painting.
  • Colors: cerulean blue, lemon yellow, vermillion, permanent rose, burnt sienna, ultramarine, black.

Lighthouse Watercolor Reference Image

lighthouse reference with grid
pixabay lighthouse reference with grid

Here is the reference I’ve chosen. It’s from pixabay.com and was drawn to the strong sunlight and the red and white stripes on the lighthouse itself. The foreground has quite a lot of detail which I’ve simplified and kept to just a few values.

Start your watercolor lighthouse with a pencil drawing.

Lighthouse watercolor pencil drawing
Lighthouse watercolor pencil drawing

I started with a line pencil drawing. There is no shading on here as we’ll be putting in light and shadow with paint. I aim to put in just enough detail to outline everything important but not go overboard with every single little thing. This was trickiest in the foreground as there is a lot going on there. I tried to keep the lines that separated regions of light and dark and keep everything else to a minimum

Vermont farm watercolor landscape by Michele Clamp

Online Zoom Classes

I run online zoom courses regularly for both beginners and more advanced students. Please check out my workshop page.

Values are the key to a good watercolor painting

If you’ve been painting for a while then you’ve probably heard or read people saying that good values are the key to a good painting. You’re not going to hear me say anything different – if you can get a good handle on your values then you’re well on your way to a successful painting. To help us with this I recommend a couple of different things. The first is a good (as in accurate) value scale. I recommend Paul Centore’s one pictured above. It’s laminated and has 20 steps from darkest to lightest. It’s great for watercolor and oil or acrylic painting.

Estimate the values for the sky using the value scale

If you have a printout of the reference you can use the value scale to first estimate, and then measure the values of the sky. Even though the value scale is gray and the sky is blue squinting your eyes can take the color out of a scene and make it easier to measure.

Use ChromaMagic to Get the Color *AND* The Value

We realize that people don’t always have printed reference handy so here at Clamp Watercolor Towers we have built a tool that can tell you the value of any region of a photo just by clicking on it. Additionally it will tell you the exact color and chroma of a color so you know exactly what your color is. From the screenshots ChromaMagic says that the sky is a value 8 at the top and a fairly bright blue. At the bottom it is still a value 8 but now it’s a much grayer blue. Find out more about ChromaMagic here and try it out now here. You’ll need to download the reference photo and load it up into the tool using the ‘load file’ button.

ChromaMagic for Still Life Watercolor

Use ChromaMagic now

Fabulous tool to find the color and value in *any* reference photo. Basic version is free to use.

Paint the sky using a light cobalt blue wash

Graduated wash for the watercolor lighthouse sky
Graduated wash for the watercolor lighthouse sky

I paint in the sky using a cobalt blue wash that fades out as it goes towards the horizon. I change the color by first adding in a little water as I go down the page. At the bottom I add in a little cadmium yellow orange to neutralize the blue a little and make it grayer. I actually made this sky a little too light – it’s more like a value 9 rather than an 8. But never fear! We can darken this a little later to correct this. We just need to wait until the first wash is completely dry before tacking it.

Check the values on the lighthouse

Checking the value of the lighthouse watercolor shadow
Checking the value of the lighthouse watercolor shadow

We’re now going to paint the lighthouse. Or at least the main values – the details will come later. If you have a printout and a value scale you can measure the value of the shadow side or you can use ChromaMagic with the reference photo.

The white part of the lighthouse is around a value 6 in the shadow. The red band, however is much darker in the shadow – around a 2 or 3. And in the light the color goes to a value 7 orange color – quite a big swing in value there. We’ll need to get this right to make sure the lighthouse reads correctly.

Lighthouse watercolor shadow side
Lighthouse watercolor shadow side

I put the value 6 grey on the whole of the shadow side of the lighthouse. The gray is mixed using burnt sienna and cerulean blue (ultramarine blue can also be used). The transition from shadow to light is softened with a clean damp brush to make the lighthouse look round.

Michele Clamp Studio Wall

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Watercolor lighthouse light red
Watercolor lighthouse light red

I mix a mid value 5 red for the mid part of the red band. I use damp brush to soften the transition out into the light and hit that value 8 we found earlier. This is used to carry the mid value into the shadow side. It won’t be dark enough for the shadow yet but we can layer on a darker color later.

