Lemon Watercolor Tutorial

Lemon watercolor tutorial by Michele Clamp

A lemon watercolor can seem hard but my demo shows you how you can paint them with only a few colors. The yellows of lemons are so attractive and cheery but they can be tricky to paint convincingly. However, with some careful observation and a couple of ‘tricks’ it can be much easier.

Lemon watercolor tutorial studio shot
Lemon watercolor tutorial studio shot

Watercolor Materials Needed

My full materials list is here but these are the main things used in this tutorial.

  • 100% cotton watercolor paper. I mainly use Fabriano Artistico.
  • Scrap/student paper for color swatches (I like the Fabriano ‘Fat Pad’).
  • A couple of 10 or 12 round watercolor brushes (sable or a good synthetic)
  • Palette
  • Spray bottle
  • Mechanical Pencil
  • Masking tape if you’re not using watercolor blocks or you want a crisp edge to your painting.
  • Colors: cobalt blue, lemon yellow, yellow ochre, burnt sienna, ultramarine, black

Watercolor Lemon Reference Image

Lemon reference photo with grid
Lemon reference photo with grid

Lemon Watercolor Pencil Drawing

Lemon watercolor drawing
Outline drawing

I start off with an outline pencil drawing using a mechanical pencil. I prefer the mechanical pencils as you get a uniform line every time and it never needs sharpening. Also, if you carry it around in your bag, you don’t get graphite over everything which gets very annoying after a while.

The reference image has a grid on it and, if you’re not confident in your drawing please use the grid. I generally grid up the photos into quarters and size the reference to be approx 9″x12″ or 11″x14″. This makes it easier to grid up your paper without doing any convoluted math.

If this were an oil painting we could happily draw the grid on the canvas in the knowledge that the opaque paint would cover it up later. With watercolor we can’t do this as it’s a transparent medium. I find that even if the graphite lines are very very faint they still leave a faint mark when you erase them which we don’t want. To avoid this and still benefit from the grid I put a dot where the grid lines cross. This gives me a reference dot which is useful but doesn’t show up after we’ve put the paint on.

Finished pink carnation watercolor painting tutorials

I have many more step-by-step tutorials and videos!

Two Tools to Help Us Paint in Watercolor

A lot of the basic skills in watercolor painting involve seeing and mixing colors of the right value. To help us with this I’ve adopted two tools used by many other people but in particular Paul Foxton (whose workshops and classes I highly recommend).

A Value Scale is An Invaluable Tool

A good accurate value scale is a great investment and they’re really quite cheap so there’s not much of an outlay. I recommend the Paul Centore value scale which has 20 steps and has highly accurate neutral grays.

A Color Isolator Helps us See Color And Value

The other thing is the rather grandly titled ‘color isolator’. This is just a piece of gray card or paper colored to a mid value with a half-inch square cut from the middle. When we place this over a reference image the gray gives us a buffer between the color we want to see and everything else around it. The mid-value gray also gives us a hint as to the value. If you download the image above you can print this on your own printer. At a pinch painting a piece of card with a value 5 gray and cutting a hole in it would also work well.

Vermont farm watercolor landscape by Michele Clamp

Online Zoom Classes

I run online zoom courses regularly for both beginners and more advanced students. Please check out my workshop page.

Lemon Watercolor – Planning Our Colors

Using our color isolator and value scale we can work out two important colors and values: one for the part of the lemon in the light and one for the part of the lemon in the shadow.

Check the value with your value scale
Check the value with your value scale

Using the color isolator and the value scale together we can work out the two important values. In this case we have around an 8.5 value in the light and a value 6 in the shadow. These two values are enough to create a convincing lemon. The only other thing is the highlight which is so light we can leave white paper for.

The ChromaMagic Tool Can Tell You The Hue, Value, and Chroma

If you don’t have a printed reference the ChromaMagic tool can tell you the color of any region of your reference. Just download the reference photo and go to chromamagic.com and load it up using the button in the top right corner. Clicking on any region of the reference will display the exact color of that pixel. It uses the Munsell System to show the color which is extremely useful for us painters. The Munsell system separates each color into hue (red, orange, green etc), value (light and dark), and chroma (how gray the color is) which makes it more straightforward for us to mix the right colors.

ChromaMagic for Still Life Watercolor

Use ChromaMagic now

Fabulous tool to find the color and value in *any* reference photo. Basic version is free to use.

Give it a try now! The best way to use it is to have a guess first before clicking on the reference. Your color perception skills can improve in an extremely short time by guessing first then using ChromaMagic to check your guess.

Make Some Test Swatches on Some Scrap Paper

Watercolor lemon light and shadow color swatches
Watercolor lemon light and shadow color swatches
Test your color mixes on some spare paper
Test your color mixes on some spare paper

Paint the Watercolor Lemons

Watercolor lemons painted with just two colors
Watercolor lemons painted with just two colors
Owl Watercolor Demo Video

Interested in Learning to Paint in Watercolor?

I have many real-time videos you can paint along to. Please check out my youtube channel or see the selection here.

Do Some Test Colors for the Leaves

Use the color isolator to match a test swatch
Use the color isolator to match a test swatch

Make a Darker Green for the Leaves

Match the darker green
Match the darker green

The Final Thing

Lemon watercolor tutorial by Michele Clamp
Lemon watercolor tutorial by Michele Clamp