Spooky Ghosts Watercolor Tutorial + Video


Painting Watercolor Ghosts + Real Time Video


It's October, there's a chill in the air here, and Halloween is approaching. Well, today the veil is thin and some spirits will start showing themselves on your paper! This watercolor tutorial is simple and I just love the effect it creates. This is the same technique I used for the 'Eerie Ghost' pattern in our shop.

What You'll Need:

  • Black cardstock or construction paper* -- size of your choosing

  • Clear gesso (Liquitex is good)

  • Masking Fluid (don't use if you have a latex allergy!)

  • White watercolor paint (in a tube or a pan)

  • Paintbrushes -- for priming, applying masking fluid and painting (a large flat brush, round brushes in various sizes)

  • A dish of water

*Alternatively, you can paint a dark background on canvas or watercolor paper. Keep in mind though, that applying the gesso over watercolor will blend any detail or variance in your background. Make sure your paint is dry before applying gesso.

NOTE: The gesso needs to dry for at least 24 hours before you can paint over it, so prime your paper at least a day in advance.

Let's get started!

STEP 1: Priming the Paper -

First, pour some gesso into a small dish. This prevents the bottle of gesso from being contaminated by any dyes or paint from your paper.

I like using a large flat brush -- it makes smooth application easy.

Brush the paper with a thin layer of gesso. Make sure to evenly distribute the granules in the gesso with soft even strokes of your paintbrush.

(!) Clean your paintbrush with mild soap and water when you're finished.

The gesso will appear white while wet, but it becomes less opaque as it dries. Allow the gesso to dry for at least 24 hours.


STEP 2: Creating a Face with Masking Fluid -

If you choose to use masking fluid, take this time to block out any features on the face (eyes, mouth, etc.). Determining where the face is and its perspective adds character to your ghost.

Using an old paintbrush*, paint the masking fluid in your desired shapes, or draw and fill if your masking fluid is in a fine tipped bottle.

*Use an old paintbrush or an inexpensive one to apply masking fluid, as the brush could potentially be ruined if the masking fluid dries on it.

(!) CLEAN YOUR BRUSH ASAP, before the masking fluid has a chance to dry on the brush. Avoid getting masking fluid on clothing or other porous surfaces.

Allow the masking fluid to dry for 5-10 minutes before painting your ghost. DO NOT use a hairdryer to speed dry the masking fluid, or else it will bond to your paper. DO NOT leave the dried masking fluid on your painting for days, again it will bond to your paper (not fun!).


If you're not using masking fluid, move onto the next step.

STEP 3: Painting the Ghost -

You can sketch out your ghost with pencil before you paint. I didn't sketch these ghosts, so they're completely freeform and organic. Do whatever suits you. If your masking fluid has dried you're all set to paint!

Mix some white watercolor with water -- I'd say about 2 parts water to 1 part paint. Reserve some paint that's less diluted for later.

Start shaping the ghost, painting right over the dry masking fluid, paint around the eyes if you didn't use masking fluid. This part is really up to interpretation. Watercolor has a mind of its own, so go with it and use its fluid nature to your advantage -- ghosts should be translucent and wispy, right?


Once the first layer of the ghost has dried a little, apply a layer of slightly less diluted watercolor. When the opacity is where you'd like it, start adding detail with a thicker paint mixture. Determine where any creases or folds will be -- these areas will be more opaque white, where the ghost is denser or where there are any shadows. Blend any harsh lines with a wet brush. Also, you can 'lift' the paint for more transparency, with a wet or dry brush.

(!) Avoid overloading the paper with water! If you need to add wet layers on top of each other, let the first layers dry some.

Push the pigment to the edges of the ghost for an eerie halo. Add water to your paint as needed. You can get a lot of different effects depending on the consistency of the paint.

Take a look at the video below if you want to paint with me!


STEP 4: Applying the Finishing Touches -

Once you're happy with the body of your ghost, remove the masking fluid -- use your fingers or an eraser to gently roll up the edges. Once you've got it started, it should be easy to peel the masking fluid off. Refine any lines and clean up rough edges with paint.


Your painting is probably curled up on the edges now, so when the paint is dry you can press it in a book, or lay it on a hard surface under something weighty.

We're done!

I hope this tutorial was useful to you. Feel free to personalize your ghosts, and make as many as you'd like -- it's hard to stop! If nothing else it's great practice with the concept of watercolor, without the pressure of coordinating and mixing colors. Here's to haunted walls ;)

As always xo,

-- The Grey's Posy Team

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