Hugo Pratt Watercolor Style


Hugo Pratt was a famous artist and comic maker. He was also a great watercolor artist. Check on Google by typing “hugo pratt watercolours”. So many images are there and beautiful.

So when I think to watercolor style of painting I think to something like that, very specific, that I would like to master in the real world but given my laziness and my passion for digital painting tools, in particular Clip Studio Paint, I decided to try digitally and start from scratch to recreate that something I have in mind.

What I would like to emulate is something like the pictures represented from parts of some of his watercolors just to tell you what I’ve in mind. I would like to display here some of his works but it seems that would infringe copyright so I just tell you that if you like you can check some samples googling something like: "hugo pratt watercolors” and then you can look some of his works.

You can see from the samples of colors spots the kind of effect I am capable to replicate. To do that I thought to call it : “ Pressure inverse theory” because I reversed the idea that the pressure on the tablet must be proportional to level of paint flowing in the drawing. It’s the opposite in my case: less pressure, more paint, more pressure less paint.

If you are interested just follow reading.

Let me tell you that based on my experience, a digital drawing style like that of Hugo Pratt is almost impossible in one-shot activity, that means that a single brush having that kind of effect is impossible to achieve, unless you create different type of brushes and blenders with different settings and try to use a mix of all of them to come close to it.

In any case I wanted to try emulating that sense of water, wet and groomy strokes that it’s so difficult to achieve digitally and after many tries I came up with my theory that I explain you.

Let’ start:
The steps I’ve identified are the following:

Step 1: Paper Selection
Step 2: Brush Selection
Step 3: Brush Settings

Step 1: Paper Selection.

Select a new document as usual. I select a 2000px x 2000px at 300dpi with white or light yellow paper. In any case select a white-ish color. To change color of paper select the paper layer and click in the small Square to select color.

Then I open the “material” window (Window->Material->Monochromatic Pattern) and then you can select the “fine textured” pattern. It’s important that you choose this because it’s rough and roughness is key to achieve the effect.

If you want you can try also others but for now just follow me. Drag the selelcted pattern into the document as below. Or if you have already a drawing loaded, between the drawing layer and the paper layer

Minimize the material window because we don’t need it now and you should have a big dark grey textured document somehting like this:

In the “layer property” dialog box (Window->Layer Property if not visible) you should select the small button called “Texture combine” and set 30 as strenght. This setting can be varied to achieve different results about how the texture is heavily or softly applied to paper. Higher number means a stronger rugosity/rough of the paper.

In the layer of paper you can selelct a different color but for now I suggest to leave it as it is or set it to a very light yellow (RGB 248, 248, 238). It’s not that important and it depends on your taste. For watercolors it’s difficult to imagine a dark paper because usually the white represents the light and you cover the light with colour.

Step 2: Brush Selection. Unless you want to create your own personal brush which require you to know how to do it in CSP which is out of scope here, the suggestion I give you is to try to find brushes on the internet or in the CSP portal that resemble those that I have found available and I selected for this effect. For this tutorial look well at the brushes below and how they are done and try to find something similar. Maybe you already have something like those among the several brushes you certainly have aready loaded.

Important: It's not mandatory that you have to have exactly those above in order to follow this tutorial. Please study the key common aspects to all of the above samples.

The common patterns are that they have shades of grey from black to transparent.

Frankly speaking I don’t remember where I’ve found these brushes. Probably I downloaded from the portal but it’s not that important.

The important thing is that you remember that:
- when you see black that means color (at the opacity level you chose to have, so if you have opacity set to 50% then black means 50% of the correspondent full color,
- when you see that gradient from black to transparent that means “from color to water”…

So progressive white is progressive water. More black means more color.

This is important because we don’t want a flat brush but something that recreate randomly the amount of color and the movement of color in wet strokes.

So when you choose a brush chose one that has those features:
-someway rounded,
-with a black or darker side
-a bit fragmented in the border but not too much
-shades fading from black to almost transparent.

In some cases I created these brushes by myself spraying manually a real black watercolor brush on real paper and then scanned the results when I created several patterns, then imported in CSP, registered as material and tried.

You never know at the end which is good and which works best.

Once you choose the brush, whatever it is, the next step is customizing the brush.

Step 3: Brush Settings: The theory of the inverse pressure

This is the key part and this step is a bit black magic. I will suggest my settings for the brush you selected, but believe me, if you change the brush tip then maybe the settings are not anymore optimal for that brush tip. Or if you change one single option in the settings the results could change a lot. So the best way to learn is to really understand the meaning of the changes you apply, so that you can try and stop when things are like you want .

Select whatever existing brush and click in sub-tool settings.
Click on “Create Custom Subtool” (it’s the small button in sub tool palette) => Give it a name you like, press OK. After this you have a tool to customize.

If you want to create the brush just copy these settings here, but I suggest you to read my comments because otherwise you don’t get the meaning of the choices.

Brush Size: Here the key point is the pressure setting. Ask your self: What do you want when you apply the minimal pressure on the tablet ? If the answer is: I want the minimal pixel possible then lower this setting to zero. I prefer instead to have a bit more more because when you Paint for real the minimum is never a single point and so I raised to approx above at middle between 0% and first line which is 25% in output scale. See the origin that is not to 0% but a little above mid way of the lower square. Look the diagonal below it’s not exactly y=x, but y=x+10% approximately

Ink: This is also key. My approach is a mind changer. I set opacity at 82. The effect of opacity is that when you draw multiple times over the same stroke, the color gets darker up to the saturation of that color. Yes I want this.

