I’ve had this ginger jar in the cupboard for ages and have never painted it. Today was the day. And boy how I regretted getting one with all those divots on it.
Here’s the painting station:
I’ve had this ginger jar in the cupboard for ages and have never painted it. Today was the day. And boy how I regretted getting one with all those divots on it.
Here’s the painting station:
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!
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!!!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 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!!!
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.
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.
A simple watercolor pear and apple setup is an ideal starting point for a beginner. In a series of easy steps I take you through the process including a video of the whole process.
In this pear painting tutorial we’ll be doing a watercolor pear painting but also a watercolor apple. This is a great general watercolor painting tutorial but an especially good beginner painting tutorial. I liked the combination of the two fruits with their very different colors. Watercolor apple paintings are fine but I just wanted something a little more interesting. In fact adding in an extra fruit can provide context and make for an easier painting.
I’ve broken the process into a multi step tutorial and, even though it seems like a lot should only take a couple of hours to finish. We will do a careful drawing, identify and mix our colors, and then paint the subjects in layers. Fruit paintings can seem easy but paintings of fruit can still teach us a lot about color and form. It’s well worth learning or honing your skills on a humble apple, pear or orange painting. Watercolor apples or watercolor paintings of pears on their own are great but even better to combine the two! We will be working from a pixabay reference but if you can, do some still life painting with the subjects right in front of you.
I was originally just going to do a pear tutorial but in hindsight the addition of the apple gives us a better painting and also more practice in values. If you’re looking for guidance on how to paint fruit in watercolor I hope this will get you on your way. It was more fun to do than I thought and I really like the result. I hope you do too. If you’re looking for more info on how to paint in watercolor tutorials I have a special watercolor tutorial page with more subjects.
Here is the reference photo we’ll be using. It’s a simple setup but we’ll take the opportunity to really try and get accurate color and form. Painting watercolor fruit is great practice for the fundamentals. The shapes are straightforward to draw and we can use layering and softening watercolor techniques to establish the form.
If you can it’s a good idea to print this out and have it in front of you. My inkjet printer can print on 4×6 glossy paper which is great for getting intense color.
These are the materials needed for this painting. Here is my full set of recommended watercolor materials.
Paints Needed :
Lemon yellow, Vermillion, Permanent Rose, Burnt Sienna, Ultramarine Blue, Black
We want to create a painting as close as possible to our reference. (Well not always of course but for learning it’s a really good place to start). I recommend using a mechanical pencil when drawing for watercolor paintings. They never need sharpening and the leads last for ages. If you need to erase anything a kneadable eraser is good as it doesn’t leave any residue on the paper. Some erasers leave an oily trace and can affect how the paint is absorbed by the paper so it’s something to watch out for.
Drawings of fruit can seem simple but there’s still some complexity there. Apples seem uniform but they’re not just spheres. They have knobbles and bumps and slightly misshapen bits. Pears have a very characteristic shape but they too have some asymmetry and individualism. So we need to observe the reference carefully and make sure we get everything in proportion relative to everything else.
We want to have a clean drawing with not too many sketchy lines. So I always start with marking out the envelope of the subjects. Lightly mark in the top and bottom of the pear and the left and right positions. I use relative measurements to get the proportions right. In this case the width of the pear is just over half its height so I make sure the marks reflect that. When drawing the apple I again put in the top and bottom relative to the pear and then mark in the left and rightmost positions. Once those are in it’s pretty straightforward to ‘join the dots’ and create a believable outline. The final marks are for the cast shadows on the ground and lines for the horizontal. Once it’s done you should have something similar to the reference. Again for fruit watercolor painting we don’t want too many graphite lines showing through. We want the paint to do the work. Some people don’t like to see any drawing marks showing through but I quite like the effect.
