Focus on watercolour illustration techniques

Winsor and Newton Professional Watercolour

Often associated with fine art applications, Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolour is also the paint of choice for many illustrators and cartoonists. We asked a diverse range of these artists to tell us what they do and how they use Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolour and Winsor & Newton Drawing Inks.

Joanna Walsh, aka Badaude, is an artist/illustrator based in London and Paris. She is published by the Tate and has drawn and written for the Guardian and the Times. Walsh has made large-scale works for the Wellcome Institute and Tate Modern.

Shy of being seen to be drawing, especially as she is often recording something that’s going on between people – how they look, what they’re saying – Walsh makes very rough notes and scribbled drawings in little notebooks. Often no one can understand what’s drawn or written except her. Always with her are notebooks and gel pens, a computer and a larger sketchbook for work in libraries and cafes. Never off duty as an artist, Walsh finds there’s always something to notice and note down. Friends will often find themselves in her pictures.

Walsh uses Winsor & Newton Black Indian Ink and occasionally coloured inks to develop work in the studio. She is looking for a clear line and, apart from the odd bit of spattering sometimes, doesn’t use any special techniques. Preferring to shade with solid blocks of black, she will occasionally use watered down inks for shading and, more rarely, textures – dots, cross-hatching and so on. Walsh’s experimental side is probably in writing. Drawing is a pursuit of perfection of the simplest techniques: clean lines (she is very influenced by the ligne claire Franco-Belgian tradition of comic art, especially Jacques Tardi, Joost Swarte and Jason) and blocks of black.

Joanna Walsh
Joanna Walsh, aka ‘Badaude’


Philip Bannister illustrates Mary Portas’s Daily Telegraph column, Queen of Shops, and is regularly commissioned by the National Trust and Country Life magazine.

A traditional figurative illustrator who uses Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolour, Bannister likes to work very quickly and spontaneously and finds that Artists’ Watercolour mixes particularly well to make secondary and tertiary colours. He uses a very small range of colours and mixes them loosely, like an omelette, on the palette. He prefers tubes as the density of colour suits him better than using a pan.

When starting a project, good reference materials are essential. Bannister now finds them on the internet but also has a well-loved reference library at home. Sketching on tracing paper, he turns it over and over as a drawing develops. Once happy, he traces the drawing onto Bockingford 140 weight watercolour paper. He stretches the paper by wetting one side and then, after a while, turning it over and sticking it to the board with brown tape. Too wet and the tape won’t take. Once dry, Bannister starts “painting” with masking fluid and then develops the design with colour.

He will almost always send his client a pencil rough so they can see what they are getting. Clients don’t give too much direction as to style but there is always a deadline to work to! Bannister enjoys being spontaneous, so this suits him. It’s almost always the case that the less the colours are worked, the fresher and better they appear.

Philip Bannister
Philip Bannister, L’Occitane


Nuno Da Costa is a self-taught artist who put together a portfolio after university, knocked on a few doors, and – despite some rejections – is now established as a fashion and beauty illustrator. Da Costa has an instinctual feel for the lifestyle and aspirations of the women he depicts. His materials compliment this aspirational view; he chooses traditional Winsor & Newton materials and gives them a modern twist, just as he does with his designs, which have a 1950s retro feel for a thoroughly modern audience.

Ideas start from a specific product commissioned by fashion and beauty companies; brand history and the target audience is at the heart of the idea process. Da Costa starts by creating a spider chart with a keyword in the middle and playing around to find associations. He’ll also research images of the brand’s favourite models. After this initial process, Da Costa makes several pencil sketches and then prints the sketch on Winsor & Newton Bristol board, which is ideal for fine detail drawings. For painting, Winsor & Newton Designers Gouache and Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolour are his materials of choice. He’s recently been experimenting with Winsor & Newton Drawing Inks.

Nuno DaCosta
Nuno DaCosta


Michael Frith is an illustrator and painter based in West Sussex. His illustrations are reproduced in the Sunday Times and other newspapers, and he has had many solo exhibitions of his paintings.

When working to a commission, Frith receives a telephone enquiry and the process is then carried out by email. Newspapers will send reference photographs for him to use. He creates his illustrations, scans them, and then sends them back – usually on a tight deadline. Commissions have to be turned around in 12 hours.

Frith’s illustrations have a lively vivacity about them and he ascribes this to his academic training in drawing at Canterbury College of Art. Starting with a rough tracing of the photo, he re-traces it onto watercolour paper. Using Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolour, he then paints, making sure it stays fresh, loose and not slavish to the original photograph. Frith always uses tubes and a dinner plate palette in the studio, and small pans when he’s out and about.

Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolour has been his paint of choice for 30 or 40 years and his familiarity with the range means he understands and trusts them.

Michael Frith
Michael Frith, Martha’s Vineyard, 40×60” on Arches


*Lead image: Nuno Da Costa’s illustrations in watercolour, courtesy the artist