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  • Yufen Zha

Tutorial: Dad's Day Off - Feel Good Watercolor on Paper

Dad's Day Off, watercolor on paper, 9" x 12"

Hello, my creative friends! Summer is finally here! For those of us living in the mid-Atlantic region, we are also welcoming the sights and sounds of the once-in-17-year wonder of cicada Brood X. These little creatures hang out underground for a very long time; it's amazing how they know exactly what to do above ground after 17 years. For Father's Day I thought about painting a cicada but decided to save that for a later date when we are not constantly reminded of their very noisy existence.

My son became interested in fishing last year and went out with his dad every morning during one of our trips. I never got a picture of them fishing together though. I guess selfies on a small boat are just not practical. This painting is based on what I imagined the father-son fishing scene looked like and only uses 4 colors.

The line drawing for this painting can be found here.

I've also released the accompanying video tutorial on my YouTube channel here.

Below is the supply list for this painting. I’ve included a few affiliate links so you can find the products I love.


Supply List

1. To start, paint a very thin and watery layer of Raw Sienna over the entire surface of the paper. To help the paint flow and avoid hard edges between the brush strokes, prop the top of the watercolor paper just a bit (see here using a little saucer). This way the paper will be on an incline and a bead of watery paint will form at the bottom of each stroke. It's this bead of paint that eliminates the edges of the brush strokes. Dry with a hairdryer before continuing.

With this underpainting layer of Raw Sienna, any paint we layer on top will have a warm glow. My friend Renee Sanders recently did a quick underpainting study video here which would be really helpful if underpainting is something new to you.

2. After the underpainting layer was dry, gently wet the top 3rd portion of the watercolor paper, leaving some areas dry. Then drop in Moonglow, Quinacridone Magenta, and Thalo Blue Turquoise, keeping most edges soft. Dry with a hairdryer.

3. After the cloud area is dry, outline the mountains in the background using mainly Moonglow, then quickly soften most of the edges using a clean damp brush. Follow this with more Moonglow, a touch of Quinacridone Magenta, Thalo Blue Turquoise, and Raw Sienna to fill the body of the mountains. Quickly soften the bottom of the mountains with a clean damp brush. Work on one mountain at a time. Please refer to the accompanying video for this important step.

The softened edges on both the side and the bottom of the mountains give the perfect illusion that these mountains are covered in mists and fog.

4. Next up is the tree in the middle ground whose bottom is also covered in fog. To paint this, I first painted the tree shape (a triangle) with clean water leaving pockets of areas dry. I then dropped in Moonglow, Quinacridone Magenta, and Raw Sienna. Since I pre-wet the paper, the pigments would flow and mingle on the paper freely leaving no hard edges except the pockets of dry paper. I also made sure the bottom of the tree is completely soft by using a clean damp brush (see first picture above).

To turn the triangle to a tree, I switched to a liner brush and painted random lines and dots on the side of the triangle as leaves and twigs. It's amazing how our eyes would instantly interpret the blob we painted above as a tree with only a few lines and dots (see second picture above).

5. To paint the reflection of the tree, I first painted a light layer of Moonglow on dry paper softening the edges as I went. Once this layer is dry, I repeated this process by painting lines of different width and thickness using Moonglow, Quinacridone Magenta, and Raw Sienna, followed by a clean damp brush to soften the lines.

6. Now on to the focal point: the boat and figures. Since they are also in the middle ground, I kept them soft and loose. Using Moonglow, paint the figures first and go back afterwards with a clean damp brush to soften some of the edges. I purposely kept the legs soft on the adult so that we don't have to worry about painting the seat underneath. Selectively remove some pigments from certain areas of the body such as behind the arms and along the backs will give you the shadow you need to make your figures believable. The figures are just silhouettes so don't think too much here.

7. The boat is also partially in the fog so it should be soft and loose as well. Following the same steps as those for the figures but with all 4 paint colors, lay down the pigments first and follow with water and clean damp brush to soften and melt the edges.

8. The ripples in the water is what's most fun for me. They are also a great tool to lead the viewer's eyes into the painting. To paint the ripples in the water, I first laid down some clean water but made sure to leave some areas dry. I then followed that with lines painted in Moonglow and Quinacridone Magenta. The lines that touched the water I put down prior melted without any edge and the ones that did not touch the water maintained their hard edge. This created a very interesting variation of visual presentation of the ripples.

9. The reflections of the figures were painted wet on dry. Start by putting down short horizontal lines that roughly mirror the shape of the figure. Then go over areas of the shape with a clean damp brush to connect the shape with the ripples in the area.

10. We are nearly done; the last step is to paint the reeds in the foreground. Load your liner brush with Moonglow and Quinacridone Magenta and paint clumps of straight lines for the reeds as well as the reflection. Then immediately brush over the reflection with a clean damp brush.

There you have it folks, a misty morning fishing adventure! Here is the completed painting again.

Please don't forget to watch the accompanying video tutorial here. I find written instructions along with video tutorials are the best learning tools for me in my artistic adventure. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below. I'd love to hear from you!

I hope you find this post useful and are inspired to give this project a try (or a second try for those of you who attended the LIVE paint along session). If you do, I would love to see your work. Please follow my Facebook studio page "Yufen Zha Studio" and request to join our private group "Friends of Yufen Zha Studio" to share your work from these tutorials and to inspire and be inspired by fellow artists.

Please remember to subscribe to this site so you won't miss any future posts and tutorials.

Until next time, happy creating..


Mieke Cox-Hoefnagels
Mieke Cox-Hoefnagels
Jun 22, 2021

i made a painting of your tutorial. dont know where to show you.

Yufen Zha
Jun 22, 2021
Replying to

Wonderful Mieke! If you are on Facebook, please request to join group “Friends of Yufen Zha Studio”. Once you are a member of the group, you can post your masterpiece there 😁. Thanks for checking out the tutorial!

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