The things I learnt about watercolour


 Dear friends,

I hope you are well, happy and warm.
It has been a while since I wrote here ! So, here is to my first 2019 post - and I hope I will be able to keep the rythm and post (kind of) regularly around here. It always makes me happy to read and answer your comments, and it is so much easier to have a small talk here than on Instagram (or maybe it is just me who has big fingers and kind of struggle sometimes to type long messages on the phone ?)
Anyway, let's get to the point ! (I can be so talkative sometimes)
I don't know if you follow me on Instagram, but you might have seen there already that one of my wish for this new year is to share more about my process and all the "behind the scenes" of the illustrations I post there.

While I was in Spain last month, a little sentence came to my mind as we were walking in the street. " One day, I traveled to a little planet, and you were there, waiting for me". I knew I had to illustrate this and make something with it, because I liked this sentence very much. And then I thought that maybe it would be nice to record the process behind it and share it with you.

It is something I have been wanting to do for such a long time, but I never really dared to because I have still so much to learn about watercolour. It is such a vaste and interesting medium, it feels like there is always a technique, a way of painting, a tool I don't know and I have to discover. It is a bit scary to write this article, because I never really had a class to teach me how to paint, or how to properly use that tool, or how to build a coherent colour palette... most of the little things I know, I learnt them with practice, and by watching other people paint as well. So it is a bit difficult for me to put them in words and try to explain them as clearly as possible. But I get so many questions that I thought it was time I finally gather my courage and try, so here we are ! I hope the little knowledge I have about watercolour might help you in some way - and please excuse me if I write any mistake ! ♥

1. My watercolour journey
2. My watercolour supplies
  - The paint
  - The brushes
  - The paper
  - The palette
3. My process
  - Sketching
  - Transferring to the watercolour paper
  - Painting
  - Scanning

 1. When and how did I start painting with watercolours

I received this question many times before, and I thought it would be a good introduction for this watercolour adventure of ours 😇 It probably goes along with the question "when did you start drawing ?", that I also get asked regularly. 
The answer is a little boring I have to admit, but I have been drawing since I was a child and learnt how to use a pencil. I believe every child who has the opportunity to, draws and creates things. It can be hard to keep doing it while we grow up, and when most of us stop because we don't have enough time on our hands, I just kept drawing and creating ! So there is not really a precise date for it, it is a long, slow and steady process 😊 

However, there is a date, more or less precise, for when I started using watercolours. My first box was probably a birthday gift from my mother. It was a small Van Gogh box (I think it included 12 pans). I started using it around the time when I started high school, so I was something like 14 or 15 ! At first, I had no idea you could actually mix the colours between them to create new shades (I know, this is a bit dumb of me), so I was only using the colours right out of the pans - and my paintings looked quite horrible ! The colours were very saturated, and as I did not mix them, they did not really go well all together. But still, I was very happy to discover a new medium, and I was looking at watercolour art on the Internet, being really impressed and wondering if I could ever get to this level ! 

But I think I did not use watercolour properly (that is, after learning I could mix the colours, use more or less water, ...) before I decided I should try to give illustration a go career-wise. So it was at the end of 2015/ beginning of 2016, when I was already 21 years old ! When I decided to practice hard because I really wanted to make it my job, I was very scared of using colours. Because building a nice colour palette when you have no idea how it works can be quite difficult at first. So my trick was to draw an illustration with pencil in grey scale, and then add splashes of watercolour here and there to make it look happier.
Here are a few examples of what I mean :

So, this was back in 2016, and a bit of 2017 too. I was living in Edinburgh at that time. When I came back to live in France, in May 2017, I started to feel a kind of big art block. I was not entirely happy with my work, and really wanted to find some ways to improve. It came to a point where I almost could not draw something I liked at all anymore ! So, during summer 2017, I made myself a watercolour sketchbook, and started to experiment in it. This is when I finally dropped the pencil background and jumped into the colourful world of watercolour illustration ! One of my favourite illustrations (still now) actually comes from this sketchbook, when I was experimenting freely, without thinking I had to make good art.

Maybe you recognise her from my Instagram account ? This little whale friend was one of my first full watercolour illustrations, and it is very special to me ! Some people ask me sometimes when did I start to develop my current "style", and I think that, even if it a really, really long and slow process, and it is actually never ending, the kind of "style" I have now was born in this sketchbook. This is where I started trying colour combos and colour palettes, discovering my favourite shades and realising how much I loved to draw animal characters. 

