Alla prima primroses were the subject for oil painting today. A very complicated subject and an exhausting painting session. Almost 6 hours to get this to an almost finished state. This was done as part of a Paul Foxton workshop and this was the final subject.
Mixing colors Takes Time
I spent a good portion of the time just mixing the colors. It took around 1.5 hours to mix up colors for the light and shadow sides of the flowers, the leaves, the teapot and the background colors. I dialled back the chroma quite a bit from last week’s study as I thought the yellow flowers were too bright. Definitely a good decision.
Small Oil Study
Here is the study for reference:
This was an 8×10 study and was blocked in quite quickly and with only a little drawing. I thought it came out well but wanted a slightly quieter feel to it. I also went larger – 11″x15″ for the final thing. It’s a busy subject and needed a bit more elbow room so took the plunge and went larger. This is always a bit of a risk as relationships can take on more or less impact as you scale up or down.
In Progress Shot
Here is the painting part way through. We spent quite a bit of time on the central 3 flowers. These are the main stars of the show and we wanted to make sure we had the values nailed down here. I think they just about work. Yellow flowers are always tricky especially the shadow colors. We also made sure the values of the teapot were better than the study. The white of the spout in the shadow is really quite dark and we wanted to ensure it really looked like it was in shadow.
Alla Prima Primroses – Studio Shot
This is a shot of my easel in the studio. Some people have asked whether I have trouble with distorted drawing as I have my board at an angle. To be honest I keep it like that as I mostly work in watercolor and I’m used to it. I do stand up a lot and I don’t think I get any distortion from the angle. One day I’ll try the vertical easel and see how that feels.
Watercolor daffodils have been on the docket to paint for a while since the snow has departed. Yesterday’s version wasn’t successful and I pushed it to a mess. But today’s is much better. I’ll leave it on the easel and look at it with fresh eyes tomorrow.
Light and Shadow Were The Main Subject
The main star of the show isn’t really the daffodils but the creamer and the shadows. But I wanted to have the flowers in there for some value contrast and those wonderful subtle shades on the petals. The leaves especially give a strong dark vertical which sets off the very light values in the flowers, the creamer and the surface. The background shadows were a huge challenge. My first version had them far too dark and the washes were grubby and uneven. I vacillated a lot about the color of those back shadows. I didn’t want them to be too dominant but also didn’t want a dull grey back there. In the end I think the slight purple worked well.
Daffodils are Surprisingly Hard to Paint Well
I have to say daffodils are not the easiest of flowers. The colors of the petals are very low chroma and can be hard to mix in watercolor. But I think these work pretty well. I would have liked a little more contrast in the petals between light and shade but didn’t want to destroy the delicacy. But anyway – there’s plenty more in the garden so lots of opportunity to practice
Other Examples of Watercolor Daffodils
It is daffodil season and, although these are the first of this season I’ve had some pretty good success previously. Here are a couple of previous versions:
Both these paintings were from sessions with Paul Foxton. He’s a great fan of painting daffodils and it’s always worthwhile taking one of his workshops.
Watercolor flower painting can be so rewarding. And if you’re looking for flower painting ideas a carnation watercolor is great way to start. Such beautiful colors and lots of twiddly crinkly petals that catch the eye. However, it doesn’t mean they’re easy. As with all flowers we have to get the colors right both in the light and the shadow and we have to get the shadows in the right places. Maybe most importantly we have to pay attention to the edges. All those crinkles! We want to suggest them in our painting but not detail every last one. A perfect subject for a watercolor painting!
Watercolor Carnation Tutorial steps
This is one of my step by step watercolor lessons on painting a single carnation. When you start to paint watercolor flowers it’s good to take it slow and follow step-by-step. I take you through identifying the values and mixing the colors. We will then move onto painting the major shapes and then adding in the detail. A lot of the hard work is in the prep and mixing. If we get all that right the details often go in very quickly.
