Impressionistic portraits with watercolors

by Karen Bonaker

Taking texture to a new level

This tutorial will teach you how to make the most of patterns, paper textures, and overlays. Texture gives you the opportunity to explore new possibilities. Creating textures with traditional media and bringing them into Corel® Painter™ opens up new and exciting ways to paint.

I'll show you the steps I used to create stunning textures that will help you to enhance your digital paintings and emulate the traditional watercolor look and feel.

For my inspiration, I have chosen an image called Young Women, which was painted by one of my favorite Impressionists – Berthe Morisot. Berthe lived in Paris in the later 19th century and was subject to a strict code of social rules. Women of this time were encouraged to develop interests in music, decorative arts, or painting. Such interests were seen as ways to refine one's self rather than as a career path.

Corel Painter 12.2

Real Watercolor brush category
Using the Overlay composite method to enhance watercolor emulation

Skill level

Step 1: Cloning the source image

To emulate the real-world watercolor experience, let's begin by opening the source image. Then, create a clone by clicking File menu > Quick Clone. This creates a clone of the original image with all the existing attributes, including size and resolution. I have chosen an image called Young Women painted by one of my favorite French Impressionist artists, Berthe Morisot.

Step 2: Creating the sketch layer

Next, let's add a new layer directly above your canvas by pressing Cmd + Shift + N (Mac) or Ctrl + Shift + N (Win). This will be the sketch layer. To stay organized, right-click the layer, select Layer Attributes, and change the name of the layer to Sketch Layer.

Step 3: Sketching

Start by enabling the tracing paper. You can toggle the tracing paper on and off by pressing Cmd + T (Mac) or Ctrl + T (Win). If your Clone Source panel is not visible, be sure to enable it by clicking Window menu > Clone Source, or by pressing Cmd + 6 (Mac) or Ctrl + 6 (Win). The Source option should be set to Image at this time.

For the sketch, I used the Real 2B Pencil from the Pencils brush category. On the property bar, set the Grain to approximately 5%. In the Paper Libraries panel, select the Rough Watercolor paper. If you need to open the Paper Libraries panel, press Cmd + 9 (Mac) or Ctrl + 9 (Win). Remember to create your sketch of the subject on the Sketch Layer. On the Layers panel, you can use the Opacity slider if the sketch is too dark. After you complete the sketch, lock the layer by clicking the Lock Layer button at the bottom of the Layers panel. This will prevent you from accidentally painting on it. Once the sketch is completed, click File > Save As, and choose Painter RIFF from the Save as type drop-menu.

Step 4: Adjusting the paper texture

This step will emulate the traditional look of watercolor paper while you are painting. On the Layers panel, click the New Layer button to add a layer directly above the Sketch Layer. Notice that I have called the new layer Pattern Fill.

Step 5: Adding a pattern fill

Next, create a new file with the dimension of 10 x 10 inches and a resolution of 72 ppi. Then click Effects menu > Surface Control > Apply Surface Texture, and click OK.

Now you will want to capture a pattern. Press Ctrl + A to select the current layer that you applied the Rough Watercolor paper texture to. In the Pattern Libraries panel, click the Capture Pattern button on the bottom of the panel.

Step 6: Adding a watercolor pattern fill

Close the pattern document and don't save, then switch back to your original document. Check the Clone Source panel and be sure that the Source is set to Current Pattern.

On the Layers panel, select the Pattern Fill layer. Then select the Paint Bucket tool from the toolbox. On the property bar, choose Source Image from the Fill drop-menu, and then fill the layer with the paper pattern.

Step 7: Adjusting the layer composite method

On the Layers panel, change the Composite Method to Multiply. Then lower the layer Opacity until you achieve just the right amount of paper texture. The pattern fill emulates the traditional watercolor paper experience and enhances the digital painting experience. Click the Lock Layer button to lock the Pattern Fill layer.

Step 8: Using patterns and textures creatively

The next step is to add textures and pattern fills. This step is the part of the process that I can spend hours on. Remember that you can use literally anything for your texture rendering but I prefer textures that I create with my traditional watercolors.