I strongly believe there is not such thing as "looking for your own style", because what we call the "style" of an illustrator is actually only their personnality ! Everything is already there, and it will just come out little by little with practice. The more you practice, the more chances you will get to find the mediums that suit you best, your favourite tools, your favourites subjects to draw, your favourite colours, the things that make you happy to paint. And I think that the key to making good work is to enjoy yourself ! So don't hesitate to take some time to "waste" every once in a while, and draw/paint (or anything else if this is not about illustration !) to just have fun, experiment and try new things. This time is not wasted at all actually, it will help you grow and learn about yourself and your art. Do not focus on one specific medium, but try many of them ! This way, you can find the ones you are most comfortable with, and one medium can help you learn something you can apply to another !
For example, I started doodling with markers a few months ago, and it helped me to include new colours in my watercolour work, colours I would maybe never have tried only with my brushes - but the markers helped me find out that I liked them a lot ! So just keep trying and having fun, because this is the most important after all ♥

2. All of my favourite watercolour supplies
Most of the questions I get are about the references of my watercolour supplies : which brands do I use for the paint, for the brush, what kind of paper do I prefer, where did I get my palette... so everything about this is listed down below ! :-)

- The paint 
 * Set
So, as I told you just before, my first watercolour set was a Van Gogh box made of 12 different pans. Later on, when I started using watercolour more regularly, I stole the watercolour set of my mother (I know, this is bad ! But I had her authorization and I actually exchanged my small set for her bigger one, because she almost never used it). This is how this lovely 24 pans set you can see in the picture below came into my life 😇

( I know, it is very dirty right now ! I am very messy sometimes with my paints...)

I used only this set for a long time before I started buying separate colours.I love this set very much, it is very dear to me, especially because it has been with me since the beginning (almost) of my watercolour adventures ! But maybe I would recommend now to my younger self to only buy a few shades I really like to start with rather than a whole big set. Because there are many colours in there I almost never use ! However, I must admit it is nice to have a set with many different colours, because it can also push you to try colours you thought you did not like, and end up enjoying them very much ! It helps getting out of your comfort zone, which might not happen if you buy only separate pans you like already. So I guess there are positive and negative aspects to each option ! 

This is why I could recommend to just buy what you think will suit you best ; if you want a various choice of colours and like to mix your own shades, then you should probably go for a set. If you only want a limited colour palette and already have a precise idea of what you want to make, then maybe some separate pans could be cheaper and better !

And, this is when we come to separate shades ! In the last three years, I bought a lot of them, in many different places. I use most of them, there are just a few I did not enjoy (it can be hard sometimes to pick colours without testing them, because the colour on the packaging does not always match the real shade very well !).

For a long time, I have been using only pans of watercolour. Pans are the squares you can see on the pictures below. They can be sold as full pans or half-pans. As you can guess, full pans are bigger, they last longer, but are also more expensive 😏

About the brands, I am not very faithful to be honest ; I prefer choosing colours I like rather than a specific brand to follow. There are several very famous brands for watercolour, and you cannot go wrong with any of them ! Of course maybe you can have a favourite one depending on your taste (I don't have a favourite one myself), but their qualities are all great.
Here are a few famous brands for watercolour :
Sennelier, Lukas, Schmincke, Winsor&Newton, Holbein, Daniel Smith, Van Gogh, M. Graham. 
(The ones in ocre are the ones I have tried and enjoyed !).
These are only a few of them, there are many more out there, but these were the ones that came to my mind because they are especially famous 😊

I mostly bought Winsor&Newton pans at first. I also have a few Sennelier, and Schmincke as well. I couldn't really tell which shade comes from which brand, because I lost the packaging and the brand is not always written on the pan itself !  (I am actually a bit annoyed with myself for not being more careful, because it will be difficult when I need to buy one of the colours again after I finish it when I don't have the reference ! So please be more careful and smart than me and keep the references with you). 

However, something I can tell you, is that ones of my favourite pans are the biggest you can see on the picture, at the bottom. They come from a very small art shop in Edinburgh. I bought a pink pan randomly when I was living there, because I liked the shade very much. And it turned out to become my one favourite pan ever ! This is from a brand called Pip Seymour. The quality is amazing, and I love the texture and the coverage of the paint.