Watercolor paper (I like Fabriano Artistco)
Size 10 round sable or synthetic sable
Vermillion/pyrrole red/naphthol red
Palette/paper towels/water pot
A solid resolve
How to start painting a watercolor carnation
So how should we think about this watercolor painting? I like to start by first looking at the overall shape and how the light falls on the flower. Which direction is the light coming from? Where on the bloom does it fall into shadow?
Simplify the carnation flower
If we ignore all the little crinkly petals a carnation is pretty spherical. It’s a lot simpler in structure than a watercolor rose (which is a whole different tutorial). And in our reference the light is coming from the left. So the left side of our flower is in the light and the right side is in the shadow. If we strip it back to this we have one color in the light and one color in the shadow. Of course there will be differences in the details. In the deep crevices of the petals it will go darker and some of the outer edges will catch the light. But let’s start there and get those colors right. When you’re working out how to paint a carnation simplifying the basic colors needed is a vital first step.
Use your value scale to find the values of the light and the shadow
We have a pink carnation and you can pretty easily see we have a light pink on the light side and a darker pink on the shadow side. But how light and dark are they? And how can we mix them? It’s a good idea to break out your color isolator and your value scale here.
If you’re working from a printed reference then you can place them directly over the print. I actually recommend this if you’re just starting out with painting or if you’re working on nailing those values. If you’re working from life you can hold them up in front of the flower but be careful! Make sure the light falling on your value scale or isolator is the same as is falling on your flower. If you have your flower backlit you won’t get an accurate reading.
Squinting your eyes helps with values
What makes this slightly tricky with a bright pink flower is that we only have a grey value scale. The best way to cope with this is place your value scale on your reference and squint your eyes. The squinting will take the color out of what you’re looking at and make it easier to judge value. Eventually you’ll be able to make a pretty accurate guess but it’s always useful to check. Move the value scale along the region you’re looking at (pick an ‘average’ region) and find the value where the edge and the region almost merge together. It probably won’t be an exact match but you’ll be able to narrow it down to within a step. Do this for both the light side and the shadow. For my reference I get a value 6 in the light and a value 2 in the shadow.
Make some color swatches
Now I’m going to say something heretical here. Don’t sweat the precise color of the swatches you’re going to make. But really sweat the value! Try and really nail that value.
How to mix pinks in watercolor
So where do we start with color. We know our flower is pink and we have a pinkish red on the palette. I always start with which color on my palette is closest to the one I want to mix. I have two reds on my palette – an orangey red (vermillion) and a pinkish red (permanent rose). We know it’s definitely pink so permanent rose it is.
Pay attention to paint consistency when mixing value
The really annoying thing about watercolor painting is that when we mix colors on the palette they look *nothing* like the colors that end up on the paper. They always look darker until they get placed on the paper and are spread so thin that the paper shines through.
So what should we do? Well we could just test a swatch on some scrap paper and that is always a good idea to check. But while we’re on the palette all we really have to go on is the consistency of the paint. We add water to make a pigment lighter so the consistency of the paint gets thinner. Dark paint – thick paint and light paint – thinner paint. When we’re planning our watercolor carnations painting pay attention to both – the consistency of the paint and how it looks on your scrap paper.
Mix the light value for the carnation watercolor
For our value 6 our paint needs to be roughly of the consistency of 2% milk. It will flow around the palette fairly easily. For comparison a value 5 will be light cream consistency and darker will be heavy cream. Try mixing your permanent rose with some water until it feels like a milk consistency. Then try a swatch on some scrap paper. Let it dry a little (watercolor always dries lighter) and bring in your value scale to see how close you are.
Practice makes mixing much easier
This seems like a really awkward process when you first start. And we haven’t even started putting paint on the paper yet! But it gets a lot easier very quickly. And trust me – your paintings will get so much better very quickly. The ability to mix accurate values is a key skill towards getting an effective watercolor.
We have a little bit of a problem with the dark value. Take some permanent rose straight from the tube, loosen it with a tiny bit of water, and make the darkest swatch you can. Measure that value with your value scale. Eeek! We need a value 4 but we can only get down to a value 5. We can’t get dark enough!
