Mastering Watercolor Shading: A Guide for Beginners

Learn the basics of watercolor shading for beginners in this informative blog post. Explore two essential techniques, wet-in-wet and wet-in-dry, and discover how to create stunning shading effects in your watercolor paintings. Whether you’re new to watercolor painting or looking to improve your shading skills, this step-by-step guide will help you master the art of shading simple objects before tackling more complex subjects.

Watercolor shading for beginners
Watercolor shading project

Step-by-Step Shading Guide

Before embarking on your shading journey, it’s crucial to establish clear goals. Whether you aim to improve your drawing skills or achieve a more confident painting style, take a moment to identify three specific outcomes you desire. By aligning your intentions and setting yourself up for success, you’ll be well-equipped to tackle shading with watercolors effectively.

Discover the essential materials used in this watercolor shading tutorial, designed to help you master the art of shading. While specific colors are suggested, feel free to use your preferred hues. The focus is on learning proper watercolor techniques rather than adhering to specific color choices.

Materials used in this watercolor shading tutorial:

  • Paints: Holbein hues (cadmium red medium, ultramarine blue, and neutral tint)
  • Brush: Princeton Neptune pointed round #8
  • Paper: Fabriano Artistico bright white, 140 lb cold press, 6″ x 9″

Feel free to use your preferred colors for the objects being shaded. The focus is on learning shading techniques rather than specific color choices. If you need help with selecting materials, you can refer to my top 10 watercolor supplies guide, which includes recommended paper and paint brushes for beginners. Let’s start exploring the art of shading with watercolors.

Learn how to shade with watercolors
Making gray scale

Step #1: Drawing the sphere and cube

  1. Begin by using a #2 pencil to lightly sketch the contour of the sphere and cube. Avoid pressing too hard to keep the lines subtle and less noticeable in the final study.
  2. Next, create test swatches of red and gray colors. This will help you determine the shade color you want for the red sphere and eliminate any guesswork when it comes to color mixing.
  3. Make sure to use a complementary hue or gray to achieve the desired shade for the red sphere.
  4. With the drawing in place and the colors determined, we can now proceed to step two.
Start with very weak, transparent mixture
Adding tea-like wash

Step #2: Adding the first wash of red

  1. Begin by pre-wetting the sphere with water, being careful not to use excessive amounts.
  2. Use a very light mix of red for the first wash, ensuring it is not too saturated.
  3. An important step is to use a damp brush to remove some water from the area where the highlight will be, creating a lighter effect.
  4. Mix a slightly darker red into the existing puddle of paint and add it to the first wash, creating subtle variations in tone.
  5. If the paint bleeds too much into the highlight area, simply use a damp brush to remove the excess.
  6. With step 2 complete, it’s time to move on to the next step.
Paint the cube
Painting wash on cube

Step #3: Painting the cube

  1. Begin by using a light mixture of gray to create the cast shadow on top of the cube.
  2. An important note is to perform this step while the cube is still wet, as it allows the red to bleed into the cast shadow.
  3. This bleeding effect is desirable as it captures the bounced light in the image.
  4. Next, use the same gray to paint the left and right sides of the white cube.
  5. With step 3 completed, it’s important to work quickly as we move on to step 4.
Add darker hues and shadows
Adding darker hues for shadows

Step #4: Layering darker values

  1. If the red sphere is still wet, proceed to add a darker hue to the shadow side. When applying the stroke, ensure it follows an arched shape to give the sphere a realistic volume.
  2. It’s crucial to avoid becoming fussy or adding too many strokes at this stage. Aim for a fresh and vibrant look.
  3. With this step completed, we are now ready to move on to the final stage.
Add finishing touches
Painting cast shadows

Step #5: Painting darker shadows

  1. Before proceeding to step #5, ensure that everything has dried completely.
  2. Begin by adding a contact shadow under the sphere where it connects with the cube. Use the same gray hue to add a darker shade on the right-hand side.
  3. Next, add the cast shadow to complete the overall shading. Use a slightly darker hue for the contact shadow where the cube meets the surface.

Congratulations! You have successfully completed the tutorial.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, by dedicating some time to practice, you can become proficient in shading with watercolors and transform your artwork into realistic and three-dimensional pieces. It’s beneficial to begin with simple subjects to build your confidence and skills before moving on to more complex objects. For instance, consider painting the side of an apple or the delicate petals of a flower if you’re finding it challenging to get started.

Remember to start with lighter shades of color and gradually introduce darker hues to create depth and dimension in your paintings. I would love to hear about your progress, so please share your experiences with me!