This paint was quite pricey (especially because they only sell full pans and not half pans), so I did not buy more before leaving Edinburgh. But once I got back to France and had saved some money for watercolour, I realised it was very difficult to buy this brand of watercolour online, and that it was only sold in a few shops around the world. So I had to wait to go back to Edinburgh a year later to buy more ! My favourite shade is still the pink one, I use it in all of my illustrations, but so are the ocre yellow and the dark sepia. They all come from Pip Seymour. I am so sorry that I don't have the exact name with me, but I think they don't have that many shades, so you should be able to find them pretty easily 😊

I only started buying watercolour in tubes last summer, in 2018. There is not much of a difference between a pan and a tube, only it might be a bit easier to get a very thick, saturated colour with the tube than it is with the pan. 

I am not sure about this, but I feel like many brands have more shades in tubes than in pans (please let me know if I am wrong !). For a long time, I was afraid to buy tubes, because I was afraid to "waste" the paint. But this was silly of me, because watercolour cannot really be wasted ! It is a water-based paint, which means you can reactivate it really (really, really) easily with water even once it's dried. So as long as you keep your paint palette safe from dust and dirt, you can reuse the paint there for a very very long time !

On the previous picture are all of my watercolour tubes. I have some by Daniel Smith, Winsor&Newton, Sennelier, and Schmincke. Once again, I do not have a favourite brand there, but I can recommend Daniel Smith if you are looking for specific shades, because this is the brand with the most available shades in the world ! (Or at least this what I read on their webpage, and indeed, there are hundreds of colours there).

- The brushes

I know very few about brushes ! But I can say that my favourite brushes to use are the smallest ones. I love giving texture to my work, and adding patterns, and this all requires thin, tiny brushes. I almost never use the big ones !
I only use that big squared blue one you can see on the picture below when I have to soak the paper before painting (I will talk about this in the "Process" part !).

Just like for the paint, I do not have a favourite brand. However, I bought two small brushes last summber from Escoda, and I have to say the quality is wonderful ! My opinion is not that important because I am far from being an expert, but I do enjoy them very much. 

Here is a picture of all the brushes I own :

And here is a picture of my favourite ones :

They are :
- Escoda Perla 5/0
- Escoda Perla 2/0
- Pro Arte4/0
- Raphaël 3/0

I used to buy some natural hair brushes before I knew anything about it, but now I only buy synthetic hair brushes. I don't feel a difference, and I would rather use synthetic hair than animal hair to make my illustrations !

One last thing I have been asked about my brushes, is how do I get them pointy and pretty ? The honest answer is : I don't ! All of my brushes are quite messed up and do not look like anything pretty anymore. But here is a trick I read about some months ago (and did not take the time to try out yet, but I still wanted to share it with you !).
If you clean your brushes with some brush soap, you can make the tip in a pointy shape and let the soap dry on the hair overnight. When you will rinse the soap the day after, the brush should look all pointy again, almost like it is new ! 
I bought a brush soap months and months ago, and would like to try this soon. I can share the result with you to let you know if it does work or not ! (By the way, if you know this trick and have tried it before, please feel free to tell me if it works or not in the comments ♥).

Oh, and in case you are wondering, this is the brush soap I bought :

- The paper

In terms of paper, I have to say I am much more selective than for the paint or brush brands ! But first of all, let me explain something I did not know before I started using watercolour on a regular basis : 

There are two different kind of watercolour paper. 
- Hot press watercolour paper, which is very smooth and silky.
- Cold press watercolour paper, which has much more texture.

Most of the time, the brands have three different grains for paper : 
- rough grain (cold press) 
- thin grain (cold press)
- and satin grain (hot press) 

And then, most brands also offer these two options :
- Natural white paper, which is slightly more beige or yellowish
- Bright white paper, which is just plain white


The choice is all yours, it really depends on your style and the texture you like to have ! I personally only paint on hot press paper, because I like having as few texture as possible ; it is easier when it comes to tiny details and to scanning your artwork ! I also used to paint only on natural white paper because I love the soft touch it gives to the colours, but I realised it is easier for me to scann and clean my illustrations digitally when I use bright white paper, because it does not interfere with the colours of the paint.