Fruit are a great subject if you’re looking for drawing ideas. Their shapes are relatively simple and even a lone apple drawing can be fun to do. If you group different fruits together with some strong lighting you can get some really interesting compositions. Also you don’t have to always paint your drawings. You can then either leave it as a line drawing or put some shading in in graphite or maybe even colored pencils. For something a little different I often spend time in the evenings doing digital drawing on my ipad with its Apple Pencil. The principles are the same and it’s a good way to spend the odd 10 or 15 minutes or so.
We’re not quite ready to dive in and paint anything yet. I know this might be agonizing but we’re going to study the reference and really try and identify the colors. For this it’s best to have a printout of the reference and a tool called a ‘color isolator’. This is just a piece of gray paper or card with a half inch square cut in the middle. Our brains constantly fool us into misidentifying colors when we’re painting and the surroundings of a subject will affect that enormously. If you place the color isolator over a region of the reference you’ll be able to see that color much more easily.
But wait – don’t use it yet!
Hold your horses! The absolute best way to learn and get better at watercolor painting and color mixing is to try and identify a color first. Try and first guess what the hue (red, yellow, orange etc) is. Next try and estimate the value (how light or dark it is on a scale from 1 (black) to 10 (white). Finally (and this is the tough one) – how bright/saturated is the color or is it closer to gray. This last one is called chroma and can often be glossed over when we’re mixing colors.
So go ahead and have a guess first. Then when you’ve guessed, bring in your color isolator, put it over the region you’re looking at, and see how close you were. Very often – and especially in shadows – you will be surprised. Especially on light objects the shadows can get pretty dark and be a really surprising color. Don’t worry at all about getting it wrong at first. You’ll get much more accurate surprisingly quickly and your paintings will benefit greatly.
So back to the pear! If we look at this we can see a lot of colors but we don’t need to find them all. In fact we only really need to find two colors. The first one is the color of the pear in the light, and the second is the color of the pear in the shadow. Watercolor painting helps us a lot here as we can use water to blend each color and fade it out in a gradient to achieve all the intermediates.
The first color in the light is very yellow. It’s very light and bright and you can see that by the contrast with the color isolator. This is designed to be a mid-value gray so you can see immediately whether you’re in the top half of the value scale or the bottom half.
The dark color may be a little surprising. Using the color isolator as before we can see it’s a mid-value and it’s a kind of olive green color. We now need to work out how to mix these.
The light color of the pear is almost exactly my lemon yellow pigment. Use a piece of scrap paper and put a small swatch down. Compare it to the color we’re trying to match. On my reference it’s almost exact but just a little too green. I want to push it slightly more orange so I take a very small amount of my orangey red (Vermillion) and mix it into my yellow. Yes! Perfect match!
The darker color can be mixed a number of ways but they way I’ll describe may surprise you. We want a mid-value olive green. It so happens that if you add black to lemon yellow it turns it a beautiful olive green. If we take some lemon yellow and add in just enough black (you’ll have to experiment with this) we’ll get exactly the right color. In hindsight I may have needed a little blue in there but it is very close.
The way I usually proceed with a painting is to identify colors and record them as swatches on a piece of paper. You don’t have to do this. You can mix and paint as you go along. However, I like to know what kind of colors I’m working with before I start. If my swatches look good together I know that the painting will work color wise. But it’s up to you. If you do mix swatches ahead of time and then go back I recommend you note down next to your swatch which pigments you used. After a pretty short while you’ll get used to various ways of mixing and you probably won’t need this but it’s good to have a record when you start.
So onto the apple! It’s the same procedure and now we’ve had practice with the pear this should be an easy watercolor apple! We’re going to mix the light side of the apple and the dark side with the help of the color isolator. Again, have a guess before you use it. It’s the process of estimating, then checking, that let’s us learn and correct our mistakes. Painting an apple in watercolor (or any fruit) is made so much easier if we’ve done some of the thinking work ahead of time.
