New ways with real watercolour in digital art

It’s been about two years since I painted my last real watercolour. (Short answer: My eyes don’t let me.) I’ve made do with watercolour pencils, larger formats, and of course Procreate, which allows me to basically zoom in on every nostril and work around the blind spots in my vision. I’m relatively happy with all of these, sometimes more so than other times, but I’m still always on the lookout for ways to make my workflow, and the results, more natural, and more like what I used to do before my vision became so poor. In particular, I found it hard to capture that translucency of watercolour.

I discovered a way to incorporate quasi-real gold leaf into Procreate art a while ago, but it never occurred to me that this opened other possibilities, until I downloaded a few (rather low-res) watercolour textures from gumroad and used them in the same way – and I realised I could custom-paint my own watercolour textures without having to bother about details, and then put them in digitally and with an exact fit. I could do them at proper 5000×7000 resolutions, AND I could use just the colours I needed, with just the right amount of water blooms, effects, and granulation. Heck, I could even paint textures specifically for every piece I did, with little or no additional cost in time (getting textures right in Procreate takes me ages).

I was BURNING to do this. I brought out all the watercolour papers and paints that had been languishing in my art closet for years, and spent two days painting textures with my favourite colours and combinations. Without overtaxing my eyes. SO rewarding!

And then of course, it was time to fit these into an image! This works just as in the video above.

Dorian Storm (Critical Role), played by Robbie Daymond.

The one above was only the first try. I then went to town with even more background textures I painted, especially more even washes that would be less overpowering. This one below is just flat, unrendered watercolour washes fitted into a Procreate lineart.

The good thing about this method is that it helps me achieve the look I want for my art without much effort. No fiddling with textures. Just paint the area you want on different layers – one for skin, one for hair, one for the lute, etc – and then copy a texture into that exact layer. A major case of tadaaaa.

As a next, and pretty much final, step, the painting just needs a little more detailing and shading done on top. I’ve never done a lot of rendering in watercolour (because it renders my beloved lineart pretty useless), so with the right detail brush in Procreate, this becomes a walk in the park. And goes as quickly as my previous watercolours ever did!

And the final result is the most realistically watercolour-looking of anything I’ve ever tried in Procreate, and all without a lot of brush work. Textures do the heavy lifting. I’ve always known that, and I could almost kick myself for not trying something like this sooner.

If you’d like to try this too, all my textures are available on Gumroad! A few of them are available for free on Patreon. :)

Vax’ildan – coloured pencil tutorial

Coloured pencils, eh? I used to use them a lot around 20 years ago. They’re beginner-friendly, yield pretty fantastic results, are easy to use and make little mess – and still they had some of a “kid stuff” vibe to them, so I pretty much abandoned them when I got into watercolour for real. Now that watercolour details escape me but I still feel the need to mess with actual pigments once in a while, large formats and coloured pencil seemed like a great idea. And they were!

Materials used:

Paper: Strathmore coloured pencil paper. Great texture, just enough grain to look interesting, but allows for smooooth blending.

Pencils: Wax-based coloured Prismacolors as well as a set from Castle Arts.

Blenders: Derwent Burnisher.

For the background: Shire Blue watercolour by Schmincke.

1: I lay down a pale, very even layer of a yellowish olive colour as a base. The trick in getting smooth areas of colour is swirly movements, even pressure, and being careful with sudden darker strokes. You can erase them with a rather rough eraser. The smooth ones I usually use just smear the colour, but with the right grainy eraser, you can take an amazing lot of colour off. 

2: Trying around with different colours for the skin tone I’m going for. I blended the smooth patch there with white instead of the blender, which results in a pastelly, very smooth look. 

3: After the bottom yellowish later, I add reds (with a burned-Sienna-like colour) to the skin areas with the most blood circulation (around the eyes, nose, lips, and ears). 

4: More skin detailing. Going with the yellow forehead/reddish nose and cheeks/bluish chin scheme, which is SO MUCH EASIER to do subtly in coloured pencil than it is in watercolour. The bluish bits on his chin will almost vanish in comparison once the dark hair is in place, so I already have it on my mental list to darken it later. 

5: Blending! I blend the portions near the nose, lips and chin that also have some white parts with a white coloured pencil rather than the blender, as it remains lighter and more pastelly. The parts near the ear and under the eyebrows are blended with a Derwent burnisher pencil, which again makes for very smooth gradients and colour flats. 

