Beatrix Potter (1866-1943) was a beloved artist and author of children's books. Her stories and paintings are as enchanting today as they were when she first created them. Potter's style of art has been referred to as "Aesthetic Realism," a philosophy founded by American poet and critic Eli Siegel. According to Siegel, "All beauty is a making one of opposites." Meaning, as with Potter, the artist creates realistic beauty and adds something fantastical to it, such as a young bunny in a blue jacket with brass buttons crawling beneath a wooden fence into the vegetable garden.
Potter was a naturalist. During her childhood, when her family took trips to the Lake District in Northern England, she and her brother studied and sketched the animals and botany around them. Her journal was filled with flowers, sketches of moss and rocks and any animals she could catch sight of.
Look at the world around you. Find a place of beauty and sit down to sketch it. Draw exactly what you see, considering the small details as well as the bigger picture. Potter's knack for capturing the small details is what added realism to her art.
Draw the setting, being sure to add far background details such as trees, or clouds in the sky. Distant objects will be muted and painted in light pastel colors. Objects in the forefront will include sharper details and painted with brighter, more brilliant colors.
Finish your scene drawing, and then let your imagination dream up something whimsical to set in the picture. Have you drawn a garden scene? Consider a chubby field mouse wearing a sporting red jacket. If you've drawn a pond or river, a playful otter wearing an ascot and silk jacket or a toad in a mackintosh and galoshes as Potter drew for Mr. Jeremy Fisher.
Draw the character of your scene in proportion with the rest the drawing's objects. Creating drawings like Beatrix Potter means making the picture as realistic as possible, along with a bit of fantasy that one doesn't ordinarily see, yet can accept because it seems to "belong" in the picture.
Add watercolor to the finished sketch. Start in the far background, brushing on soft, pastel shades. Change to more brilliant, truer colors as you move toward the front. Keep the tones light.
Allow the paint to dry. Outline your character and some of the background details with an ink pen. This adds a sharpness and more realism to the painting as a whole. Once you are satisfied, sign your name and frame your own unique work of art.
Practice improves art. Sketch several different locations until you are comfortable with both pencil and watercolors.
Dampening the paper helps the paints flow and gives you better control.