Watercolor lighthouse dark red and sea
Watercolor lighthouse dark red and sea

While I’m waiting for the red strip to dry I put in a wash of a mid-value blue (ultramarine with a dash of lemon yellow) for the sea. I also use a fairly thick mix of ultramarine and burnt sienna to start putting in some details and windows.

After that I mix up a dark red value 3 mix of vermillion, permanent rose, burnt sienna and just a *touch* of black if I need to hit that value 3. I try not to use black if I can avoid it to keep that dark red rich and vibrant. After softening the transition from shadow to light you can see how that color really sings out.

Use a light brown wash for the initial foreground wash

Light first wash for foreground
Light first wash for foreground

The foreground looks complicated but we’re going to simplify as much as we can. The base layer is just a light wash (probably around value 9) of burnt sienna with a little yellow ochre. This goes over the whole foreground regardless of any detail drawn in.

The green foliage in the foreground is pretty dark – probably around a 4 or even darker. I mix an olive green using lemon yellow and black and add just enough water to get it to the right value. I then roughly put in the foliage and try and leave the edges choppy to suggest vegetation.

At this point I adjust the sky color and layer over another wash of blue which fades out to orange at the horizon. This brings the sky value more in line with the reference and *really* brings out the white on the lighthouse!!!

I continue to add in more foreground detail for the foliage and the shadows. This is all pretty rough. It just has to suggest what’s there as the main attraction of the painting is the lighthouse itself.

Final Touches with Opaque White

opaque white for detail on watercolor lighthouse
opaque white for detail on watercolor lighthouse

For the final touches I use a little of Dr Ph. Martin’s Bleed-Proof White paint to add in some railings and detail on the lighthouse window. A little gray to indicate the lamppost and I’m done!!!

Final Thoughts

Well I hope you enjoyed that. Not everything went to plan but most things could be fixed. As usual if you do have a go at this scene I’d love to see what you do!

Watercolor Fox Tutorial

See how to make a watercolor fox easy with this step by step watercolor tutorial and video. Complete with reference image and color tips.

Why Paint a Watercolor Fox?

It’s been a number of years since I’ve done a red fox watercolor painting and I thought ‘why not have another go?’ Watercolor animals can be tricky to paint and I’ve discovered that making a good drawing helps enormously. If you want to have a go at this painting I recommend using the grid reference to give you the best shot at getting the proportions right.

Materials Needed

  • 100% cotton watercolor paper. I mainly use Fabriano Artistico.
  • Scrap/student paper for color swatches (I like the Fabriano ‘Fat Pad’).
  • A couple of 10 or 12 round watercolor brushes (sable or a good synthetic)
  • Palette
  • Spray bottle
  • Mechanical Pencil
  • Masking tape if you’re using watercolor blocks or you want a crisp edge to your painting.

Watercolor Fox – Reference Image

Watercolor fox reference image with grid
Watercolor fox reference image with grid

Full YouTube Watercolor Fox Video

The screenshots below are taken from the full youtube video. This takes you through the whole process in real time and should allow you to paint along.

Pencil Drawing for the Watercolor Fox

Watercolor Fox Pencil Drawing
Watercolor Fox Pencil Drawing

Let’s get started. I first started with a pencil outline drawing. There’s no shading in here as we’re going to put all the light and shadows in with paint. I did try and get the shape of the snout and ears right. These are important to convey the character of the animal and are quite subtle. Any small discrepancies can change the whole feel of the painting. I also put in the position of the eye and a lighter line separating the light part of the snout from the shadow. This will be an important part of the painting which will give the fox three dimensionality and also give a feeling of sunlight. If you’re looking for an easy way paint a fox getting the drawing right can be half the battle.

Finished pink carnation watercolor painting tutorials

I have many more step-by-step tutorials and videos!

First Plan the Main Values

Watercolor Fox Values
Watercolor Fox Values

A little planning helps enormously when painting in watercolor. Everything goes so fast once you start putting paint to paper. If you can work out some wrinkles ahead of time your paintings will benefit hugely. Figuring out the main values in your subject is one of the the first things to do. an accurate value scale is invaluable here and I recommend the Paul Centore scale available from eBay

Paul Centore Value Scale
Paul Centore Value Scale

The other tool (which you can make yourself) is a ‘color isolator’. This is just a piece of card or paper colored a mid-value gray. It has a 1/2 inch square cut out of the middle. The gray helps us separate the color we’re looking at from it’s surroundings (hence isolator!!!) and the mid value helps us estimate how light or dark our color is. If you have a printer you can download the image below and print it out and make one yourself.

gray color isolator
gray color isolator
Fox fur values
Fox fur values

Now we can estimate the main values of our red fox. At the very minimum we need to know a value for the light side of the head a value for the shadow side of the head. If we get these two values right then we’ll be in great shape to make our fox look three dimensional. Our fox has a value 8 on the snout, a 6 on the head, a 3-4 in the shadow part of the snout and around a 5-6 on the shadow part of the white fur. Let’s keep these in mind as we do our painting.

