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How to Paint Watercolor Donuts

How to Paint Watercolor Donuts

Who's ready to make some DONUTS?! Follow this step-by-step tutorial to painting a yummy triple stack of frosted donuts, and pair it with your favorite donut pun for a delectable piece of art! Today we're using a layered watercolor technique to create a realistic dimension. DONUT worry if you feel your drawing skills aren’t up to the task – I’ve also included a reference outline that you can trace to get started!

I'm Melinda from @mellie.zee on Instagram and I'm so excited to be teaching you my watercolor technique for this glorious stack of donuts. I'm already hungry!

Pertaining to colors and paint blends, I’m using a broader range (cadmium yellow hue, yellow ochre, burnt sienna, burnt umber, permanent rose, and ultramarine) to get more color depth, but if you don’t have all these colors, just make an educated guess for the color tones with what you’ve got!







Step 1: Sketch

Lightly sketch in pencil a stack of three donuts and mark off areas of highlights in the frosting. I've provided a hard-line outline on the right if you'd prefer to trace the shape of our donuts, it's really up to you! 



Step 2: Paint Base Layer


In the first layer, we will use the larger brush to add a base wash of color to the donuts and the frosting. Donuts often have a lighter stripe around their middles. We want to keep those middle areas and the frosting highlights white or give them only a very light wash of color, but don’t worry about the precise outlines. I mark them in the sketch just as a reminder to keep some areas white/light, but the exact shape is not that important.

Use your brush strokes as you fill in an area to define the edges. Don’t outline the area
with your brush and then fill; this creates harsh outlines, and we want a softer, blended

If you put too much paint in the highlight areas, use a paper towel to absorb the excess I’d recommend painting the bottom donut first, then the top one, and then the middle one. This will give the pink frosting on the bottom a chance to set slightly so that you don’t get excessive bleeding of pink into the middle donut. 

Donut mix: We are aiming for a warm, golden light brown. Depending on your light brown color, you can mix in a touch of yellow or orange to help obtain this warmth.

Strawberry frosting: Permanent rose (or any shade of pink). 

Chocolate frosting mix: Most dark brown colors are a little flat and “cold” to my eye to for chocolate, so I like to warm them up by mixing in some orange or reddish tones. 

Vanilla frosting mix: Very dilute wash of yellow ochre mixed with a bit of yellow. 

Use your larger brush to put down a light wash of the donut paint mix, leaving a stripe of white in the middle of the donut. Then put down a wash of pink for the strawberry frosting, again leaving the highlights white. It’s okay if the pink bleeds into the donut color. I like to work with moderately wet paint for the first layer; not so wet that you get puddles, but wet enough that the paint can move and bleed.

Repeat for the chocolate donut on top, using color mixes as described above.

Repeat for the vanilla donut in the middle, using color mixes as described above. For this one,
you will want t keep the frosting very light so be sure your paint mix is dilute.



Step 3: Add Shape and Definition


Let the first layer dry. After it's dry, apply a second layer to darken up certain areas and add
dimension. I prefer to do this with a smaller brush than I used for the first wash! I'm using both size 6 and size 3 round brushes here, but really, just use whatever you have lying around. Not a big deal!

Add more color to the tops of the frosting, the bases of the donuts, below the frosting drips, and beneath the frosting highlights. Build up some color along the sides, which will help to give the donuts a rounded dimensional feel. Paint your strokes with a slight curve to them, following the rounded shape of the donut.

Helpful tip:  If you overpaint your highlights or want to add one to an already painted area, you can lift out some of the colors by using a brush with clean water.


Strawberry frosting: Using the same pink, add a layer of color underneath the vanilla donut,
along the right edges of the frosting drips, and a little bit along the sides. Add a slightly less
intense second layer of color beneath some of the highlights. Blend out the edges of the new
layer a little to soften them!

Strawberry donut: Add two stripes of color – one along the bottom of the donut, and one at the level of the frosting drips (the latter is a partial stripe since it's covered by the frosting). Be sure to preserve the white/light band across the middle of the donut, between the two stripes!

Chocolate frosting: Using the same chocolate color, darken up the right and bottom edges of the frosting, the sides of the frosting, and beneath the highlights. My first chocolate wash was fairly light, so I added more color throughout but tried to keep some parts lighter than others to create dimension and shine! 

Chocolate donut: Using the donut paint mix but with a little more burnt sienna this time, add a darker stripe of color to the base of the donut.

Vanilla frosting: Use a fairly dilute vanilla frosting mix to add a little more color beneath the
chocolate donut, beneath highlights, on the right side of the frosting drip, and along the sides of the donut.

Add a darker stripe of color to the base of the bottom donut as well. Be sure to let everything dry before the next step and re-assess where you need to add more color or highlight! It always looks different when dry! Pesky watercolor. 



Step 4: Add Shadows


Further, define the shadows to add even more dimension. Focus on three areas: the interface of the frosting, the underlying donut, and the bottoms of the donuts or where shadows would cast. 

The shadows are being cast towards the right and on the underside of the frosting in this piece. The frosting will also cast a small shadow onto the donut. Use a small brush with the base frosting color to darken up the frosting along the right side of the drips and along the underside of the frosting.

To create the adjacent shadows on the donut, use a small brush, and paint a thin band of donut base color to the right AND beneath the frosting. On the chocolate donut, use your brown color to create a slightly concave stripe indicating the edge of the donut hole on top. Who knew donuts could have SO much detail?!



Using a darker donut base paint and a small brush, add a thin line of color to the base of the
donuts. Notice that the light stripe doesn't have to be sharply defined; the tonal variation is enough to imply what is needed here!

Let everything dry and erase any remaining visible pencil lines. For the shadows cast where a donut sits on top of another donut, add a darker color to the top of each donut. 

Paint a light shadow on top of the strawberry frosting and on top of the vanilla frosting, right underneath the donut that sits on top of them. Put a soft shadow beneath the bottom donut. Do a final assessment to see if you need to add any more shadows or lift color out for highlights!



Step 5: Sprinkles!

With a small round brush, add some chocolate sprinkles using a dark brown color on top of the middle donut. You can even paint a tiny shadow using a dilute yellow ochre to the
right and bottom of some of the sprinkles to create more depth! Other colors can be used for the sprinkles as long as they are dark enough to cover the frosting background. Get creative with this part, add all the details!



Step 6: Add Your Favorite Donut Pun


Add some lettering to make your piece extra fun. There are a HOLE lot of donut puns out there!

Here are just a few to get you started:
"Donut judge me"
"Do or donut, there is no try"
"Donut worry, be happy"
"You donut how much I love you"
"You drive me glazy"
"You’re so sweet and hole-some"


I ended up with little too much white space, so I covered the donuts with a piece of paper to protect them and then splattered some paint around the lettering for a confetti-Esque space filler! I hope this tutorial was the epitome of your donut dreams! Now I'm really craving a classic pink sprinkle donut, BRB going to the donut shop.  

If you try this project and post it to Instagram, tag me @mellie.zee and use the hashtag
#melliezeetutorial, so I can be sure to see your a-glaze-ing work and give you a shout out!



I’m Melinda (@mellie.zee on Instagram), and I’m a self-taught watercolor lettering and illustration artist. Okay, labeling myself an “artist” feels a bit weird, but I’m trying it on for size. I started hand lettering and painting in 2017 and was hooked immediately! Watercolors are my favorite medium because I love the way you can capture light, color, and mood with them. My favorite things to paint are things I want to eat. Cue the pastries!

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