One Layer Watercolor: Watercolor Basics

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One Layer Watercolor

Now that we've gone over the process for an entire watercolor illustration, you guys should be fairly familiar with my working methods, especially if you're following along with the YouTube demonstrations. 

This is a straightforward technique that is deceptively difficult.  You're simply applying one layer of color per area- relying on the white of the paper or working wet into wet for detail and definition.  If you're used to building up forms and contrast through layers and layers of color, this technique is definitely a challenge!

Materials Used:

  • Watercolors (given the lack of layers, you can use cheaper watercolors if you wish- there's no glazes to make layers muddy)
  • Watercolor paper (you can use inexpensive watercolor paper if you wish, as the paper isn't going to be saturated.  I use Strathmore's Field Watercolor Notebook)
  • Watercolor brushes (I tend to prefer rounds- they are particularly good for this exercise, as they can get into small corners)

Additional Materials:
  • Welled palette
  • bulldog clips to secure your paper

Preparing Your Image and Workspace

Mixing Skintone

My preferred mixture for most Caucasian skintones is yellow ochre+scarlet lake or hue.

Applying a Light Wash Around Image

Although the focus of this tutorial is to apply bold fields of color, I find that 'grounding' the image (especially for vignettes or pinups like the above image) with a light wash of cerulean blue only in the background helps significantly.

Working Layer by Layer, One Area at a Time


I find that even in an application such as this, which relies on saturated colors and stark white contrast, painting the skin delicately, rather than thickly, is best.


For blush, I use a mixture of Aliz Crimson mixed very sparingly.

Red Posies

Once I've established my lightest colors, I can start painting directly from my pans.  For this, I recommend activating your paints beforehand, so they're ready to use when you're ready to apply color.  For these flowers, I used Holbein's Cherry Red.

Green Shamrocks

One of the neater effects of using textured watercolor papers is that the paper surface will affect how the paints dry, as evident in the upper right hand shamrock.

For these shamrocks, I used Holbein's Hooker's Green.


For Kara's hair, I used Indian Red.


Painting larger areas requires a well kept round that can pull a fine point, yet hold a large amount of paint, some patience, and a quick hand, as ideally, you want to finish in one pass.  I recommend handing larger areas one area at a time- left sleeve, pockets, body of dress, right sleeve.

For Kara's Dress, I used a blue green by Soho watercolors- note, this is a synthetic blue green, and is not light fast.

Pinafore and Flower Centers

For these items, I used Soho's Indian Yellow.  I have not tested any Soho watercolors for lightfastness, so I cannot recommend them for projects that will be displayed.

White Gouache for Details

Once everything has had a chance to dry completely, thickly mixed gouache or Copic Opaque white can be used to add highlights and accents.

Finished Piece

The end result, in my instance, is a fairly graphic piece that stands well on it's own, and looks quite different from my regular watercolor work.

  • Takes less time
  • May be easier to reproduce
  • Graphic, easy to read style

  • Need to get it right on the first go round, corrections may leave blemishes that are distracting and hard to hide.
  • Need to plan your whites (highlights) ahead of time
Today's Sponsor- 7" Kara

Speaking of watercolor, today's Watercolor Basic post was brought to you by the webcomic launch of 7" Kara, the comic that has inspired this series!  If you enjoy my watercolor art, illustration, or tutorials, please check 7" Kara out on Tumblr or on the 7" Kara site.

If you just can't stand a cliffhanger, Volume 1 of 7" Kara is available on Gumroad and through my web-shop.  Volume 1 contains the first four chapters of 7" Kara, and a bonus story, as well as loads of additional illustrations and a concept section!


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