Botanical Illustration: Paint a Colorful Garden with Watercolor and Gouache | Sara Boccaccini Meadows | Skillshare

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Botanical Illustration: Paint a Colorful Garden with Watercolor and Gouache

teacher avatar Sara Boccaccini Meadows, Print Designer & Illustrator

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Using Sketchbooks to Find Inspiration


    • 3.

      Tools and Materials


    • 4.

      Sketching Your Garden


    • 5.

      Mixing and Painting Base Tones


    • 6.

      Adding Details with Paint


    • 7.

      Finishing with Pen and Highlights


    • 8.

      Experimenting with More Techniques


    • 9.

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About This Class

Love illustrating detailed, lush botanicals? Learn how to combine watercolor and gouache to paint a colorful garden!

In this 35-minute class, illustrator Sara Boccaccini Meadows invites you into her studio to learn how to hand-paint whimsical botanical scenes inspired by the real world. From initial sketch through final polish, you’ll learn how to create a garden that combines the soft fluidity of watercolor with the vibrant chalkiness of gouache.

Packed with examples from Sara’s sketchbooks, key lessons will cover:

  • Creating loose sketches in the moment
  • Mixing colors inspired by your surroundings
  • Layering paints to create depth and texture
  • Adding detail with pen and gouache

Plus, join Sara at the botanical garden for a lesson in finding inspiration anywhere you go, from a local park to your own backyard.  

Whether you’re looking for a relaxing creative outlet or an unexpected new technique, this class will help you make the most of your materials. Follow along to expand your painting repertoire, develop your personal style, and discover beauty in the world around you!

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Sara Boccaccini Meadows

Print Designer & Illustrator


Sara Boccaccini Meadows is a print designer and illustrator living in Brooklyn, NY. Originally from the rolling hills of the Peak District, England, she graduated from Leeds Collage of Art with a first class honors in Textiles and Surface Pattern. 

Sara takes inspiration from nature and the tiny details in her everyday surroundings to create unique and quirky print illustrations. Her work has been featured in Refinery 29, Pantone, Flow Magazine, Design Sponge, Freelance Wisdom, Flow Magazine, Artistic Moods, I-D Magazine, and Maker's Magazine.

Also an experienced printed textile designer, Sara focuses on unique and innovative designs. Over the past eight years, she has produced prints for top fashion brands including Etro, DVF, Zara, H&M,... See full profile

