How to turn your photo into a beautiful watercolor masterpiece in 3 easy steps!

Wood Duck watercolor painting
Wood Duck watercolor painting

Some subjects are challenging to draw and you may not want to spend a good chunk of time sketching in the exact proportions! I wanted to paint this beautiful Wood Duck, but was intimidated by the specific sections of color and distinct lines.

I discovered an easy 3 step process that takes the stress out of preparing complicated subjects for painting in watercolor.

3 easy steps to show you how to:

  1. Turn your photo into a digital line drawing sketch.
  2. Transfer onto watercolor paper.
  3. Paint!

STEP 1. USketch app: This app on your phone converts your photo into a line drawing sketch.

  1. Open uSketch (I am using Android, but it is available on other platforms).
  2. Click Gallery and choose the photo you’d like to work with.
  3. Scroll through the filters to choose which one gives you the best sketch lines for your project.
  4. Click the check mark in the top right.
  5. The line drawing sketch photo will be saved to the uSketch gallery on your phone which you should be able to find in a folder in your photos app.
  6. Download the photo, then email it to yourself so that you can retrieve it on your computer. Or, you can move the uSketch photo to your main gallery which you can then retrieve from your photos in the cloud on your computer.
  7. Insert the sketch photo into a Word or Publisher document or similar software that you can adjust the size to fit your watercolor paper size for your final project.
  8. Once the sketch photo is adjusted to your desired size, print it onto paper.

STEP 2. Transfer the printed sketch photo onto watercolor paper using a light pad.

I have been pretty happy with this light pad: Comzler Light Board A4 Tracing Light Box

  1. Place the printed sketch photo onto a light pad that is turned onto the brightest setting (if you don’t have one, this step can be done during the day by taping the paper to a window and taping the watercolor paper over top for tracing).
  2. Place the watercolor paper over the line drawing, lining it up so that the line sketch is in the desired position and secure with magnets or painter’s tape.
  3. Trace the lines with a pencil lightly onto the watercolor paper.

STEP 3. Paint your sketch!

Your subject is now ready for painting! You can start with drawing over the pencil lines with an archival ink pen, or start painting directly with watercolor.

Final Wood Duck painting in watercolor and metallic gouache.
Final Wood Duck painting in watercolor and metallic gouache.

I painted the wood duck with watercolor, carefully painting the different sections with their brilliant colors. Wood ducks are so interesting as they have specific compartments of color and luminous red eyes! I wanted the colors to be more brilliant, so I painted over the watercolor with metallic gouache (except for the black sections) and I was very happy with the shimmer of the colored sections and my completed masterpiece!

Here is another photo that I went through this 3 step process with and created a card for a friend as a memory of our girl’s weekend getaway! It’s a fun and personalized way to create a card or painting as a keepsake!

Enjoy this process and let me know in the comments if you try these 3 steps to create your own masterpiece!


#nature #watercolor #gouache #lightpad #masterpiece #sketch #personalized #keepsake #art #creativity #curiosity

10 thoughts on “How to turn your photo into a beautiful watercolor masterpiece in 3 easy steps!

  1. Very cool, Karen. I love the results you achieved with the wood duck and the Gig Harbor paintings. And what a nifty app. Thanks so much for sharing this handy approach, especially for complex photos!


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