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Fall leaves scattered on watercolor paper with a contour drawing of the leaves and splash of watercolor.

Color Splashes and Contour Drawing

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Art Toolkit Team

Technique | November 08, 2022

We invite you to try a fun and meditative approach to exploring place and color. Art Toolkit Ambassador Nikki Frumkin shared this exercise on a recent Hike and Draw event in Seattle. Jump to the bottom of the page for a video tutorial of this exercise.

Begin by taking in your surroundings: make mental notes of the colors you see or take reference photos if you prefer. You may be on a hike, touring a city, or observing the landscape through a window.

Now, you’re ready to paint.

First, dampen your paper to allow your paints to mix wet into wet. In this example, Maria uses a big Rosemary & Co R19 brush, which holds lots of water.

Next, drop in colors you have seen around you, especially ones that might feel surprising. Maybe you spotted a crimson leaf or a single remaining purple bloom. Add those colors to the mix.

Enjoy the process of them mixing. Relax and don’t think too hard!

In this color splash example, Maria uses the Explore Palette Plus, which features the six original Explore Palette colors plus six additional useful colors, including a range of browns, warm and cool blues, violet, and sap green.

As you finish your color splash, consider adding more color to intensify some parts—remember that watercolor always lightens as it dries.

A splash of watercolor drying on watercolor paper.
Color splash drying

Make sure your paper is totally dry before transitioning from paint to pen. Working on top of dry paint means options! Both watercolor-soluble and waterproof pens work well for this exercise. In the video, Maria uses the 1.5mm Pilot Parallel Pen, which creates a range of lines with its broad yet pointed tip.

Pilot Parallel pens laying down ink on a piece of paper.
Example lines of Pilot Parallel Pens

Now that you have a pen picked out, it’s time to sketch. Choose a few objects from your surroundings and, keeping your pen on paper with most of your attention on the subject, begin a continuous contour sketch. One thing we love about contours is how they can help you let go of perfection. Adding contour sketches on top of your color splash livens up the page and ties in some of the objects you’ve noticed around you.

Drawing countour lines with a Pilot Parallel pen over a splash of watercolor with dried leaves scattered about.
Adding contour sketches to the color splash

One approach to this exercise might be to complete a color splash first, then collect some objects, such as visiting the beach and collecting some shells and stones. Adding to a sketch over time is a lovely way to prolong the memory of it!

We hope this inspires you to explore your surroundings and connect with the fluidity of watercolor paints.