Michele Clamp Studio Wall

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Start the Fox Watercolor with the Light Values

Watercolor Fox First Layer
Watercolor Fox First Layer

We’re going to start the painting with the light orange values on the head. We know the lightest value is an 8 and it goes to a 6 on the top part. This color is very close to burnt sienna and adding in a little of our orangey-red makes it bang on.

Orange fox color
Orange fox color

We put the color on the head and make it slightly lighter on the snout. I use a second, clean, damp, brush to soften the edges where it transitions into the white fur. The top of the head is a little too light at this stage but we can always come back and darken that later.

Vermont farm watercolor landscape by Michele Clamp

Online Zoom Classes

I run online zoom courses regularly for both beginners and more advanced students. Please check out my workshop page.

Add a Light Gray for the White Fur of your Watercolor Fox

Fox fur value
Fox fur value

We now mix a light gray for the white fur of the fox. Most of the white fur is in shadow so it’s going to be a blue-gray and we know it’s around a mid-value. I mix up a gray with ultramarine blue and burnt sienna and add just enough water to make it a value 6 on our value scale.

Fox watercolor fur painting
Fox watercolor fur painting

I paint in the gray over all the shadow part of the white fur and, again, soften the edges with a damp brush.

Add the Shadows to Your Fox Painting

Watercolor Fox Painting the Shadows
Watercolor Fox Painting the Shadows

When the light colors are dry we can start to put in the shadows. The shadow size of the snout is quite dark – around a 3. I mix up a value 3 with burnt sienna and a little ultramarine blue and paint it onto the shadow side of the snout. Beware! It will look really dark and it will feel wrong!! If you’ve measure and mixed things carefully, however, it will all work out in the end. One thing we do have to take care with however, is to use our damp brush to soften the transition between the light and the shadow areas. We don’t want this to be too harsh a transition. A little softness here will make things look a lot more believable.

A similar dark brown value gets put onto the nose and the lineof the mouth. Again the edges are softened to make the transitions less harsh. A little dark color is also put around the eye to make it recede.

Owl Watercolor Demo Video

Interested in Learning to Paint in Watercolor?

I have many real-time videos you can paint along to. Please check out my youtube channel or see the selection here.

Paint the Eye on Your Fox

This next piece usually brings the whole thing alive. We’re going to paint the eye. In this reference this is quite tricky. The surround of the eye is really dark but the eye itself is only a little lighter. Here is a close up to show you.

watercolor fox eye close up
watercolor fox eye close up

You can see that only part of the eye is very dark (at the top where the pupil likely is) and the rest is the same value as the surrounding fur.

Paint the Ears In a Dark Value

The ears are now painted in a similar dark brown (burnt sienna and ultramarine) value. At this point I thought the top of the head was too light (it should have been a value 6 and was more like an 8). I mixed up some more burnt sienna/vermillion paint and made that area darker. The extra paint also allowed me to add in a few stripes on the fur to show few of the modulations on the head.

Correct the Value on the White Fur

We’re almost finished now. Things were looking pretty good but the white fur looked a little light in value. This is always a scary bit as correcting this can look too dark when the paint first goes on. I mixed up some neutral gray (around a value 5 or so) and painted over the whole area of the white fur. While the paint was wet I dropped in some darker paint where the fur was darker and used my spray bottle to add some texture. Thankfully this all worked out and it definitely improved the painting.

The final changes were just to darken inside the right ear a little and the whole thing was finished.

fox watercolor by Michele Clamp
fox watercolor by Michele Clamp

Final Thoughts

Well I think it came out pretty well in the end. Shadows on white fur are always a little scary as the paint we have to use always looks darker than we thing we need. But some careful measurements and observation and all turns out well.

