DIY starry night tutorial, or "what do you mean, 'it worked'?"

Watercolor art DIY tested - from Small Company ArtworksHave you run across the watercolor tutorials from Inkstruck Studio's Zakkiya Hamza, maybe on Pinterest or Instagram? She creates delightfully approachable projects that appeal to even the 2-dimensionally challenged like me. But what if they're a whole lot harder than they look (you know, like ballet, baking, and pretty much anything involving a glue gun)?

Last time I tackled DIY Herb Markers with some success, so I was feeling cocky. I set aside an entire afternoon this time, since I'm really, really not good with paint. Here's how the Starry Night Watercolor Tutorial turned out...

starry night watercolor tutorial, tested

You actually need a fair number of supplies for this project. Zakkiya has specific suggestions, and of course she uses top-notch tools and paints. I can attest that cheaper watercolors work pretty well, too, and I'm betting you could use one of those kid's watercolor pans in a pinch. You'll just have to blend colors to get the right shades.

Zakkiya's supply list includes (with my substitutions in parenthesis):

  • Watercolor paper (no substitute for this! consider getting one of those 4x6 blocks of watercolor paper that will keep the paper from curling)
  • Watercolor paints (see note about inexpensive pan colors, above)
  • Watercolor brushes - Flat brush size 18, Round brush size 8, Spotter brush and a Mop brush (I used whatever small brushes I had on hand, most of which are actually for acrylics, and none of which matched her sizes. I also used an old toothbrush for spattering the white paint in the final step.)
  • White acrylic ink or white gouache or white poster paint (white acrylic craft paint, not too watery)
  • White gel pen (optional) (I didn't use this)
  • Black sumi ink or black poster paint (black acrylic craft paint)
  • Palette (I just used the waxed paper I had spread out under my project space)

step-by-step, in pictures

Zakkiya's tutorial includes excellent detail on technique, along with step-by-step photos as she goes. I followed pretty much exactly what she advised, although I found 1) I know nothing about watercolor, 2) there's a lot she leaves out simply because you have to play with the paint a little.

Watercolor art DIY first step

Watercolor lines

Blotting watercolors to blend

Watercolor sky

Black watercolor to depth

Painting tiny trees

3 things you're not going to want to do

  1. Don't start work before you've thoroughly wet the top 2/3 of the paper. This project relies on letting the watercolors diffuse on the wet page.
  2. Don't feel rushed. I added water as I went, and was relatively satisfied with the results. Professionals no doubt have guidelines for this, but this amateur did okay on her first try.
  3. Don't stress about exact color placement. The watercolors wander around the page a lot, so there's a certain amount of luck involved (at least for those of us for whom "skill" isn't an option).

Completed DIY starry night painting

things i'd do differently

  1. Use smaller paper. Working too big was a challenge for me. I used an 8.5" x 11" watercolor pad, and I found it hard to manage the colors. I also don't really like the scale of the stars on this size page.
  2. Use a watercolor block. The paper curled a lot, since I was wetting it down so much. While Zakkiya points out that you can press it between a couple of books later to flatten it, the curls caused the watercolors to pool. This can give a nice mottled effect, though, so it's a matter of taste.
  3. Be mindful of the trees. I went too fast on the trees, and ended up with bigger trees that were kind of regimented on the right side. It would be a good idea to step back periodically and check perspective.
  4. Use a photo as reference. Once I had my colors laid, I realized my reds and yellows made a very improbable sunset. Having a few sunset photos on hand would have helped me shape the horizon more believably. (Searching on Instagram with hashtag #sunset would be the fastest way to see lots of examples.)

final recommendation: try this!!! (yes, 3 exclamation points)

I LOVED this project. Even with my internal critic pointing out my mistakes, I had a wonderful time playing with paint. Zakkiya's instructions are so accessible and straightforward, I found the project just as easy as it looked (surprise!).

In fact, I took all the lessons learned in this attempt and tried again right away. This time, I used a watercolor block in 4"x6" size. I also decided to spread the picture across two small canvases, so they look like one, continuous horizon. I'm going to frame them and hang them by the sink in the powder room.

Second watercolor DIY


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