Watercolor Botanical Painting: Basil and Chamomile | Audrey Moon | Skillshare

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Watercolor Botanical Painting: Basil and Chamomile

teacher avatar Audrey Moon, Watercolorist and Modern Calligrapher

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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.

      What is Botanical Painting?


    • 3.

      My Supplies


    • 4.

      How to Transfer a Sketch onto Watercolor Paper


    • 5.

      Color Mixing


    • 6.

      Painting the First Layer of the Basil


    • 7.

      Painting Dark and Dominant Tones


    • 8.

      Painting Mid Tones and Final Details


    • 9.

      Final Thoughts on the Basil


    • 10.

      Painting the Chamomile Petals


    • 11.

      Painting the Chamomile Stem and Leaves


    • 12.

      Painting the Chamomile Center


    • 13.

      Thank You and Concluding Thoughts


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About This Class

Paint with realism and confidence in the watercolor botanical style! If you're more of a meticulous and detail-oriented person, or prefer realism over impressionism, then this is the style for you! In this class, I'll share with you some beginner level tips and tutorials as we paint the basil and chamomile. The reference photos and sketches will be provided so that we can focus on the painting.


My hope is that you'll be able to master the techniques, and then be able to apply them to other subjects. Botanical painting may seem complicated at first, but break it down into simple basic techniques, and you can do it, too!

Make sure to download the reference photos and sketches for the basil and chamomile. You can also download a list of my supplies. 

Thanks, and I look forward to seeing your work!

Meet Your Teacher

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Audrey Moon

Watercolorist and Modern Calligrapher

Top Teacher

I'm so glad you're here! Whether you're new or a long-time student, I hope there's something for you in my classes.

My creative journey started with the bullet journal. Since then, I picked up watercoloring and calligraphy. It's been a bit of a whirlwind, to say the least! I published my first class on loose florals in September 2017, and have been steadily adding new classes. 

I love meeting new students and making connections. I hope to see you in one of my classes soon.

Thank you, and let's make the world a more beautiful place!


