Lucky Duck Pond Watercolor Tutorial
In this lesson plan, we explore the art of nature journaling, translating our outdoor adventures and observations in nature with watercolor pencils.
Goldfaber Aqua Watercolor Pencils are an impressive medium. They offer the unique combination of pencil sketching and painting, making them ideal for casual, spontaneous artwork in or out of the studio. Their vibrant colors and ease of use make them fun to use and they are easily mastered with a little practice.
Variety of Flat and Round Brushes
Watercolor Pad 9 x 12 or a journal made up of watercolor paper
Why Nature Journaling?
Experts say that the benefits of getting outside and connecting with nature through creating art is not only good for your health, it could get you hooked. To describe the basic experience in a few words, nature journaling can be seen as a form of meditation, filling you with a sense of calm and well being. Unlike silent meditation, the act of observing and recording the beauty around you through sketching and painting keeps the brain focused, making it difficult to drift off to all of life’s stresses.
Gather a few art materials and go take a walk, a hike, or a trip; just get outside and explore; discover all the beauty and peace that nature has to offer!
Let the following steps serve as inspiration and guidance in getting started on your own artistic journey. Take your time and enjoy your new practice, it will change your life.
When I came across this lovely duck pond, I knew that I wanted to paint it. I sat down on the grassy bank and made a sketch in my journal while some noisy ducks hid quacking in the tall grasses nearby. As it was nearing dusk, I realized that the best way to continue would be to work from a photo back at the studio.
I took this picture on my phone for later reference.
Choose Colors and Experiment
It is important to plan your colors before getting started, giving thought to the mixes and placement of them in the painting. Back at the studio, I began to experiment with the watercolor pencils, and finally settled on these colors and mixes of them to produce other colors I saw in my photo.
One of the great advantages to watercolor pencils are their versatility. The most basic way to use them is to sketch directly onto the paper, and then brush water over them. The more pigment you apply to the paper, the darker the color will be when water is added.
Another painting technique that I combine with the basic method, is
to create a palette of colors on a separate piece of watercolor paper by
scribbling the pencil, as shown below. From there, I can pick up the paint with a wet brush and transfer to the artwork.
Look carefully at your reference photo and choose as many colors as
possible; more colors will help add more depth and interest to the artwork.
Here, I’ve layered the following numbered colors on my paper palette to use.
Begin with a Sketch
Here is the quick graphite pencil sketch that I made at the pond. I began by determining the horizon line of the water in the distance at the upper left. I then sketched the curvy shoreline and then the duck house as the focal point. I continued to compose my sketch with careful placement of fewer lily pads, beginning with larger and more detailed ones in the foreground and smaller, more loosely sketched ones as they fade into the distance.
Although a well thought out sketch is very important to begin with, it is only a loose guide to position the basic elements. The look of the pond and number of lily pads will ultimately be determined during the painting process.
Apply Watercolor Pencils
In this step, I apply the watercolor pencils directly to the sketch. Referring to the photo, I loosely color in shapes and areas of lights and darks. My plan is to keep the foliage along the shoreline simple and fading out at the edge.
I layer some areas of the image with two to three different colors of pencil. By applying varying pressure, I can darken and lighten the pigment. Note the dark shadow that the duck house is casting in the water; this detail will help anchor the structure and help to give the water a realistic look.
The following steps demonstrate how to add water, creating a series of washes that will make up the finished art.
Set yourself up with a scrap piece of watercolor paper at hand to confirm the colors you will be using and to experiment with blending methods and amount of pressure you color with.
Paint with Water
Here is where the surprising magic of watercolor pencils really impress!
Beginning in the back along the water’s edge, I use a soft, round brush and wet the area. The paint comes alive. I begin to suggest a variation of foliage by gently pushing the paint around into shapes.
For the water, I use a flat, wet brush. I begin in the distance, painting the
water in long sweeping motions from left to right as I move to the foreground. The colors come to life as the variety of greens and blues blend. I create a soft, muted effect in the back at the horizon line to suggest distance. This first wash will dry in about 15 minutes.
While there is a good amount of control with the dry pencils, when the water is added, the paint itself has a mind of it’s own and will do unexpected and beautiful things. You can work with it to some degree but also relax and let it do its thing.
Use appropriate brush sizes and types. Larger brushes for larger areas will give a smoother, less detailed effect; forcing you to use fewer brush strokes, which is desirable in watercolor. Smaller brushes will work best for smaller areas. Round brushes are used for softer edges, while flat brushes offer a useful straight edge.
Now, after the first wash has dried, it is time to add a second wash of detail. I use the combination of both watercolor painting methods.
I pick up my mixed palette colors with my wet brush and add a layer of shorter, sweeping streaks of color in the water. I use the edge of the flat brush, holding it’s edge horizontally. I add faint, watery lily pads in the distance along the shoreline and around the duck house. As I come forward, I paint the lily pads with more detail and add simple flowers. I then paint the duck house.
Next I use the pencils and sketch directly onto the painting. I add more color and texture to the water and sketch grasses on the shore and detail to the lily pads in the foreground. I add water to some of it and leave other areas the dry pencil texture.
It is important to replace your water when it starts getting murky from paint. Using dirty water will affect your colors and muddy up your artwork. Consider working with a few cups of water to reduce time spent changing out the same one.
The final details in the painting include a third wash of paint: more lily pads and water detail, more shadows and grass detail.
I add texture and interest to the foliage with a paint spattering technique of dipping a stiff brush into a pool of color and carefully flicking it on with my finger. I protect the surrounding area with paper towel.
I paint shadows from the lily pads reflecting in the water. For this effect, I wet a large area with clean water directly under each pad and then paint a narrow band of darkness just underneath the pad. I prop the artwork upright to let the dark color softly bleed downward into the wet area.
Finally, I add a few accents of yellow here and there, a shadow under the eaves of duck house, and some lightly drawn line definition to the duck house and front lily pads with a well sharpened dark watercolor pencil.
Try to paint in a light-handed way, layering thin, transparent washes. Leaving small areas of the white paper showing through here and there allows the
painting to breathe, and adds an airiness.
Designing and Writing Your Journal Page
In my finished journal page, I chose to complement the color painting with a smaller, simple black and white sketch of the ducks hiding in the grasses that I mentioned earlier. I sketched this pair with a sharp, black watercolor pencil. I then very sparingly brushed on a small amount of water to create a light gray tone here and there giving the ducks a bit more dimension.
The final element to add to the journal page is anything you want to write about your experience; it can be notes, descriptions, incidents, thoughts, or memorable observations. Design a date/weather mark, and don’t forget to sign your name!
I decided to call this nameless and ordinary little pond, Lucky Duck Pond, because it looked like a pretty happy place to be a duck.