So what to do? Well – we only need to go slightly darker. Take your permanent rose and mix in a teeny bit of black and burnt sienna and try that swatch again. You should be able to make a darker pink without that black muddying that color too much. It should still be a nice rich pink but at the right value you need.
And just one more color!
We have our main colors but we need just one more color. The leftmost side of the flower is very light – around a value 8.5. And the color is shifted ever so slightly towards blue. This often happens when you have still life subjects lit by daylight. As the object moves into shadow the color shifts towards orange. It’s not an absolute rule but it happens an awful lot! So let’s measure and mix that color. As it turns out our permanent rose diluted to a value 8.5 is pretty bang on that color. So we paint a swatch and just try it out on the edges of our cartoon sketch flower.
But when do we start painting?
Yes, yes I know we’ve done a *lot* of messing around with mixing and swatches and value scales. But all this prep makes the painting so much easier. Finally – let’s start painting this carnation watercolor!!!
First the Drawing
Ok so I lied about the painting. We’ll get there soon. First we have to draw out the outline of the flower. When drawing the carnation lightly sketch in the oval shape then draw the outline and pay attention to the angles of the petals. Flowers may often look soft and curved but if you look closely they’re often quite choppy and jagged. This really does add to the character of the flower so we should pay attention to it.
The final thing in the drawing is to lightly draw in the boundary between the light and the shadow side. This won’t be smooth as in our little cartoon sketch but will be more choppy and angled as the petals go in and out of the light. We need this to remind us where the dark colors stop and the light colors start.
And Now we Paint! Honest!
So we’ve done a whole lot of hard work. We know our colors and how to mix them. This frees up some thinking room to concentrate on putting the paint on the paper.
Paint the lightest color
Mix up and put the lightest color around the edges on the left side. While the paint is still wet clean your brush, dab it a couple of times on a paper towel and smooth the edges out. When you do this you don’t really go into the paint you’ve already put down. What you’re actually doing is wetting the paper right next to the paint and just letting the paint flow into the damp paper. It will do its thing if you let it!
The Mid-Value Layer
Let that lightest layer dry and then we can move onto the next value up. This is the color on the light side (minus those very light edges) but we’re going to paint over the dark side as well. We know we’re going to go over this with an even darker color so it’s fine to do this. In fact as the darker color will still be slightly transparent the color will show through a little and make the flower more luminous.
Make sure you don’t just fill in the shape. Leave a few gaps to show where the petals are in light. It’s these edges that really give a convincing rendition of a flower. And soften all those edges with a damp brush. Hard edges at this stage will be really jarring on the eye.
Now the Shadow Color!
We can start to see the form of the flower happening but now is time for some of the dark color to go into the shadow side. This is the scary bit!
Again it’s not just ‘filling it in’. Leave small areas of the previous layer showing. It will give the impression of petals. And, as always, soften some of the edges. Some of the edges where the petals end will be hard so leave those. But not too many! It will look choppy and jarring otherwise.
And just a reminder – KEEP AWAY FROM THE LIGHT! Don’t let that shadow color get into the light (apart from softening the edges). We’ll lose all the form if that happens and we’ll have a pink splodge. Trust me – I’ve been there.
Let’s take a bit of a breather while that layer dries and paint the stem. This is much less stressful! Mix up an olive green color with some lemon yellow, black and a touch of ultramarine. You should end up with a mid value yellow-green. Paint in the stem and then, while it’s still wet add in a little black to make the color darker and put in the shadow on the right hand side. I decided to soften a few edges here and there on the stem just to break up that hard line. We want all the focus to be on the flower – the stem is just incidental.
Now for some Subtle Shades on the Light Side
Now it’s looking pretty good! We now have to be careful not to ruin it. It’s easily done and this part could be disastrous if we’re not careful. We’re going to put some really, really, subtle definition into the light side. Just a few touches to show where the petals overlap each other. It is so, so easy to overdo this so really err on the light side. Better to do too little here than too much. So it’s a really watery version of our light side color and just touch in some areas to show a few petals. Be careful!!!