Website ][ Instagram ... See full profile

Level: Beginner

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1. Intro: Hi there, my name is Audrey, and welcome to my SkillShare class on watercolor botanical painting, where I'll be sharing beginner level tips and tutorials. If you're more of a meticulous and detail oriented person or prefer realism over impressionism, then this is a style for you. The idea for this class came about when I co-hosted the creative herbology challenge on Instagram with another creator, the Curious Painter. At first, I took a more loose approach, but after studying the plants, especially the ones that grew in my own garden, I felt like I needed to do some in the botanical styles. Please note that this is a beginner class, so we won't be going into the steps of observation and sketching. Instead, the sketches will be provided for you. That way we can focus on actually painting. In the next few videos, I will share some of the supplies that will be needed for this class, and how to transfer the sketch onto watercolor paper. Then the second half of the videos will take you through basic watercolor techniques, and apply them to two herbs, the basal and camel meal. For the basal, we'll practice color mixing and layering, and for the camel meal, we'll practice painting with whites and detailing. By the end of this class, you'll be able to paint the basal and camel meal with realism and confidence. My hope is that you'll be able to master the techniques and then be able to apply them to other subjects too. Don't forget to create a project so that you can keep track of your progress and show off your final results. Feel free to leave a comment and say hi. If you're on Instagram, you can find me @ThingsUnseenDesigns. Lastly, tag your work with #WatercolorWithTUD so that I can see all of your wonderful work. Thanks, and let's get started. 2. What is Botanical Painting?: Hi there and welcome to Video 2, Robbie talking all about Botanical Painting. Botanical painting basically means that you are painting on a very detailed level where it's size, color, shape and everything else visual is rendered almost exactly. A little bit of history because I love history. The practice of botanical painting goes as far back as the 15th century when explorers would collect and document plants during their travels. Plants had to be rendered exactly so that they could be easily identified. Herbs, especially were most often used for medicinal purposes. Accompanying the illustrations would be relevant information such as the medicinal properties, the location, scientific names, etc. But the process of botanical painting is long and requires a great amount of observation, patience, sketching and skill. Usually botanical art has the following characteristics; It is rendered to scale, it could be the exact size or scaled up or down relatively, there's usually no background unless it is relevant to the plants and it usually portrays the entirety of the subject and different parts of the plant in detail such as its risks, the seed, the stem, stamen, everything. While the stylus still popular today, this particular class will take a beginner's approach. We will skip some of the steps that require technical skills and rather focus on using basic watercolor techniques to still achieve a realistic painting. If you want to take more serious sets into becoming a botanical painter, then start by going on nature walks and sketching the plants you see. I love to visit my nearby botanic gardens, forest reserves and conservatories. I also like to collect plants from my own backyard and practice sketching that way. Next, we'll gather our supplies. I'll see you there. 3. My Supplies: Hey there, in this video I want to explain some of the supplies that will be needed for this class. First, you'll need your basics such as paper, paints, and brushes. Some artists will prefer hot press paper over cold press, especially for botanicals because of its smooth texture. If the paper is to rough, certain details may not be rendered exactly. But don't worry if you don't have hot press paper as it is not absolutely required, I myself will be using cold press paper. For paints I will be using a mix of Grumbacher and Winsor & and Newton too paints. You can download these specific lists of palette. I have in my palette under the attached files. In the botanical style, you'll need finer brushes in order to paint the tiniest of details. We will use a range of round brushes from sizes 000 to four. Please note that sizes across manufacturers will vary slightly. Most of my brushes are Grumbacher, Winsor & Newton, and Princeton. Next, you'll need to print out these sketches. You can find it under the attached file and you can print it on any regular printer paper. Then in order to transfer the sketches onto your watercolor paper, you'll need the following; a pencil, a kneaded eraser, a light pad, or a sunny window, and washi tape. In the next video, I'll go into detail about how to transfer your sketch. You can use any type of pencil as long as there isn't right too dark, the kneaded eraser will help you erase almost all of the pencil lines, leaving just a faint trace. This is crucial because once you paint over the pencil line it's almost impossible to erase. Before we move on, gather your materials, download palette sketches, and I'll see you in the next video. 