Expand your watercolor techniques! In her book, Dreamscapes Magical Menagerie, fantasy artist Stephanie Pui-Mun Law takes readers step-by-step through watercolor techniques for how to paint fantasy creatures and animals. Get a sneak peek inside the book and learn how to make your own seahorse paintings with today’s blog post. Once you’ve mastered the technique in this seahorse painting you can apply it to other underwater creature art.
You’ll need a few different watercolor paints to follow this tutorial. If you don’t have the exact same colors feel free to substitute for something similar. You can follow the technique and switch up the colors.
Surface: 6″ x 5″ (15cm x 13cm) illustration board
Brushes: 1/2-inch (12mm) flat; nos. 0, 1, 2, 4 rounds
Watercolors: Alizarin Crimson, Cadmium Orange, Lemon Yellow, Naples Yellow, Prussian Blue, Ultramarine Blue, Ultramarine Violet, Viridian Green
Other: rubbing alcohol; salt
Creating a Background
1: Sketch the Sea Horse and Paint the Background
After you sketch the sea horse and coral, paint the background waters using a .-inch (12mm) flat and a mix of Prussian Blue + Viridian Green. Concentrate the color toward the corners so the areas nearest the sea horse are lighter. While the paint is still wet, flick some rubbing alcohol into splattered droplets with a no. 4 round. This adds texture and bubble-like lighter areas.
With diluted Ultramarine Blue, use a no. 4 round to bring the background in closer to the edges of the sea horse and all the nooks and crevices. Blend outward into surrounding areas with clear water. Paint a thin glaze along the bottom edge of the page, about a quarter of the way up, blending into the surrounding blues. While the paint is still wet, sprinkle with salt. Brush the salt away when the paint has dried.
2: Paint the Coral
Paint the coral with a no. 2 round and a mix of Ultramarine Violet + Alizarin Crimson. Leave a thin edge of white paper showing through for highlights. Use a no. 1 round and a mix of Viridian Green + Ultramarine Violet to add some latticework texture to the coral. With clean water, lift along the white edges with a stiff no. 1 round. It is easiest to brush parallel to the edge that you are lifting from. Lift out little bits from the textured areas in the main body of the coral as well.
Adding Color Details to the Seahorse Painting
3: Paint the Sea Horse
Paint wet-into-wet with a no. 1 round. Start with Lemon Yellow on the head, dabbing in Naples Yellow, Cadmium Orange and bits of Ultramarine Violet as you move down the length of the body. Let the colors spread into one another.
Mix Alizarin Crimson + Cadmium Orange. With a no. 0 round, paint along the ridges of the sea horse’s back, making sure to allow the previous layer of colors to show through for highlights. Working wet-on-wet, dot a little bit of Prussian Blue toward the left edge. As you move down the tail, use more Alizarin Crimson and less Cadmium Orange so the tones slowly darken.
Continue along the front side of the sea horse with the same sort of treatment. Use Naples Yellow on the belly for the base tone, and dot wet-on-wet Ultramarine Violet toward the right side. Leave the outer left edge white. Do the same for the back fin.
4: Add Final Details
Use a no. 0 round to glaze the head and area around the eye, with a mix of Alizarin Crimson darkened with a bit of Prussian Blue. For the spines down the back, paint with Alizarin Crimson using a no. 0 round. With some clean water, trail the tips of the spines outward so they blend into the surroundings. Darken the underside of the belly with a bit of Prussian Blue mixed into the Alizarin Crimson. Use this same mixture to finish the eye. Now your seahorse painting is complete!
Find More Resources
You can find more seahorse painting as well as other fantastic creatures inside Dreamscapes Magical Menagerie. Then check out the watercolor techniques in Stephanie’s other books in the series, Dreamscapes, Dreamscapes Myth & Magic and Dreamscapes Fantasy Worlds.