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Saturn V, Space and Rocket Center
Watercolor Sketching Tutorial

by Jennifer Branch
We went to the Huntsville, Alabama, Space and Rocket Center a few weeks ago to celebrate my son’s (and my husband’s) birthday. I can see father / sons Space Camp in their future…

The USA space program is very important to my husband because he actually grew up in Huntsville, AL where his father worked on the Apollo program. I like that our boys will know their grandfather was a part of something that opened the world to so many possibilities.
Saturn V, Space and Rocket Center Watercolor Painting tutorial

Sketching Tutorial Level


Skill Building

Strong Darks

Art Supplies

Blick Art Full Bellied Round, no.12


(M. Graham transparent watercolors)

Azo Yellow
Cadmium Yellow
Cadmium Red
Quinacridone Gold
Cobalt Blue
Ultramarine Blue
Cobalt Teal
Burnt Sienna
White Gouache

Painting Demonstration 1

Saturn V, Space and Rocket Center Watercolor Painting Lesson 1

I’m awed by the Space Program. Men went up into space basically strapped to the tops of explosives. Did the space program start with a few men in their backyards strapping dynamite together? Hey ya’ll, see what we can do!

And the whole world saw. It’s basically how civilization was built.

Men landed on the moon in what was a enormous Mylar balloon. They floated in space attached with a rope or two and enclosed in what doesn’t look so different from an astronaut Halloween costume. After all, that’s what velcro came from.

They calculated all this with slide rules. (Yes, my husband just asked for and got a slide rule for his birthday. He’ll show anyone “his new pocket computer.”) He loved seeing Wernher von Braun’s slide rules.

And computers the size of houses that held less power than my phone. They rather remind me of the old screw fusebox at my grandmother’s, really.

These engineers were some of the most amazing, inventive people the world has ever known. I couldn’t believe the well thought out sketch in von Braun’s boyhood journal detailing a life support for a rocket. Remarkably like what he later created. I wish they had shown images of some of the other journal pages.

Painting Demonstration 2

Saturn V, Space and Rocket Center Watercolor Painting Lesson 2

So many steps to a painting. This is one I’ve been wanting to paint since we went to the Rocket Center last year. I didn’t take a photo or bring sketching stuff and I’d been regretting it ever since. So always bring a camera and take a sketchbook!

Painting Demonstration 3

Saturn V, Space and Rocket Center Painting Tutorial 3

I did this sketch inside the Saturn V Exhibit hall. Just a quick sketch to not interrupt the birthday boys! It’s unbelievable how huge this rocket is. It’s the sort of thing that makes my mouth drop open when I first see it. I haven’t had problems with perspective in years but this one – it’s just massive.

The painting took longer to get to than I planned. Boys got sick, after a week of sick boys cuddling I got sick (I never got sick before kids), then the vegetable garden needed to be planted. Life happens, but my fingers have been itching to paint.

Sometimes painting is like that. I still have very clear paintings in my head of Venice, boats in Maine, last fall, or spring cherries. Someday I will paint most of them!

Artist's Tips

Don't be too precise when negative painting. Going into the white space gives you an opportunity to blur edges later!

Painting Demonstration 4

Saturn V, Space and Rocket Center Painting Tutorial 4

Sketch with the tricky perspective.

Painting Demonstration 5

Saturn V, Space and Rocket Center Painting Tutorial 5

First wash. I’m really drawn to the floor reflections. Bright blues and orangey reds.

Painting Demonstration 6

Saturn V, Space and Rocket Center Watercolor Painting Tutorial 6

Strong darks in this. Lots of ultramarine blue and maroon perylene.

I had to include my husband and the boys in this one. It’s a present for him, after all!

Saturn V, Space and Rocket Center Watercolor Painting tutorial

Final Watercolor Sketch!

Happy Painting! Jennifer Branch

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