Painting flowers in watercolour is a great choice. Few painting mediums capture the delicate beauty of flower petals in bloom, their inherent translucent nature and natural flow, the way watercolour does. If you are just starting out with watercolour flower painting, here are six things you should know before starting!
1. Your Painting Style
There are so many unique styles of watercolour flowers that vary in detail, ranging from ‘loose’ to ‘tight’. Here are some flowers we have painted, and by observing them, you may be able to learn more about your unique style and which one belongs to you…
This is a medium-level detail watercolour rose, having been painted over the length of slightly over one hour. With one hour of work, you can achieve this style, which leans more towards the “tight” method, with more adherence to the linework and a mottled variation of colour. Within the petals of the flower, there are several shades of pink, to indicate light and pigment, and, with the time dedicated to it, it is possible to depict the stem and buds around the flower with great detail.
This second flower is a different take on the similar level of detail and time dedicated to it, at medium details and one hour of work. Unlike the previous flower, this dusky, brownish flower is a “looser” type of watercolour methodology, with the colours very loosely defining the border of the petals, and with much more abstract and free adherence to minimal line art. The colour has been blended on the paper, rather than on a separate pallette.
These next three flowers illustrate the amount of detail that can be rendered over different lengths of time – the first is a mix of loose and tight elements, with detailed borders and interplay of light, but also more flow and playfulness. The second, however, is a low-detail flower, only having been painted over the course of five minutes. While still lovely, it depends highly on the line art beneath the paint to inform the structure of the flower, as most of the watercolour itself gives the idea of petals, rather than depicting them perfectly.
Thirdly, this flower is a high level, eight hour project. With so much time and effort, it can truly come into its own with line art as well as blended and artistic colours.
These final four examples of flowers all depict various ways and styles for depicting similar flowers: the first, a medium detail flower, shows great variation in colour while building on the sketch layer; the second, a low level detail flower, uses the minimal lines to achieve a playful style; the third and fourth, a combination of line work and loose paint, show the many ways watercolour can depict vibrant colours.
2. Getting the Right Equipment
When painting in watercolour, regardless of your medium, one of the best first steps that you can take is to make sure that you have the correct equipment and painting habits that work for your lifestyle.
For example, you might spend a fair amount of time selecting brushes and paper, and practicing with those until you are comfortable with them, or you might want to spend a long time experimenting with how much water you mix into your pigments to get the desired texture and flow.
3. Choose a Colour Palette
When it comes to selecting a colour pallet, this depends broadly on your flower of choice, but it is wise to have at least all primary colours, and a white and black.
You may mix and create new shades, either on a pallet, or directly on the paper if you feel adventurous, but it is helpful to decide on the type of flower that you’d like to paint in advance.
Very few flowers are colours that do not have red, blue, or yellow in some variety, and so the primary shades come in handy most of all, but a large part of the personality and grace of watercolour comes through most clearly by having different shades representing different plays of light and shadow on the subject of your painting.
So, if, for example, you would like to paint a blue flower, such as a wild delphinium, you may want to have at least one shade of very dark blue or purple on hand, in order to capture a sense of depth and light in your artwork. Similarly, red flowers will have inner shades of orange or even yellow, and outer darker shades of maroon or violet.
Some colour mixes you can make with the basic palette: Yellow + Black = Leaf Green; Yellow + Red = Orange; Red + Pink = White; Red + Blue = Purple
Consider also, investing some time looking at flower references online, or even going out and taking pictures of living flowers around your community. A large part of painting in watercolour demands being able to draw the subject first, so you should cultivate an understanding of the general structure and design of the flowers you’re interested in.
4. Practice Sketching
Most flowers can be divided into three basic structures, those being the petals, the stem, and the centre of the flower, where the pistil lies.
Your preliminary sketch of the flower should have all of these parts, with the stem attached to the flower’s centre, and the petals of the flower overlapping to some extent, though that depends on the flower in particular.
Watercolour is a very loose and free-flowing medium, meaning that it lends better to a sense of a flower, more of an illustration of how flowers feel or appear to look than how they actually are.
One aspect to consider when sketching is that you want to give yourself enough room to actually fill in, so the sketch doesn’t need to be especially detailed, only giving the bare bones and idea of the flower which can then be expanded on through illustration.
5. Use of Water
When it comes to mixing with water, the more water you use, the looser the paint will be, to the point where one interesting method you might want to try is to drip water onto the page in particular segments and then introduce watercolour to the standing water droplets, creating interesting patterns and interplay of colours.
Experimenting your methods on a loose piece of paper before beginning to paint the flower properly may be a good idea. As for more control, the opposite is also true – the thicker the paint you apply, with fewer water and more pigment, the more control you retain over the flow of the paint. This method in particular can be very useful for painting hard lines, like those within the pistil or stem.
6. Enhance The Watercolour Effects
Unorthodox methods of painting with watercolour may get you the best results, especially when it comes to creating the natural patterns and structures within the body of the plant.
For example, you may try to draw the veins with a dry stick, or a small twig, which can help create more organic patterns.
Similarly, you may create more texture on the paint by carefully adding salt to certain portions of the paper after painting on it, and brushing it off once the paint has dried. The salt granules absorb the water in the watercolour, leaving behind patterns and spots within the painting once taken off that may be interesting, especially within the pistil of the flower.
Another fun thing to experiment with is to move and articulate the wet paint on the paper even after it has been placed, carefully drawing it away from its original placement to mix shades on the page, drawing out darker colours from the outside in and lighter colours from the inside out to create more realistic variation.
With so much of your flower complete, you can now focus on the stem and leaves of the flower. While it can be easy to skip over the examination of the stem, it adds a certain layer of beauty to make sure your flower appears cohesive from root to leaf. Some plants grow from bushes with woody stems, while others grow on delicate vines with fine hairs. Continue to experiment and practice, and soon you’ll have a watercolour flower painting method that cannot be matched.