This watercolor demonstration/tutorial of Dark Eyes Fairy by Linda Ravenscroft is from the book, Watercolor Fairies by David Riche and Anna Franklin, published by Watson-Guptill Publications. Reprinted with permission of the publisher. All steps included.
The reference for this fairy, who has a largely human form, was a photograph of a model. The bed of ivy on which she sits, and the leaves and berries in her headdress are based on observations and studies of natural forms and colors. When you are walking in the weeds, imagine what everything would look like from a fairy's viewpoint, and make sketches or take photographs for use as reference.
COLORS USED: Cadmium Yellow. Scarlet Lake, Cadmium Red, Purple Madder, Viridian, Olive Green, Raw Umber, Burnt Sienna, Sepia, Payne's Gray, Lamp Black, Zinc White Gouache, Raw Umber Acrylic, Olive Green Acrylic.
Step 1 - Sketch the figure onto the working surface using an HB pencil, avoiding hard pressure as you will need to remove the lines later. Pay special attention to the face and the expression. When you are sure you have shown the figure correctly, add the outline of the wings and headdress. You can make those up or refer to sketches or reference books. Roughly sketch in the tattoos, leaves, toadstools, and twigs, adding some pencil shading to provide a little modeling.
Step 2 - Outline the figure with pen and waterproof ink. Ink in the eyes and eyebrows, but leave the rest of the face sketched in pencil. Ink in the main outline of the hair, leaving the shaded areas in pencil. Ink in the outlines of the leaves and the wings. Darken the remaining pencil lines so more detail shows in the tattoos and sleeves.
Step 3 - Using a No. 0 brush and a mix of sepia and raw umber, add color to the eyes and skin and some of the darker areas of the hair. The light source is slightly in front of the image in the top right-hand corner, so the shadows fall on the left side. Paint the lips with scarlet lake mixed with a little raw umber, and still using the fine brush, paint the pupils with burnt sienna.
Step 4 - Continue to model the head with the small brush and washes of sepia mixed with a little lamp black. Gradually build up the darker tones in the eye sockets, the ear, the shadows in the hair, and around the neck. Then use olive green washes to define the leaves and viridian for the inner foliage on the headdress. Remove some of the pencil lines in the headdress with a soft eraser to see how it is looking, but don't worry if there are gaps--you can add more foliage and twigs later. Fill in the ivy with a No. 4 brush and a wash of viridian with a touch of olive green, blotting the edges of some of the leaves with a small piece of paper towel to soften them.
Step 5 - Mix two separate dilute washes of cadmium yellow and cadmium red, and add hints of color to a few of the berries. Place a small spot of yellow in the middle and then add the red around it, letting the colors bleed together. Blot with tissue. Using the No. 4 brush and a mix of raw umber and a little sepia, lay a flat wash over all the areas of skin. While still damp, add more of the same color to the shaded areas on the left side of the figure to give the form more definition.
Step 6 - Apply separate washes of cadmium yellow and cadmium red to the dress. Add a wash of olive green to the sleeve, with touches of cadmium red along the edges, and then paint the cuffs and the bands across the face with a wash of Payne's gray. With a No. 1 brush and varying strengths of olive green, fill in the background, applying darker washes at the bottom for the shading behind the ivy and graduating up to a lighter wash at the top.
Step 7 - Give some extra form to the hair by adding lowlights with lamp black mixed with a little Payne's gray. When dry, remove any unwanted pencil lines with a soft eraser. Continue to build up detail, using a mixture of cadmium yellow and olive green for the twigs in the headdress, and washes of cadmium yellow and cadmium red for the berries. Use these colors again for the dress and sleeves to model the figure, and then change to scarlet lake to add color to the cheeks, nose, and forehead; the top of the arms; the chest; and the shadows of the skin.
Step 8 - Mix a small amount of raw umber acrylic and olive green acrylic with a larger amount of gel retarder. (It is best to experiment first on scrap paper.) Then paint over the whole image with a large bristle brush. The retarder will keep the paint workable for some time, so once you have applied it you can work with a stipple-stabbing action all over the painting, dabbing with tissue over areas that might be too dark. This stage is optional, but is worth trying out, as it creates a wonderful texture.
Step 9 - When the acrylic layer is dry, lay a wash of purple madder over the background with a No. 4 brush, remembering the areas between the lower sections of the wings. The wash stays wet for longer on the acrylic surface than it would if used on bare paper, allowing you to lift out color with tissue to create subtle graduated effects. Continue to add washes until you are happy with the depth of shadow, keeping the colors darker around the figure and the edges of the painting.
Step 10 - Using a No. 0 brush and viridian, paint in the twigs in the background, and then change to the No. 4 brush to add more viridian to the ivy leaves and headdress. Build up the colors in the dress and adornments, working wet into wet with the same colors as before, and adding a little extra red at the tips of the sleeves. Strengthen the wings with more washes of the colors used earlier, and add more detail around the edges. Work into the shadow areas of the hair with lamp black mixed with Payne's gray.
Continue to paint washes of yellow and red on the wings, dress, and berries until you are happy withthe density of color. Re-outline most of the painting with the pen, reinstating any lost details and adding some extras, such as the stripes on the protrusions on the headdress and the detail on the sleeves.
Step 11 - FINISH Paint highlights on the eyes and lips with the zinc white gouache, and make tiny blobs of pure white surrounded by a halo of diluted white for each of the little specks of pollen or fairy dust. Dilute the zinc gouache to paint diffused highlights on the ivy leaves. Finally, add a little more purple madder to the background, and brighten up some of the clothing with stronger washes of the previous colors.