Watercolor Lessons on Depth and Luminosity: 10 Watercolor Painting Techniques

Watercolor painting has grown, evolved, and continued to challenge artists for centuries. Even today, artists are discovering new methods and techniques. One of these artists, Ali Cavanaugh, doesn’t shrink from the challenges of this medium, but rather is empowered by them.

Her unusual painting techniques allow her to produce art with incredibly realistic skin tones and complicated colors and patterns. She likens her process to that of egg tempera, using multiple layers and tiny strokes to build of layers of color, sometimes using a dozen colors and as many as 50 layers. In this tutorial she shares her watercolor painting tips and demonstrates her entire process of painting from setting up the model, to adding the finishing touches. Learn more about her unique practice, and discover how to incorporate depth and luminosity in your own art with this free download!.


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Download your free eBook to get the entire watercolor tutorial and all 10 lessons!

What’s inside?

Watercolor painting presents many unique possibilities for the use of negative space, brilliance, and the illusion of volume. Artist Ali Cavanaugh believes her interest in the figure originates from the hearing loss she has suffered from a young age. She has a small amount of hearing in one ear, but depends on lip reading and body language to translate the world around her. This has made her attuned to others, to the unspoken language of the figure. She always returned to the figure in her paintings, finding that painting her daughter and niece became and entry point to her own childhood experiences. By overstating the negative space in her art, she quiets the composition, giving us all peek into her nearly silent world. As an artist, there is no doubt that Cavanaugh will continue to find a way to make the process and art uniquely her own.
Learn how to achieve this luminosity, realism, and depth in your own work.

Tips on watercolor painting for beginners

Watercolor Painting Instruction
Materials and Supplies

Cavanaugh approaches her painting much like an oil artist will, by building up multiples layers and slowly blending the paint for desired color and value. Her watercolor painting techniques allow her to achieve remarkable depth and luminosity, especially in the skin tones of her subjects. This labor-intensive and unconventional approach to art requires the use of a special surface, which she discovered in Ampersand’s Aquaboard. This plaster panel is cradled in birch plywood and covered with kaolin clay, which allows the paint to remain workable over a much longer period of time.

Here she shows how to create complex colors using layers for depth

Watercolor Painting Instruction
Setting Up the Photo Shoot

Next, Cavanaugh shares her tips for setting up the photo shoot to get the perfect shot. Her models are often her daughter and niece, dressed in very distinct vintage fabrics. Learn why this artist finds this part of the process the most creative, and why she spends a great deal of time perfecting the photo before moving on to her painting. After finishing this section of the lessons, you will have learned how to set up the photo shoot, select the photos, and get a basic idea of how this watercolor artist uses photo editing software to get the perfect shot.

Cavanaugh’s process begins with a photo shoot, where she will take as many as 300 shots, engaging the model in conversation so she finds the most natural, compelling poses. Then while viewing them in a photo editing program, she evaluates each shot in black and white, seeing what each composition has to offer without the distraction of pattern and color. Sometimes she selects one shot, sometimes a couple of photos that she will piece together, then adds and removes elements, before determining the final composition.

She then begins her painting on a clay-covered panel, which she selects specifically because it holds paint well and allows the surface to remain workable for a longer period of time. Her instruction includes tips for how she layers the paints and creates her signature luminous skin tones.

With this watercolor instruction you will learn how to build up and create luminous skin tones.

Watercolor Painting Instruction
Creating the Watercolor Painting

After selecting the photo, Cavanaugh creates a light graphite drawing, laying the foundation for her painting. She then wets the surface and begins her painting. What follows is a process that is slow and meticulous, but yields art that is full of depth and luminosity. With these lessons you will learn how to paint with watercolors in an entirely unique way. Learn how to approach painting through layers of paint, creating rich darks and luminous lights.

Create luminious tones and richness when painting

Painting Freely and Boldly

by Allison Malfronte

With his loose, spontaneous style of painting and his energetic, encouraging teaching style, Domenic DiStefano proves that capturing subject matter
in watercolor can be an enjoyable and freeing experience.

As a new watercolor artist, Ali Cavanaugh strived to create richly detailed and realistic figures using her favorite medium. What she uncovered is a unique approach to painting that is much more like oil painting than traditional watercolor. In this watercolor tutorial from Artist Daily, Cavanaugh shares her techniques and 10 tips to help improve your own practice. If you have been searching for resources on watercolor painting for beginners, or are looking for fresh inspiration, this eBook has something for you. With each of the ten lessons, you will discover an entirely new way to approach watercolor art.

Be inspired through the unique process of this watercolor artist.