And Now Even Darker! We’re Almost Done!
So we have some really nice form on the flower now. And some indication of petals. But the center still needs to go a little darker. Mix up an even darker mix of your shadow color. This will have very little water in it but just enough so the paint still flows.
Dab pieces of paint into the darkest crevices and soften the edge that’s coming out into the light. You won’t need much here. In mine I also decided to slightly darken the whole shadow side with a watery wash of the dark color. I wanted even more subtle change of value in the petals here as I thought some of them were too light. Skip this step if you’re not sure.
Finish Off by Sharpening up the Outside Edges
The final step was to sharpen up and make slightly choppier the edges on the shadow side. The edges of a flower often give a lot of character so I like to define them.
And the finished thing! I am pretty pleased with this. I really love those petals in shadow that give real depth to the carnation. We all deserve a lie down now.
If you enjoyed this tutorial and would like to be notified of new ones that come out please sign up for my mailing list. I try and make tutorials that produce a satisfying result but are also easy watercolor paintings for beginners. There will also be a video on this page shortly and also on my youtube channel. If you’d like to see more of my flower watercolors this daffodil watercolor is one I’m particularly pleased with.
Just a quickie today. I’m working on a flower class coming up in a couple of weeks. Trying a very simplified and somewhat tight bloom to show people how to show the form on a flower. Getting there. I like the image a lot but the process might need work.
An easy sunflower watercolor painting. If you want ideas for watercolor painting this is a great choice. Learn here how to do it.
A sunflower watercolor painting is one of the easier flowers to paint. Not trivial by any means but I’ve really enjoyed previous sunflower paintings and wanted to try something a little different this time. Watercolor flowers are deceptively hard. So many forms, intense colors and subtle value changes. It’s a challenge at the best of times. If you want to make sunflower painting easy then the best thing to do is have a plan! A little time thinking is never wasted!
But I always love painting sunflowers in watercolor. Sunflower art looks great on the wall and cheers up any decor. I don’t actually have any original sunflower paintings up on the wall at the moment – must remedy that.
So let’s get started on our easy sunflower painting! Let the watercolor sunflower tutorial commence!
Materials for Your Simple Watercolor Painting
You don’t need a huge watercolor painting set for this painting. You’ll need some watercolor paper and I usually use Fabriano Artistico but any 100% paper will work well. The paper for watercolor painting is crucial so, if you can, don’t skimp on this part. Brushes are also important and the best are made of Kolinsky sable but there are some good synthetics on the market these days. These include the Princeton Aqua Elites and the Escoda Verstil brushes. Also, recently I’ve been using the Silver Black Velvet brushes which have a good feel to them.
We’ll need some paint of course. I like tube paints and any artists quality brand is fine. The colors we’ll need are :
An orangey red like vermillion/pyrrole red/naphthol red
Other things we’ll need are a mechanical pencil for the drawing, a palette with good areas for mixing, a water pot and some paper towels. Other things that come in useful in my watercolor painting kit are a kneaded eraser, a spray bottle to keep the paint wet and for occasional texture, and some masking tape to tape down the paper to stop it curling.
How to Start a Watercolor Painting
The best way to begin a watercolor painting is to hold off painting for a while and make a plan! Seriously, all the thinking you can do ahead to time will pay off in spades. There is so much to think about when you’re in the middle of some watercolor technique that if we can do some thinking beforehand we should. A little planning should make our sunflower painting easy (or at least easier!).
So our main plan is:
Make an outline drawing of the petals and the leaves
Make some color swatches for the light and shadow side of the petals and leaves. Also make some color swatches for the central darker parts.
Put a first wash over all the petals in the light petal color
Put a first wash over the central parts
Paint all the seeds in the central part
Paint the leaves
Paint the shadows on the petals
This layering technique is pretty common in but there are other techniques for watercolor painting. If you want to learn watercolor painting painting in layers is a good place to start. As we only work on one layer at a time we can break things down into sections and concenrate on that. Time is always precious in watercolor as we only have so long before the paint dries and we can’t work with it.