Again you may be surprised by these colors. Who knew how unpredictable an apple and pear could be!! The light side of the apple isn’t very light at all. In fact it’s a mid-value red. In my reference the red is in between my two reds (an orangey red and a pinkish red). Mixing them together and adjusting the proportions should get us the right value. In fact it’s a useful thing to remember that the value of most reds straight from the tube are around a mid value. Bright colors are hard to judge the value of and intuitively we see bright colors as lighter than they are. Good to have that tucked away in your brain for future reference.
The dark side of the apple is really dark. In fact it’s almost black right on the left hand side. We won’t mix that one but something that’s just a little lighter. This is a very dark maroon red. Again starting with a pinkish red (permanent rose or something similar) we need to work out how to take it darker.
Burnt sienna won’t cut it as it’s too light. But a combination of burnt sienna and black will probably work. I know we’ve used black to make shadow colors both times in this demo but this isn’t a hard and fast rule. Adding black to colors ‘deadens’ them. What this means in technical terms is that black reduces chroma i.e. takes the brightness out of the color. Sometimes we don’t want this but in this case we know exactly what color we want and black + permanent rose should get you very close.
The apple and the pear cast shadows and these are very important in the painting to show where they are in space. Again using the color isolator (or use a value scale if you have one) estimate and check the value. On my reference it’s just about a mid-value (around a 6). My go to combination for grays is often a combination of burnt sienna and ultramarine blue. These are complements (brown is a dark orange) and so will mix together to produce either a neutral gray or a brownish or bluish grey. Mix these together and add just enough water to get the right value on the reference. I tend to go by consistency of the paint on the palette for this. A mid-value is the consistency of light cream so just a touch more water should get us what we need.
At the end of all this (I promise we’re going to paint something soon) your swatches should look something like this.
All this prep will be worth it. In fact we’ve done a lot of the hard work already. We now get to paint! We’re going to do this in two layers – the first for the light colors and the next for the darker ones.
So how to paint a pear? In this first layer we’re going to paint the whole of each fruit in the light color. Both the apple and the pear watercolor painting will be very flat at this point. We want this to be really even so we can layer over the darker color later. Mix up your colors and paint the watercolor pear shape and the apple shape.
Take care when you paint your apple watercolor that the light color is the right value – it’s likely darker than you think. I know I’ve said this already but I’ve been bitten many times by this. When putting the paint down try and not go back into areas you’ve already painted too much. This tends to disrupt the natural dispersion of the pigment on the paper and creates nasty stripes and an uneven look. The painting will look flat. Don’t worry! Don’t try and make it look three dimensional at this point. Flat is good at this stage.
Wait until the first layer is dry. Use a hairdryer if you have one handy or, alternatively, go and have a cup of tea as you deserve it.
To put in the shadow we need to remember to only put color in the darkest areas to start with. Keep in your mind where the lights are. For the pear painting they’ll be in the middle of the pear and for the apple painting they’ll be mostly on the right hand side.
The shadows on the watercolor pear are darkest at the edges (especially on the left) and fade gradually into the light. In watercolor painting this involves a technique that can be tricky to get the hang of. It involves two stages. The first is just to put the color down in the darkest areas. Work quickly here as we need to keep the paint wet to keep working with it. I often use a second round brush to do the fading as I can keep the other brush full of pigment to put the paint where I need it. Some people find it easier to use a flat brush to fade the color out. Try both and see which you prefer
Once the color is down take a clean damp brush (take a little water off on a paper towel) and wet the paper next to the color but only overlap the brush very slightly with the wet pigment. The wet paper will draw the pigment out and the color will fade naturally. The trick here is to let the paper do the work. Try not to coax the pigment out too much with the brush. You’ll need to keep a clean brush here so keep washing it (and dabbing the water off) every few seconds or so. It takes practice so have a look at the video so you can get the idea.
Do this again on the apple for the shadow on the left hand side. Use a clean, damp, brush to wet the paper so the pigment naturally blends out. Once that is dry put in the other shadow on the apple on the right side. This one has a hard edge as it’s the shadow cast by the pear so no blending here.
