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Who doesn’t love flowers? They look as good as they smell, they add color to your home or garden, and they can be given as gifts to brighten others’ days. With the exception of the smell (which is hard to recreate!), artists can replicate flowers’ best qualities on paper with watercolor paints, creating flowers that are a joy to paint and a joy to look at. Here’s how to paint watercolor flowers, whether you’re a beginner or have more advanced watercolor painting skills.
How to Paint Watercolor Flowers
There are thousands of different types of flowers, and all are possible subjects for watercolor painting. Keep in mind, though, that the colors and techniques you would use to paint a watercolor rose are a bit different from those for a watercolor sunflower. Not only do these flowers look different, but they also evoke different emotions in the viewer.
However, there are a few tips you should keep in mind when painting any kind of watercolor flowers.
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Step 1: Gather Your Supplies
If you don’t already have the watercolor painting supplies at home, you’ll need to acquire them before getting started. Luckily, watercolor painting is a relatively accessible art form as you don’t need anything too fancy or expensive. You’ll need:
- A selection of watercolor paints. As a minimum, you’ll need the primary colors (red, blue, and yellow) plus white, so you can mix your own shades. Watercolors come in pans or in tubes, and beginner sets usually come with a few more shades than just the absolute basics.
- Watercolor brushes. Painting with watercolors requires the use of a lot of water, so you’ll need brushes that will hold this. You don’t need a vast range, but a fine, medium, and thick brush will all be useful for painting watercolor flowers.
- Watercolor paper. Because of all the water you will be using, “regular” or mixed media paper just won’t do. Watercolor paper is thicker and more absorbent than other paper.
- A jar. Nothing fancy needed here, just an old jar or mug for water.
- A mixing palette. If you have a watercolor paint pan, then you’ll already have this to hand, but with tube paints you’ll need somewhere to mix your paints. A lid of an ice cream container or an old plate would do.
- A pencil and eraser. You’ll end up with a better finished result if you sketch the outline of the flower lightly on the paper first.
- A flower or reference photo. Unless you have a crystal clear photographic memory, you’ll need a real flower or a reference photo to copy.
Step 2: Sketch the Flower
Before you learn how to paint a watercolor flower, it’s a good idea to learn to sketch one. If you’re a total beginner, you may want to spend a bit more time on this step, learning to sketch flowers before you think about putting paint to paper. Sketching will help you get the proportions right and help you understand where the most important areas of light and shadow will be.
Regular paper is fine for this step—don’t use your more expensive watercolor paper for practice sketches.
Step 3: Mix Your Colors
Another preliminary step in learning how to paint a watercolor flower is to mix the right colors. Watercolor paints aren’t intended to be used directly on the paper as they come out of the tube (or from the pan). Blend different paints together to get the color you want for your flower, and test that color with varying amounts of water on a spare piece of watercolor paper. By adding more or less water to the paint, you’ll achieve darker and lighter shades.
Step 4: Paint a Light Wash of Color
Using your reference flower or photo as a guide, start by painting the lighter parts of the flower with a wash of heavily watered-down paint. It’s easier to add more intense layers of color later than to take away areas that are too dark.
One of the great things about watercolor paint is that it can be re-wet and changed somewhat after it has dried, but this is only possible to a degree.
Step 5: Add Darker Colors
Next, add darker color to petals that are darker than others, or to areas that are in shadow. Note that this darker color may actually be the same base color as you used for the lighter areas, just with less water added.
Watercolor paints blend and bleed into one another very easily, and indeed this is a great quality of the paints. It means you can create areas of blended color that don’t have hard lines between them. However, be careful to paint section by section (or, petal by petal) and let each section mostly dry before working on one right next to it. Otherwise, you might end up with a big blob of color that has bled together in places you didn’t intend.
Step 6: Add a Wash Over Dry Layers
Once you’ve painted in the larger sections of color, you might want to go back over some dry sections with a wet brush to get the paints to blend together smoothly. You don’t need any paint on the brush for this step—just water.
For example, in the leaf sections in the picture above, each segment of the leaf has been painted carefully, keeping a sliver of white space between each part so they remain defined. To soften that white space, go over the dry paint with a wet brush.
Step 7: Erase Pencil Lines
Once the watercolor paint has dried completely, you can erase any visible pencil marks that haven’t been painted over. You won’t be able to erase lines that have been painted over, so keep this in mind when sketching and painting. Keep the pencil lines light. If you’re painting a light-colored flower and don’t want pencil marks showing through, erase them to the barest minimum before painting.
Paint a Bouquet of Watercolor Flowers
The instructions above used a rose as the subject of the painting, but these general tips can apply to painting watercolor flowers of any type. Experiment with sketching and painting flowers with different shapes, colors, and textures to find your favorite. Try more realistic flowers or loose, impressionistic ones without hard edges of outlines. Paint them alone in a vase or out in nature with trees as part of a landscape painting. And most importantly, have fun!
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