Level: Beginner

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1. Introduction: Wherever I go and wherever I'm traveling, I'm always looking for some beautiful bit of nature that I can paint and take away with me. Hi, my name is Sara Boccaccini Meadows. I'm a textile designer and illustrator. I've designed lots of patterns of clothing, and I've done a lot of work for magazines and other publishers. I have always been particularly drawn to the natural world, and specifically botanicals. Today, I'm going to be teaching you how to paint a botanical [inaudible] using watercolor and gouache. I'm going to be taking you to botanical gardens, and showing you how I sketch and develop a full bleeds garden page. I'll be going through where I find inspiration for color and texture, and a little bit about the techniques I use to paint. I love just the texture and the depth that you can create by layering watercolor and gouache together. I think the beauty of this class is experiments. Don't worry about it being too precise or being in my style because everybody has their own style. I hope you leave this class inspired to keep a sketchbook and see the beauty in everyday and what's around you. I'm really excited for you to join the class. Now we're going to get started. 2. Using Sketchbooks to Find Inspiration: I'm just going to go through a few sketchbooks that I've been keeping over the years. I'm going to start with my first botanical journal which I started in New York at one of the gardens of state. Here, I'm using a mixture of paint and pen work and really just like capturing all the botanicals that I found in the garden and the movement and the details. Then this developed from a garden to a neighborhood, my own home in my back garden. I'm pretty like kept the style quite consistent throughout this sketchbook. If you're new to keeping a sketchbook, I would just start by looking at what's around you, look at little details and patterns and shapes of plants or buildings, and use your sketchbook to document these. So yeah, this was quite a precious little project towards the end. Then after that year, I changed up my style a little bit, and I'll show you that in the next book. The sketchbook I kept in 2018, from '17 to '18, I changed the layout a little bit, where I boarded off part of the page, and then I've kept the other page to paint elements that I like, or maybe extend that page a little bit and also, to document some of the colors that I use in the painting. Last year, I did get quite lot of traveling. This is my little cottages that I found really interesting, over the thatched roof and all the trees and botanicals surrounding them. This was on a trip to Norway in January last year. I found the colors and the rooftops, all the curves and patterns on the buildings. This was on a trip to Iceland, and it started from when you go in and out of the villages and towns in Iceland, they have this like black and yellow sign, and it's just the silhouette of these few houses. So I started just by sketching the silhouette and then filled in with the details and textures and added a few houses that I have seen behind. This was from the trip to Hawaii that I took last year. I've started this on the airplane on the way over, looking out the window and seen the sea, and the mountains, that it was super breathtaking. The colors and the scenery is so prehistoric. So the style here is definitely more, the pages were full bleed. I used lot of gouache and watercolor, and played around a bit with my pen techniques as well. It really just depends on how I'm feeling at the beginning of that sketchbook. This is one of my favorite types of sketchbook. It's a Stillman & Birn, and they're quite local in New Jersey. I take these pretty much everywhere I go. I don't stick to a theme or a style. I just paint whatever I'm feeling at the time, people and butterflies, botanicals. I'm definitely a little bit loose with these little sketchbooks. Just play around, experiments, try and capture little details. Some things have bled and stuck together, unfinished, but I do like that about these little sketchbooks. I also use these as color studies, like maybe if I'm working on a bigger painting, I'll have one of these little sketchbooks next to me, and I'll start playing around, just making little circles and patterns on the page. It's quite nice afterwards just to go in with pens or paint to put little details and create a whole new pattern. I'd advise everyone to keep a sketchbook, just to document what you see around you and the places you go. I think it's just a great thing to look back on. I definitely think that keeping sketchbooks frees you up to experiment and play around with new techniques. My first journal sketchbook, I was documenting the botanical gardens. The style that I had then, it's similar, but it's developed into a completely new things. It's really cool to see that development over the years of your own style. Next up, we're going to be looking at some of the materials I use. 3. Tools and Materials: I usually work with sketchbooks, I take my pencil case, and you have a selection of gouache and some water color and acrylics. I also have a paints mixing palette and water for cleaning my brushes, and obviously the brushes, and the watercolor palettes, pencils, pencil sharpener, eraser, and Micron pens. So now one of my favorite sketchbooks from Moleskine, and this is a watercolor pad, and this is the one that I'll be using in class today. I like this because of the landscape layout, and the paper's really thick. Most of the time you can paint on two sides. Then the Stillman and Birn, the everyday sketchbook that I use. This, again, has really thick paper. I like this one because it's small and compact, and you can literally put it in your pocket and take it anywhere. Then the other type of sketchbook that I