A beginner’s watercolor lesson. Painting with my daughter.

My daughter Kavya and I sometimes sketch together. Most often that means we sit next to each other and draw. But this weekend I thought I’d do a little ‘lesson’ with her and talk her through how I look at things when I draw.

I simplified what I look for and think of as I paint, but essentially this is how I work . I wanted her to work from observation, not just copy what I painted. So we made a simple setup. I made notes of what I told her as we drew and painted. Here is what I recorded of her painting (all the images except the last one are her work) and what I remember telling her. I thought I’d share it: a beginner’s lesson in drawing and painting from direct observation.

Here is our setup. Simple enough. 2 pears in contrasting colors. ( Don’t have pears? Use anything simple-shaped without too much surface decoration.)

The trickiest part of drawing is learning to see. (And unlearning to draw all the symbols we use as stand-ins for real observation) No pear is truly ‘pear-shaped’. Nor is it truly symmetrical. Stems are attached to fruit in really interesting ways that are fascinating to draw.
Below is her contour drawing with highlight and shadow lightly marked in. The other bit I had her notice and draw in is the relative heights of the 2 pears on the paper, and how they overlapped.
2lineNow for color. The trick with watercolor is to fuss with it as little as possible. To let the medium do the mixing instead of ‘forcing’ a mix. And to enjoy the accidents. (You’ll see Kavya had a few blooms and mixes that she may not have planned for.)
Plain water wets the surface . 2 shades are mixed: one for the lighter side of the pear, one for the darker side. Paint in the lighter side of the fruit (Notice it has a shape, it’s not straight down the middle of the fruit in a line.), leaving out the highlight . The slightly wet paper will diffuse the edges of your highlight. Now start from the opposite side of the fruit and paint in the dark side. Let the light and dark shades mix themselves on the wet page. Don’t go back over your strokes, or rub the paint in. Load your brush generously and glide the paint on. The brush should barely touch the surface of the paper.


For the really dark contour on the dark edge of the fruit and along the bottom, mix in a dark color: mix your dark green with a little red or blue, depending on what color the deep color looks like to you. Before the color dries, just dab on a dark outline or a spot wherever you see it. Remember: dab lightly, don’t mix, don’t fuss.


Look at the shadows for color: they’re not ‘just grey’, they might be a purplish grey, a reddish grey, a yellowish grey (Kavya saw hers as a bluish grey): mix up a color, draw in a shadow shape. Then clean out your brush, wet it, and come in from the outside of your shadow and melt away the edge of the shape. Just a bit, don’t scrub.  Paint in the stems.

5shadowsIt’s all details from here. Spray on some dots with a brush and then switch to colored pencil for that last bit of detail and definition: (I find switching away from watercolors after a single wet-in-wet wash is the best way for a beginner to avoid overworking a piece: who says you have to strictly stick to one medium?) Some more dots, a little more definition on the stem and the shadows.
6DEetailsAll done! I think she was pretty happy with her piece, and we had fun.

doneHere’s my piece. I painted along as I talked her through seeing and painting, and I tried making notes as I went along.
8_suhitaHope this is helpful: drop me a line , ask me a question about anything isn’t quite clearly explained ,I’d love to hear from you.

About Suhita Shirodkar

obsessive-sketcher. graphic designer.
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41 Responses to A beginner’s watercolor lesson. Painting with my daughter.

  1. Swati says:

    This might sound too basic…. but do you wet the paper with plain water before starting with colour ?
    I am a total novice.


    • Swati, never too basic. When I paint i landscape I might wet the whole paper down. Here I was wetting one pear at a time with clean water as I painted. It makes it easier for the colors to mix. But you do need to use pretty intense colors as they get lighter on wet paper.


  2. Shubhangi says:

    Lovely Suhita! Great job, Kavya! You described your session so nicely, I could picture you two sitting and painting…made a nice picture that 🙂


  3. Swati says:

    Also, I am big fan of your sketches…and simple love your style!!


  4. Sneha says:

    Mami, can you also do a lesson on how to draw people? Kavya’s work is amazing. Loved this post!


  5. stvrsnbrgr says:

    I followed Armistead’s FB post… this is wonderful! Your daughter is quite talented, and she has a terrific teacher. Now I want to take up sketching and painting.


  6. Daya says:

    Suhita, lovely stuff, kavya as talented as you. let me try water colour.


