In this lesson I’m going to show you how I painted this gingerbread man in watercolor.
This is a fun watercolor painting that I’ll show you how to paint yourself, but it will also show you an interesting example of how watercolor paints can be layered to achieve a desired end result.
Layering paints, of course, is a technique also known as “glazing”. But it’s not always obvious how to build up your layers when painting with watercolors.
So in this easy to follow painting you’ll get to see how each layer of paint, and the choice of colors for each new wash, influences the appearance of the finished painting.
How to Paint a Gingerbread Man in Watercolor
To get started, copy the outline of the gingerbread man onto a sheet of watercolor paper.
As usual, anyone should be able to easily follow along with this painting… But for those of you who want to go further, you’ll also find the full length video, the outline sketch, and all the reference material for completing this painting on my Patreon : you’ll find my full library of ad-free video tutorials, plus other exclusive bonuses that I only share with members of my Patreon channel. Follow the link to find out more...
I fixed the paper onto a flat board. Then I used masking fluid to cover the small details on the gingerbread man, like the icing and his buttons. Doing this will free up my brush strokes without having to worry about painting around any fiddly shapes.
First Layer (Underpainting)
Next, mix up a big puddle of an orange-brow color and start painting the whole of the shape. Notice that I’m also leaving some additional small white highlights here and there in the places where the form catches the light.
Also, as I progress from left to right I’m slightly darkening the paint mixture. Towards the end you’ll also see me charging in a darker brown color on the right hand side where the edges are in shade, but also next to the buttons and the icing. These details protrude from the surface of the gingerbread man – so by suggesting shadows I can start to give them a more three dimensional form.
Also notice that near the end of this first layer, the bottom half of the wash has already started to dry. This results in a watery mark called a “backrun” when I come back to finish painting the shape.
To avoid this I could have completed the whole shape more quickly while the paint was still moist. But for this subject I don’t mind because the watermarks add some texture to the surface of the gingerbread man.
Second Layer (Glazing)
I let this layer dry completely before moving on. Notice how the paint dries much lighter compared to when the paint was wet. It’s much paler, but also has a slightly red undertone. This first layer is sometimes referred to as the “underpainting” and it sets the foundation for the following colors.
So to intensify the final appearance and make the final color a more vivid orange-brown, I’m adding a layer of warm yellow.
This, of course, is a glazing technique. But I think you can also see how the combination of the two layers of color combine to produce a new color appearance, thanks to the transparency of the paint.
Notice also that this time I’m painting over the little white highlights that I left previously – This turns them into colored highlights instead of pure white.
I’m also using the same approach as before and charging in some darker brown paint to all the places where there would be shade or shadow. This color spreads into the underlying wash producing a nice diffuse effect.
Adding The Details
When this layer of paint was dry, I then removed the masking fluid so that I could begin to paint the details.
Starting with the icing, I used a very diluted mix of blue to add shadows on the forms of the eyes, mouth, and the fancy details on the arms and legs. To do this, imagine that the light is coming from the top left hand side, and add a few brush strokes to represent form shadows. This gives them a bit more depth and volume.
I treated the colored buttons in a similar way, leaving a bright white highlight on the upper left, and charging-in a bit more color on the shaded side of each button.
When the buttons were dry I added another glaze of paint to enhance the shadows and give a better sense of depth.
Adding the Shadow Details
After adding the details, I’m now going to add some cast shadows to reinforce the three-dimensional impression of the gingerbread man.
To do this I’m using a medium strength mixture of blue – in this case French Ultramarine.
This is another example of the way different layers of paint colors interact to produce a different final appearance.
Blue is the complement of red (in other words, these colors are on opposite sides of the color wheel). Complementary colors when mixed lose their intensity and chroma. It’s said that they “cancel each other out”, or become “neutral”.
Because the gingerbread man is essentially a slightly neutral orange-red color, blue is the perfect choice for creating shadows. The blue paint takes on a neutral gray appearance when glazed over the orange-red color underneath.
I carry on applying a few shadows following the same idea that the light is shining from above and to the left. This final touch makes the details pop out even more and enhances the three-dimensional effect.
I hope you have fun trying this watercolor gingerbread man for yourself, and enjoyed seeing how layers of watercolor can be gradually built up to the final appearance. If you give this a go, let me know what you think in the comments below.
Adding Soft Highlights (Lifting)
As a final touch I used a stiff brush to add a few soft highlights. To do this I damped then blotted the brush so that it wasn’t too wet, then brushed the surface where I wanted to lighten the color.
This is known as a “lifting” technique. It has the effect of re-activating the paint so you can remove some of the pigments from the paper surface.