Watercolor Brush Pens Swan Tutorial
If you have never used watercolor brush pens, they are so FUN! They are the ultimate in portability and ideal for this Swan Tutorial in watercolor brush pens. All you need is a set of any brand, some paper and one of the empty blender brush pens full of water and you’re ready for travel! I love the new AspireColor Watercolor Brush Pen set! It comes with a pad of 6 x 6 watercolor paper and a blank empty brush pen for holding clear water. Here’s the link to my set:
The paint in the pens is actually water-based ink or dye. It behaves just like watercolor, but the final artwork will most likely not be terribly lightfast. That means it is possible it will fade or change color eventually if left exposed to sunlight.
So, watercolor brush pens are not appropriate for selling finished artwork as is. BUT they are ideal for papercrafts, coloring and creating artwork to reproduce digitally (for greeting cards, decor, importing into Photoshop for commercial projects like creating fabric, totes, wall posters, phone covers, book covers etc.).
I am using Aspire Watercolor Brush Pens and the packet of watercolor paper included in the set. If you want to use another brand, no worries! Just cut a piece of watercolor paper 6 x 6 inches and follow along! Also get a dinner plate, a plastic plate or a plastic palette to mix and dilute colors. I used a coated paper plate! I also used a soft watercolor brush instead of the empty mixing brush that comes with each set. I far prefer the control I get from a traditional watercolor brush (not a pen).
Drawing the Swan
The easiest way to draw any complex shape is to start with the form reduced to very basic shapes. Take a look at the finished swan and blur your eyes. See if you can envision a curved tube for the neck, a flattened triangle for the main body, another triangle attached to the rear, but slanted to the left for the back tail feathers, and a smaller triangle attached to the top left for the rear wing peeking through. Take the time to practice the following steps on several sheets of scrap paper. The more times you do this, the easier it will become. Go ahead and use a regular number two pencil for this practice and allow yourself to erase as needed.
See the drawing illustration below!
Draw a squashed triangle with a rounded top.
Add the tilted triangle off the backside and let it overlap some into the body. You can erase the overlap once you’re happy with the shape placement and size.
Now add the smaller triangle off the top left. This will be the rear wing peeking into view.
Extend the line of the lower-left triangle into the bottom of the swan body and curve the right end of it down toward the water. Erase the sketch lines that overlap.
Lightly extend the line of the bird’s back body up and toward the right. This is going to give you a line of sight so you can place the top of his head correctly. This step is where I had to erase multiple times to get it just right. Don’t be discouraged if you need to do the same!
As I draw the neck shape, I am looking at that odd little negative spaced triangle of AIR between the back of its neck and the top of its wing. See it in my example? THAT is the shape I’m trying to replicate. If you get that curve correct, the right side is just a copy!
In order to fool our dominant brain, turn your drawing and my drawn sample upside down. Now your brain can’t label any part of what it sees and will give you a clearer way to just if your drawing is ‘off’ a bit. Compare the two. What lines are angled differently? What shapes are bigger or smaller? Compare and adjust. No worries on making corrections! Professional artists do this every time they draw. Compare, compare compare. AND DO NOT JUDGE YOURSELF! You’re doing great.
Add the oval head and the curved beak. Give a hint of the body feathers with a jagged line, just to remind you later where a good shading spot will be.
Practice drawing this same swan three or four more times on scratch paper.
Draw the sketch directly onto the watercolor paper
Cut your paper to your desired size. I used 6 x 6 inches on a cold press paper. I don’t recommend going much bigger though, because watercolor brush pens are best used on small areas. They don’t have the capability to do large swaths of color or get super saturated for broad washes. There are a lot of colors in the water and you won’t want to spend hours filling in a larger sized piece with your brush!
Using an H or HB pencil, draw the swan onto the watercolor paper using as light a touch as possible. You don’t even need solid lines, just a clear idea of the outline of the swan! Pencil will show through most colors of watercolor, so go super gentle and avoid having to erase later.
Before you start coloring
Test Your Pens First!
If you haven’t done so with your watercolor pens, make a sheet for testing. Start with the pure color on the left and with a wet paintbrush, drag the pigment to the right to fade it out. Now you will have a clear idea of what each pen color is capable of and you won’t have to guess which pen works best in a given situation.
Now go ahead a try mixing a few colors together to see which pens will give you great colors that you will need. I knew I needed a good variety of greens in the grassy bank behind the swan, and I also needed a very, very pale pink, orange and blue-grey to shade the swan.
Painting the Swan
The first step is to tape the paper down to a sturdy surface. I used a sheet of foam core board that I had hanging around the house and white artists’ painter’s tape like this one. I like white artist tape because it is a neutral color and won’t interfere with my judging colors as I paint. You could also use washi tape or hardware painters tape, but it needs to be low tack.
