• Kirsty Partridge

The Most Important Tip for Painting Hair with Watercolors


In order to paint realistic hair using watercolors I recommend using something known as the ‘layer technique’. This is the most important tip you will need to get that hair looking natural and most importantly, fabulous!


To begin, the first layer should be a very light wash of color. Mixing in lots of water will help to make the paint as light as possible. This first wash should match the color of the highlights in your reference photo and be applied to the entire hair study in order to block in the shape of the hair.



Wait for each layer to dry before adding the next layer!

If you don’t do this, your colors will bleed into each other and all definition will be sadly lost. Whilst you’re waiting for this layer to dry you can create the color you are going to use for the second layer; all I do is add more paint to the first wash, which makes it darker as more pigment is being added.



I would suggest building up layers from light to dark, as this can prevent you from accidentally painting your highlights too dark. So, the second layer can build up the mid-tones of the hair, going over everywhere but the brightest highlights. Make sure your brush is small enough to do this! Always build up the hair in the direction the hair is flowing in and I would recommend doing this in sections, as sometimes different parts of the hairstyle will be flowing in different directions.



Once again, wait for the layer to dry and add more paint to the second wash to create something darker. When it is dry you can begin to add in even more shadows, but only to the darker areas of your reference photo. As you get into the final layers of your painting you should be painting less and less areas; the darker layers are only added to the darkest areas you can see in your reference photo.

A great little tip I’ve learnt is to use a small round paintbrush to build up more detail, as this makes it easier to cram in that detail and make the hair that much more realistic.




To successfully get your hair as dark as the reference photo, you may need to build up a lot of layers, maybe five or six. This can be slow, especially with drying in between, but don’t worry these extra layers help to add more depth! Getting your highlights as bright as needed and your shadows as dark as needed creates a nice contrast and that 3-D effect we all crave.



Finally, make sure to use a tiny brush for all those flyway hairs that go into the background and over the hairstyle as this is the missing piece of the jigsaw for a natural, realistic look. Without these hairs, a hairstyle can look quite rigid and cartoonish!




Want to improve your watercolor hair even more? Try my online watercolor courses and boost your skills!


Check out the video tutorial to see the techniques in action!




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