Step-By-Step Illustration

I’ve started painting again, amid the madness that is immigration, and it’s such a relief to be creative again. I’ve always found art to be an anchor in times when my life has been hurled into chaos.

Usually, I depend on detailed doodles or photorealistic portrait drawing to soothe my nerves, so I never imagined this simple illustration for Kayla’s room would be as calming as it turned out to be. I thought I’d share it with you.

Her one demand was that the picture should have something red and white in it, like the Canadian flag, and I wanted to use my watercolour pencils. I built the idea around that. She loves mountains and forests, a nice green contrast to whatever the red focal point would turn out to be. I googled illustrations for inspiration, and came across the sweetest picture of a hot air balloon. I was sold. Mountains would work better with the balloon than a forest, so that made deciding what to paint even easier.

With the subject matter set, it was time to focus on style. I wanted to keep the illustration simple, like a page out of a storybook, so I googled again to find elements of other illustrations that I love.

At that stage, I realised this would make a good tutorial for you! Here are the steps I followed.

First, I drew a rough sketch on scrap paper. To show the wind (you can’t have a balloon illustration without wind 😛 ) I went with flowy lines in the sky, and fleecy clouds, slightly lopsided, as if the wind pushed them across the picture. I kept the sun childlike, with broad rays that will lead the viewer’s eye to other parts of the painting.

The mountains are upside-down v’s, slightly taller at the horizon than in the front pane of the painting, and the balloon is just off centre to the right.

Instead of using carbon paper, I just coloured the back of my rough drawing with graphite and traced the lines onto the watercolour paper. I kept the lines as light as possible, so sorry that they’re not that visible in the photo. Keeping the lines light ensures that they won’t be noticeable after the watercolour is added.

Next, I coloured the sun, focussing the darker shades at the centre and shading to a lighter yellow the closer I got to the edges of the page.

When I paint, I always start with the lighter colours and work my way to the darker shades, but this time, I did the opposite. I wanted the darker centre of the sun to seem like it was bleeding outwards. This is the last time you’ll see me paint from dark to light in this tutorial, though! It’s much easier to control the flow of the pigment when we paint from the lightest shade to the darkest.

Next step, the sky. I coloured each part of the sky with a different shade of blue, darker around the edges and lighter in the middle. When painting these parts, I made sure to let each shade dry thoroughly before painting the section directly next to it (if you don’t do this, the colours will bleed into each other and you won’t have crisp lines between them).

Next, the mountains. I used the lightest shade of green at the tops and worked my way to the darkest shade closest to the base of each mountain. The most important thing here is to create at least a little difference in hues where the mountains meet, otherwise, they’ll all kind of blend together.

When I started painting, I followed two rules: Dark to light, and always leave a section to dry before painting the section directly next to it. Simple, right?

When everything had dried, I turned my focus to the balloon. I just went with the flow where the basket is concerned, but tried to include some shading from dark to light on the balloon itself.

Next, I added different shades of grey to the white parts of the illustration. This step is optional, but really makes a huge difference in adding some depth.

The last step was to add my signature and lines to the picture. I went with broken lines and added some dots here and there, just to make it interesting.



I really loved painting this, but the best gift was Kayla’s face when she saw it framed. I hope you liked the tutorial too!

Have a good one,


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