How would I define ‘digital watercolour’ for the purposes of this course?

Digital watercolour refers to an electronic representation of the fundamental characteristics of analogue watercolour.

Let’s break that down a bit more:

  • Electronic representation equates to a grid of pixels like any other digital raster image such as a photo on your computer.
  • Fundamental characteristics of analogue watercolour means the pixels in that grid are laid out in such a way that the viewer would not know whether they are looking at a digitally created image or a scan of an analogue watercolour from the real world.

Apps1 do exist that simulate realtime fluid dynamics2 and some of them get really good results — but that is not what this text will be about. Instead, we will investigate a set of techniques and processes that mimic various physical properties of watercolour.

There is an important distinction between simulate and mimic. Simulating uses a mathematical model in a computer programme to make our pixels behave like water particles as you paint them in realtime. However, for our purposes the end goal is to get a believable facsimile of the watercolour medium not a true representation. So there will be a certain amount of artistic licence and judgement on the artist’s part at the expense of accuracy.

To proceed with this method you will need an iPad and an Apple Pencil; along with the apps Procreate and Affinity Photo

I would like to emphasise that the fundamentals of this approach are not dependent on any hardware or software. You could technically take these ideas and apply them in any decent image editor. Beyond the fundamentals however, I will be going into quite a bit of detail on workflow and tools. For that reason I will assume you are on the same page as me regarding your toolset.

Rather than simply being able to follow a recipe or formula I hope that by the end of this material you will be able to successfully apply some of the thinking behind my approach and understand the parts that make it a whole so you can tweak it to suit your individual needs.

So without further ado, let’s get to work…

  1. Expresii and Rebelle to name a couple 

  2. ‘Realtime fluid dynamics’ is just a fancy way of saying the physics of water