Begin by selecting the Canvas layer and adding a new layer directly above it.

Step 9: Capturing patterns

If you have an image that you would like to use for a pattern, then begin by opening it in Painter. Click Select > All or press Cmd + A (Mac) or Ctrl + A (Win). Notice that a complete selection has been created around the image. From the Pattern Libraries panel, click the Capture Pattern button. You will be prompted to name the pattern. Continue to add as many new patterns as you like. Once the pattern is captured, you can simply close the document.

Tip: If you prefer to have your pattern fill the entire canvas without tiling, capture the pattern at the width, height, and resolution of your current canvas. Seamless patterns can also be created from scratch by opening the Patterns panel, clicking the Pattern Options button, and choosing Define Pattern.

Step 10: Filling the layer with a pattern

Repeat the process from Step 6 and fill the layer with the selected pattern. Alternatively, you can choose the Place command and simply place your images/textures on the layer.

Tip: If you find that the pattern is not filling correctly, I recommend toggling from Current Pattern to Image and back to Current Pattern in the Clone Source panel.

Next, change the layer Composite Method to Overlay. Overlay combines colors while preserving the highlights and shadows of the image color. After changing the layer composite method to overlay the texture is not visible, but that is about to change.

Step 11: Painting to reveal texture

The next step is to get ready to paint. On the Layers panel, select the Canvas and then press and hold the New Layer button, and choose New Watercolor Layer from the drop-menu. This will add the watercolor layer directly above the canvas. From this point on, make sure that any new layers you add are always positioned beneath the Pattern Fill layer.

Step 12: Choosing a brush

From the Brush Selector bar, choose the Real Watercolor brush category and the Fractal Wash Wet variant. On the property bar, locate the Pause Diffusion button. The diffusion controls allows you to manage how and when the pigment is diffused on the paper. You can specify that diffusion be precisely applied to ensure accurate water flow. You can also delay diffusion so the effect is applied only after you complete a brushstroke. In addition, you can choose to suspend diffusion temporarily. This lets you apply multiple brushstrokes to the paper before applying the diffusion, to apply the effect to all brushstrokes at once. You can also specify the number of flow steps to be completed during animation. This controls the rate at which the visual flow of the pigment refreshes onscreen. For example, you can specify a lower number of steps for smaller brushes and a higher number of steps for bigger brushes. The Pause Diffusion command can also be accessed by clicking Window menu > Brush Controls > Real Watercolor.

Step 13: Revealing patterns and textures

Begin painting on the Watercolor layer that you just added. Consider your color palette and stick with a theme throughout the process. For this example, I used the Fractal Wash Wet brush variant with Pause Diffusion enabled.

Step 14: Changing pattern fills

Once you have completed this step, you will want to continue experimenting with various patterns and texture overlays. On the Layers panel, select the Pattern Fill and Watercolor layers, and drop them to the canvas layer. To do this, click the Layer Commands button, and choose Drop. Alternatively, you can also click Layers menu > Drop.

Step 15: Positioning the canvas layer

On the Layers panel, click the Canvas layer. Then click Select menu > All, and then Select menu > Float. Once the layer is repositioned, change the Composite Method to Multiply and move the layer to the very top of the layer hierarchy, if necessary. Each time you drop layers to the canvas, you must reposition them at the top of the layer stack in order to preserve transparency.

Step 16: Additional texture applications

I mentioned that you can literally use anything for textures. Let's look at another way to apply texture to your watercolor paintings. The Place command can be used to simply import a texture to a layer. Because you are adding the texture to a layer you can continue to experiment with additional layer composite methods for some very exciting results.

For my final texture, I used the Place command to add a watercolor texture to a new layer and changed the Composite Method to Gel. Layers remain non-destructive and you can erase the areas that you do not want to reveal in the final painting.

Using patterns and overlays is an exciting way to refine your creative process with Corel Painter 12 and to enhance the digital watercolor experience.

Experiment! Scan your own watercolor papers, or watercolor textures, and save them as files to use as patterns, textures, and overlays in your digital paintings. The possibilities are endless. Have fun!