Watercolor Flowers is a never ending topic for art
Painting it is a pure pleasure! Botanical art requires a special approach, and some additional knowledge about paper and brushes, all of that we will explore in this article.
Here we will paint a beautiful couple of pink roses and I’ll describe every single step I took to achieve this result.
This is a reference I used for our painting:
Let’s start with the materials.
You can use 100% cotton or good quality cellulose (like Canson Montval). We are not going to use wet techniques so cotton is not a request here but more of a recommendation for a more pleasant experience. Nevertheless both types are going to serve the purpose. We used “Canson Montval” cellulose paper.
Texture is recommended to be hot pressed. If not available, then cold pressed (if it is not very grainy), but definitely not rough. We need a smooth surface to lay paint to create those gentle petals. In this tutorial we used cold pressed paper with not very pronounced texture, so it’s all good.
Size doesn’t matter, but we do recommend to take no less than A4 (21 × 29.7 cm or 8.27 × 11.69 in). The bigger paper sheet the easier to work on each petal with a more relaxed brush stroke.
To avoid paper deformation use tape to attach the sheet to a tablet or table.
Use any professional watercolor set. We used “Rosa” (first Ukrainian professional watercolor brand). I switched to tubes and created a palette of my favorite colors which includes other brands as well (Winsor & Newton, Sennelier, Van Gogh, etc). You can create your own palette too, or just use a premade set of watercolors in pans from one brand. It doesn’t affect the painting you will have in the end anyway.
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You will need a synthetic brush, round, small size (#3-5). The size depends on the size of your paper sheet and a rose. If you want to paint big you will need a larger brush.
For particularly larger pieces go ahead with a natural brush: it will release a lot of water/paint, hence the size of the rose it will be still manageable. I used a squirrel hair brush.
Have the smallest synthetic brush nearby (size #1) for final details. Those are delicate so you would need a hard bouncy brush that won’t release much water.
Pencil for sketch: can be soft (HB, B+) but we recommend to stick to a harder pencil (H) so that the smallest lines stay visible on the sketch.
- Big cup of clean water
- Paper tissues, eraser
- White gel pen for additional details
Prepare a detailed pencil sketch of your rose. Thin and hard pencil (H) will leave a tidy trace which will not be that easy to smudge with your hand while drawing. This accidentally happens all the time but in botanical art sketch is more important than in a, let’s say, landscape one. So it’s important to keep a drawing clean and tidy.
Before starting drawing the details of the roses, make sure to work out the composition. If you locate the flowers too high up or down the paper sheet, the overall composition will be off. In order for a painting to look harmonious the first step should always be building a composition and organizing all elements within it.
To make this step easier you can first locate simple circles (which will soon turn into a rosebud) on paper to see approximate arrangement of flowers and petals. When every element finds its place and you are satisfied, dive into detailing each rose.
Total Time: 1 hour and 12 minutes
When drawing watercolor flowers with a pencil, make sure to not press on it too much.
The lines should be hardly visible (that’s why you probably don’t see much on this photo of mine).
If your sketch is too dark the watercolor layers won’t be able to cover it and your painting will have a black outline.
Also try to minimize eraser usage since it can damage the paper surface which will respectively affect your future watercolor layers.
Here I tried to work up the image in Photoshop to make sure you can see all the lines of my sketch. No need to make an exact copy of the photo, it’s just a reference which you can use however you feel like in your art.
We’ll start with applying first semi-transparent layer on one of the petals, the bottom part of the rosebud.
For this step I used a natural brush (squirrel) because the surface to cover is relatively big (compared to the rest of petals) and I wanted to achieve a soft and smooth effect in one stroke.
The brush is wet but not too much (water is not dripping from the brush). So you have enough control over the paint here.
For this layer I mixed pink (Magenta Rose, PR 122) with red (Cadmium Red, PR 108 ) to have some sort of a midcolor.
While the first layer is still wet I add a slightly darker tone to increase the paint concentration focusing on one side of the rosebud.
The brush should be loaded with semi-wet paint. If you have too much liquid in your brush it will release too much water, dilute the first layer and create a pattern we don’t need on the tender rose petal.
With the same diluted paint as used in my first layer I paint in the second petal. As you can see, I chose a petal that is not closely touching the first one to avoid paint leaking from one petal into another. We need to keep each petal nice and clean. Here as well, make sure to have a moderate amount of liquid on your brush to avoid dropping excessive water.
The paint dries up pretty fast (mostly because we work on cellulose and with relatively dry layers). This allows us to move back to our first petal and deepen the tone by adding a darker layer on the bottom to create a feeling of volume.
Now let’s paint the top petal with the same mix we used in the beginning (pink + red). This petal is a little bent. To recreate the elasticity of it I applied a little darker tone (shadow) on the top of the petal where it bends.
Also go ahead and darken the bottom of this petal with a concentrated dark pink color leaning towards violet (Quinacridone Lilac, PV 19). The same goes for the bottom of our second petal.