use, it's again, by Stillman and Birn, it's just slightly larger than the smaller sketchbook. Again, it has a thick paper, and I also just like the way that the paint sits on the paper, so with the Moleskine sketchbooks, and they're beautiful, but if you try and paint it just goes straight through the paper. So for me that's a big consideration when picking a sketchbook. I always take my pencil case. This is one from my friend's friend [inaudible] which is in the UK, and they're hand screen prints and it's very durable. Then paints. So I usually carry a watercolor palette. This is quite a large one. I do have a smaller one too which is a little bit more compact, and the brand is the Winsor and Newton. It's a little bit more pricey, but I think the quality of the paint's are great and it lasts for a long time. Then I also buy these gouache paints. I've got two or three different brands I think. Usually, I'll buy a loose watercolor if maybe one of the colors is running out on my palette like the black, it's currently down to nothing, so I've got a loose black or it might be if I really like the color, I'll come with this olive and don't really have that on the palette. So my tubes tend to be different from the general colors you get on a paint palette. Then we have the palette for mixing and water, which you can use just a cup or glass. Pencils, sharpener, eraser, very important for the sketching process. I'm not too picky about what brand I use for pencil, just get a general HB. Obviously, you want your point to be very sharp for sketching. Then paintbrushes, I go for quite a small brush and usually round. Size-wise I'd say the two is the one I use the most. I also have a four which is a little bit bigger, rounder, and then I have some super fine ones for adding in details, 18 over zero and 20 over zero. These have a super fine point. Then finally, I have the Micron pens. I tend to go for the really fine tip. Hence the double 05, the 05 and the 03. These are really great for just adding the details in my sketchbook. Adding a little bit more texture and depth to the painting at the end. Now I'm just going to show you how I would start my drawing process. I'm just going to sketch out a canvas on the page. I'm not too precise about the canvas, mine are usually between half an inch and an inch. It's nice to have a canvas just to have boundaries for my work and also to keep the pages consistent throughout. Next we're just going to grab some sketching materials and go to the gardens. 4. Sketching Your Garden: Now that we've got tools and materials, I'm in one of my favorite places to sketch the Botanical Gardens. So usually when I'm out in the gardens, I bring sketchbook and a pencil and then I've also got an eraser and a pencil sharpener. My plan is to have a look around the gardens, look for some interesting plans and details and I usually just find a comfy spot and sit down and take an inspiration. I usually start with a border. This one I ruled out earlier about 0.5 Inch to an inch of border and I'm just going to look at some plants now to start drawing. I think I'm going to start with this type of prickly pear cacti. I think it's just the obvious one to start with. It's taking up quite a lot of my view, but I will say level the textures and curves. I usually start at the bottom of the page and sometimes in a corner and then just start to build out the drawing from there. I don't get too carried away with the details at this stage. I'm just going to take a picture of this in a bit and go back to them when I'm at the painting stage. I feel like I need to add something in this phase, so I'm going to find these cacti. I'm usually focusing on the shape of what I'm sketching and I'm going to go back in and do the texture with paints later on. I'm going to go for some of these taller guys. My work's definitely more of an interpretation. So, I like looking at things, but they're never exact and I quite like that. Not everything is perfect. We also see these round of forms I think they are called right at the end of there. So I'm going to add these in the background. This landscape is super high. We can add some of these little spiky guys that I can see. This is bronchi guy over here, I think it is the desert barberry and I'm just going to add a few little berries. Not being too precise. I'm going to paint these later with a watercolor and brush. I'm not thinking too much about proportions, I'm just really giving an interpretation and I look at the plan and feel the movement of the plan, but I'm not being too precise about it looking exactly how it looks. I think that's definitely the beauty of a sketchbook. You can just go with it, enjoy and not worry too much about the final outcome. It's a very personal thing, a sketchbook. I might just move to a different spot now. It's nice to change positions and get a different view, find different plants and add more detail and texture to the drawing. I'm definitely thinking about color just for later on and I'm going to capture some of that with my phone. I feel like now I've filled in this bottom area, I'm going put in some little background work and then plants coming from ceiling because there is so many plants and cacti coming down from the wall here. It's cool to have that coming from the top. So I've just moved to this area to get some views of the pants higher up and it's pile of interesting cacti and foliage coming down from the rocks which I really like. Just looking at these vines have lots of leaves on them. Feels little less deserty. We check our light. Adding some little flowers now. There's not that many flowers in the cactus garden and it's quite nice when there is because these are going to add a pop of color once I start painting. Pretty much almost full with this page. I'm just looking for some interesting details to add to the final areas. I feel like it's pretty much done now for the sketching part. I usually just write the location, Botanical Garden. So, now I finished my sketch, I'm going to get my camera and take a few pictures on the phone just so I can look back at some of the details that I haven't captured on the sketch and also the color. Next up we're going to go back inside and start thinking about colors and painting a garden sketch. 