Easy Sunflower Watercolor Painting

watercolor sunflower painting by Michele Clamp

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!

Sign up for updates on classes and free livestreams

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.

Brushes for watercolor painting
Brushes for watercolor painting

We’ll need some paint of course. I like tube paints and any artists quality brand is fine. The colors we’ll need are :

  • Lemon yellow
  • Burnt sienna
  • Ultramarine Blue
  • An orangey red like vermillion/pyrrole red/naphthol red
  • Black.

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
  • Finishing touches.

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…

Sign up for updates on classes and free livestreams

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.

Watercolor easy painting color swatches
Watercolor easy painting color swatches

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.

The leaves

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.

Sign up for updates on classes and free livestreams

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.

how to paint a sunflower in watercolor
how to paint sunflowers in watercolor

Sign up for updates on classes and free livestreams