How to: Paint Skeletal Figures with Emily Artful

How to: Paint Skeletal Figures with Emily Artful

Emily Artful, one of our Fuel Your Creativity artists, is known for her watercolor paintings (often anatomical.) Read more about her inspiration, artistic journey, and words of advice here. The following composition Emily is making is a female pelvis with a butterfly overlay. Learn the four stages to complete this piece with Emily herself using Watercolor Paints, Watercolor Paper, and Paintbrushes. 

Supplies Needed:
  • Watercolors
  • Paint Brushes
  • 2 Water Cups (1 for clean water, 1 for dirty water)
  • Heat Gun (Optional)


First, Emily creates her sketch of a female pelvis and transfers it over to watercolor paper using a very soft leaded pencil. Usually, it's not suggested to do this with watercolors, but because of the hardness of the pencil she uses, it is easier to erase. Emily uses a kneaded eraser to pull up excess graphite before she starts painting. 

Pre-wet the watercolor paint pans with a mister bottle of water (you can also use a pipette, or just your paintbrush and a small amount of water.) Wait for a little while so that the paint is ready for the brush. After a little time has elapsed, Emily starts mixing the base color on a palette. Arteza Watercolor Sets have a built-in palette on the lid of the tin, which is what Emily uses for her palette.

Since the base will be a larger wash of color, Emily gathers water from her clean cup and lays the water down first, working in sections. Keep in mind to not oversaturate the paper. To see where the water is going, Emily likes to lightly tint water with the base color she is using. She then grabs a heat gun and dries the first layer. Once the color of the pigment has lightened significantly and there is no sheen on the paper, you know the paint is dry. Emily repeats this painting process on the rest of the pelvis and again dries the piece with a heat gun. 

Next, she lays down a dusty orange shade that she has mixed for the painted lady butterfly that overlaps the female pelvis. During this step, it's OK to paint over the pencil details as this is the lightest color, and all of the details will be browns and other darker shades.

Tip: If you don't have a heat gun, you can use a hair dryer or simply air dry for a few minutes. 


Emily likes this part to be fairly straightforward, so she mixes up a darker shade of her base color, and applies the pigment. She immediately cleans her brush and, with a mildly wet brush, goes in and drags the color down to create a nice gradient. This part is important to include; you want to use shadows when painting these skeletal figures to highlight the angular nature of bones. 

Tip: Emily doesn't want her line art to be too stark, so uses these shadows instead to show the individual vertebrae. This also softens your artwork, especially for compositions like this that are meant to have a muted color palette.

Line Art 

Emily mixes up two different colors for line art (two shades of red) and with a thin paintbrush starts to outline the border, as well as any lines within the skeleton. As she moves down the outline of the pelvis, she makes the shade darker.

As the pelvis is more detailed, Emily chooses to keep the butterfly relatively simple by accentuating the lines on her sketch with a darker shade of the base color. Since the painting is so muted in color, it is important not to use black for the body of the butterfly. Instead, Emily uses a very dusty gray, almost brown color. Emily continues to add small details, darkening the shades of brown as she adds more details to the butterfly wings. Additionally, she uses a heat gun to dry between layers. 

Tip: Water will always go where water already is, so be mindful of your placement. If necessary, Emily will take a clean paper towel to gently dab areas away. 

Finishing Touch:

Lastly, Emily grabs a bit of Arteza Gouache in white. She only needs a very small amount and adds small details like highlights, dots, and eyes.  

Tip: If you don't have gouache, watered-down acrylic paint will work. Alternatively, once the butterfly is fully dry, you could use a fine-tipped white gel pen or white paint marker. 

We hope this how-to has Fueled Your Creativity and inspired you to recreate this piece, or design your own anatomical watercolor painting! 


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