I hope you enjoyed the demo. If you try it or have any questions I’d love to see what you do. It’s been a lot of fun painting this cute fox watercolor and I think a wolf watercolor will be on the cards in the coming weeks.

Watercolor Still Life

Want to know how to paint this watercolor still life? Follow along with the step-by-step watercolor still life tutorial and create your own version.

Is Still Life an Easy Option for Watercolor?

Still life painting might seem like an easy option when choosing something to paint. In some ways it is. For example things stay where you put them, you can arrange objects the way you want and have control over the lighting. However, I find that you need to increase your observational skills and really nail the values and colors for the result to be convincing. In this post I take you through this fruit watercolor painting. We start with making some value and color swatches. This helps us think through our color choices ahead of time. We then go through the painting in layers from light to dark. In between each layer we let things dry so we don’t disturb the color when the next layer goes down.

Fruit is an ideal subject if you’re looking for still life painting ideas. Most people will have fruit in the pantry and they are lovely bright colors which are always fun to paint. I think this tutorial is suited for all levels but, if you’re looking for a watercolor still life for beginners, you might be interested in my apple and pear tutorial.

Watercolor Materials Needed.

My full list of materials is here but these are the things you will need for this still life watercolor painting.

  • 11″x15″ 100% cotton watercolor paper. I use Fabriano Artistico 140lb cold press.
  • Size 10 and 12 round watercolor brushes. My favorites are Escoda Reserva.
  • Mechanical pencil
  • Kneaded eraser
  • Masking tape
  • Reference photo (see below)
  • Artists quality paint in the following colors
    • Lemon yellow
    • Vermillion or an orangey red like naphthol red, cad red light, or pyrrole red
    • Yellow ochre
    • Permanent rose or a pinkish red (permanent alizarin or quinacridone red)
    • Burnt sienna
    • Ultramarine blue
    • Cobalt blue
    • Black. I use lamp black but ivory black is fine.
  • A white palette for your paints and mixing
  • Paper towels
  • Water pot

Still life Reference Photo

Fruit Still Life Photo Reference
Fruit Still Life Photo Reference

This is the pixabay photo reference we’re going to use. I chose this for a couple of reasons. First the lighting is quite strong and from the side. This gives us a clear separation of light and dark on all of the fruit. This also gives us some nice rich cast shadows on the oranges. Secondly, the background is plain and white. When I’m painting still life in watercolor I like to keep the paintings light and airy. A dark background gives a very different feel and mood.

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Color Mixing Preparation for our Watercolor Still Life

Before we start on our main painting we’re going to do some analysis and prep. I like to work out the main colors for the objects ahead of time and do some color swatches. Watercolor is a fast moving medium and, when we’re in the middle of a painting, we might not have time to stop and think about colors. Doing some prep beforehand almost always helps with this and results in a better painting.

Pay Attention to Values and Colors

Watercolor still life color swatches
Watercolor still life color swatches

These are my color swatches for the light and shadow sides of most of the fruit. I treat the light and shadow colors as independent. Sometimes a shadow color will just be a darker version of the light color but often it has very subtle hue shifts. Paying attention to these will result in a more convincing watercolor painting.

Colors are Different in the Light and Shadow

While mixing these colors I pay attention to the values on the light and shadow sides. These values will vary depending on the local color of each fruit. For instance a red apple is often around a mid value on the light side (see the watercolor pear and apple tutorial for an example of this). In contrast a banana will have a very high value in the light – probably around a 9 (0 = black, 10=white). In this reference the fruit are mostly around an 8 or 9 in the light. When we look at the shadows they go from a 5 down to a 3 and the colors are quite rich or high in chroma.

Use ChromaMagic to Help Identifying Colors

ChromaMagic for Still Life Watercolor
ChromaMagic for Still Life Watercolor

If you have a printed reference a color isolator can help identifying the different colors. This is just a piece of mid-value grey card with a 1/2″ square cut out. Placing it over different areas of the photo helps enormously in judging colors without surrounding areas leading us astray. At the end of this post is another reference and some guidance on how to practice this.

Alternatively you can load the reference photo into ChromaMagic and click on different areas to show you the colors. I always like to make a guess myself before clicking and checking how close I am. It’s the best way to get better at seeing color accurately and you’ll be surprised how fast you improve.