5. Mixing and Painting Base Tones: Now that we're back from the garden, then we've got our sketch. I'm going to start mixing some paints and start the painting process. I'm also just going to have a look through some of the photos that I took, just to get an idea of some of the colors, and later on I'll look back on this to look at the details as well. I love that with gouache paint. You get moreover like chalky, opaque texture, whereas with the watercolor is a little bit more fluid, and I think it's quite nice to mix them both up and get that texture and depth. So, I'm going to start with some misty green wash. One of my favorite greens, darker green and some fronds which I'm going to mix with this beige color. I'm going to use my number four round brush just to mix some of these up. A little bit of the brown with the beige is giving it like a nice sundae shade and does tend to have a little bit of water in there. So, it liquefies the paint low an becomes easier to use. I'm going to start off just paint a little swatch at the top, is to keep a record of the colors I'm using. I'm going to go in and start painting some of these rocky areas. I'm starting with the colors that are quite predominant in the scene, in my garden that we're at, and then later on, I'm going to add more of the poppy colors and details. We'll still using slightly thicker brush for this first layer of paint. I may change it if it gets slightly more detailed. It's quite an organic process. The painting part for me are like start with one color and paint where I feel fits the third color. But I may go back to it a little bit later on. We're going to pick slightly finer brush now to do these branchy type [inaudible]. I'm going to just use this misty green now. That's slightly thicker brush. Add a tiny bit of the browns to give it a slightly dusty atone. It's definitely more of a paint-by-numbers. At this point, I'm just filling in the shade and trying to get a sense of the color that you were seeing earlier. Can I have a little bit more of the misty green with a darker green, get a different shade. Once I feel like I've filled in a few with one shade, I'll jump to another and then I might go back to one of the shades that I've already used. So, I'm going to be layering over just the details. So, this'll be like the background and then you'll have the details laid over the top. I love with the layering that adds dimension and depth to my work. Also at this stage, once you start layering, it's going to look completely different. Right now, it's more about the shapes and the tones of the garden. You just start with a little bit of texture here at back. Just like dab on the paint, just thinking of one of the light bushes that we saw at the garden. Just creates a bit more texture and depth and some of these photo shapes. I'm going to use some of these brown. Feel like I've got quite a lot of lighter shades on there. Right now, I'm going to add a darker shade. One of the great things about painting with gouache is you can paint white over dark. So, if I'm doing say like the stock tree trunk now, I could use a lighter shade and paint over it, which is cool because it's definitely harnessed to do with watercolor. So, now I'm just going to continue to lay down the base layer of paint. So always filled the page and it's quite muted right now, apart from the more purple yellow. So, I'm going to add a few other colors. I really like the light purple and pink, so I'm going to try to incorporate those. I'm going to have a look at my phone again to recap my memory before I start mixing these colors. You can use a lilac which is a lot brighter than I want it to be. So, I'm going to add a little bit of white. I definitely like to add a few pops of color for contrast. I usually start with the muted tones and then just start a little bit of pop towards the end. I'm going to add a little bit of this like the sienna red. Do you love reds and purples together? Then it was also the more like pinky colored florals, which I'm going to use a little bit if that paint sienna to make pretty pink. This is a mix of gouache. So, nice like so many pink. So, now that I've been over I've done the base layer, I've really started with like more muted tones and added in a little bit of contrast with the colors and I filled them the majority of the page, and now I'm just going go in with a fine approach and different tones to add some more details. 6. Adding Details with Paint: Next, we are going to be adding in some more details, some finite paint work, and different shades of color. I'm just going to make some of these paints slightly darker and shade, adding a little bit of black. There's no exact science to where you start with this next stage. I'm just really trying to pick some of the areas that have dried already. Just making the plants a little bit more interesting. So, I'm Just adding the final lines of the branches right now. I'm just going to add a little pattern to this tree. Just adding some of the book texture. Yeah, depending how much time I have, will depend how much detail. I could spend hours doing details, but if I've only got a couple of hours, I'll just add it to sections that I feel really need it. I mean, most plants and flowers have some pattern, whether it's the texture of the leaf, or the bark on a tree. Cacti are great because they have so many middle spikes and textures, and like weird shapes too. I definitely don't worry too much about