I shared in a previous post how you can use vinyl as a stencil for watercolors. If you haven’t read that, check it out here. Today I’m going to show you a different way to use your Silhouette to create beautiful watercolor paintings by using a sketch image. I’m no artist, but I can sure fake it by having my Cameo draw the image with a pen and then painting inside the lines. (And if you are a real artist, keep the snickers to a minimum :).
Skill level: Beginner
(Yes, the instructions are long, but the process can be very easy).
Silhouette sketch pens or your own pen in the pen holder
Frame and adhesive vinyl (optional)
1. Select your design
Let’s talk first about the different types of designs to use. These go in order from easiest to hardest to use. If you start following the directions and get overwhelmed, just pick a simple image and skip the steps you don’t need.
A sketch design from the Silhouette Store
A sketch image is one that is specifically designed to draw with a pen. It is a series of 1-dimensional lines instead of a 2 dimensional shape. Here’s an example of a flower that’s a sketch image from the Silhouette Design Store:
It’s different from a regular cut file in that while a cut line is added around the perimeter (I’ve removed it in the flower pic above), the other lines won’t actually cut out correctly. For example, a line may come in perpendicular to another line like this:
While you don’t want to try to cut a sketch image, they work well for a watercolor project like this.
Sketch images often have a series of overlapping lines that give a hand-drawn look and add shading. This type is even better for using as a watercolor base.
If your sketch file is like the first example and you want it to be more like the second, you can add some of the extra lines (either in the software or by hand) or, with Designer Edition, turn the file into a sketch image and alter the look (more on that below).
A cut design
A cut image is meant to be cut out, so it has both length and width to every part. In other words, it has 2 dimensions.
Here’s an example of the difference. On the left is a rectangle — a 2-dimensional shape. If I cut that out, I’ll end up with a piece I can remove from the page and use as a tag. On the right is a line — a 1-dimensional shape. Cutting that only gives me a slit in the paper.
A cut design can work for a project like this — you just need to layer up the pieces. I’ll show you more about that below. Most designs are cut files. As long as you put a pen in the machine instead of a blade, the lines are drawn instead of cut.
A cut file you turn into a sketch file
With Designer Edition and above, you can turn any cut file into a sketch file. As already stated, you don’t have to turn a cut file into a sketch file to draw it — you just have to use a pen in place of the blade. What you can do with DE is alter the look of the outside line or add fill patterns like crosshatching. That will give your design more of the hand-drawn look I showed you above. Here’s a cut file as it is originally and then as it looks when I added a Continuous Edge Sketch:
And here’s one where I also added a pencil fill sketch pattern:
One note of caution is needed here. With some of the fill and edge effects, what you see on the screen isn’t exactly what is drawn. I’ve made the mistake before of increasing the density of the pattern to get more of it. I didn’t see any difference on the screen, but it ended up drawing WAY too many lines. If you are doing this for the first time, just practice on some cardstock before you use your more expensive watercolor paper.
A raster image you use to create a sketch file
I created this design from a raster image by drawing my own lines. Common raster images are jpg, png, gif, tiff files and photographs. They are images with print information. I put the picture on the drawing area and used the drawing tools to create lines. What I needed was just the basic outline.
I’ll post a link here to a more detailed tutorial on that once I’ve written it. I had the machine draw very simple lines, then I added some shading lines by hand afterward. I could have drawn more lines in the software but it was faster to just do that portion manually.
Tracing isn’t always great for this, specifically if your raster image is one that’s like a coloring page. That’s what mine was. You end up with double lines instead of single ones. Here’s a comparison:
On this one I used the same procedure, but started with a photograph. By breaking up the lines into shorter segments and drawing in a wavered fashion, it looks more like I sketched it by hand.
*If you’d like to get this hummingbird file free, just sign up for my newsletter.*
What else to look for
–I like to use a realistic-looking image, but you can get very different looks by using other types.
–You’re looking for something that is an outline so that you can paint inside the lines. Single piece designs are easiest for a first try. Also pay attention to whether or not the design has a background piece that all other pieces are laid upon.
–You don’t want something that is a 3D design, a rhinestone design or a print and cut.
2. Add the image to the page and prep it
If you choose a sketch image from the SDS…
…decide if you need to remove the cut line. A cut line is included on the outside so that you can sketch the image and then cut out around it. On most designs, it’s the outermost line. On others, it’s a separate piece. Sometimes it’s an integral part of the design. Here, I’ve colored the cut line red and the sketch lines black so you can see what I’m talking about.
