I love state art. I don’t know if it’s because I don’t live in my home state now or what, but I think art that calls back to your roots is awesome. A long time ago, I fell in love with the reckless abandon watercolor style state art on Etsy: particularly the “state love” watercolors. (Just Etsy search “[state name/country name] love” and you’ll see what I’m talking about.) I was tempted to buy one, but realized that I should probably try to make one instead. I thus developed a watercolor technique using stencils and salt that does the trick! It’s ridiculously easy. I’ll concede that at this point, it’s probably the quickest, lowest-hassle tutorial on TPK right now.
The first thing you will do is print out (or freehand) an outline of your state. I happened to have one of Kansas, my home state, already on hand.
Cut it out with a hobby knife or scissors. Congratulations! You’ve made a stencil.
Now, you’ll want to lightly tape your stencil to an 8″x10″ or 11″x14″ piece of paper. I am using regular 8″x10″ sketchbook paper here.
Ready your supplies: my artillery includes watercolor paints, regular table salt, and water. That’s it. (If you don’t have watercolor paints, go out and buy some — they’re so cheap. SO cheap.)
Now, start filling in your stencil with watercolor. Don’t worry about the watercolor going on in uniform strokes; you want there to be a whirlwind of color, drips, and different textures.
Be sure and use more than one color in your state art. Here, I have decided on a yellow-blue-green color scheme. As you are painting, sprinkle a little bit of salt on areas of watercolor that still haven’t dried. We’re talking just a few grains. The grains of salt cause the watercolor to dry around them, making for this amazing, raindrop-in-water-like texture once the watercolor dries and you wipe off the salt.
Once you’re finished, lift the stencil off. Don’t sweat it if your state art resembles more of a blob of paint than your state at this point. I will offer this tip, though — the thicker paper you use for your stencil, the less bleed-age you’ll have. I used regular printer paper, so I experienced a fair amount of color bleed.
At this point, you’ll take advantage of the bleeds to create fun bursts of color runs. To achieve these color runs, saturate your brush in the watercolor paint, dab a couple of small blobs of paint where a bleed has occurred, and blow on it to make the paint burst across the page.
Continue doing this until you have a fair amount of colorful paint runs on your watercolor. At this point, you can clean up any blurry edges with your paint brush as well. Notice I have put more definition with a darker shade of yellow on all four corners of my state.
Now comes the part that I enjoy the most: the paint flicking! Either use your brush (or an old toothbrush) to flick paint onto the paper. To do this, simply saturate the brush/toothbrush in paint, and quickly strum the brush with your forefinger to cause small droplets of paint to land arbitrarily on your creation. Do this with the main colors you used (in my case, yellow, green, and blue).
If you have a program like Photoshop or Gimp on your computer, it’s easy to scan your state art, open it in the program, remove the background, and replace it with an all-white background. You can then send the file to your local print shop (or even a photo center at a large store), and you’ve got a professional print! With graduation season upon us, I think this would make a wonderful, cheap yet professional gift for friends or family who will be moving to a different location to continue studies or pursue a career.
Don’t limit yourself to states — countries are very fun to create with this technique as well. I created one of Peru, too, because that’s where my boyfriend hails from:
Let me know if you have any questions or tips after creating your own state art! Remember that you can use this technique to create any object you’d like, really — mascots, objects, landmarks, etc. Happy painting!