I sticked with one brand for two years now, and it is Fabriano. I bought their watercolour paper Fabriano Artistico when I started to paint with watercolour regularly because it looked like it was a nice quality and it was not too expensive. 
However, there is a paper I enjoy even more - Arches paper. I have tried it before and I would say it is my favourite watercolour paper ever. It is one of the smoothest I have seen ! I believe it is a little bit more pricey than Fabriano Artistico though, this is the reason why I mostly paint with Fabriano.
I buy big rolls of paper and cut them out with an exacto knife. This way, you can cut the exact size you need depending on the project, and it is also way cheaper than buying separate sheets !

Here are a few brands of famous watercolour paper :
Fabriano, Arches, Canson, Hahnemühle, Winsor&Newton
(In ocre are the ones I have tried before and enjoyed !)

- My palette

I also get a lot (really a lot) of questions about this porcelain palette I use to mix my colours. So I thought I would include it here ! I bought it last summer on the website of Jackson's Art, and I recommend it warmly ♥ I wanted a palette with a lid, so that I can keep my paints safe from dust. This one is very pretty and convenient at the same time, and I really prefer porcelain over plastic ! The colours won't stain and the palette is much easier to clean after you finish your painting. Plus, plastic-free options are really enjoyable, aren't they ? 😊

3. My process

- Sketching

I almost always sketch before taking my brushes. I love starting to paint without planning anything (some of my favourite works came out of nothing, just randomly painting and playing with colours), but when I have a precise idea in mind, this is a step I cannot really let aside. Most of the time, I sketch on scrap pieces of paper (the sheets that were not printed properly, for example), or in my sketchbook. I make a few research sketches from reference photos, and then start sketching from imagination. 
Sketching from reference pictures is wonderful and very helpful, but it is also important to take a step back and not only copy the reference. This is why I think a nice way to do it is to sketch from reference several times, and after that, put those sketches away and just draw from memory what we just practiced. This way, we will focus less on making the element look like the real picture we saw, and will start draw it in our own special way 😇

For this illustration, I especially made researches about the characters - I knew the atmosphere I wanted to convey, I had a vague image in my mind for the characters, but I was not sure how to draw them. At first, I really wanted the two characters to be animals, but then I felt like it might more poetical and closer to what I had in mind if one of them was human. It took me a little while to figure it out but I eventually managed it !

I also made a really rough, quick sketch to figure out the proportions and simple composition of the image. I wanted some flowers on the foreground, small and not necessarily directly linked to the planet, like they were floating around ♥

- Getting to the watercolour paper

Many times, I skip this step and prefer to paint directly because it gives more spontaneity to the picture. I keep my sketch close to me and look at it for proportions and not to forget any detail, but I don't trace it directly on the watercolour paper.
However, for some pieces like this one, or for commissions, I want to make sure not to mess up the composition and proportions I chose, so I trace a very simple and light sketch beforehand as a guideline. For this one, I only drew the outlines for the bull, the little boy and the planet, to make sure to keep the size of each element faithful to my sketch ! 

For this, I just put the watercolour paper on my computer screen, with the sketch file opened, and draw from this transparence (it works perfeclty when you don't have lightbox and are lazy to use the window !). I especially do this when I have to modify the sketch digitally (either change the composition a bit or the size, because I don't want to erase the sketch and do it again ! So I just scan it and edit it in Photoshop).
Sometimes, when I have the sketch with the right composition and size, I just use my lightbox (it is a very basic one, you can fin them very easily on Google 😊)

- Painting

After this, here comes the fun part ! 
I always start with the foreground elements. Here, I wanted some of the flowers to be in front of the characters to give a little more depth to the illustration. I had not sketched them, but knowing this, I directly started painting them before anything else ! Once I made sure I had placed all the flowers I wanted in front of the characters, I started painting the bull, and later on, the little boy. 

Most of the time, I paint big blocks of colour and add details afterwards (like the eye of the bull, the pattern on his jacket, etc.). I tend not to layer watercolour a lot - I know this is one of the main great aspect of watercolour to be able to layer it, but many times I use it more like it was gouache - I love thick and vibrant blocks of colours ! This is why I do not use lots of water 😊

I finished with the planet, because it is the element that is most on the background, so I started painting it after I finished the flowers, and the two characters. 

You can see this step more in details in this video right below if you are interested :

- Scanning

After everything is nice and finished, I finally scan the piece ! I use my good old Canon Lide 220 to do this. It is quite an affordable scanner, and it does a great job ! I bought it when I started considering illustration professionally, and still love it very much, in case you are looking for a scanner that is not too expensive to start with !

