Watercolour with Sanora

Watercolour with Sanora

Sanora Rodrigo, an alumna of the Academy of Design and Northumbria University, has over 6 years of experience in the industry after she completed her Bachelor of Arts in Graphic Design. Beginning her career at Bates CHI & Strategic Alliance in 2012 as a consultant designer, she moved on to the publishing industry as an Art Director for Cosmopolitan, and shared her experiences and knowledge as a guest lecturer at AOD as well. She’s currently working as a freelance Art Director as well as heading the Colombo chapter of Ladies Wine and Design (Instagram: @ladieswinedesign_colombo). 

Stumbling upon her immaculate watercolour paintings, we caught up with Sanora to talk to us about her process of beginning to finish, and all the tears and joy that goes with it!

Step 1:

Find yourself a subject.
If you couldn’t you can always raid your sibling’s photo library and find yourself a reference photograph you are inspired by. Wasn’t so difficult in this case. I have a photographer for a brother (Follow her brother’s work on Instagram @sanoj_rodrigo).

Step 2:

Ask their permission.
This is important. If they say no, bribe them with coffee... or just fall back and photograph your own references.

Step 3:


Prep your work desk.
Watercolour can be unforgiving at times. So, make sure everything you need is easily accessible. Especially your paper towels. Oh and make sure your water jars are significantly different than your coffee mug so you know... you don’t drink from the wrong glass!

Here is the list of tools I used for this illustration:

  1. Pencil ( A water-soluble pencil would be fantastic.)
  2. Kneaded eraser
  3. Two separate jars of water (One for dirty water. One for clean water).
  4. Tissue or paper towels
  5. 640 gsm watercolour paper (Anything 300gsm and up would be great)
  6. Masking fluid
  7. Indian ink or any water resistant ink
  8. Dip pen
  9. Watercolour
  10. White gouache for highlights
  11. Masking tape
  12. Colour pencils
  13. Pencil Sharpener
  14. A mixing palette
  15. Some coffee and good tunes
  16. Plenty of natural light is a plus.

Step 4:

Plan out your illustration

Think about the composition and colour scheme. In this case, I didn’t want to deviate much from the photograph at all as everything about it was perfect for me. But I did want to exaggerate the effect the wind had on her hair and clothes. I am also very new to watercolour illustrations, so I tested out the colours on a different paper and made myself enough paint to last throughout the illustration. You can even make a small thumbnail version of your painting on a separate piece of paper with a rough sketch and colouring. I honestly had no idea what I was doing. I just went at it. Sometimes, that proves to be the best way to learn!

Step 5:

Sketch it out in pencil

I taped my paper to the work desk with masking tape to prevent warping and also to give it a nice even white border. Make sure your masking tape is worn out on a piece of fabric so you don’t damage the paper when you remove it at last. You can also just tape it onto a board or use a watercolour pad. I then sketched out my drawing in pencil. Use a kneaded eraser to erase mistakes without harming the paper. Also consider using a water-soluble pencil or a watercolour pencil so that your pencil marks would not show through the watercolour at a later stage. Unless you want it to!

Step 6:

Ink, ink baby.

I don’t know what it is, but I just love the inking process! Maybe because it feels like it’s almost complete in its own sense. Like you can see it as a complete drawing for the first time. I used a dip pen and some Indian ink for this process. I made sure to work from left to right so that I don’t accidentally smudge the drawing.

Step 7:

Mask out the highlights and other details.

Use masking fluid to mask out details you want to recover at a later stage. This is not a necessary stage and is entirely up to you. I masked out the highlights on the water, the character’s hair, t shirt and sneakers. Oh! Make sure your paper is completely dry before applying the fluid, and also make sure that your paper is at least 300gsm to prevent tearing. I learned this technique from @kelogsloops. Love, love his work and he shares some very helpful tips on his Instagram and YouTube.

Step 8:

Base wash.

Now to the fun part. Colouring! Go for the lightest wash possible on your first wash. That is to say.. less paint, more water. You can always layer it on later!

Step 9:

Layering and adding details.

After the first layer has completely dried, I went ahead and completed layering it with more watercolour till I got the effect I liked. I mostly used the wet on dry technique (wet paint on dry paper). But you can also try the wet on wet technique (wet paint on wet paper) for interesting effects!  If you want to quickly remove a mistake, you can dab at the paper with a tissue or paper towel while the paint is still wet. This is also a neat trick when you want to create the effect of clouds in the sky!  Don’t try to erase your mistakes by adding more paint! I’ve learned this the hard way and it is not a pretty result. To add details, I changed mediums to colour pencils. It is more precise and still gives an interesting effect.

Step 10:

Peel off the masking fluid.

This step is so satisfying and probably why I always find a reason to include it in. Make sure your paper is completely dry and gently peel away the masking fluid with the back of your paintbrush your with your finger.

Step 11:

Finishing touches.

Once the masking fluid comes off, add on the final colours and details! If you still want to add more highlights, but did not get a chance to mask it before, don’t worry. You can use white gouache to highlight. It’s very opaque and a life saviour!

Step 12:

Peel off the masking tape.

Once again, make sure your paper is completely dry before you do! The process is so Instagram worthy. So if you get a chance, get someone to film it for you. You will get a few DM’s with comments about how satisfying it is.

Step 13:

Pat yourself on the back.
Even if it worked out or not, I can guarantee you that you would have learned a lot once you attempt a watercolour painting. Have fun and do share your drawing with me by tagging or DMing me to: @sanora_rodrigo !

May 06, 2019


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