Making Of: Crystal Sticker Watercolor Illustration
Step by Step Gemstone Stickers Painting
Inspired by the #marchmeetthemaker challenge over on Instagram, which introduces a variety of handmade businesses and has me try out new ways of showing my 'behind the scenes' imagery, here comes a Making Of for my newest stickers.
Watercolor Aquamarine Gemstone Stickers on Etsy
For these crystal illustrations, I started by using my Winsor & Newton watercolors. Only the final layers of colors were done in my new Shinhan watercolors, which added a nice vibrancy to the more muted and stable Winsor & Newton. I'm not sure if my Winsor & Newton colors appear a bit muted because they're very old (over a decade by now) or because they're pan colors, which are sometimes less brilliant than their tube counterparts. But Shinhan's cheap set really surprised me with their strong, pure pigmentations!
The illustrations were painted on my favorite paper, the Fabriano Hot Press Watercolor paper in extra white. This paper is perfect if you want to scan the drawings later since it has nearly no visible paper texture. That makes the whole Photoshop process a lot easier!
Drawing & Painting Process
Pencil Guidelines Drawing Tips
I started by drawing crystal forms with a very hard pencil, with minimal pressure. The point was to keep pencil lines minimal, and have as little graphite residue on the paper. Soft (2B and softer) pencil leads can leave a bit of graphite 'dust' that will get picked up by the watercolors later on and muddy them.
To make the lines even more subtle, I patted them with a kneadable eraser. These erasers allow for pencil lines to be reduced instead of completely erased. I was left with the barest hint of guidelines: Just enough to know where I should place my paints.
Base Color Layers
Since I wanted all the gemstones to have a similar tone to them (inspired by aquamarine crystals) the first thing to do was giving them all a nearly identical base color. Mixing a pale, slightly turquoise blue and diluting it with a lot of water, I painted in all the sketched forms with a large brush. But I did leave empty white paper among the colored spaces to be later turned into shiny highlights.
Coloring, Defining Forms
When the initial watery base colors were completely dry, I went in with a smaller brush and started to define the different surfaces of each gemstone. Like with the base color, I worked on all the individual drawings simultaneously to make sure they'd fit together as a set.
Caveat: These aren't realistic paintings. Not at all. More like comic crystals. I probably should have used reference images to get a sense of realism in the way they reflect light, but I just went with what looked good. #shrug
I'll probably do a more realistic set in the future! I love painting in realistic detail, but sometimes a girl just wants to play around with color. So these are more cute and colorful, less natural.
So the coloring process was very intuitive. I did decide on a vague source of light to give a bit of a three-dimensional feel to the crystals but kept the rest playful and colorful.
I didn't mix colors but instead applied thin layers of different shades of blue on top of each other. This allows for more vibrancy!
As a last step, I used my smallest brush and the mentioned tube colors by Shinhan in Cerulean Blue and Prussian Blue to define corners, edges and reflections. Watercolor paintings tend to look soft, but the gemstone motive asked for sharp borders and cuts!
Scanning and Digital Adjustments
I scanned the finished drawings at 600 dpi at the highest color quality setting of my Epson Perfection V330 Perfection scanner. This particular scanner is great for color accuracy and catches even subtle hues, so I'd recommend it to watercolor artists especially.
In Photoshop, I applied a mask to make sure all the white paper was, you know, actually white. This is easier to do before exposure and brightness are adjusted since all textures are still visible. While you can get quite far with 'Color Selection', I do adjust the mask with my graphic tablet and a brush to make sure no speck was overlooked, and all the edges are clean.
Then I cranked up the brightness and adjusted white balance with Levels and Curves, and adjusted for any lost vibrancy and saturation. Since the objects were already masked, I also applied a turquoise color layer as a clipping mask on top - set to low opacity (20%) and 'multiply'. This way, the colors would look more saturated even after printing.
Once all objects are masked and on a transparent background, it's all the easier to then layout them into sticker sheets. Depending on the project, I either arrange them directly in Photoshop or use InDesign.
Printing on Sticker Paper
I printed two versions of the gemstone illustrations to be used as stickers: One with the individual gems arranged on A6 sticker sheets and one with them spread out on an A5 format that I then cut into already pre-cut, slightly larger stickers to be sold as a set.
Thank you for reading! Would you be interested in a video or in-depth step by step tutorial of my Photoshop process? Explaining digital adjustments in a short, blog-post appropriate form might be a bit lacking, especially for beginners, so I'd be happy to do a longer post on that!