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Turn a Digital Photo Print into a Beautiful Watercolor (using water)

From This

To This

It's easy to get a unique and beautiful artistic effect on a digital printout with this technique. I call this technique "reverse painting" because instead of painting color onto the paper, you are instead selectively lifting it off and allowing it to remix or reflow. You are controlling how this happens with your brush and water.

This allows you to create beautiful and interesting effects. For example, you can "paint" water onto the photo, and the photo's ink layers will come apart and away as though the water is diffusing the photo itself.

You can selectively lift away unwanted colors or areas (removing the ink entirely), or you can diffuse them to effectively turn your photo into a watercolor painting.

All you need to do this is some inkjet photo printouts on glossy paper (the cheaper kinds seem to work better), a paintbrush, paper towels, and some water.

Why It Works

Glossy photo paper is a little like the back of a postage stamp. If you wet your fingertip and touch the paper, you'll find that it sticks.

Now, while the ink that the photo image consists of isn't necessarily water-soluble, the paper and that back-of-postage-stamp binding agent is.

This is why we can apply water selectively with a paintbrush to loosen, diffuse, and lift/wash away sections and layers of the printed photo.

In my tests, cheap photo paper ("Likon" 20-pack from the 1$ store) seems to work better then the more expensive kinds (such as HP Photo Print).

Some Techniques to Try

Here are a few things I have tried. I encourage you to try your own experiments and put your own twists on things!These are some effects to obtain using this "reverse-painting" concept:

The Eraser: Successive passes with a lightly-watered brush will gradually remove color and expose the white photo paper beneath. (I decided on the term "reverse painting" based on noticing this effect in particular.)

Smudge: This does a very light soften/blend effect. This is very touchy and similar to The Eraser, but to do it you use just a little more water and a little less motion than for The Eraser. You need to stop before you actually lift away any ink. This is tricky because when ink lifts away, it happens all at once, and when exactly that occurs depends on the ink density and the paper quality.

Sanding: Applying water onto a region of the photo, then soaking up the water (or wiping it away) with a paper towel gives a "sanding away" effect - similar to removing layers of paint with paint thinner. Allowing the water to soak a little (or a lot) before soaking it up or wiping it away can result in different effects, depending on your technique and the nature of your photo and the paper it's printed on.

Convert to Watercolor: This is my favorite. Applying more water and being careful to stay in color boundaries (or carefully crossing them), then allowing to dry can give make the photo look like a watercolor painting. I find that it's best to work with a photo that has bright colors, is high-contrast and high-brightness, and is not too busy or "dense" for this effect to be good.

On the example to the right, notice how the colors are nicely blended especially in the collar area.



Have fun and don't be afraid to try something new, practice makes perfect.

Don't forget to have a look at my other projects while you're here!

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