4. How to Transfer a Sketch onto Watercolor Paper: In this video, I'm going to show you how I transfer my sketches onto watercolor paper. Some of you may be wondering, why don't we sketch directly on watercolor paper? Although you can, I just prefer not to, and I have a couple of reasons. First, pencil lines are difficult to erase after you've applied water and paint. Unless you intentionally want pencil lines to show, you want to have the lightest possible tensile sketch on the paper before painting. You might be thinking, well, I can still sketch on the paper however much I want and then use a kneaded eraser at the end. We still don't want to sketch and erase repeatedly with irregular eraser especially on watercolor paper, because it will affect the texture and properties of the paper. See, the more you erase, the more you're shaving off tiny particles of paper so that it becomes less absorbents. Also, the more you sketch, the more your hand may come into contact with the paper thus transferring oils and dirt that you don't want trapped in there. Basically, you want the paper to be as pristine as possible before you start painting. Here's my sketching process. First, I sketch on regular sketch paper. When I am satisfied with the sketch, I'll go over it with ink pen. I like to use a Micron zero one or zero three, or a sharpie fine point pen. Sometimes I'll scan the sketch and then clean it up in Photoshop and/or Illustrator, then I'll print it out on clean printer paper. This is where you are now coming in. Let's gather the rest of our supplies. The printed sketches, a pencil, kneaded eraser, your washi tape a light pad or sunny window and your watercolor paper. First I'll show you how to transfer your sketch using the light pad. Take your watercolor paper and place it on top of your printed sketch. Turn on your light pad and adjust a sketch to where you want it to end up on your watercolor paper. Secure the watercolor paper to your sketch, and sketch to the light pad. Begin by lightly sketching on top of the watercolor paper with your pencil. You don't necessarily need to draw all of the shadow lines unless you want to, because you'll have the sketch and the reference photo to look at while you're painting. Once you're all done sketching and satisfied with it, turn off the light pad and remove the sketch. Use the kneaded eraser to remove almost all of the pencil lines so that just a faint line remains. The kneaded eraser is great because it doesn't remove the paper and only picks up the pencil graphite. You can see here that the ones that I just erased are barely visible, but still visible. It has just enough details so that I can paint over it, but so that the pencil lines won't show. The process for the sunny window is very similar. Secure the watercolor paper and sketch with washi tape. Then take this to a sunny window. You should be able to see the sketch through the watercolor paper. Now you can use your pencil to lightly sketch. Do the same process again for the second sketch, and we'll get started in the next video by painting the basal. 5. Color Mixing: Let's look at our reference photo and do some color mixing. I have my reference photo here. I have a scrap piece of watercolor paper, and I have my watercolor paints. When we look at our photo in general, the most dominant hue seems to be a yellow, greenish color. Let's try to color match that. I'm going to label my swatch, and here I added sap green and some bright yellow. I'm going to say sap green plus bright yellow. This is so that I know what colors I mixed. Later on, if I need more of that color, I know what to mix. Yeah, so I'm liking this greenish color for the overall tone. Next, we'll work on the darkest tones. Here in our reference photo again, the far left, and the far right leaves have the most of the darkest tones. It's a little hard to tell, but at least to me, it seems like there are some bluish undertones to them. What I'm going to try to mix is my sap green. Maybe a little bit of the hookers green dark and Payne's gray. Payne's gray has a bluish undertone to it too. Let's try to color match that. Yeah, I'm really liking this dark tone for these areas in my reference photo, particularly here and also right there in that pocket, and then this line, this vein. Yeah, I like that, so I'm going to go ahead and label that as well. Now, I'm going to determine the lightest greens, because the lightest greens, as you can see in our reference photo, is right about here. It seems like the light is hitting this side of the leaf particularly strongly and right about there. I want my lightest green because it's not quite as yellow as it seems. It almost seems like a light version of our darkest green. I'm going to take our green here that we mixed and then add a lot of water to it and see if we can color match this lightest shade here. Yeah, I like that. It has a very cool sense. It has a very cool greenish color to it. Yeah. I'm going to go ahead and label that as well. Is going to say the darkest tone plus water. Next, we're going to determine all of the colors that are within this range. That is what is going to help us determine the depth and all the details. Yeah, to get our midtown colors, I'm going to take the original greens that we mixed and add some blue undertones, maybe the Payne's gray that we added to get closer to our darkest tone. Then maybe add some of that bright yellow to get closer to our dominant tone over here. This is so that I know what colors to expect when I add more and more Payne's gray. There we go. This is the range of colors that I'm going to be using for our basal painting. Now, if your colors don't look exactly like the reference photo, I want to encourage you and tell you that it's okay. Because this is a beginner course and so don't be so concerned that it's not exact. I think what's more important is that you are comfortable mixing colors like this. I'm trying to color match and doing your best at it. Yeah, mixing colors can be daunting at first. As long as you're comfortable with this, I think that is the goal. Then learning how to use these colors in the painting is probably more important than trying to get it exactly. At least for now because this is a beginner course. Let's get ready to paint. 