If you choose a regular cut image that’s a single layer or piece…
…first add it to the drawing area. Here are some examples of this type:
You may also want to remove the outer edge. It depends on the image. If the outer line is a background piece that all other pieces are laid onto, it’s usually fine to remove it. If the outer line is an integral part of the design, you may want to leave it. The flower on the left has that background piece so I removed it. In the design on the right the stem of the flowers goes away completely if I remove the outside piece, so I usually leave it.
If you choose a regular cut image that’s more than a single layer or piece but has a background piece…
…you’ll want to layer those up in order to create an image you can sketch. Here’s what a regular cut image looks like when I put it on the drawing area…
…and what it looks like after I’ve layered the pieces.
If you choosr a regular cut image that’s more than a single layer or piece but does NOT have a background piece…
…that could be a hot mess for sketching if it makes crisscrossing lines.
But don’t worry — there’s a fix.
Fill all your pieces with color
Filled shapes are easier to grab and this helps you see the order of the pieces — which is in front of another. This will make a big difference in the next step. I almost always work with filled pieces in the design phase. You may need to ungroup the pieces first.
Assemble your pieces
If you aren’t sure how they fit together, it’s handy to use the split screen feature. That allows you to view your drawing area and the library or the Silhouette Design Store at the same time. The thumbnail (tiny picture of the design) will show you how the finished project should look. I like to do the split screen with the SDS because the images are larger than those in the library.
I removed the leaf background pieces (what’s lighter green in the thumbnail) because as I layered the design I realized I didn’t need them for making this a sketch.
Watch for any pieces that are in front of a piece they need to be behind. Here, the leaf is in front of the flower but I need it to be behind. To change that I select a piece, right click and change the order with send to back, bring to front, etc.
Once you’ve got all your pieces layered and in the correct order…
…open the Modify window and choose Subtract All. This will act like a bathtub full of water falling through all the floors of an apartment building. It will cut holes on each level as it goes down but in the end all the pieces still remain. It won’t look like anything has happened, but when you move a piece you’ll see.
Set the fills back to clear
Since I’m sketching, this gives me a better idea of what lines will be drawn. It will also show me if there are 2 lines on top of one another. You’ll notice a slightly darker line color where that’s happening. Remove extra pieces as needed if you want just a single line. That may even require some point editing. Or, shift the duplicates slightly and make extras of other pieces if you want the look to be more sketchy. Play around and have fun with this. Make it as simple or complex as you like.
If you want to use more than one pen color for sketching, you can select a different line color for each piece and use the Advanced Cut Mode to cut by line color. For this type of project I typically use all black. Some sketch designs you purchase may already have different line colors, so you can change them all to a single color to visualize your project better. But as long as you cut in Standard mode, it won’t matter what color the lines are.
At this point I group everything so I can resize and move it all together. Once I’ve done that I’m ready to go.
3. Sketch the design
You can use Silhouette sketch pens or use your own pen in the pen holder. I like the RSVP pens by Pentel. I find that they write for me every time and last forever. They also deliver a thin, consistent line. Test your pen to make sure the water will not cause the ink to bleed.
Set Silhouette Sketch Pen as your material type in the Cut Settings window (even if you are using the pen holder). This automatically sets Sketch Pen as the blade type. That’s important because the machine mechanism handles the blade differently than the pen. For more information on using pens, see my post here.
Now you can load your mat and send your project to the machine.
If you don’t have sketch pens or the pen holder, you can actually print this to your home printer.
–Make sure your printer can use watercolor paper. It’s thicker than normal paper.
–Sketch lines are vectors, which means they are treated the same as cut lines. Vectors don’t have print information so you need to add some. Select your image, open the line style window and raise the line thickness to any amount that looks good to you. As long as it’s above 0.0, which is the default, the lines will print. If you want just very faint lines, you can instead check the box “Print Lines of Selected Shapes” at the bottom of the panel.
–Make sure none of your design still has a fill color. Those would print as well because fills are print information.
You can leave your design on a full sheet of paper or cut out around the outside edge of your shape. Once your project is out of the machine, add extra lines by hand if you want.
4. Paint the design
There’s no right or wrong here. Just enjoy! I actually have no professional advice here because I just wing it. I do know I like to leave some clean space in the design — areas where I don’t put any paint.
5. Frame and share
Now that your masterpiece is complete, frame it if you like. Here’s my first try, my hummingbird:
This one is for a friend battling breast cancer. I added an encouraging phrase to the outside of the glass on this shadowbox frame using vinyl.
This sketch image from the Silhouette Design Store has always reminded me of our dog, Tyson. It’s Dog Sketch by Cali Arroyo, design #45970. This one is for my husband’s office.
So get painting! I bet you’ll feel like a kid again when you get to use watercolors. Let me know how you did!