6: Adding another layer of colour over the blended base layer until I’m happy with the texture and the light/dark look. The portion near the cheek/ear is okay looking slightly fuzzier and less smooth, so I don’t blend it. 

7: More darker, desaturated browns in shadowy areas. 

8: I call the skin done for now (I can always go back to it later when the hair and feathers are done if it looks too light in comparison), and lay down the first layer for his hair and colour his eyes. Fun fact: Thirty years of drawing and painting elves, and doing my first one that has brown eyes. Which is a total shame, by the way, as I always fall for them! =D 

9: Adding blue streaks to the hair (and some to the skin) after laying down the brown. 

10: Laying down a pale blue base layer for the clothes. It felt so wrong to dress Vax in baby blue. =D Putting down a green sheen to it, too. 

11: Adding a desaturated purple. I can not work without desaturated purples. They’re the best for black. 

12: Putting down purples in the hair as well. I work in overall layers here, the way I would in watercolour, so I can see how the different areas affect each other. You often see coloured pencil artists work in tiny portions that they complete with all detail before moving on to the next portion; this works best when working from photo reference that you just have to match. 

13: I’ve put about everything down that needs to go down. Now I can take a look with fresh eyes to see what’s missing. Apart from the skin, nothing is blended at this point. 

14. Some warmer brown tones in his hair are missing, for example. 

15. BLENDING! I use two different ways to blend: For darker colours that are allowed to go even richer and darker, I use a blending pencil (here, the burnisher from Derwent, which does the job best, I find). For lighter areas – like the skin and the lighter portions of his hair – I use a white or pale cream coloured pencil, which results in great smoothness and doesn’t dull the colours. 

16. Blending the feathers was so much fun. It’s amazing to see that stuff suddenly pop to life. I followed my colour lines while blending, and left some toothier bits standing. 

Final touchups! 

17: Hair smoothing. 

18: Feather detail. 

19: Almost done, with a simple watercolour wash in the background. Coloured pencil paper is too thin for watercolour, so the paper cockled rather badly. I had to moisten the back and flatten it between heavy books before scanning. (I also forgot I no longer have a printer with waterproof ink, so the Procreate lines bled a bit on the outlines.) 

20: I’m still finding my way around the brightness and saturation of coloured pencils, and the feathers especially felt too colourful for Vax. So I went for the complementary colour of blue/green – a dull orange – to subtly tone them down. 

Hope that was helpful!

*Blows off the dust*

I’m sorry about the long radio silence. As you’ll know if you follow me elsewhere, another eye episode struck last May and I haven’t recovered from it – in the sense that my eyes are worse than ever and everything I’m looking at is basically as holey as Swiss Cheese. I have decided that I will get out as much art as I can for the time being, because you never know what else my eyes have in store for me.

So here’s a bit of a dump of the stuff I did between summer 2021 and now. We’ll call it Dump #1. Some Elves, a Hare-Agorn, and my Pathfinder character Jax, a Tiefling Rogue.

Forth Eorlingas! and other forays into digital art

“And as if in answer there came from far away another note. Horns, horns, horns, in dark Mindolluin’s sides they dimly echoed. Great horns of the north wildly blowing. Rohan had come at last.”

Prints on Inprnt:

Prints on Etsy:

Want to look over my shoulder, be part of these images developing and progressing?

After almost twelve years of working purely traditionally, I started using Procreate on the iPad this year, and I’m liking the results more and more. As opposed to Photoshop, Procreate almost feels like traditional media, and it allows me to zoom in and do details that I haven’t been able to do since the onset of my eye disease in early 2018.

Traditional colouring, but with the lineart done in Procreate:


Late 2020, I started working on a series of images for a setting I called “SquirrelPunk”, which I planned to turn into a book (of paintings and sketches accompanied by writing snippets). The project remains shelved for now, though, as financial contraints don’t allow me to work on a non-paying project for longer periods. Better days will come, and it shall be the days of the squirrels.

Dungeons & Dormice

Over the locked-down Easter holidays, to stave off despair and depression, I did what any sane artist would have done: I drew dormice as D&D classes.

The Paladin
Their heroic and undaunted nature makes dormice naturally suited to the Paladin’s calling, playing to their natural instincts to protect the weak and helpless, even if finding someone who is actually weaker and more helpless than the paladin may sometimes present a challenge.
Tragically, many a dormouse paladin has seriously misjudged who was weak or helpless, with desastrous consequences.

