GUEST ARTIST: “A Tale of Many Faces and Flowers” by Michaela Istok

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolor Illustration by Michaela Istok - Doodlewash

Hello dear Doodlewashers! I am honoured to be included among other amazing guest artists here at the vibrant Doodlewash community and I hope you will enjoy my artworks and perhaps learn something useful from me as well. My name is Michaela Istok and I am from Bratislava, Slovakia though I’ve managed to live already in Kuala Lumpur, Prague, Helsinki and Tampere.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolor Illustration by Michaela Istok - Doodlewash

The Beginnings

How did my art journey began for me? Honestly, I don’t really remember; I’ve been drawing ever since I could hold a pencil in my chubby little fingers. My mum, having noticed my leaning towards artistic expression (including on walls, floors, important documents and receipts…) registered me at art classes led by academic painter Ms. Sona Herenyiova since I was about 7 years old and I kept on going there until I left my hometown Bratislava for university, aged 18.

Ten years later, I have my a BA (Hons) Graphic Design degree, about 7 years of experience in the design industry and a rather impressive stash of watercolour illustrations, doodles, sketches and filled up sketchbooks in various places in various countries (Slovakia and Finland, to be exact).

Paint Cheap, Have Fun

Though I see many artists, hobby painters and art course attendants striving to use the best paints, the best paper and the best brushes they can afford, I’ve always had a different approach here. See, I believe that if my skills and technique are underwhelming, even the best paper and the most expensive super premium brush will improve it only up to a point, if at all.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolor Illustration by Michaela Istok - Doodlewash

However, if my expression, use of line, colours and composition are good (in my eyes at least – though I always nitpick my work!), the artwork can look charming even drawn with a basic pencil on a random sketchbook paper found in a drawer.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolor Illustration by Michaela Istok - Doodlewash

This is just a long-winded way to say this: I didn’t care about the quality of my tools for quite some time when beginning.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolor Illustration by Michaela Istok - DoodlewashInstead, I practiced often with mediocre tools because it was well, just practice where I explored myself as an artist. The results varied and once I started to get satisfied with the progress I was making in my art journey, I started using better tools and better papers as well. Now I am in a place where I am mostly using high quality paints, papers and brushes but I don’t make it a rigid rule. You will see two paintings made on the worst and tiniest sketchbook ever in this guest post. I went into it knowing it’s a bad paper but it was fun anyway.

As for my favourite tools, usually I use Koh-I-Noor pencils, Micron fineliners and St Petersburg White Nights or Van Gogh watercolours. Papers vary – I hadn’t yet found my preferred brand, but I do gravitate towards less textured, cold-pressed ones with at least 300g/m2 weight.

Illustrator in Progress

My favourite topics tend to be animals (including beloved pets), people, silly characters, mythological beings, landscapes, flowers and picturesque village houses. I value traditions (though I don’t adhere to them much – but knowing about them makes me content) and so traditional architecture and old crafts are a big inspiration for me as well.

For illustrations, I work both in vectors (digitally) and in ink and watercolour, though I have to say that so far I have had far more clients for my digital illustrated work than for the watercolour ones, probably due to more focus on marketing the digital work. We are currently discussing a range of dog behavior books for children with a dog behaviorist friend, so let’s see where this takes us – in a not so far off future I might be very busy with a lot of watercolour illustrations too!

The Process

I have always been a fast artist (as in, fast in painting) and I consider this an advantage when it comes to watercolours (and acrylics) – they just dry so fast, I must be fast too! I rarely paint wet on wet, so painting wet on dry is a speedy process for me.

The preparatory stage takes me longer than painting itself – usually I gather some research material (photos, illustrations of the subject, simplified pictograms, etc.) to get to know my theme well and draw a couple of rough sketches on some basic papers. Once I am happy that I seem to know what I am doing, I take an actual watercolour paper and either first sketch it lightly with a pencil or draw directly with the Micron fineliner.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolor Illustration by Michaela Istok - Doodlewash

When painting pet portraits I need to be fairly accurate, so first I sketch the pet very lightly on a paper with a B or a 2B pencil (it can’t be too soft or the sketch is too dark and difficult to remove or cover by the watercolour wash). Then I take my Micron fineliners, drawing the subject itself. A moment to dry, and I can start applying watercolours.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolor Illustration by Michaela Istok - Doodlewash

Firstly I apply lighter colours in bigger areas and after that I move onto more details in darker colours. This lets me control the values and hues of the painting well, not overdoing it – I strongly believe that an overdone watercolour painting is a mortal sin!

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolor Illustration by Michaela Istok - Doodlewash

For other illustrations, I don’t always feel the need to sketch first by pencil, so I don’t always do that. In that case it’s a drawing with Micron fineliners first and then the watercolours on top of it. This is, of course, quite risky and scary as I can’t remove or alter the fineliners but I like taking this risk. Painting this way is similar to calligraphy – there are no steps back; once you dare to paint the wash, it is there to stay. Doesn’t that remind you of life with no Ctrl + Z?

Useful Tips For Other Artists

I am not, by any means, an authority on painting but I have learnt some tips and tricks over time, so maybe some of them will help you in your artist journey too!

● Don’t stress too much about your tools if you are just starting out – you can practice with anything, not spending too much money on your art at first. Instead, dedicate your heart, time and imagination to your art!

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolor Illustration by Michaela Istok - Doodlewash

● Also, don’t fret if you hadn’t developed your style yet – it will come! And it might change over the time too as you will be evolving as an artist and as a person (in that case, don’t fret as well, this is a good thing to happen).

● Paint and draw everyday, even if for 5 minutes while drinking your morning espresso. Practice makes perfect (and creates you that elusive ‘style’ over time)!

