The other day, my friend Arvind, a gifted photographer who has recently taken up drawing and painting, asked me how I go about painting watercolor flowers. I’m not sure I was helpful in answering his questions, but it occurred to me that some of you might be interested as well. Here is a step-by-step guide to my process.
- Start with Light
As a photographer myself (and a fan of the Impressionists), I’m inspired by natural light. If I’m painting flowers, I position them in a spot where there are beautifully illuminated. The most atmospheric light is usually very early in the morning or early evening. Since natural light is fleeting, I snap a photograph or two.
- Make a Value Study
Next I work out my composition in monochromatic watercolor. My goal here is to capture the tonal range of the scene, exaggerating the values for dramatic effect. In the past I never bothered with value studies, but I’ve found they are well worth the time. Essentially a value study serves as a roadmap to where I want to go. Without that roadmap, I tend to meander around, wasting paper and time.
- Paint Freely with a Limited Palette
Once I’ve sorted out the composition and light, I pick my colors. I always keep my palette limited to a handful of colors (often just two colors). Having mapped out where I want to go in terms of value and color, I’m free to paint very quickly and loosely. That’s the thing about watercolor. It’s spontaneous, but if you truly have no idea where you’re going, you end up with a muddy painting. And who wants that?
This painting is available as a print in my online shop.
See It In The Shop
Karen Buckley says
Thank you for inspiring me to keep my mind open. Your Watercolors are fabulous. I recently switched my oils to Charvin and Sennelier and am in love with oils again. The colors are so vibrant. The quality of my previous brand had declined in quality and caused a great deal of frustration. What line of Watercolors do you use? Your comments on Pan pastels makes me want to give them a try as well they sound like a great deal of fun!
Thanks so much for your kind words! Means a lot coming from a gifted painter!
I use a variety of watercolor brands, but my favorites right now are M. Graham & Co. and Schmincke. They seem to have the most pigment. For paper, I use Arches 140 lb. cold press natural white.
I’ve dabbled in oils, but never feel like I can express myself in oil. One day, perhaps.
Pan Pastels are so much fun. Although I’ve not figured out a way to layer them.
Have a great holiday weekend!
Beverly, do you paint over the value sketch or just use that to look at?
Thank you for sharing your tutorial.
The value sketch is a separate painting – used as a reference. I don’t paint over it.
Wow, Beverly, you have been working hard. I am surprised as much as delighted to see reference to our conversation about painting flowers, and now you illustrate what you told me in person. A job well done and very helpful to the beginner watercolorists like me and Carla above.
Funny you did a painting of snapdragons for this tutorial, as I did one myself the other day. Needless to say, yours is much more pleasant to look at. But I have learnt something here. Thank you!
Thanks, Arvind, for inspiring this post. I’m looking forward to seeing your flower paintings!
Thank you! As a beginning watercolor artist, I happened upon your work and have been inspired by it. You are so generous to share this.
I’m so glad this was helpful to you, Carla! Thank you for your kind words!