Opacity Dynamics: Now look at the opacity dynamics which you can invoke by clicking the arrow at the right of 82 in the picture below: This is THE OPPOSITE of the Brush dynamics seen above: don’t make it a perfect diagonal from top right to top left: start at 95% and ends at 5%. I chosen this because the effect I want in my drawing is that when you apply the minimal pressure on the tablet you want the maximum opacity while when you apply the max pressure you want zero opacity.

Try it. It’s fantastic as it recreates the effect of watering the color on paper because when you just lightly touch the 'paper' you have the max of paint but then without raising your hand, if you gradually continue to apply pressure it tends to expand.

This is radically different from traditional drawing style based on standard pressure curve and you must get used to this as maybe it’s not so natural for all of you.

Remember less pressure more opacity, more pressure less opacity. In this way you can create those darker parts in the strokes because you can just lightly paint and the expand. But wait before there is another key aspect to follow: the next one.

The other key aspect is the Blending mode. There are two I suggest you to try:

One is the “Background” blending mode that has this strange but original effect: the color of your stroke goes underneath the color already painted. Gradually the color overlaps as if it was the first color but it emerges from below. In this way the first spot of color you painted applying less pressure remains and it’s not destroyed by the blending mode because “background” starts from below the max opacity first. Of course if you continue blending the level of opacity changes and the effect is like destroying the initial touch. You can try if you like different blending modes like “normal” or “multiply” but the one above is really great if you understand the logic.

Another one is the “Replace Alpha” blending mode. This mode means that the opacity of the overlapping color replace the opacity of the below color. It means that if you don’t change color but you just paint over what you have already painted the effect is that it tries to maintain the same opacity and the result is more smooth than other blending modes like normal or multiply and therefore you don’t need to blend or doing other things to smooth out the paint. A second effect is that if you chose a nearby color it creates a beatiful mix of the two while keeping the same level of opacity.

Recap: Try both and select the one you like. What I suggest is that you create two identical brushes with the two blending modes so you can switch from one to the other easily.

Important note about “delete": If by chance you put a color in excess in you drawing and you want to correct (without using the ctrl-z/cmd-z which is always possible) you have several alternative options that I recomend.

The ones I like more are:

a) duplicate the tool and you keep everything in brush setting as it is but you change the blending mode from “background” to “erase”. Then you slightly paint over your drawing to erase the parts of color in excess.

Important: if you choose this technique which is the best in my opinion then
modify the settings of the texture option in the ‘sub tool detail’ by deselecting the ‘reverse density’, the reason for this is personal choice for the resulting effect
lower the texture densità to 50-60%. See the second picture right below.

b) Alternatively you maintain the tool you use to paint but you switch the color from your current selelcted color to the transparent color and you draw in this way over the part with color in excess. when you finished you switch back to your colour. I assigned this to one of the buttons of my wacom pen (I use a very old Intuos 3 tablet).

These suggestions about erasing are much better than using the “eraser” but do as you prefer.

Anti Aliasing: I chose “weak” which is the second from left.

Brush Shape: No change here. Of course you have to select the brush that you have decided to use as I said above.

Spraying effect: Nothing selected.

Stroke: Here the key aspect is the “continous spraying” set to 'on'. With that in mind and with the above comments on the effect of inverse pressure, if you apply a progressive pressure (from low pressure to high pressure on the tablet) it means it’s like you add more opacity (water) to the color.

So if you add a point of color with a slight pressure on the tablet (remember that we set maximum opacity with low pressure on the tablet) and then you grow the pressure constantly on the tablet the effect is that the color initially is in full opacity but then fades beautifully.

Texture: This is another key aspect of this brush settings. We want to recreate a groomy effect on paper like the blues here on the left You must select a texture as I did with “Pencil”. The density means “how strong you want this texture being applied to the stroke ?”. I decided with 70 as I like groomy effect. Of course if you set it to 0 you null the effect of the texture.

The reverse density feature is also very important and I try to explain how it works: the textures have a grainy effect made of dots. Some of the dots translate to “no stroke” when you use it, that means like white small dots on paper. Instead we want those dots to be dark (grooms) that’s why you chose “reverse density”. The scale ratio enlarge or reduce the dots of the texture. So if you want small dark dots you reduce the scale otherwise you enlarge the scale. The method to apply texture is “multiply” because we want the dark dots emerge. you remember that if you have the line art you set that layer to “multiply” in order to have it alway on top ? well here is someway similar.

Border of watercolor: Not so important for me but it depends on you. I set it low.

The other settings: Erase, Correction, Starting and Ending, Anti-Overflow are not so important here and you can chose the defaults.

Useful Resources: look for erase and background blending mode.

Well having said that you can try yourself. The example below of drawing of mine (so no copyright infringement as I share my own works) I did with this technique shows some detail but you have to try yourself.

I hope you like and I hope it’s not too difficult to follow.

Greetings from Italy :-) and thanks Clip Studio Paint.



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