When watercolor dries up it loses a little of its color, the brightness of it. Sometimes we need to bring that brightness back by adding more tone to the particular area.
Switching to a smaller brush helps to work on more delicate elements, also this brush is synthetic so I have more control over the paintflow.
The petal on the left drops shadow on the rosebud which we need to show as well. So pick up some red (Cadmium Red, PR 108) mixed with dark pink (Quinacridone Lilac, PV 19) and lay down on the left side of the rosebud.
I know at this moment it looks too dark and out of the picture but trust me, after we finish the flower all those paint blots will go in place.
In order to recreate the delicate veins on the rosebud I switched the brush upside down and used the pointy end. It kind of dragged the paint the direction I moved it creating a tiny thin line. This would have not worked out if I tried to paint it with the brush bristols.
You need just enough wet paint to be concentrated in the bottom (or left side) of the rosebud to make this trick work. If your layer got dry, there will be nothing to pull with that opposite side of the brush.
Now that you’ve got the principle of painting petals, apply it on the next few petals. Remember, the area where two petals connect (touch each other) should be darker because this is where two objects naturally drop shadow on each other.
Make sure your petals are not painted with one plain color. It makes them look flat and boring. That also doesn’t mean you should add all the colors from your palette. Stay within the color scheme of your flowers (so all variations of pink and red). Think of the areas which are supposed to be in shadow, and don’t forget to paint those shadows.
Important: to make a petal shape recognizable and separate from the others please don’t outline it like in a coloring book. This will make it look flat and cartoonish. Create the border of one petal by painting another petal next to it (or around it) to outline it. This will look much more natural.
The area inside the rosebud is naturally darker. So use your dark pink (in my case Quinacridone Lilac, PV 19), or violet, or a mix of blue and pink to work up the shadows. Think of the rosebud as a sphere with shadows in the heart of it. Also the petal on the right will have more pronounced shadows in the area where it’s connected to the rest of the flower.
Move to leaves and stems. First layer should be light and transparent. I like to mix my green color (yellow + blue) by myself. It really depends what pigments you use tho.
Mixing Lemon with Phtalo blue will give totally different results than mixing Cadmium yellow with Ultramarine blue. Take the time to mix your variations on your own and pick the green you like the most.
Or you can as well use a pre-made green color from your palette and save yourself some time.
Deepen the stem and sides of the leaves with a darker green. Best way to achieve darker green is to add red paint to your green (red is a complementary color).
I also didn’t wait for the stem to dry and continued adding some browns (like Raw sienna, PBr 7, PY 42 or Burnt sienna, PR 101). This helped me achieve a smooth transition from green to light brown within the stem.
The big leaf goes through the same process: light tone of green first and then add slightly darker tone.
Don’t color the whole leaf with dark tone, leave some space and make it “breath”. It’s nature after all, you can have a few different tones in that leaf so feel free to play around, maybe inject some yellows or light browns if you feel appropriate.
Mix the darkest green (compared to the rest of the color palette used in this painting) and go through some shadows on the stem and top leaves. Don’t be afraid to show contrast, this will make the artwork look more interesting and eye-catching.
I painted the leaves behind the flower after the front part is finished. Best if the front part of the painting is also dry. Lots of artists tho paint the background elements prior the foreground.
Nevertheless my leaves on the back are more watery, I didn’t pay that much attention to details and let the paint mix and flow without adjusting anything. Elements in the background tend to be less detailed and should not distract the viewer from the main object – the rose.
I naturally connected the stem of the second rose to the first flower, and made sure the fresh pant doesn’t interfere with the previous layer.
This second stem has more air (I left out some blank space without any paint) and more variety of colors mixed up such as browns, pinks and greens.
I added more yellow to the second big leaf on the foreground and let green blend with it freely. You need a little bit more water in your paint-load for this to happen.
Slowly moving to the second rosebud. My first stroke was watery which allowed to drag that paint down and create a layer covering the rose. As usual, this first layer is light and transparent.
With darker pink paint the top edge of the second rose. Since the first layer is still wet the paint will flow and bleed down the rose a little. This will create a natural color transition and keep tender look of the rose.
Next moves would be working in between petals with the same darker pink color. No need to use exact same colors we used in our first rosebud. Make them slightly different for the eye to catch it.
The painting is almost done. Now time to add final details. I like to use gel pen to add tiny white veins or highlights. Here it’s important to keep it low, don’t overdo this step. We don’t need an eye to stumble upon those white strokes.
Same goes for the tiny details with your smallest brush (size #1). The paint must be dry in order to achieve concentrated and well controlled stroke.
Take a step back, maybe get a coffee or tea, technically just give your eyes a minute to rest. This will help you evaluate the work with a fresh look and decide if any changes/additions needed.
And voila! You’ve got yourself beautiful roses!
Watercolor flowers video tutorial
Hey guys, I hope you liked this tutorial. I would love to see your creations so feel free to comment and show your results :).