6. Painting the First Layer of the Basil: Before we get started I want to share a couple of tips. The first is, work in small sections and work just one at a time. For example, if we start with this leaf here, just start with this topmost part and then the next part. It's okay if you want to skip around as well, but in botanical painting it's really helpful if you just go section by section. If you want to do the whole leaf at once that's okay too, whatever works for you, but don't feel like you have to do everything all at once. The second tip is make sure you don't have too much water on your brush. After we lay down the first layer every layer on top of that has to have less water, because we don't want to reactivate the previous layer and mix all the colors together. Just make sure that there's not too much water, if there is, if you accidentally put your brush down and then there's too much water pooled up, just grab a piece of paper towel and then just blood it right away. The last tip is make note of where the lightest parts are, so for example like right here is about where the lightest part is, and right along here in the vein, and maybe a couple of spots here, but definitely the lightest part is right here. In those areas I'm actually not going to paint it at all, I'm going to leave it as the watercolor paper, because you can always darken areas in watercolor but it's hard to lighten it up later. Those are just some helpful tips to get you started. Now let's start painting, I'm going to lay down the lightest color with my size four brush, and that is the largest that I will be using for this painting. I'm going to take that light color that we had mixed earlier. If you feel like you need to color match again, now feel free to grab another piece of paper and then just see how that turns out because you want it to be pretty light. I'm going to do a mix of that over the entire painting. Now when you're painting this really light layer try to get as even of a coverage as you can. As you can see this area of the reference photo is very light, so I'm not even going to paint those areas at all. I just finished putting down the lightest layer which was here, and I'm going to wait until the painting is completely dry before we move on to the next step, which is laying down the darkest tones. 7. Painting Dark and Dominant Tones: The next step is to lay down our darkest tone. We're going to go to the other end of the spectrum and place this color down in the appropriate areas. If we look at our reference photo, like we mentioned, it seems to be concentrated in the left leaf and over here in this corner, on the right leaf, this whole area, this line, this vein and some of those areas there and just a little bit right around there. Some of the stems seem to have a little bit of dark areas too but it's not a huge deal. Definitely we want to highlight though these areas. Let's go ahead and grab our darkest color. Again, if you're not sure if the color is still true, you can grab your test paper and then see if it matches your original color. I mean, that's pretty close. Now make sure that your brush is not too wet. We just want to pick up just a little bit at a time. Because remember once you put down the darkest colors, it's going to be hard to lift it up later. By putting down the darkest tones now will help us work up to that dark layer later on. I'm going to start with the leftmost leaf since I'm right handed and I don't want to smear as I go from right to left. I'm going to start, I'll put my reference photo right here so you can see, I'm going to start by doing this area right there. I don't have any specific brushstrokes, I'm just laying down some thin lines. I'm not worried about blending. All of that will come later. I'm just following the reference photo. I'm just following by what I see. What you see might be slightly different than what I see and that's okay. We're both looking at the same thing, but we might interpret it a little bit differently. Now I'm going to do this left side of that leaf. It's okay if you miss some areas. Because again, we can always darken it up later. But this is just to help us so that we can better see the painting and we know what we're working up towards. I think that left leaf is starting to look good. Go ahead and do that for the rest of the painting and just lay it down wherever you see it happening on your reference photo. Now that I'm done with the darkest tones, I'm going to fill in with our dominant tone, which was that yellowy, greenish color. I'm going to grab a slightly bigger brush again, back to my size four. I'm going to go over the areas where this color is the most prominent. Again, remember you want to work in sections. It seems like this area, this area and this area seems to have most of the yellow-ish green. I'm going to concentrate on those areas. I'm going to start with this second leaf here. We lay down our lightest color, our darkest color, and our dominant tones. I know it looks funny right now. It doesn't really look much like anything. That's where all of these other colors will be coming in. Continue to look at your reference photo and fill in those areas. 8. Painting Mid Tones and Final Details: Next, I'm going to take in maybe this color and a little bit of that color, maybe a little bit of this too if I need to. Then fill in these areas on the leaves, these areas up here, and then a couple of spots here and there. Remember, if you need to always do a spot check, just to make sure that your color is matching up nicely. I'm going to switch over to a Size 2 brush and then start filling in those areas. At this stage, we have basically put down most of these colors down on our leaves. Now, the rest of the painting involves darkening up certain areas. For example, these dark areas from our reference photo, could be even darker here. I'm going to add even more pints gray to really get that definition. Same thing on this leaf as well. I'm also going to work up just darkening up all of the areas. This is where the fine tuning comes. You're going to take your palate and you're just going to have to adjust it as you go, add some more Payne's gray and green just as you go along. The rest of the painting, is just trying to fine tune this to get it as close to this as possible. Here we go. Our basal leaves are really starting to take shape and definition. I just want to pause and look at our reference photo again. I just want to stop and encourage you that, again, if it doesn't look exactly like the reference photo, don't be sad, don't worry. I think just the fact that you're able to work with darks and lights and be