We’ve really done all the hard work here. If you’ve mixed your colors to the right values you should have a feeling of three dimensionality in your fruit.
Using the neutral gray paint in the cast shadows. There is some slight variation within these but not too much so an even wash will be good.
The stalks are put in with burnt sienna. There is some light and shadow here but the main color is very close to burnt sienna. We can add in some slightly darker color as a final touch.
I’m hoping you have something pretty impressive by now. If not check your colors again. Were the lights the right color? Were the shadows dark enough? Did the shadow color fade out gradually enough or did you end up with hard lines? If you’ve not gone dark enough in the shadows now is the time to correct that. Mix up the same shadow color but with slightly more water so it’s a little lighter and repeat the shadow process.
At this point it’s good too add in some very subtle shading with the shadow colors. The pear has some areas where the value changes slightly. These really help to show the form and give a realistic appearance. Look carefully at the reference and your painting. Are there areas where the pear is slightly darker? In my painting I needed to darken the left hand shadow side and also slightly darken the right and the upper, thinner part. This needs to be done with a watered down (i.e. lighter) version of the shadow color. Be careful here. If you lose the distinction between the light and shadow sides of the fruit you’ll lose all the form. It’s easily done and I speak from experience.
At the end I decided to add in a very light grey wash over the foreground. This really helped to place the fruit in space. This was a very light wash – it will feel almost too light when it goes down – but adds a subtle value change that works well.
I hope you enjoyed this and if you try this tutorial I’d love to see what you do. The pear especially was especially satisfying to paint. I think a full painting of pears will go on my todo list.
I videoed the whole process for this painting. I also have more videos on my youtube channel and you can also access them on this page. There are a lot of subtleties that I find hard to describe in text that are well worth watching the video for. It’s real-time so it’s not short but shows the full thing warts and all.
So I hope I managed to answer the question of how to paint an apple in watercolor. Please let me know in the comments or via the contact form if you liked it.
I obviously paint in my own style but there are some other great examples of pear paintings out there. If you’re looking for another watercolor pear tutorial there is a lovely Anna Mason pear tutorial and she has a wonderful fresh, colorful style. Watercoloraffair.com also has a number of great tutorials worth taking a look at.
The Vermont Landscape is quite special in this region. Fields and farms and wonderful skies. I’ve painted this farm once before and wanted to do another version with a slightly different feel. I recently took part in a Dan Marshall challenge of a Colorado landscape. It had a wonderful stormy sky so I took inspiration from that.
The original reference photo had a rather uninspiring almost cloudless blue sky so that came out and I put in some dramatic clouds and gave them some interesting shapes. I wanted to keep the bright sunlight on the roofs so I kept the sky clearer to the right so the whole thing read well. Doing this also helped focus the painting on the farm as center of interest. I went back and forth about the road. Sometimes roads can help a composition but, in this case, I couldn’t make it work without it looking a little hackneyed. So out it went. I ended up with a composition I like. Most of the detail is in a band across the middle with large areas above and below with relatively little going on.
I didn’t do a value study this time. In most cases this really helps. If a painting doesn’t work in black and white and in a 5×7″ format it’s unlikely to work on a larger scale and in color. But in this case I’d had a warm up with the previous landscape. I’d also painted this subject before and so knew my way around it. So I took a chance and it paid off.
The sky is the main character in this work. The farm buildings still in sunlight contrast with the approaching storm clouds. I felt that this highlights the vulnerability of humans and our abilities to control our environment with the sheer power of earth’s climate whims. The buildings are put in broadly with broad strokes of color and minimal detail. The sky is, in contrast, painted wet in wet in multiple layers.
I often video my paintings for teaching purposes but in this case I didn’t. If you’re interested in the nitty gritty please have a look on my youtube video channel or have a look at the videos on my site. I’ve included a landscape done in a similar manner below.
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.