Elaine (of @leeniale on Instagram) is an illustrator and bullet journal enthusiast based in New York City, who is particularly talented at creating watercolor art. After seeing the stunning artwork and beautiful bullet journal spreads Elaine has created using watercolor, we knew that she'd be the perfect person to interview for our blog.
We asked Elaine about her journey with watercolor art, her tips for beginners, and her favorite products. Here's our conversation:
How did you become interested in painting and drawing? Have you always had an interest in creating art, or did you discover this talent more recently?
I’ve always loved illustration but I was discouraged to pursue it as a career so I dropped it for another creative passion in college. Then after working for a while and trying other things I found myself interested in illustrating again. So I guess I really rediscovered my love for painting and drawing when I started to bullet journal in 2018.
It’s been such a learning experience for me since then. I remember picking up a pen for the first time in a long time and feeling so hesitant and unfamiliar with the instrument. I felt discouraged because I remember my strokes used to be so effortless and confident. But I recalled something my mom told me every time I felt frustrated with drawing, “Elaine, practice makes progress, nothing happens miraculously overnight.” So thus far, it’s all been practice, getting adjusted and finding my style.
During this time my brother also encouraged me to start posting my work on IG, so that’s how Leeniale began and I was surprisingly so warmly welcomed by a wonderful community of creatives! One of the ways that keep me encouraged to continue practicing is my accountability to share with my followers and the rapport we have.
What inspired you to start using watercolors in your creations?
In high school, my art teacher introduced watercolor to me and I instantly fell in love with the medium. Watercolor is special because it requires you to plan ahead, to consider how you want to layer colors, which areas to paint first, what to leave blank because the paper is usually your white color and it helps you develop patience as you wait for some areas to dry you can work on others. I love being able to control the color opacity and just how simple but sophisticated it dries. So I use watercolor and gouache in all my illustrations.
Can you tell us about the practice and work that you’ve put into your craft? I can imagine that it takes a lot of effort over time, especially to master watercolors as you have!
I try to practice a lot. Like I mentioned earlier, because I feel accountable to share my work with my audience (it also makes me so happy when my work inspires others to paint) that I practice weekly if not daily. I practice by painting from photos of buildings, interiors, everyday objects. And I’ve also been wanting to take classes from the pros but I haven’t had time so I usually study the artists that inspire me to improve my technique and color theory.
Can you take us through the process of using watercolors in a journal spread?
First I usually plan out my spread with a H pencil then I would use a micron pen to ink the spread. When I watercolor my illustrations I try to be careful with the amount of water I use so it doesn’t wrinkle the paper that much.
I find gouache more suitable for journaling because it’s more opaque and pigmented with less water. I also like using soft color pencils to add some finishing touches to my illustration. And depending on how big the illustration is, it could take me anywhere from 30 mins to two hours.
- Getting decent paints and watercolor paper, it goes a long way! And cheap paints are not necessarily bad quality, there’s tons of watercolor brands and gouache you could try before getting the expensive stuff. I prefer using tube watercolors because in my opinion it’s more pigmented and easier to mix your own colors.
- Don’t start watercoloring on your bullet journal but try using watercolor paper first. You’ll see the beauty of watercolor on the paper it’s meant to be on.
- Start by copying a watercolor illustration. Don’t be ashamed, I see lots of artwork from my followers who recreated my work and I think it’s the best place to begin learning. When you illustrate someone else’s illustration, they’ve already studied and broke down a real life scene into blocks of color and shapes so it’s easier for you to mimic.
- And if you get serious then learn real watercolor technique from video tutorials or classes! There are lots of brush techniques and watercolor lessons to be learned.
I’m glad you asked! I have a YouTube video on my favorite supplies here, but here are my updated responses:
- For watercolor and gouache I use Holbein but for cheaper alternatives I like Winsor Newton and Reeves.
- For hot pressed watercolor paper (smooth surface): Stillman and Birn journals, Arches watercolor paper and Blick’s watercolor blocks.
- For cold pressed watercolor paper (rough surface): Fluid cold pressed block and Strathmore watercolor pad.
Thanks to Elaine for these wonderful answers. Be sure to follow @leeniale on Instagram for more inspiration.