In this painting demo, I’ll show you how to use watercolors and acrylics to create something sort of like this beet-crowned Spindly.


Using watercolors with acrylics had never actually crossed my mind until I saw a demo by Andrea, aka EraserQueen.  Since then, I’ve made the technique work for my own personal style, and the thing I love the most is that it is so completely forgiving.  Mistakes in shading can be erased with water or painted over with acrylics.  I use FolkArt brand because it’s got more grit in it and gives more of a tooth for the watercolor to grab onto.   Bizarrely, this technique doesn’t work well on anything but canvas.  I’ve tried it on many other supports with varying degrees of success, but I hope you’ll post your successes if you find something that works fabulously!



First, I start with a blank canvas panel and slop some color on it with acrylics.  I’m sort of in love with the whole turquoise/orange thing right now, and I use it a LOT.   Once that is done and dry, I use a white charcoal pencil to sketch the design.  I use charcoal pencils because the lines can be easily wiped away with a bit of water, and they don’t muddy up the colors like graphite does.


Next comes the first layers of color.  I start out light and apply acrylic paint with a waterbrush.  Waterbrushes have water in the handle and a sponge above the brush that feeds water into the bristles as you paint.  I like using waterbrushes for application of both acrylics and watercolors as they give me greater control over the amount of paint I’m laying down.  Once that’s done, take a break, walk the dog, bake a pie, work on another piece of art, do something that will keep you from staring at your canvas trying to will it to dry with your mind.

Now we finally start to apply some watercolors.  I use a lot of purples and greens in this process.  She looks like some freaky mutant.  Let’s move onto the next step quick!  (after the watercolor dries.  Stupid paint).

Using “vintage white” (sort of a bone color) and a waterbrush, smooth out those layers of watercolor until she’s shaded and doesn’t look quite so much like something that should be shambling around in a George Romero movie.  While you’re at it, give her some hair.  Part of her freakishness comes from the fact that she has no hair or skull.  For hair, I slop on full-strength acrylic with a cheapo brush and usually completely ignore my charcoal sketch lines.  That’s completely okay, rub them with a wet brush and they disappear completely!

Using watercolors again, give her hair some shading and work some more deeper shades back into her face.  Then, using white acrylic (wicker white this time, a much brighter white), work in highlights and give her hair some dimension.  This is usually when I add teeth and the “shines” to her eyes.

This is when I decided she needed a beet crown.  With burgundy acrylic, I dabbed on some random beet-shaped blobs and then used “thicket” (dark green) for the shadows.  I do a lot of shading with complementary colors as it give greater depth and dimension to your work.  That almost sounded like I knew what I was talking about, right?  Awesome.  I do the watercolor treatment on dark colors too, it’s just harder to see until you….

ADD WHITE!  Ta-daaa!!  At this point I worked some more darks into her hair, added a wash of white to the beets and then blobs of dark green watercolor for the deeper shadows.  As a final step, I used random spots and piles of white to bring the crown and hair together into one cohesive mass.

Finally, I mix a deep turquoise acrylic 1:1 with water and splatter the entire canvas with a toothbrush.  Messy!  Fun!  The final scanned version is at the top of this post.


I hope you’re intrigued by this technique and will try it on your own!  Feel free to comment with questions or links to your own finished artwork.


For more free art tutorials, click here!  To see fabulous watercolor and acrylic paintings available for purchase on wonderstrange, click here!



Sarah wants to know how everything works. She also has a short attention span and is addicted to coffee. Those two things are probably not mutually exclusive.


CIndy Jo · April 17, 2011 at 8:36 pm

Love the spindly poof!! I too have tried the acrylic and water color combo and found it works best with the less expensive paints. (bonus points for that!) I have had some success using it on heavy weight illustration board but canvas is ideal. Great tutorial Sarah!

Robin · April 21, 2011 at 5:29 am

Wonderful tutorial Sarah I can't wait to try it! Quick question, on the first layer of paint, the background paint, is it acrylic or watercolor?

"First, I start with a blank canvas panel and slop some color on it. I’m sort of in love with the whole turquoise/orange thing right now.

    sarah · April 21, 2011 at 9:43 am

    Thanks Robin!! The base coat is acrylics! I’ll change it in the text to avoid confusion 🙂

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