Itsy Bitsy Spider

OK, I know this is not a painting of a spider, but I kept looking at it and thinking…”Itsy bitsy spider…” It just turned out that way.

I’ve been playing with how to paint ripples and sea foam. It might look like I am painting a sea shell or a crab but really, I want to try new things, play with color and just see what I can do. The shell or crab is really just an excuse.

This time, I wanted to play with sea foam, layering and… well bubbles… as in dishwashing liquid. The crab was just an excuse and the fact that I love any chance to use a bunch of blue.

I grabbed this guy as a reference photo off of one of those free photo sites.

Blue Crab

I moved the legs around a bit, drew him out and started to add some sea foam around him as if he was coming out of the surf. I used my usual Fineline Masking Fluid (affiliate link).

See why he looks like a spider coming down the spout? Totally unintentional.

Watercolor on paper

Doodling the little sea foam bubbles is therapy to me. It reminds me of beading or embroidery and I can get lost in it. I continue on with the form of the wave that I had sketched out.

Watercolor in progress

Detail of how it comes together.

Watercolor on paper

This was the idea I had for the sea foam – and a few added rocks/shells – but it doesn’t look quite right.

Watercolor in progress

I don’t like that little “spur” of foam top right and I kinda want to see it go further down. Yes, it is easy to just remove some of the masking fluid.

Watercolor on paper

Now, one thing I have played with recently is layering the background. That is, putting down a light wash, letting it dry, then adding more masking fluid to add texture and different shades of rocks/sand.

This is the first light wash.

Watercolor in progress

I added used a bit more masking fluid in dots and blogs for more rocks/sand then when that was dry, did a darker wash. This is while it was wet – it is not that dark when dry!

Watercolor in progress

I wanted to try using soap bubbles again so after this layer was dry, I got out my bowl, dishwashing liquid and straw to get ready to go.

Dishwashing liquid

Working quickly, I scooped bubbles around the painting then dropped brushfulls of watercolor on top of the bubbles.

Bubbles on watercolor


Soap foam on watercolor

And more – yes, this is scary!

And here it is dry… It is muddier, darker and dirtier looking than I wanted but I am learning. Then again, I am painting mud/dirt sand so… not a total failure. It seems like bright, clear pigments work best with bubbles…

Watercolor on paper

All that said, I LOVE some of the effects here.

Now to remove the mask.

Mask removed

I love parts of this and I hate parts of this! It really does create an effect.

Watercolor in progress

Masking fluid creates harsh, sharp lines when removed but a quick pass with a damp brush lets the lines soften just a bit. You really can’t see much difference unless you look closely but I still think it improves the overall painting.

Removing the mask

Now to paint the crab. I mask a few areas and start adding color and a few shadows. Note, it looks like I am photographing these under trees or something that create shadows on the painting but that is the pigment left by the soap subs. It is kinds neat and kinda awful at the same time.

One of my most used watercolor tools might surprise you… Don’t use your teeth to get that stuck top of the tube – I broke one that way. No muss, no fuss, no strain – just keep these handy.


Now to painting…

Watercolor in progress

I am using Daniel Smith Amethyst, Cobalt, Manganese – which is so intense that to me it has to be used sparingly, Indanthrone (the darker, warmer blue) and a touch of Iridescent Electric blue – which is iridescent and electric but works in small areas (affiliate links). And yes, while some of these watercolors are expensive, most tubes will last you the rest of your life. I am on my second tube of Cerulean and, I think my second tube of Amethyst, but the rest, a little bit will go a long way.

Watercolor in progress

Here’s what I love about Daniel Smith granulating colors; with most paints or inks or whatever, if you mix violet, green and yellow, you get mud. With the “Primatek” paints, the granules don’t seem to mix much but just sit beside each other like grains of sand. In the above, I used Amethyst, Goethite, and Terre Verte. My method is not to “mix on the palette” but to get an area wet, dab in a little pigment, then another pigment and just let them mix together.

Watercolor on paper

All that is left is removing the remaining mask, softening the edges of the areas that were masked and a few finishing details.

The red accents here are done with another wonderful Daniel Smith shade – Garnet Genuine. It’s red but with a brick undertone and does not “dominate” they way red pigment can (affiliate link).

And that’s about it. Even though I still think “Itsy bitsy spider…” I learned a lot and overall, I like this one.

Finished painting
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  1. You are generous to share in detail your journey with soap bubbles . I hop I can keep this so I can follow sorry I don’t like copying. What paper is best for this please?
    I live south west of Perth in WA.

    • I like 300lb paper. It is thick – almost like cardboard. It doesn’t warp much. With thinner paper, particularly if you live in a place with high humidity, it can warp, even after you frame it. I always use Arches. Just switch from rough to cold press (a bit smoother). Cheap Joes dot com sells sample packs of watercolor paper so you can try 6 different brands to see what suits you best. I went through a few of these and Arches is the one that feels right to me. Some are too absorbent and some are too – not absorbent – at least for me. Check out Cheap Joes.

  2. Oh gosh, I’m so thrilled to have just spotted your wonderful paintings, at various stages, with excellent descriptions, and I’m hooked. I have craved getting back into water colours, which I haven’t been able to do for 2 years or so. it’s impossible to find a good teacher here too. But here, you’ve given me my passion back again and some confidence to go for it.
    Do you ever use an hairdryer? obviously it would ruin bubbles, but with other paintings? Your work is really 👌! I do like the fact that you’ve added pinks to the crab. By the way, it looks just like smooth, pitted rocks, that he’s walking on. very effective indeed.
    Thank you again, for enlightening me so much.

    • Thank you! No I don’t use a hairdryer. I work on several paintings at once so I can switch while one dries. Plus, I have kinda a short attention span at times so I paint a bit, go check email, paint a bit, take a walk… It all just seems to work out. Plus, when I do a large area really wet, it usually need to dry overnight. And then I like to check it and look at it a bit to see where to go next.

      I don’t post often enough but I will try to keep you inspired 🙂

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