TUTORIAL: How to Paint a Watercolor Silhouette

When I was in grade school, I used to enjoy cutting out silhouettes from a sheet of black paper. I like silhouettes because of their dramatic simplicity. A silhouette breaks down a subject into its simplest form and is visually exciting. Designing with silhouettes helps to train the eye to see dark and light values for more interesting compositions.

Painting a watercolor silhouette requires very few colors and is super easy to do. They can be created from just about any subject that has a dynamic and interesting shape. Trees, profiles, hands or animals make wonderful silhouettes!

I chose to paint crows because they make great silhouettes. Crows are big beautiful birds boasting shiny black plumage. They are highly intelligent and very social creatures. I admire them for their strength and adaptability. It was common for me to watch large number of crows gathering and chatting enthusiastically on the telephone wires when I lived in California. Seeing crows brings back good memories of a simpler time.

A list of supplies is provided below but feel free to use whatever supplies you have in your stash to make your own silhouette painting.


Canson Moulin Du Roy Watercolor block 9″ x 12″

Holbein Watercolors: Marine Blue, Ultramarine Blue, Peacock Blue

Daniel Smith Watercolors: Alvaro Caliente Gray, Joe Z Neutral Gray or Neutral Tint

Isabey Squirrel Mop Brush

Princeton Flat Wash Brush

3/4″ Pro Drafting Tape or Washi tape


  1. Mask the edges of the watercolor paper or block with masking tape or washi tape. These tapes don’t tear the paper and leave a nice clean border because water doesn’t seep as easily under the tape.

  2. Wet the surface of the paper with clean water until it is shiny but not puddling. Use variety of blue watercolors and paint a wash using a flat brush starting from from the top of the paper working your way to the bottom. Paint strokes from side to side letting the colors float and mix on the paper surface. Watercolors tend to dry much lighter than they appear wet, so don’t be shy about adding color. Don’t overwork the wash as the water will move the colors where they want to go. Let the sky dry completely.

    Painting a watercolor background first step
  3. Draw in the design with a pencil. The simpler the design the more dramatic the results. Keep it as simple as possible.

    Drawing silhouette on a watercolor background
  4. Paint inside the drawing evenly with dark gray watercolors using a round brush. I love Daniel Smith’s Gray watercolors because they dry to a rich matte finish. If you don’t have gray watercolors, black Higgins ink is good to use as well although the silhouette may dry a bit shiny.

    Painting silhouettes birds on a watercolor background
    Painting Dark silhouettes on a light watercolor background example birds

    Tip: Rotating your painting while working is a great way to get your brush into the small detail areas and it helps to see the composition from another perspective.


  5. Remove the masking tape slowly after the watercolor is completely dry and the paper is flat. Enjoy your silhouette painting!
Bird silhouettes on wire watercolor blue sky

Below, is a video of my painting process

I want to thank Charlie for creating this wonderful forum for watercolor enthusiasts and allowing me to contribute to this blog. I invite you to visit my website for art, tutorials and creative inspiration!

Creatively yours,

Karen Elaine

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Recommended3 recommendationsPublished in Tutorials
  1. Sandra Strait 3 years ago

    Your tutorial is very clear and to the point. I love your crows. Thank you for a great tutorial, Elaine!

  2. Laura Hale 3 years ago

    Thank you so much for your wonderful tutorial.

    • Author
      Karen Elaine 3 years ago

      Thank you for taking the time to read it, glad you enjoyed!

  3. Zertab Quaderi 3 years ago

    Very nice!

  4. Joan Canning 3 years ago

    can’t wait to try this out, enjoyed your video an the painting is beautiful. Thank you for your wonderful tutorial.

  5. Author
    Karen Elaine 3 years ago

    Glad you enjoyed the tutorial! 🙂

  6. Robert J. Coleman 3 years ago

    So simple, so expressive. It makes a positive statement with negative shapes! bob.c

  7. Karen Fortier 3 years ago

    Thanks for doing this Karen!

  8. Bekki 3 years ago

    Great project! Thanks so much. sA homechooling bird sillouhette project was my first hook into the world of watercolor. Im curious about Moulin du Roy–how would it compare to Arches or Fabriano?

    • Author
      Karen Elaine 3 years ago

      Hi Bekki, thank you for the kind words! I would say Moulin-du Roy is a bit less sized than Arches or Fabriano. It’s a great medium priced watercolor block but I treasure my Arches blocks!

  9. Sharon Bonin-Pratt 3 years ago

    What a terrific tutorial, Karen.

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