Tools and Techniques – Watercolour lifting out and scrubbing

Tools & Techniques

I’m learning. And as I learn, I’m hoping to share what I learn. These are the tools and techniques and other little arty technical thingies that I’m playing with at the moment. I hope they are useful.


I started this sketch for Sunday Sketches weeks ago now, but I’ve finally finished it. And what a voyage it has been.

It was only supposed to be a sketch. Something quick to scribble down and have some fun with.

Red Parrot Pea WIP 1


I chose watercolour pencils because I wanted to see how rough and slap dash I could be with them. I’ve always used them for real life accuracy (well, as best as I could get it :D) and I’m trying to get away from that. As you can see above, slapdash was exactly what it was.

Then I started adding the water.

Red Parrot Pea WIP 2


Red Parrot Pea WIP 3

As you can see I was even slapdash with adding the water. But after that, something went wrong with my slapdash plan and an attempt at accuracy returned. I dug up the small palette of watercolour paints I had purchased to back up my watercolour pencils. Mainly because I was working in reds and I’m beginning to find that any red in stick form is almost impossible to use unless it is of the highest quality possible (my Derwent pencils are apparently not high enough – I can’t get a decent lay down of colour without gouging the pigment that is already on the paper). So I switched to watercolour paint, something I’ve been traditionally scared of.

Well, I suddenly found that I liked watercolour painting. I wasn’t using it in the traditional sense and anyone who is a traditionalist would probably look at this painting and groan, but I did have fun and learnt a great deal about the medium. I’m planning on expanding my little palette in the future and playing some more.

Red Parrot Pea WIP 4

At that point I put it down as our household contracted an evil lurgy and for several weeks due to other commitments, I didn’t really get to my artwork at all.

Yesterday, I picked it back up and today I finished it.

It is not a satisfactory finish, but it is all I’m willing to put into it at this time, for reasons I’ll explain in a moment.

Red Parrot Pea completeRed Parrot Pea, watercolour and watercolour pencil on illustration board, approx. 200 x 200 mm.

This is a prime example of why you should do a decent sketch to support your painting. Because I was being so rough (and I admit it, lazy) when I started this piece, I didn’t really calculate proper perspective or add enough three dimensional elements to the composition. Consequently, I could paint miracles all over it, but it will never work properly because the foundation isn’t there. The centre flower does not have enough three dimensional attributes, so it looks flat, and if you look very closely, you can see that I’ve moved my light source depending on what part of the painting I was focussing at the time and consequently the light doesn’t give what it could.

It might have also helped if I actually drew this from something other than my head. When I draw without a stockshot to work from,  I have to calculate light sources, shadows, the lot, and while I’m getting better at it, it is always easier to draw straight from a convenient photograph…but then I wouldn’t learn to draw from my head, would I? 😀

I actually did learn a great deal doing this sketch.

Having discovered glazing with acrylics, I was able to apply the same technique with watercolour (which is the medium glazing originated from). With a light touch and a little practise I was able to deepen colours to their full potential, something I felt traditional watercolour tends to avoid. I didn’t think I could do it, but it appears that I was just being my usual impatient self.

As a bonus, I started reading one of my watercolour painting books, and encountered the technique of lifting off. The book basically described how you can lift off paint by wetting the dried paint with a brush and then blotting with tissue. When I experimented with acrylic glazing, I wiped the glaze with a cloth before it could dry properly to give it texture. I pondered if I could get an interesting effect using the lifting off technique combined with the scrubbing on the petals in this piece.

If you take a look at the petals in the last work-in-progress shot and compare them to the petals in the completed piece, you will see exactly what that effect did. Whether or not it was an improvement, I’m not sure, but I did find it very interesting to play with. This is a close up of the petals on the right flower.


I had several layers of paint and glaze on the petals before I started. I simply wet them with clear water, waited a moment to let the paint take it up, and then wiped the paint off with a tissue. It certainly gives an interesting texture. Note that I didn’t blot (as the book recommended), I wiped in the direction of the petal veins so what little directional value was left on the painting went in the right direction. It was also quite rough on the paper surface, but I think it survived okay. It certainly let the colours beneath shine through and gave quite a bit of depth. I tend to think that the problems this piece has are more related to composition and drawing than this technique, one I’d like to explore further.

I poked through YouTube to see if I could find a demonstration, but no one seems to be as rough handed as I am, but here is a more traditional effort. Also an interesting tutorial on how to paint clouds.

I had difficulty both photographing and scanning this piece onto the computer. Neither piece of equipment can handle reds very well. All the above shots are from my camera. My scanner failed me miserably and this was the only decent shot I could get and I had to desaturate the image quite a bit. It changes the piece, but then I quite like the changes so although I couldn’t use it for a final piece image, I thought I would include it anyway.

Red Parrot Pea complete - desaturated

I’m submitting this to Sunday Sketches because that is the challenge that originally sparked this little saga, despite the fact it turned out to be more of a painting. So make sure you drop by and check out all the other wonderful creations over there. If you’re seeking inspiration, that’s a good place to find it.

Best wishes,
(it’s finally finished!)


13 responses to “Tools and Techniques – Watercolour lifting out and scrubbing”

  1. I’m not a painter and so don’t understand a lot of the technical terms about painting. But what I love here is how you explain what you learned about watercolor through working on this piece, whether you’re totally satisfied with the piece or not.

    Hope everyone is feeling better now!

    1. Oooh, I hope I’m not too jargony. Do let me know if I become incomprehensible. I want people new to the scene to be able to understand my babblings, so I really should can the jargon.

      Yep, we’re all good for the moment. Waiting for the next bug to be let loose in the house.

      And yeah, it was a useful piece in the making rather than the completion. I learnt lots.

      I always love to hear from you. Thanks so much for dropping by.

      (hopefully back to a better schedule)

  2. Beautiful transformation of your sketch! Love the detail and how it comes to life! Awesome work! Thanks for sharing your process…always great to learn new things!

  3. I think It turned out lovely, you work much differently than how I go about it but the results turned out very nice!

  4. fun to learn through you, thank you.
    your piece is lively and wonderful.

  5. the finished product is really beautiful. Thanks for the tutorial. I need one on acrylic painting!

  6. Absolutely stunning and beautiful. I love how you walked us through your process. It turned out wonderful! Happy Easter! 🙂

  7. IT TURNED OUT BEAUTIFUL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Poppies are awesome and YOU did awesome… thanks for sharing the how to!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    cheers, dana

  8. Your experiments are fabulous – it’s so great of you to share!
    I think some of the best discoveries are made through play 🙂

    I’m glad everyone is on the mend at your house…


  9. your work is SO beautiful. I love seeing the progression! xo

  10. I am VERY impressed that you drew and painted this from your head with no reference image. Yes, a better composition would improve it, but there is so much to be pleased about with this. I’m guessing we will be seeing more watercolors from you in the future!

  11. Thank you so much for taking the time to walk us through your work. I love to work with watercolor pencils but I don’t seem to be able to get the rich colors you have in your painting. It is very beautiful. I learned so much today that I will be using the next time I start to work with my pencils.

  12. […] I haven’t completed anything yet, but I have been having fun playing with that lifting technique  I discovered last week. […]