  7. Great lesson, Suhita…..and congratulations to Kavya!….quick question…I like the idea of the watercolour pencil…so do you add the w’colour pencil when the painting is still a bit damp or wait till the paint has dried completely?


    • Ethna, I add everything damp/wet-in-wet. Not super wet, but not totally dry. But that’s because I like all my layers of work to ‘fuse’ together: it’s a trade-off and a stylistic choice you make, there are no rules: with wet-in-wet, there’s more surprises, less control. If you let it dry you get more control and detail. Also, my pencil here is water-soluble, if you use a wax-based pencil you’ll get a different effect.


  8. Bella says:

    This was so helpful and clear to someone who wishes they could use watercolours. I’m envious of Kavya’s talent and teacher! More like this please!


  9. Sue Pownall says:

    Kavya’s painting is great. Thanks for sharing this lesson you did with her.


  10. hoorayhenrietta says:

    I have just come here via flickr. (My flickr name is “the hills are alive”. I was so thrilled that you had blogged these instructions – and photographed each stage so clearly too. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! This is absolutely wonderful for a stumbling beginner like myself. I am so delighted to have found this! Have now signed up to get notification of your blogs. All good wishes from chilly England. Caroline


  11. Emie says:

    It’s so wonderful to have a “built in” art buddy…… Your daughter and her work are birth adorable! Thanks for sharing.


  12. prafull999 says:

    shuhita: good lesson for knowledgeable beginner. waiting for your detail book on people and water color. show us some water color mixing and wet on wet technique video. your last book review was excellent, it shows that u will be a good sketch book author. thanks. prafull99.


  13. Sweet post; lovely work!


  14. A great lesson for all of us. Isn’t it fascinating to have to simplify and describe what you might do every day without really thinking about your process?


  15. Sonali says:

    Great writeup and demo Suhita!
    BTW, Kavya’s work is better than yours 😉


  16. Arlene says:

    This was a great lesson…hope to see more like this. I am a huge fan of your work and your style Suhita. Thanks for all your help in guiding us with clear examples and explanations about drawing and watercolor and for sharing your sketches. Your daughter did you proud which shows what a great teacher you are.


  17. ruthbyrn says:

    This is a lovely post! Such a nice way to start my day. You & your daughter are so blessed to have each other. She is going to be a wonderful artist, like you. And the art lesson is great too. I’m posting the link on my FB.


  18. anne says:

    You’ll let us know when Kavya starts her own blog?


  19. miatagrrl says:

    What great sketches from both of you!! She’s so lucky to have you as a mom!

    – Tina


  20. cathyp331 says:

    Great post. Love your art and I love Kavya’s, too. How awesome that you and she are sketching and painting together.


  21. xine says:

    I follow all your posts, love your fluid style. And think Kavya’s work is great too. It would be great if you would do a post on shadows. How to do a natural shadow that does not dominate the sketch. Thank you for the point on softening the edges–but would love to learn how to mix the colours and layer them for natural looking shadows. Thanks again.


  22. hememd says:

    Terrific intro lesson. Please share more of your lessons with your daughter and tell her I love her pears!


  23. Marie-Catherine says:

    Thank you so much Suhita, I love your sketches and I just did the exercise of your daughter and I like the result. It is exactly the kind of post I need to keep my spirit up trying to sketch and watercolor…
    Sorry for my english, I am french. I hope you understand what I meant !


  24. Miú says:

    Dear Suhita,
    How generous of you to share your knowledge and talent with everyone! Thank you very much. And how lucky Kavya is for having such a wonderful teacher as a mother! Mind you, you are lucky too for having such a gifted daughter!
    Do keep up the great work – and, if possible, share it with us, common mortals. We’ll appreciate it delightedly.
    A big hug from Portugal,


  25. Reblogged this on MonkeySideBars™ and commented:
    This is an excellent post by artist Suhita Shirodkar, a beginner’s watercolour lesson for her daughter Kavya. The results are astonishing, it makes us stop and think how we look at things when we draw.

    We at MonkeySideBars are more than happy for our members to be creative and we hope the artists are aware that posts to the game can be drawn or created using any medium.

    Take a look through this post and you will also see a link about a lesson on how to draw people.

    Monkey on 🙂


  26. Had to share, great post and beautiful work by both.


  27. Darleen Morsette says:

    As a 77yr old beginner, this lesson has been so encouraging for me. More,pls.!!!


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