Trying a different painting style
Loose watercolor painting is my usual style. A lot of simplification and lost edges and general sploshiness. It’s not an easy watercolor style (are there any?) and even though it looks free and easy it involves a lot of decisions and good brushwork. But today we’re going to be doing something different. This watercolor sunflower painting is going to be crisp and precise and hopefully result in a sharp focused but still interesting image. If you’re interested in how to paint loose sunflowers in watercolor take a look at another of my sunflower paintings.
I do have a few more sunflower watercolor paintings in the archives if you want to compare this to previous work. This sunflower painting is from a few years ago and I’ve done a couple more in class demo tutorials. Somewhat different in style but they have a certain charm I think. Not as loose in style as one of my favorite painters Charles Reid but one day maybe…
More drawing required for a tight painting
I spent a little more time on the drawing than usual. We’re not going for a completely realistic sunflower drawing but I made sure all the petals were outlined and all edges defined. The middle part of the flower (all those seeds!) I left empty and planned to paint freehand. Successful easy watercolor sunflower paintings depend on the lovely irregularity in the petals. They look uniform at first sight but they point out at all sorts of odd angles – we need to capture that.
Planning the colors.
This watercolor sunflower didn’t have too many colors to match. There was the light and shadow sides of the petals, The light and shadow of the central seed part and the leaves. And keeping the colors simple was going to help keep the form in the final painting. Here are my swatches for the various colors.
Painting the petals
First a complete wash of the light yellow petal color over all of the petals. Painting straight through all the petal joins and trying to keep the wash even with no streaks or stripes. I softened slightly around the inner edge to avoid any harsh lines later.
Painting the sunflower center
The next step was to put in the lighter color of the central portion. This was a value 6 wash of burnt sienna over the whole central part. I let this dry then spent a good week or so (ok maybe 20 minutes) carefully painting in a mix of burnt sienna and ultramarine to outline the seeds. I left small regions of the underlying wash showing through to show the lighter parts of the seeds. Took forever (have I mentioned that?) and made me remember why I don’t paint like this often. But the result worked – the central part definitely had a look of a sunflower.
At this point I had a choice. To go in and paint the shadows on the petals or to tackle the leaves. I decided on the leaves. They have fairly dark portions on them and I wanted something to relate to when the rest of the petals went in. So in they went. Just two colors – the lighter green (black, lemon yellow and a little cobalt blue) for the regions in sun and a darker mix with more black and less water for the shadow portions.
The petal shadows
Now this bit was the hardest and the part where I would be most likely to ruin everything. I carefully looked at the value and the color of those shadows on the petals. They weren’t for the most part all that dark. Maybe a value 7 or 6 in the darkest part. They were also very orange – no blue or grey in there. So I tested a mix of burnt sienna and a little vermillion with enough water to give me a value 7. Yup that seems to be ok.
The shadows went in in layers. I left some regions just with the one layer for the lighter parts and then went in again with another layer of color for the darker parts. It wasn’t the greatest job – a little streaky in places. But the colors were good and if I try this again I’d have a better idea of how to do it.
Final touches and is this sunflower watercolor painting a success?
Only a few things left to do now. A few little dots around the central part for the seeds that were poking out, darkened the leaf shadows a little, and put a few light lines on some of the petals. Fairly happy with the result I think.
Watercolor sunflowers are a good subject if you’re starting to paint flowers. The colors are fairly straightforward and there is a strong contrast between the central part and the petals. Both of these help us get a convincing representation in paint.
I hope you enjoyed this beginner watercolor painting and it showed you how you can make painting a watercolor sunflower easy. If you are looking for more lessons in watercolor painting I have more tutorials and some real-time demos on my youtube channel. Please subscribe to my channel if you’re interested to see new ones when they’re released.
And Before You Go…
Here are a few screenshots of a slightly more loose set of sunflowers. The process is very similar though. The early washes go in flat and then more detail and interest is added as the painting progresses. If you’re keen on painting sunflowers in watercolor you can adapt this technique to pretty much any flower.