The Rogue
Dormouse Rogues are rare, because stealing something is so alien to the dormice nature (though they are suberbly suited to the profession due to their uncanny stealth). If there is anything that might entice a dormouse to go down the road of roguishness, it’s a fat, ripe raspberry sitting around without an apparent owner (at a very cursory glance). 

The Ranger
With her trusted companion, the Ranger roams far and wide through the wild, dangerous undergrowth of the field balk. Her green and brown garb makes the ranger almost invisible to the perilous denizens she stalks. Her bumblebee, however, is often forced to just hop from flower to flower, pretending to be just an ordinary bumblebee instead of a highly trained and intelligent animal companion.

The Cleric
“Beware the masked swamp owl!” Dormouse parents tell their children. “If she catches you, she eats you whole and spits out your bare white bones, which will forever haunt the marshlands!” Indeed, infestations of undead are most often found near the nests of the short-eared owl, terrorising the local dormouse dwellings. This was the main reason why the Order of the Sacred Hazelnut came into being, whose clerics use the benign powers granted by the Deity to turn and the undead, and grant them rest. 

The Barbarian

Only the most fearless of dormice aspire to join the ranks of Barbarians. The origins of this class of warriors are lost in legend, as is the origin of their traditional weapon, the chiesnif (though legend has it that the first chiesnif was taken as prize on the myth-enshrouded raid on Pantree). On this raid, it is said, Teepweep the Unterrified, the first of his name, almost disembowelled a cat.

Barbarians of today still honour Teepweep’s name, and like him, they dress in the furs of enemies they have slain (or found). Nothing kindles their battle rage as surely as calling them adorable.

The Fighter

Dormouse Fighters are very liberal spirits. These seasoned, battle-hardened little creatures are most happy roaming the land with a week’s of provisions, sleeping under the eaves and bringing their courage and their tempered steel to anyone needing their help.

Malicious gossip has it that all they ever use their tempered steel on is raspberries, which is of course completely preposterous.

The Monk

Dormouse Monks aspire to the highest level of inner peace, balance, and self-control. Their bodies are the only weapons they need (or so they say). Their final test, in which they give proof of their control over body and mind and demonstrate sheer incredible restraint, takes place while their masters and their families are already at dinner.

Many a dormouse Monk has found that she has the greatest level of control and restraint while sleeping. The trick is to remain standing and not curl into a ball, and nobody will notice.

The Bard

Dormouse Bards are generally seen as the happiest little creatures alive (and that is not just down to their consumption of raspberry wine). Always eager to entertain and educate, they tirelessly hold forth cheerful songs and ancient lore, to sounds of the walnut lute. They pride themselves on always getting strong reactions out of their audiences (though, granted, sometimes it’s an empty bottle accompanied by a yell of “You’ll attract the cats!”)

The Wizard
Dormice Wizards are rare, because most dormice lack the willingness to devote many years of study to the mastery of skills that have, in their opinion, little relevance for the important things in life (i. e., sleep and food). True Dormouse Wizards will be quick to point out that this is not true at all. In fact, to anyone who understands a little about arcane matters, it becomes clear immediately that dormice spells have rather more to do with sleep and food than magic in other parts of the world. Magic Missile, for example, seems to be a mashup of Magic Missile and Create Food. The great Wizard Avellinus has devoted his entire life to disentangling the unorthodox nature of dormouse spells and restore them to their original versions; to little avail. 

The Sorcerer

Dormouse Sorcerers, like every other Sorcerer, trace their lineage back to semi-mythical sources that account for their native magical powers. Among the Big Folk, dragon, demon and tiefling ancestry is quite common; Dormouse Sorcerers are adamant that their magical powers stem from an ancient fairy link. They highlight this belief by their choice of garment and even behaviour.

Dormouse Sorcery is overwhelmingly benign (sometimes plain overwhelming) and always good-natured (unless by accident). Dormouse sorcerers are among the most easy beings to get along with, but for the love of all that is holy, don’t mention the horns.

The Druid

Druids are among the most respected (and well-fed) people in Dormousedom. They know all the incantations for every shrub and tree (those that matter, anyway), how to make their branches grow into thickets, how to reduce their thorns, and most importantly of all, how to speed up the ripening of berries. If you have ever stood at a raspberry or bramble bush with fat ripe berries, and you could have sworn that the fruits were all green and tiny when you walked this way yesterday, that was most certainly the work of a Dormouse Druid. 

I’ll probably end up putting together a booklet of these, as soon as the world is back to normal. And as soon as we have all found out what “normal” means.

“Utúlie’n aurë!”