First do a Pencil Drawing

still life drawing in watercolor
Still life watercolor drawing

I first spend time doing a fairly careful line drawing of the setup. I start by lightly marking out the topmost, bottommost and left and right regions of the setup. This helps me get the proportions correct and makes sure everything is placed correctly on the paper. I then go in and start drawing the fruit. I pay careful attention to when and how the fruits intersect and make sure things line up horizontally and vertically.

The grapes were a pain to draw. I didn’t go overboard with accuracy here but made sure enough shapes were down to give a convincing representation and that they made some interesting shapes. One thing I didn’t draw in were the cast shadow shapes. These will have mostly very soft edges and any graphite lines would probably show through. As I didn’t want this, and the shapes are pretty simple, I left them out and will put them in directly with paint.

The First Layer – Light Values

Now I have to warn you that this first stage will result in something very unimpressive. We’re going to start with just the lightest values on the fruit but paint over the whole fruit including the shadow side. This will result in something very flat. But that’s good! That’s exactly what we want! In subsequent layers we’ll go darker and darker and the painting will become more and more three dimensional. It’s almost like magic! Keep the faith at this stage. Keep the washes light and try and make them as even as possible. Don’t be tempted to try and make things look realistic at this point.

Moving from left to right I paint in the lightest values and colors on each of the fruit. This isn’t going to be a loose painting so I don’t lose any edges between the fruits but keep them nice and crisp. For the light highlights on the fruit I leave a little region of white paper showing and soften the edges a little with a clean, damp brush.

I darken the oranges a little with a slightly darker orange to start to give them shape. I make sure the edges are softened with a damp brush as they fade out into the light.

Vermont farm watercolor landscape by Michele Clamp

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Second Layer – Mid Values

Wait for everything to dry before moving onto the next stage. We don’t want our next layer to disturb anything we’ve already put down. This stage we’ll start to see things take shape. When you’re done you’ll start to see things look more three dimensional.

Again working from left to right we refer back to our color swatches and see that we have mid to dark values on the shadow sides. The left apple is around a value 5 red and the oranges go right down to a value 3 brown in the shadows. I paint the mid values on the shadow sides of the fruit and use a clean damp brush to soften the transition between light and shadow. This helps show the round form of the fruit. Don’t worry about making them look like fruit right now. Aim to soften those edges to make them look round.

Paint the Grape Shadows – They’re Fiddly!

These grapes look great when they’re done but they’re fiddly! Try to resist painting each one individually. If you can join shadow shapes together and paint them as one do so! We aim to leave a little of the light side of the grape showing and soften the edge with a damp brush to make them look round. It’s the same procedure that we did for the apples and oranges but just at a smaller scale!

Green Grapes Have Light Shadows

The green grapes are a little deceptive. Their shadows are much lighter than for the purple ones so be careful with your mixing. Again, if you want to check the values have a look in ChromaMagic and it will tell you exactly how dark they are.

Add Some Cast Shadows

Using a mixture of burnt sienna and ultramarine I add in some cast shadows under and next to the fruit. I make sure to soften all of the edges with a clean, damp brush.

Owl Watercolor Demo Video

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We’re Almost Done!

Well I hope you have something that’s looking pretty good by now! We’re almost done and we’ve done most of the hard work. All we have to do now is put in the darkest darks and a few details. These are the things that really bring the painting to life and make it look convincing.

Some of our shadows aren’t quite dark enough yet. We’re going to go through the fruit again and try and hit the correct value for each shadow. This is the point where you will want to make things look as convincing as possible. Depending on how your first two layers went you might have big adjustments to make or smaller ones. You’ll have to compare your painting to the photo and judge.

Paint And Adjust the Cast Shadows

In mine I first painted on the dark cast shadow on the oranges. These are pretty dark brown and I made careful comparisons to the reference to make sure I got them as close as possible. I also modified and deepened the shadow on the right apple just to take it a shade darker.

I adjust the shadows on the banana and the cast shadows under the fruit. The banana shadow has a little green in it so I blend the green color into the brown while the paint is wet.

Smaller Touches – The Super Darks!

We’re looking pretty good now but there’s still some darks we’ve missed. The crevices of the grapes go right down to a value 1 or 2 so I mix up a very dark value for the purple grapes and add small darks where there isn’t much light. I do the same for the green ones but, as the grapes themselves are lighter, I don’t go quite as dark.

