How can I produce a built-up watercolour effect in Photoshop?
Hannah Ostrich, Germany
The wonderful interaction of watercolour pigment with the paper underneath can be tricky to recreate with digital tools. There are several ways you can approach this: for example, adopt a watercolour painting technique while painting, or apply a watercolour-like effect after the painting is largely complete.
For the first approach, follow the excellent Zoe Piel method. Create a Layer Group with a Layer Mask set to Reveal All, and then fill the layer mask with a watercolour paper texture. Create new painting layers within this group, set to Multiply. Even simple brushes will pick up texture from the Layer Group texture mask. Using multiple layers for different colours provides flexibility and creates interesting colour interactions. Going in with a good Blender or Smudge brush makes this technique shine!
The post-production method involves using Photoshop’s built-in filters on the finished art and then placing a paper texture in Overlay or Screen mode over it. Adjust the Opacity for your texture layer so that it enhances your artwork but doesn’t overpower it (sometimes Soft Light works better). Different artworks may require further variations of the Layer settings, but with patience and fine-tuning, you can obtain very satisfying results.
Here’s the comparison of my post-production method and previously painted artwork. It can often take time, but convincing effects are possible.