able to blend them together, I think again, that's what's most important. I can already see that I messed up a couple of times like these leaves don't really match up so I can cover, fill in that area right there. Some of the light areas I made too dark and I think that's okay. I wouldn't worry so much about it. The most important thing, again, is just being comfortable. Color mixing and really understanding how this full range of colors, is how you get this depth and definition in your painting. I'm going to go now and finalize things with my tiniest brush. This is a triple zero. It's not that smallest brush out there, but it's one of the smallest, it's a pretty tiny one. I'm going to take this and just draw a really fine lines, fine veins wherever I can see them, and then I will be done with my piece off. 9. Final Thoughts on the Basil: There you have it. I just want to say that I'm really proud of you guys for getting this far, for finishing your basil painting. I think you should be super happy and pat yourselves on the back. Again, just another note of encouragement, even if it doesn't look exactly like your reference photo, don't worry. The most important thing is really just getting comfortable with color mixing and understanding colors and working in layers. As long as you accomplish that, as long as this doesn't look like green blobs, then I think you did an excellent job. I'd love to see your work. Please take a photo of your basil, feel free to take a photo also of your color palette and add it to your project, I'd love to see. Thanks. In the next video, we'll paint the chamomile. 10. Painting the Chamomile Petals: Hey everyone. In the next couple of videos, we're going to be painting the chamomile. Now, I don't have a reference photo for the chamomile because I couldn't find a really good one that I liked. But as long as you have the sketch drawn out as I do here, then that's all we'll need. I'll guide you on how to paint it and what colors to use and where to place them. If you've got your sketch already, let's grab our paints, our brushes and our sketch and let's get started. For our first step, we're going to paint the petals. I'm going to be using a size one and a Payne's gray color. Now the key to painting white in watercolors is that you actually don't use the white paint in watercolor. Instead, you'd paint shadows and other colors to give off the impression of a white color. We're going to let the color of the paper show through and that will be our white. Hopefully that makes sense. Grab your size one brush and use your Payne's gray paint, but get a very light color, so just add a lot of water to it. What we're going to do is, where the petal meets the center, we're going to start there and then just paint very thin strokes going out. Like this, and again, it doesn't have to be exact. This is just giving off the impression that the whole petal is white without painting it white. Do the next petal. I could probably go even lighter if I wanted because remember, with watercolor you can always dark in it later. Then just keep going until you've done all of the petals. I am outlining the sides of the petals just a little bit. Hopefully, you use your kneaded eraser to erase most of the lines. Then later we will darken up the area where the petal meets the stamen and that'll give the petals even more definition. With some of these larger leaves, you can bring the great out a little bit further. That can almost act like the veins in the petals. If you don't have a Payne's gray, you might have a black and so you can just use a very light black as well, just really water it down. Now that you have the first layer down, I'm going to go back to the first petal and then come in with a darker Payne's gray in the area where the petal meets the stamen. Remember, with each layer that you put on top, you want to use less water and I'm still using my size one brush. I'm going to just concentrate the paint there again and then draw a couple of thin lines. It's almost as if we are creating the veins. Very thinly and lightly like that. Then you can follow the size of the petals if you want. If you feel like your brush is too thick you can use a smaller one. Now I'm going to go in and darken up the original gray that we laid down and that will help define the petals a little bit more. I'm still using a Payne's gray and still using my size one brush. Then just almost filling it in. Again, remember not to use too much water. I am almost filling in the entire petal with this gray color, almost but not completely. I want to show off the petal shape without making it too obvious. I'm really liking how this looks so far. I'm just going to define some of the outlines of the petals, but not all of them. Just where I feel like it could use a little bit more help. Especially where these petals are overlapping, you want to put a little bit more shadowing on the lower petal or the petal that's beneath it. For example, this one is below both of these, so I'm going to create a more darker area there and on the other side. Same thing with this little petal over here, it is underneath that petal, so I'm just going to define that edge. Then just dark in that side a little bit more. That looks really good for the petals. I think I'm going to stop there. We can always come back to it, but I think we're at a good stopping point. The next step is leaves. 