This article is already very, very long, so I am thinking of making a separate one for everything that is on the digital side ! (Like cleaning the image, colour correcting, etc.). Let me know if this is something you would like to read as well 😃 

And... (drum sound to set up some nice suspens)... Here is the finished piece !! Finally 😵 
I added my little sentence at the bottom of the picture after cleaning it and adding a slightly coloured background.

So, this was very very long - I think I never wrote that much online ever before !
I hope I did not kill you with too many words or boredom... and I hope this little knowledge I have can help you in some way 😊 I still have a lot to learn about this wonderful medium that is watercolour, but I wish I knew some of these things when I started with it, so hopefully it can help you save some time from preventing some mistakes i made ! (especially with the kind of papers, it took me a long time to understand there are several textures and what would work better for me).

Feel free to tell me what you think in the comment section, your feedback would be really helpful ! If you think this was too long, was it clear enough, was it helpful, was it boring, whatever your opinion is ! ♥

And, until the next time,
I send you all my love,
And a cup of warm tea ♥
Take care of yourselves,


  1. Thank you for sharing this very insightful post.
    I deeply adore your artwork and the patience you have
    working on it.
    It's an honour to have your book on my coffee table
    here in French Provence.
    Keep up the good work:
    you are an inspiration!

    1. You are so sweet and kind, thank you !! ♥
      I'm so happy to know my bear book is such in lovely company (moreover in Provence, such a beautiful place).
      I send you lots of love from this moody day (hopefully you have more sun in the south) !

  2. So informative and lovely to read! I am so glad that you shared your thoughts on this because it feels very one on one :) I hope you have a lovely weekend and are inspired by many beautiful things around you!

    1. Tara I'm so happy you found it helpful ! Thank you ♥
      I hope you have a beautiful day and I send you lots of love and warm tea !

  3. Dear Cecile, I loved reading this post. Thank you so much for taking the time to kindly share what you have learned. You did a wonderful job explaining everything and no, you are not too wordy . :) I’ve been a professional graphic designer for 15 years but painting is much newer to me. I find it so interesting and fun to read or watch videos about other artist’s processes and materials. You are very talented and I always enjoy seeing your work! Take care, Laura

    1. Thank you so much Laura for your kind words ♥
      I'm really happy and touched to know you liked this and found it useful !
      It's so hard for me to explain technical things, because I never took any class about it so I don't always have the technical vocabulary or even just a technique. I do most things from experience and what I feel would be right (which does not always work, but you learn from your mistakes as well haha), so it's hard to tell ! So this means a lot, thank you ♥

      Have a wonderful day,
      Sending you lots of love ♥

  4. I loved this article, I would be so interested to see the digital process and also wanted to ask if you erase the sketch after you have painted or is it so light that you cannnot see the sketch lines?

    Thank you!

    1. Thank you, I am really happy you liked it ! :-)
      It depends, sometimes I erase the line little by little as I paint the shape, sometimes I leave it and erase it, and sometimes it is so light that I don't even need to erase it. But mostly, I do it really really light (almost hard to see), so that it does not show through :-)

      Have a beautiful day !

  5. Dear Cécile,
    Thank you so much for this interesting article and video, I really enjoyed it.
    Please make a second part of it, I'd love to read it!
    Have a beautiful day!

    1. Dear Julianna,

      Thank you so much for your comment ! I am really happy if this could be helpful in any way.
      I already planned to make a "digital" process article as soon as I get some free time, so hopefully in the next weeks !
      Sending much love,

  6. Hi Cecile! I finally got around to reading your post, and it was nice seeing the sketches and learning more about your process. I loved watching the video too, your videos are always so relaxing and inspiring. Personally, I would love to read a post on how you edit your work digitally because watercolor can be so tricky to edit in Photoshop, I feel. Plus, everyone does it differently, so it's nice to see the different ways people work! Anyways, I hope you are doing well! P.S. I am still loving this piece that you did, it's just so beautiful.

    1. Oh thank you Krista ! I'm so happy to read from you here ♥
      And very happy too if this article could help. I had lots of requests to make a following article about the "digital" part of it, so I will try my best to do it as soon as I find some free time from commissions ! :-)

      Many thanks again,
      I hope you have a very happy day and I send you lots of love (and watercolour stains) ♥