Simple tricks for shading with watercolor brushes.


Hello everyone! This is Inma R. and today I would like to share some simple tricks/steps I use to color with watercolor brushes.

Let's begin!


The first thing I do is to apply base color on different layers (hair, eyes, skin, etc.).

To apply shadows, I create a new layer on MULTIPLY mode on top of each element and click on the "clip to layer below" icon.

Here is where I introduce an original technique of mine. When working with watercolor brushes, I realized I found it very hard to blend colors properly, everything looked dirty and I couldn't make it look right like other artists did. So I created a little trick to solve this:

1) Create a selection from the base layer (right click on the layer -> Selection from layer -> Create selection).

2) Expand the selection (Select -> Expand selected area -> expand 50 px).

3) Click on the shadow layer, the one on MULTIPLY mode. Now select the color white and fill the selected area on that layer (Edit -> fill). You will see no change, but that's because white on MULTIPLY mode acts like a transparent color.

4) Block the opacity of the shadow layer.

Now you have a layer where you can use watercolor brushes that will blend more easily.

Here's a little example: using the opaque watercolour brush, I'm shading on a normal MULTIPLY layer on (1) and on the white layer we created on (2).

IMPORTANT: when you want to remove part of the shading on this layer, never use the transparent color! Always use white, it'll work just like an eraser.

If you erase instead of using white, you won't be able to paint over that part again even if you want to.

*This layer setting might be a bit tedious to create each time, which is why I recommend creating an action to go through all the steps in one click!


Now I'm going to work on the shadow layer I just created. First I'm going to use this brush to drop a lot of paint where I want the shadows to start:

Then I will remove part of it with the same brush using color white (remember, never use the transparent color/eraser!).

Now I'm going to use the opaque watercolour brush to drag down the shadow.

I will add some extra shadow using only the paque watercolour brush.

Now I will pick this brush:

With it, and using white color, I will start lightening parts of the shadow. I will also use the shadow color to add "spikes" to the top of the shadow so it looks more like hair (so I switch between shadow color (#DDC2BC) and white (#FFFFFF).

Now I will use this brush in a very small size to add details, using color #AE909E

Using maru/mapping pen and white color, I will accentuate the hair feel.

Now it's time to create a new layer on top of the shadow layer. We click on the "clip to layer below" icon again and set the layer mode to COLOR BURN. Using the soft airbrush, I add some darkened areas using the color #CAA8B9.

Now I add highlights using ぬめ油彩 brush again (the one I used to drop ink on the first step of the shadows) on a layer on SCREEN mode.

Next I'm going to add some "cold" tones to certain parts because that always gives a nice shading touch.

I create a new layer and add some blue using the soft airbrush.

I lower the opacity of the layer to 40 and set the layer mode to COLOR (depending on the overall colors, I could use different layer modes like OVERLAY or SCREEN).

And we're done!


Sometimes I want to edit shading without affecting the other layers, and here's when correction layers come very handy.

Correction layers create the edits you want without losing the original look of the layer in case you regret the edits later. It's something you can activate or deactivate.

You need to apply them on top of the layers whose values you want to change.

However, if I apply a correction layer on top of my shadow layer, it will affect all the other layers underneath, which include the base color... So what do I do?

Follow these steps:

1) Put the shadow layer into a folder (CTRL + G).
2) Unclick on the "clip to layer below" icon for the shadow layer.
3) Set the shadow layer's mode to NORMAL.
4) Select the folder and click on the "clip to layer below" icon.
5) Set the folder layer mode to MULTIPLY.
6) Click on the shadow layer and create a new correction layer on top of it.
7) Click on the "clip to layer below" icon for the correction layer.

Now you have a correction layer that only affects the shadow layer!

I will apply a few changes to the shading using different correction layers and I'll move into the next element in the illustration.


I use more or less the same steps for each element on the illustration. Have fun trying them, changing them or adding more steps of your own!


I'm Inma R., a freelance artist from Spain. I've worked on videogames, how to draw manga books, event mascots, etc., and on my free time I like to draw for myself or create tutorials to help other people.

You can find a list of my works on my portfolio.

You can support me on Patreon.

Or you can buy more tutorials or fanbooks from my Gumroad.

You can check more free tutorials on my YouTube.

Or simply check my art on the following social media.

Thank you!



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