Final Details

The final touches are to add the stalks on the grapes and the apples and to darken a few of the purple grapes even further. A few tweaks to the shadows and we’re done!

Final Painting

Fruit Still Life Watercolor by Michele Clamp
Fruit Watercolor Still Life by Michele Clamp

Here’s the final thing. I’m pretty happy on the whole. Looking at it a couple of days later I could probably go a little darker in the shadows on the green grapes but there’s not much else I would change.

Bonus Video Still Life Watercolor

As a bonus here is a video of another still life on my youtube channel that follows a similar method.

Bonus Color Matching Exercise

This exercise is to give you practice in assessing and mixing colors. I always find these quite revealing and fun to do.

still life color matching reference
Still life color matching reference

Here we have the photo reference. I’ve chosen this for a number of reasons. First it has clearly defined areas of light and dark – no wishy-washy flat lighting. Second the shapes are very clear – the apple, lime, and bananas all have clearly defined edges. Finally the colors are nice and bright. There’s nothing gray and muted about this setup.

A good learning photo does not make a good painting

Now all of these reasons are because I want to get across how to identify and mix color. If I were choosing a setup for a ‘real’ painting I would not choose this. Everything is a bit plainly stated and matter of fact. There’s no nuance, subtlety, or atmosphere here. But what isn’t great for a painting is perfect for learning! And the technique I’m going to describe can translate easily into any painting you like.

The numbered squares are the colors we’ll match

You’ll notice that I’ve marked out a series of numbered squares on the photo. Before we start painting we’ll go through each of these and try and identify and mix the color as accurately as we can. This will feel laborious to start with. And it will take a long time – much longer than you think. But every one of these swatches that you make is worth it. We will go through the hard work of identifying the colors we’ll need ahead of time. The final painting itself will be made easier and we’ll paint it relatively quickly.

A color isolator is a very useful tool for color identification

gray color isolator
Gray color isolator

I strongly recommend you have a color isolator handy if you’re painting from a printed photo reference. This is just a small (say 3″x5″) piece of mid-gray card with a 1/2″ square cut out of the middle. I have a number of these handy and there’s always one close to the easel.

Your brain lies to you about color

One of the many problems we face as painters is that our brains are constantly translating what we see into what it thinks we need. If we look at a white cup in shadow our brains helpfully disregard the shadow and will be insistent that what we’re seeing is white. In practice of course it’s likely a dark blue gray and, if we want to paint it so it reads realistically, that’s the color we should paint it. We have to constantly remind ourselves that we can’t trust that little brain voice and think and look harder.

Context also makes seeing color harder

The other problem we have when identifying color is that what is around a shape affects how we see it. A mid-value gray can look lighter than it is next to black. But when it’s put next to white paper it will look darker than it is. This is where the color isolator helps us.

Use the isolator as a learning tool not a crutch

The color isolator is very useful but we need to be conscious that it’s a learning tool not something we need to rely on. So we need to use it in the following multi-step way

  • Look at the color you’re trying to match and identify it. e.g. it’s a mid-value bright pinkish red.
  • Use the color isolator by placing it over the color and see how close you are.
  • If you’re correct (or close) pat yourself on the back and have a biscuit.
  • If you’re wrong try and imprint in your memory why you were wrong so you’ll be closer next time.

The first step is the hardest! Thinking – it takes soooo much effort. But it’s really worth it. And you’ll be amazed how quickly you get a lot better at seeing color. And maybe more importantly you’ll start to learn which types of colors you get consistently wrong. For me (and I suspect most of us) it’s shadow colors and especially shadow colors of light objects. After a while when you come across these when you’re painting a little alarm will go off in your head reminding you to pay extra attention to these regions.

Color match each swatch

watercolor color matching swatches
watercolor color matching swatches

Here’s my version of these swatches. You can see that I’ve put test swatches by each box until I’m satisfied that I’ve got it as close as I can. Only then do I put the final color in the box. And you can see that some of these colors are very different to what we consider a fruit color. Number 2, for example is the shadow on the bananas. It’s a sludgy dark green. Not bananaish at all! And the shadow sides of both the apple and the lime are really quite dark even though they are still identifiably green and red.

I’m going to be making some more videos on how I go about this. It’s hard to describe in text and much easier to show and learn from a video. I warn you that the process feels awkward at first but has huge rewards. And you’ll be going around identifying colors everywhere you go!

Livestreams and Videos

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