being scientifically correct with my paintings and drawing, it's just more of what I see in my favorite parts of them. Just adding some of the little spike details from the cacti right now, and I'm currently using a Princeton rounds brush, and its size A rail. It's not the smallest brush but it is pretty fine. There's some that are off from memory and some I just go with my own feeling and what I like. I think it's quite nice to look at a pattern from a plant and they be incorporate it, but in a different way than how you're actually seeing it on the plant. I'm trying to make each area little bit more interesting and different as I paint using different colors, and textures, and patterns. I really find that is a good way just to experiment with little patterns and incorporate things that you find interesting. So, I'm going to do this prickly pear cacti, and I'm just going to look on my phone and find some of the details, zoom in on some of the details. I'm going to start off with the little spots, and then once that dry, I'll probably go in with some black pen and add the spikes. Now I'm just going to go ahead on finishing painting and all these details. So, I'm pretty much finished doing the detailing with the paint. This is where I take little bit of time to access, I light the layout, and I'll probably go in with pen-work next. It's feeling a little bit beige, so I'm going to see if the pen-work changes that a little bit, or if I need to go back in and use some other colors a little bit later on. 7. Finishing with Pen and Highlights: I tend to use these Micron pens. I'm going to start with the really fine. The fine is one I have which is the double zero five and start with some bin-width and some of these cacti areas. By line work, I mean, I'm adding more details. Light your pen on top of the paints because I think it gives another dimension and it's easier to get finer details into the work, bring out more texture and dimension. But again, I'm just trying to like interpret some of the patterns that I've seen on the cacti and plants in a different way. Yeah, so still feeling it feels a little bit monochrome. I might add a little bit more color and maybe a few pops of white paint as well. I find with this style is just a constant process of layering and experimenting and seeing what works until you're finally happy with your painting. So I'm just going to add some little spots of white onto this logic cacti. I think using the black and white because there's such a contrast together and themselves and they add something new and special to the page. So this y is squash, it's not watered down. I'm just using it straight from the chive. I think you can get better control of the paint and depending on the consistency and how much water you add and right now I'm just trying to do some like little spots and keep it very controlled. I don't want to use too much. I think just the little highlights and really helps to bring out a bit a pop to the painting. I'm just going to continue to add some white highlights and then a little bit more black pen and I think we're almost done. Now that I've finished availing all the details. I feel like it has quite a nice spellings to it and it's quite neuter but that was the effect I was going for to create those desert tones. So yeah, I think once you've filled your page and finished adding the details and take a step back, have a look, see if there's anything else that you might need to add. But right now, I'm pretty pleased with how it's finished. It's got a nice fallen with the light density hues with a few pop colors which is what I was going for. If you not too sure if it's finished or not, then leave it for a few hours or a day and go back to it. It's quite often, I'll look at something and I'll be like, "Oh, it's not finished" or if I didn't like it, and then the next day I'll go back to it and I'll be like, "Oh, it just needs a little bit more color or actually everything looks gray". I'm pleased with it now, so let's give it a little time. I am not too concerned about some of the pencil lines that you can still see, especially when it's in a sketchbook. They're like story that the pencil tells and you know the beginning process of the pencil, and it's kind of cool to kind of see that still. Now that we've been to the gardens and collected our inspiration and finished our paintings, we're pretty much done. I'm just going to go over a few more techniques that I like to use when I'm out sketching. 8. Experimenting with More Techniques: Now that we've finished our full bleed botanical and something that I've been really into lately. I'm going to go over a few of the techniques that I like to use in my sketch book. One of the techniques that I've been using recently is using a sponge and dabbing it in some whitewash, and creating texture to make these like wavy patterns. So here's just a few examples from a recent art residency in Hawaii. I was really inspired by the waves in the clouds in Hawaii. I just wanted to try something new. The next technique is where color merges with another color. So using two different watercolors or you could use a gouache that's been watered down quite a lot. Paint a small circle or shape and then paint another one right next to it and let the colors lead into each other. We always make sure that the paint still pretty wet and just let the colors merge together. So the next technique is creating elements that I will then scan in or you can scan in and create a repeat pattern with. So here's an example of where I've painted lots of little cacti element and I then scan it in and created a pattern. Now that I've finished my illustration, you can go and try it yourself, uploads yours to the gallery. I really hope that you're inspired to see the world in any way and I'm counting to see your work. 9. Explore More Classes on Skillshare: