2 minute read

The sum of many parts

To get a realistic representation of analogue watercolour takes many small ingredients that work together in unison. We also want to build a method of working that keeps out of our way as much as possible. I have separated my workflow into five main stages, the idea being that we will work through the stages linearly 1-5 resulting in a finished piece of artwork by the end.

It might be useful to think of the whole process in terms of the metaphor of a theatre production. Below is a brief overview of each of the five stages. The following sections will then go into each stage in more detail.

Opening credits

Every time we start a new piece we will first copy in a pre-existing file stored outside Procreate with several things already set up for us. This is not strictly necessary but makes our life much easier.

Act 1

Stage 1

Base file

Think of this as the performance stage set for our play—the backdrop. We will start each piece with a new copy of our Base file. A stack of layers specially set up above our main artwork will influence the colours below and add texture mimicking the structure of the paper. This alone will get us about 80% of the way to a convincing watercolour. I will break this section down into two parts. The first will be practical advice on how to use the file properly. The second will be much more about my decision making process to how I set up the file. The second section will be an entirely optional read.

Stage II


This is the main event. Think of this as the actors playing out their lines and movements. We will cover brushing technique and there will also be some helpful tips on how to set up Procreate’s brush sets and colour palettes to best benefit from this workflow.

Act 2

For the most part Act 2 is all grunt work. Luckily, we can get the iPad to do most of the repetitive work for us and a lot of the process is the same for every artwork we will do.

Stage III


The intermission. Here we take a quick break from the main show and visit Affinity Photo ‘Displacement’ sounds a lot more complex than it is. As watercolour dries it settles into the nooks and crannies of the paper and takes on the shape of the paper texture. This effect is best used with restraint. The end result should only be a subtle effect that adds just that extra bit of realism, it should never retract from the overall piece.

Using a distortion filter in Affinity Photo we will ever so slightly warp our artwork to the structure of the paper.

Stage IV


The penultimate scene. One of the most distinctive characteristics of watercolour is the darkened edges it exhibits after it has dried as the pigment has pooled together. I use two approaches to simulate this which work well independently of each other or in tandem.

Stage V

Post production (as necessary)

The Conclusion. In our final scene we return to Procreate where we will bring everything together and make any small adjustments as necessary.

End credits

Here will be links to a selection of resources that I have found useful or have influenced me in my approach.