Step by step guide to painting a portrait / fashion illustration in Gouache and watercolour paint with Ella

So today this blog post is a little different to the kind of blogs I have posted about before (to do with my work) i am going to take an in depth look at my technique and style. I will do my best, as I personally taught myself all the techniques I know I am a trained artist but everyone works differently. I work in watercolour and Gouache I will talk through the pans and tubes that I work in a little later….

So if you are totally staring out as a
newbie and that has blown your mind, and you have a tone of questions,
here is a list of things you will need to create good watercolour work.

– A variety of brushes ( nylon bristle, natural) doesn’t matter 

– waterolours, I use Daler and Rowney pans because they are da bomb! 

– Gouache Paint (mine are designer Gouache tubes)

   ( i have been using them since i was 4)

– Good water colour paper ( I use Goldline 200gsm cold pressed)

– A sharp pencil

– putty rubber / standard rubber

– water!

– HOPE!, hope is always good when being an artist!

By the way, go out and buy cheap versions if you feel like it, if you are starting out it is always good to keep costs down, the pound shop do a good selection, the works, sussex book shops, Wilkinsons local stationers.

 This can be a total pain for a beginner, skin tone is one of my favorite parts of painting portraiture the harder the illustration the better. So when I am working with watercolours or Gouache i always use the lightest colours first, so definitely water these colours down. I am going to talk about shading, skin tone, pencil work and highlighting.

Step 1 is my base colour often consisting of a lot of water, a burnt umber colour and probably a deep red/rose with a lot of water and give this a generous was over the areas you are working on.

Step 2, add a little bit more colour mix it together on your palette never on your painting, I often add a little brown and green.

Step 3 once the second layer is dry you can just use the same colours you were using in 1 & 2 because it is dry watercolours are a build up paint, so its perfect for adding simple shadows.

step 4 I always add a little more blue, burnt umber and rose and sort of mix, it working quickly because watercolours dry fast leaving a sort of on paper stain.

I hate working wet on wet, I don’t like not having control over the work, so often I use from step 3-4 as little water as possible just to make the colours stand out!

 Highlighting is a simple technique once your skin tone is coloured in and settled, I use white Gouache paint, rather thick and without a lot of water across the areas, that I want to accentuate. Often the cheeks, nose, eyes and lips! I think it adds a little bit of fun to the illustration and makes it stand out. You can also get this technique using gum Arabic, but i hate the stuff, always ruins my work and smells fishy! haha

Shading, I don’t often leave pencil marks on my illustrations as once you have painted over in watercolour or gouache you can rub off, but for this illo I have left it in just so I can show you a simple shading technique. I only ever now since doing my degree use mechanical pencils ( All of my art Equipment is purchased from Cowling and Wilcox in East London) So I use Pentel Mechanical Pencils 0.5mm0.7mm / 0.9mm For this Illustration, I used a 0.7mm Pencil as I love the lines and the depth of the shading it creates. 

Now when it comes to the shirt there isn’t any real technique, but I will talk you through it as best I can. All you need for this sort of bold colour is, a good Gouache paint, and for the shading i have just mixed it up with a little Ivory black with Ultramarine so it has a sort of deep colour, it seems to have mixed with the rose ( which is my ultimate favorite) and then I just add a little pencil….

That’s kinda how i work…I hope that has helped if you have any other questions just let me know



  1. February 24, 2014 / 10:55 pm

    This is great information! Thanks for sharing! I love watercolor but have difficulty with shading. I need to try highlighting, too, I think!

  2. February 24, 2014 / 11:10 pm

    I've always been an oil painter, but lately I love watercolor. I find it's a bit more forgiving and easy to start and clean up. You gave some really great tips I'll have to try!

  3. February 25, 2014 / 4:49 am

    This is very helpful! Thank you, my kind girl!

  4. February 25, 2014 / 8:43 am

    Ohhhhhh I could eat this post, it's so scrumptious!! Love that you've shared this type of post!!!

    Gemma x
    Faded Windmills

  5. February 25, 2014 / 1:16 pm

    What a great post! I'm actually taking a Watercolor course in May and I can't wait to get started!

  6. February 25, 2014 / 3:49 pm

    Thanks for sharing your work! I have tried painting with watercolors and it was bit difficult, I can't wait to try one of your tips!

  7. February 25, 2014 / 8:44 pm

    I love your style of work! The portraits are all so gorgeous 🙂
    It's been years since I last used watercolours, and I don't think I've ever used gouache! Thanks for sharing this!

    Victoria x

  8. February 25, 2014 / 9:55 pm

    I'm awful with watercolour and although I have a few tubes of gouache I've never used them (my college told us to buy them and then conveniently never told us how to use them) so this is a really helpful post. Let's hope I don't make a giant mess when I put these tips to use.

    Raise The Waves

  9. February 26, 2014 / 12:04 am

    This is a grate post, thanks for shareing these tips!

  10. February 27, 2014 / 11:14 pm

    Another amazing post. Thank you so much for these tips, Ella!
    I'm not very good at drawing or painting, but I would love to be. I promise I will try again with these tips soon, although I think I will be terrible at drawing the eyes. Oh well. 🙂

  11. Anonymous
    March 5, 2014 / 12:31 pm

    What a great post, very informative and helpful! I was just wondering, in the section on pencil shading you mentioned you don't usually leave the pencil marking on the finished illustration. I having been having issues removing the pencil marks from my work after water colouring over without damaging the paint work ( using a normal rubber) . So I was wondering what you use for this? Thanks x

  12. Anonymous
    May 27, 2014 / 6:28 pm

    This is really inspiring. I'm finding it really difficult to get back into sketching and painting so would love it if you did more posts like this! I'm quite new to your blog but it's becoming a favourite- thank you!

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