11. Painting the Chamomile Stem and Leaves: In this video, I'm going to go over on how to paint the stem and the leaves. Now, there isn't much to paint, but because it's so small and narrow, we're going to use either a size one or a size zero brush. The first thing we're going to do, we're going to paint the stem. Find a regular green color. It doesn't have to be a yellow-green or a blue-green, just a good green color. Load it with your brush and you're going to start painting the stem, but what I want you to do is first paint one of the sides just like an outline. Like that. Then what I want you to do is paint the other side. Just the outline. Then don't fill it in all the way. Don't color it in. But instead paint just brush strokes and leave some white space. We're going to leave some white space because we're going to color it in with other colors. Do that all the way down. Now, for these leaves, we're just going to outline it completely with our brush because it's so thin, but we will overlay it with some more colors. Just do a very light outline. Follow your pencil drawing as closely as you can. Now once you've got that, I want you to pick a darker green color. For me, I'm just going to add a little bit of Payne's gray to my greens. You're going to add that darker green to the intersections where the stems meet. For example, that little v right there, this v there, all of the v's where they intersect, you're going to put that dark green on like that. This is again just to show a little bit more definition. You can also do it where these long stems meet the main stem too. The last step of these leaves is to paint the tips, and we're going to paint them in a yellowly green color. Grab like a bright yellow and mix it with that original green, and then just layer it right on top. That should brighten up the tip. Like so. If you want, you can extend the leaves just a little bit. If you want more of the yellow to show through. That's really up to you. Actually, I want to darken up the stem just a little bit more. I'm just going to come in with that darker green that I used. Again, I'm not coloring in the stem. Just adding a little bit more depth to it by layering and filling in the white space a little bit. I'm still letting some white space come through. This is what we've got so far. We've got our petals. We added some definition to our leaves and stems, and the last thing we're going to do is paint the flower center. 12. Painting the Chamomile Center: All right, everyone. So we've made it to the last step of the chamomile, which is this center. The center of the chamomile is usually a bright yellow, so I'm going to darken it up just a little bit with some yellow ocher. So I'm going to mix some yellow ocher into my bright yellow. Before I lay the color down, I'm actually going to do some wet on wet. Wet on wet means that you're going to lay down wet paint onto wet paper. I'm going to use my size four brush and I'm first going to lay down some clean water onto the center. Now you don't want to add too much water, but just a glaze. Once you've laid that down, I'm going to lay the color down. Now since I don't have a reference photo, I don't want to make the center look flat. So I do want to pretend that there is light hitting my subject coming in from this way. So if I pretend that the sun is coming this way, that means this area is going to be the lightest and this area will be the darkest. So I'm going to lay down on my color first around this perimeter. To add a little bit more bright yellow into it to brighten it up. Since this area is going to be the lightest, I'm not even going to paint it. I will let the white of the paper come through and allow that to be the lightest. Now, I'm going to make this area a little bit darker, so I'm going to use a burnt sienna or a raw amber color and just dab in some more in there. I can still make it a little bit darker by just coming in with some more paint. I accidentally let out a big droplet of water, so I'm just quickly going to dab that with some paper towel so that I don't let a big pool of water ruin it. Now it did change the texture of my center and that's okay because now it's lighter again and so I can go back in there with some more paint like that. I let that dry just a little bit and then come back with some more. I'm really liking how that looks, it really looks like the sun is hitting my chamomile coming in this way and the petals look really good. I can tell that this is a white flower and that these dark colors are just giving the petals definition and dimension and the leaves are very subtle, but also has a lot of detail because we added a couple of different colors. So there you have it, the chamomile. For your project, take a photo of your chamomile and talk about some helpful tips that you found or any difficulties that you had, or any questions that you might still have. I'd love to answer them for you. I can't wait to see what you've created. 13. Thank You and Concluding Thoughts: Hi there and congratulations on finishing this class on watercolor, botanical painting. I hope you learned some valuable lessons in color mixing, layering, detailing, and painting with whites. If you haven't already, create a project and show off your final meetings. If you're on Instagram, feel free to tag me at things unseen designs and hashtag, watercolor with [inaudible]. Before I say a final goodbye, I want to share three more tips as you continue on in your watercolor journey. The first is, take it slow. With botanical painting, sometimes they can take hours and days to finish just one painting. Don't be fooled by those time-lapse videos that finish everything in just one first swoop. These things take time, patience, and meticulous care. The second tip is invest in quality supplies. If you're a beginner and you don't have to get the most expensive supplies out there, you can still purchase student grade paints from well-established art supply companies like Winsor and Newton, and [inaudible]. Having the right brushes for botanical painting is also important. You need small fine brushes to achieve the tiniest of details. Paper can also make a huge difference in painting because you don't want the paper to be overly absorbent or not absorbent enough. It may take some time to find the right supplies that worked for you, but just make sure that they are of good quality. The last tip is to practice. This is always my final word because you will only get better by practicing, which will take time and patience. So give yourself Grace and space to make mistakes, to try again and improve. Thanks again for taking this class and diving into the world of watercolor, botanical painting with me. I hope the skills and techniques you learned can be applied to other subjects. Thanks and see you next time.