How to Create a “Stained Glass” Painting with Black Gesso & Watercolors

By Barbara Tibbets in Art Tutorials > Painting Tutorials

As a watercolorist, I’ve been painting since the mid ’80’s. New techniques come and go but here’s one I’ve been perfecting for a while. I call it “black outline art” and use it to create a kind of stained glass appearance in watercolor paintings.

I actually stumbled on this technique a few years ago and am not really sure of it’s origins. . . I’m sure other artists have used similar techniques with different tools.

Here’s the process:

1. Sketch your composition

Whatever your subject matter, start with a basic pencil sketch on stretched watercolor paper (I use Arches 140lb). For this demonstration, I drew out a flower, filled with hundreds of different colorful sections.

2. Outline your drawing with black gesso

I use a small squeeze bottle with a tiny nib for this part. Working from the top down, I “draw” the outline holding the bottle like a pen. I work one section at a time, being very careful not to smear the black gesso (if you do that, you might as well toss out all your hard work, so be patient). Let each section dry completely before continuing the next.


And why black gesso, you ask?

Well, I tried using acrylic paint but the lines were too shiny, and it stuck to the glass if framed. When I discovered black gesso at a watercolor workshop, I realized it was perfect for this because it’s slightly thick like acrylic, yet it dries flat or dull.

3. After it dries, add color

When all the line work is dry, start painting with your watercolors, light to dark. You can either paint individual lined sections or let the paint “flow” over areas—or both.


Originally, I started off with individual but later went to the “flow” technique for a different look. Work cooler colors back and warmer colors forward.

4. Finish with a background of your choice

In some cases, a completely black gesso background is awesome. . . it really makes the subject “pop!” But, in this instance, I chose a spring-like theme.

IMG 1828

You can see more “stained glass” style painting on, where I’m currently finishing up a 30-day painting challenge.

Happy painting!

Special thanks to Barbara Tibbets for sharing this article! To learn more about Barbara or her work, please visit her website.


We'll send you articles & tutorials right as we publish them, so you never miss a post! Unsubscribe here at any time.


This post may contain affiliate links.