● You will gravitate towards some themes – should you focus only on them? Should you enjoy working on them but also develop your skills in other areas? Food for thought!

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolor Illustration by Michaela Istok - Doodlewash

● Don’t feel self-conscious about your art and if you honestly feel it sucks, take a pencil and focus on the most basic basics – still lifes, portraits, nude bodies. By getting better in these basics you will get better in everything else!

● Leaving a bit of an empty paper (not covered by any paints) in the painting will let it “breathe” and prevent the ‘overdone’ look.

● Most of all, have fun and create art. The world needs more artists like us!

Michaela Istok
Illustration portfolio
Design & digital illustration portfolio
Women Who Draw
Society6 Shop

Recommended9 recommendationsPublished in Featured Artists
  1. Pamela Smith 5 years ago

    Thank you for sharing your journey Michaela,you have what I call a whimsical style,it has a sweet freeing look,very fun..some of your tips resonated with me and I will try to keep them in my head….

    • Michaela Istok 5 years ago

      Hello Pamela, oh thank you for your lovely comment, I am very happy my tips were helpful to you 🙂 <3 Whimsical, yes…. I think it mirrors my not taking myself and life too seriously (we ain't getting out alive anyway :))

  2. Shar Kennett 5 years ago

    They’re too cute!

  3. Darina Valášková 5 years ago

    Som veľmi šťastná Michaela, že ste hosťom tejto skupiny. Vaše vyznanie je veľmi povzbudzujúce a mne začiatočníčke potvrdzujú Vaše slová, že som na správnej ceste. Ďakujem Vám. Som zo Siladíc pri Hlohovci a v tejto skupine Doodlewash som asi pol roka. Cítim sa v nej veľmi dobre, pretože ľudia v nej veľmi podporujú začiatočníkov a poskytujú im svoje rady. Ešte raz Vás srdečne pozdravujem a prajem Vám veľa preveľa úspechov.

    • Michaela Istok 5 years ago

      Jéj Darinka, teším sa, že sa tešíte! :)) Inak pozdravujem z Piešťan hneď za humnom 🙂

  4. Rod Fletcher 5 years ago

    Oh Michaela, thank you so much for your breath of fresh air. Your paintings have given me a warm feeling inside and a big smile on the outside. I too use White Knights and cheap paper, and will continue to do so until my art sells for thousands 🤣. By the way do you have a source for pictograms. Sounds like a great idea.

    • Michaela Istok 5 years ago

      Hello Rod, haha thanks a lot, I am so happy my paintings made you smile and feel fuzzy inside! Mission accomplished :)) And re: cheap tools, I think it’s a good strategy – but I mean, I will turn to the most expensive paper EVER once some huge publishing house will hire me to illustrate the new edition of Harry Potter… xD Until then I am keeping it more reasonable 😀

    • Michaela Istok 5 years ago

      …and I forgot, check out for example for a good source of pictograms 🙂 Pinterest is full of pictograms too!

  5. Thomas Blanchard 5 years ago

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and art Michaela!

    • Kaye Boggs 5 years ago

      It is very refreshing that you have a good time with your artistic endeavors and do what you enjoy. Thanks for sharing your story with us.

    • Michaela Istok 5 years ago

      Thank you so much Thomas and Kaye 🙂 I was very happy when Charlie agreed to feature me, it’s so nice to find oneself in a community of fellow watercolourholics 🙂 <3

  6. Love all what you wrote and your art is great!

    • Michaela Istok 5 years ago

      Thank you so much Robert! I see many shortcomings in my art, but I am working on it! Now to find a writer to illustrate a book for….hmm hmmm…. 🙂 😀

  7. Sandra Strait 5 years ago

    Michaela, your work is delightful! Thank you for sharing your journey and insights with us.

  8. Sharon Bonin-Pratt 5 years ago

    Michaela, I can see that your courage in using materials that can’t be “corrected” results in art that is fun, fanciful, and a pleasure to see.

    • Michaela Istok 5 years ago

      It’s also a very kamikaze style haha!!! But it’s fun, I like the thrill of it. Nobody will get me to a rollercoaster ride but I *am* up for drawing straight on with Microns… 😀

  9. Jean Marmo 5 years ago

    Thank you so much for your wonderful tips! I adore your art. So much fun!

    • Michaela Istok 5 years ago

      Thank you so much Jean! 🙂 I also hope the tips were helpful to you 🙂

  10. Susan Cuss 5 years ago

    Michaela, I love the whimsy and fun that radiates from your art. Thank you for sharing your work and tips.

    • Michaela Istok 5 years ago

      Thank you so much Susan, those are lovely words from you 🙂 <3

  11. M. Caulder 5 years ago

    Never, ever thought I’d see cats belly dancing! Made my day!
    Such adorable paintings, thank you for sharing.

    • Michaela Istok 5 years ago

      Haha!!! Today was the day! 😀 I have a Persian cat (he’s a boy though) and I used to belly dance so I just connected these two… 🙂

  12. sharonnolfi 5 years ago

    I love your whimsical style. Thanks for sharing your work.

  13. Jill Gustavis 5 years ago

    Your paintings make me smile, they’re so fun! Thank you so much for sharing! 🙂

    • Michaela Istok 5 years ago

      Thank you so much Jill! :)) I am so happy the paintings make you smile, that’s wonderful!

  14. Teri Casper 5 years ago

    I love the artists joy in your words and art. Thank you for sharing.

  15. Jennifer McLean 5 years ago

    I like your approach to learning. I would have saved a lot of money if I’d stuck to that, lol. Thanks for sharing.

  16. indira 5 years ago

    Enjoyed reading your artistic journey. Enjoyed looking at the illustrations and paintings.

  17. Sandra Gilbert 5 years ago

    Your work is just lovely, so full of color and fun!

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