Then when Fingon heard afar the great trumpet of Turgon his brother, the shadow passed and his heart was uplifted, and he shouted aloud: ‘Utúlie’n aurë! Aiya Eldalië ar Atanatári, utúlie’n aurë!’

Watercolour and gel pen on Fabriano No. 5, 19×33 cm. 

Prints available!

The Death of Fëanor

“Then his sons raised up their father and bore him back towards Mithrim. But as they drew near to Eithel Sirion and were upon the upward path to the pass over the mountains, Fëanor bade them halt; for his wounds were mortal, and he knew that his hour was come. And looking out from the slopes of Ered Wethrin with his last sight he beheld far off the peaks of Thangorodrim, mightiest of the towers of Middle-earth, and knew with the foreknowledge of death that no power of the Noldor would ever overthrow them; but he cursed the name of Morgoth thrice, and laid it upon his sons to hold to their oath, and to avenge their father. Then he died; but he had neither burial nor tomb, for so fiery was his spirit that as it sped his body fell to ash, and was borne away like smoke; and his likeness has never again appeared in Arda, neither has his spirit left the halls of Mandos. Thus ended the mightiest of the Noldor, of whose deeds came both their greatest renown and their most grievous woe.”

Watercolour, gel pen and coloured pencil on Fabriano #5 paper, 24×30 cm.

Prints available!

“He sang a song of Valinor”

Start-of-year Silmarillion spree commencing!

“Then in defiance of the Orcs, who cowered still in the dark vaults beneath the earth, he took his harp and sang a song of Valinor that the Noldor made of old, before strife was born among the sons of Finwë; and his voice rang in the mournful hollows that had never heard before aught save cries of fear and woe.” 

Watercolour and white gel pen on Fabriano No. 5, 23×31 cm.

Prints in my Etsy shop! Original is sold.

A lot of these ideas have been triggered by the Prancing Pony Podcast (which I cannot recommend highly enough!), and the next ideas have been voted on by my lovely Patreon supporters, so soon, we will see the Prophecy of the North, the death of Fëanor, and the ever-awesome “Utúlië’n Aurë!”

New pin designs in 2020!

Over the Christmas holidays, I’ve designed six new enamel pin designs for this year! More may come later, too. Here’s some adventure, the Elven rings, Éowyn, and one I call “Tinfang Warble”, which refers to a pretty obscure poem Tolkien wrote when he was pretty young. It’s one of the words that I catch myself saying just for the sound of them. (“Tevildo Prince of cats” is another one, usually addressed to my Loki).

These new pins should arrive in my shop in a month or two!

“Stand together”

“Stand together”
Watercolour and gouache on Bockingford Torchon paper, 16×21 cm

Prints and original painting available!

So, here’s the trilogy come to a close. I somehow keep having to defend myself for liking it, and yes, I could have done with 30 minutes and one McGuffin less, but overall, it was fine Star Wars, and I like how Ben Solo’s redemption arc played out. I never expected him to survive, and was glad to see him get a scene in which he sacrifices himself for what he loves, not trying to kill what he hates – a nice nod to a major thing in TLJ, which I would have loved to hear referenced more clearly, but I loved that turn.

Inktober 2019: Curls and Elves in Brocade

I never follow any Inktober lists. My overall theme usually manifests itself on day three or so. It’s “Elves in Brocade”. Obviously.

I’m really happy with my output this month. My one goal was to do more pieces than last year (which was easy) and to stick with ink (which was easier than I thought).

All of these are fineliner/brush pen with watercolour, most A5, some A4 size. And yes, haha, I made myself a new signature in between…

Finarfin (I)


Busy and hodgepodge times

I’ve done a lot of little things here and there, none of which really warranted a blog post. Those of you who follow me on Patreon or on my mailing list already know that the artbooks are delayed due to the poor quality the printing company put out for the (large) batch I ordered. I still hope that they’ll be well in time for the holiday season. :)

I’ve also ordered a large badge of T-shirts with the Birmingham design. They’re in my Etsy shop and going fast! Please note that it’s unlikely that any of them will come back in stock – I’m a one-woman business, and can’t store large quantities of anything. :)

If you order a shirt, please make sure to read the item description with the into on sizes!

I have a few commissions on my plate, as well as a heap of things I want to draw… and just not time to do it. September is always a tough month because school occupies so much of my time, and fighting with printing companies and wrapping up five T-shirts a day doesn’t make it any better. Here’s hoping for October! I have no plans for Inktober this year – I just hope to get some art done at all.