We’re not going to use the wet-in-wet method of watercolor very much, so the paper will never get saturated enough to buckle. No paper stretching required! Wahoo!
We paint from the lightest lights to the darkest darks in watercolor. You can always add more, but it can be impossible to take away darks, so we place darks last, where we are sure we need them.
Using your palest blue and light grey, smear a bit of each color onto your palette and add a bit of clear water with a wet watercolor brush to dilute the two into a pale blue-grey. Using the brush (not the pen) paint the reflection of the swan’s body and neck in the water area.
Using the same mix and brush, paint some of the whitest part of the reflected sky.
Using a pale cerulean blue (sky blue hue) pen, draw a line directly under the body of the swan and immediately wet it and draw it down into the water a ways with your wet paintbrush.
Using the sky blue pen, draw and paint in the bright blue area of the water. Using a wet brush, pull most of the hard edges into the paper to soften the edges.
Using a neutral golden brown pen, draw in some water swirls and using a wet paintbrush, pull the hard edges into the white areas of the paper.
Swirl a bit of this brown onto your palette, add a bit of water to thin it down then using the wet paintbrush paint in he palest parts of the brown water areas.
Using your watercolor BRUSH, wet the paper where the grassy bank will be located. You want the paper somewhat saturated. Wait a minute so that the paper will absorb the water a bit. Using your brown pen, a pale yellow green pen, and a medium green pen, start filling in the grassy area. At first, it will look like nonsense. Don’t give up! This is what artists call ‘the ugly stage’. You have to fight yourself to continue because your inner critic is yelling at you that it looks awful. Hush up, brain!
Fill in the areas like I did below, and add a few water ripples to the left of the bank, and a few zigs of reflected greens into the water on the lower left. Blend and smoosh the colors using your wet or damp watercolor brush. You don’t want tight details in the bank! We are not after photorealism, we want to suggest the embankment, not draw the viewer’s eye to it.
Using the brown pen, draw in the water ripples behind the swan and to the right. Don’t thin or blend these out.
Confession. I got engrossed in the creation at this point and neglected to take photos of all the little additions I made. So, my appologies! BUT, here are all the details.
Using a medium blue, draw and drag-wet the color into the ripples to the left, behind and a small bit in front of the swan. I did more to the left than any other spot. Use your own preferences of how hard-edged or soft-edged you want these blue areas to be. I think a mix of both is just right. Make sure you leave the sky-blue areas alone and the grey sky areas alone as well.
Using a dark blue-black (if you don’t have a pen like this, then mix black with your darkest blue on the palette and transfer it to the paper with a watercolor brush), paint the darkest ripples.
Make a smear of this color on the palette and water it down enough to fill in the blank areas of the water, using the sample below as a guide. Remember not to cover up the sky and lovely reflections of the swan body that you already have!
So, sit back and take a look at your water. Some of it will look too hard-edged. Using your wet brush, drag the colors into the paper to soften things up. Make sure to leave enough hard edges that it actually looks like ripples and reflections.
The swan is actually super easy. Using your palette and your palest grey, water down the grey until it is a little bit darker than the white of the paper. Remember, you can always add a darker layer, but going lighter is problematic! Using the paintbrush, paint in the lower body of the swan using jagged strokes to simulate feathers. Use this same mix to paint the far behind wing to set it behind the body.
Also lightly paint the right side of the neck.
Using this same mix, paint a line on the tail feathers starting at the tip and moving down to the right, creating another triangle shape.
Create a very pale sky mix on your palette in the same fashion and paint a few blotches on his lower body ( not the wing, the body). Use this same super pale mix to paint the lower part of his head.
Using your pale lavender and pink pens, create a super pale mix on your palette, so that it is barely seeable on white. Paint this color on the right side of his neck. Use this same mix and paint the right side of the water, going down the right side of the water as far as you wish.
Using a golden orange-brown, draw in the beak using the very few tips of the hairs on your brush pen, making it a bit darker on the bottom edge.
Using straight black, carefully draw the curved triangle of the snout and a tiny dot for the eye.
Darken the line under the swan with a few dots and dashes of thin black.
If you like, now that the embankment is probably dry, you could add some flips of grass stalks with your green pens. I liked the impressionistic look, so I left well enough alone.
I hope you enjoyed painting along and love using your watercolor brush pens! Now go scan in your artwork for use to make some greeting cards or create something spectacular with your creation!
Let me know if you’d like more tutorials and please read my other great articles!
For more of my articles with brush pens please click the links below: