Lemon Watercolor Tutorial

A lemon watercolor can seem hard but my demo shows you how you can paint them with only a few colors.

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

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

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Watercolor Lemon Reference Image

Lemon reference photo with grid
Lemon reference photo with grid

Lemon Watercolor Pencil Drawing

Lemon watercolor drawing
Lemon watercolor 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

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 (lemon yellow, cobalt blue and a little black)
Match the darker green (lemon yellow, cobalt blue and a little black)

The Final Thing

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

Watercolor Still Life

Want to know how to paint this watercolor still life? Follow along with the step-by-step watercolor still life tutorial and create your own version.

Is Still Life an Easy Option for Watercolor?

Still life painting might seem like an easy option when choosing something to paint. In some ways it is. For example things stay where you put them, you can arrange objects the way you want and have control over the lighting. However, I find that you need to increase your observational skills and really nail the values and colors for the result to be convincing. In this post I take you through this fruit watercolor painting. We start with making some value and color swatches. This helps us think through our color choices ahead of time. We then go through the painting in layers from light to dark. In between each layer we let things dry so we don’t disturb the color when the next layer goes down.

Fruit is an ideal subject if you’re looking for still life painting ideas. Most people will have fruit in the pantry and they are lovely bright colors which are always fun to paint. I think this tutorial is suited for all levels but, if you’re looking for a watercolor still life for beginners, you might be interested in my apple and pear tutorial.

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Watercolor Materials Needed.

My full list of materials is here but these are the things you will need for this still life watercolor painting.

Still life Reference Photo

Fruit Still Life Photo Reference
Fruit Still Life Photo Reference

This is the pixabay photo reference we’re going to use. I chose this for a couple of reasons. First the lighting is quite strong and from the side. This gives us a clear separation of light and dark on all of the fruit. This also gives us some nice rich cast shadows on the oranges. Secondly, the background is plain and white. When I’m painting still life in watercolor I like to keep the paintings light and airy. A dark background gives a very different feel and mood.

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Color Mixing Preparation for our Watercolor Still Life

Before we start on our main painting we’re going to do some analysis and prep. I like to work out the main colors for the objects ahead of time and do some color swatches. Watercolor is a fast moving medium and, when we’re in the middle of a painting, we might not have time to stop and think about colors. Doing some prep beforehand almost always helps with this and results in a better painting.

Pay Attention to Values and Colors

Watercolor still life color swatches
Watercolor still life color swatches

These are my color swatches for the light and shadow sides of most of the fruit. I treat the light and shadow colors as independent. Sometimes a shadow color will just be a darker version of the light color but often it has very subtle hue shifts. Paying attention to these will result in a more convincing watercolor painting.

Colors are Different in the Light and Shadow

While mixing these colors I pay attention to the values on the light and shadow sides. These values will vary depending on the local color of each fruit. For instance a red apple is often around a mid value on the light side (see the watercolor pear and apple tutorial for an example of this). In contrast a banana will have a very high value in the light – probably around a 9 (0 = black, 10=white). In this reference the fruit are mostly around an 8 or 9 in the light. When we look at the shadows they go from a 5 down to a 3 and the colors are quite rich or high in chroma.

Use ChromaMagic to Help Identifying Colors

ChromaMagic for Still Life Watercolor
ChromaMagic for Still Life Watercolor

If you have a printed reference a color isolator can help identifying the different colors. This is just a piece of mid-value grey card with a 1/2″ square cut out. Placing it over different areas of the photo helps enormously in judging colors without surrounding areas leading us astray. At the end of this post is another reference and some guidance on how to practice this.

Alternatively you can load the reference photo into ChromaMagic and click on different areas to show you the colors. I always like to make a guess myself before clicking and checking how close I am. It’s the best way to get better at seeing color accurately and you’ll be surprised how fast you improve.

First do a Pencil Drawing

still life drawing in watercolor
Still life watercolor drawing

I first spend time doing a fairly careful line drawing of the setup. I start by lightly marking out the topmost, bottommost and left and right regions of the setup. This helps me get the proportions correct and makes sure everything is placed correctly on the paper. I then go in and start drawing the fruit. I pay careful attention to when and how the fruits intersect and make sure things line up horizontally and vertically.

The grapes were a pain to draw. I didn’t go overboard with accuracy here but made sure enough shapes were down to give a convincing representation and that they made some interesting shapes. One thing I didn’t draw in were the cast shadow shapes. These will have mostly very soft edges and any graphite lines would probably show through. As I didn’t want this, and the shapes are pretty simple, I left them out and will put them in directly with paint.

The First Layer – Light Values

Now I have to warn you that this first stage will result in something very unimpressive. We’re going to start with just the lightest values on the fruit but paint over the whole fruit including the shadow side. This will result in something very flat. But that’s good! That’s exactly what we want! In subsequent layers we’ll go darker and darker and the painting will become more and more three dimensional. It’s almost like magic! Keep the faith at this stage. Keep the washes light and try and make them as even as possible. Don’t be tempted to try and make things look realistic at this point.

Moving from left to right I paint in the lightest values and colors on each of the fruit. This isn’t going to be a loose painting so I don’t lose any edges between the fruits but keep them nice and crisp. For the light highlights on the fruit I leave a little region of white paper showing and soften the edges a little with a clean, damp brush.

I darken the oranges a little with a slightly darker orange to start to give them shape. I make sure the edges are softened with a damp brush as they fade out into the light.

Second Layer – Mid Values

Wait for everything to dry before moving onto the next stage. We don’t want our next layer to disturb anything we’ve already put down. This stage we’ll start to see things take shape. When you’re done you’ll start to see things look more three dimensional.

Again working from left to right we refer back to our color swatches and see that we have mid to dark values on the shadow sides. The left apple is around a value 5 red and the oranges go right down to a value 3 brown in the shadows. I paint the mid values on the shadow sides of the fruit and use a clean damp brush to soften the transition between light and shadow. This helps show the round form of the fruit. Don’t worry about making them look like fruit right now. Aim to soften those edges to make them look round.

Paint the Grape Shadows – They’re Fiddly!

These grapes look great when they’re done but they’re fiddly! Try to resist painting each one individually. If you can join shadow shapes together and paint them as one do so! We aim to leave a little of the light side of the grape showing and soften the edge with a damp brush to make them look round. It’s the same procedure that we did for the apples and oranges but just at a smaller scale!

Green Grapes Have Light Shadows

The green grapes are a little deceptive. Their shadows are much lighter than for the purple ones so be careful with your mixing. Again, if you want to check the values have a look in ChromaMagic and it will tell you exactly how dark they are.

Add Some Cast Shadows

Using a mixture of burnt sienna and ultramarine I add in some cast shadows under and next to the fruit. I make sure to soften all of the edges with a clean, damp brush.

We’re Almost Done!

Well I hope you have something that’s looking pretty good by now! We’re almost done and we’ve done most of the hard work. All we have to do now is put in the darkest darks and a few details. These are the things that really bring the painting to life and make it look convincing.

Some of our shadows aren’t quite dark enough yet. We’re going to go through the fruit again and try and hit the correct value for each shadow. This is the point where you will want to make things look as convincing as possible. Depending on how your first two layers went you might have big adjustments to make or smaller ones. You’ll have to compare your painting to the photo and judge.

Paint And Adjust the Cast Shadows

In mine I first painted on the dark cast shadow on the oranges. These are pretty dark brown and I made careful comparisons to the reference to make sure I got them as close as possible. I also modified and deepened the shadow on the right apple just to take it a shade darker.

I adjust the shadows on the banana and the cast shadows under the fruit. The banana shadow has a little green in it so I blend the green color into the brown while the paint is wet.

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Smaller Touches – The Super Darks!

We’re looking pretty good now but there’s still some darks we’ve missed. The crevices of the grapes go right down to a value 1 or 2 so I mix up a very dark value for the purple grapes and add small darks where there isn’t much light. I do the same for the green ones but, as the grapes themselves are lighter, I don’t go quite as dark.

Final Details

The final touches are to add the stalks on the grapes and the apples and to darken a few of the purple grapes even further. A few tweaks to the shadows and we’re done!

Final Painting

Fruit Still Life Watercolor by Michele Clamp
Fruit Watercolor Still Life by Michele Clamp

Here’s the final thing. I’m pretty happy on the whole. Looking at it a couple of days later I could probably go a little darker in the shadows on the green grapes but there’s not much else I would change.

Bonus Video Still Life Watercolor

As a bonus here is a video of another still life on my youtube channel that follows a similar method.

YouTube player

Bonus Color Matching Exercise

This exercise is to give you practice in assessing and mixing colors. I always find these quite revealing and fun to do.

still life color matching reference
Still life color matching reference

Here we have the photo reference. I’ve chosen this for a number of reasons. First it has clearly defined areas of light and dark – no wishy-washy flat lighting. Second the shapes are very clear – the apple, lime, and bananas all have clearly defined edges. Finally the colors are nice and bright. There’s nothing gray and muted about this setup.

A good learning photo does not make a good painting

Now all of these reasons are because I want to get across how to identify and mix color. If I were choosing a setup for a ‘real’ painting I would not choose this. Everything is a bit plainly stated and matter of fact. There’s no nuance, subtlety, or atmosphere here. But what isn’t great for a painting is perfect for learning! And the technique I’m going to describe can translate easily into any painting you like.

The numbered squares are the colors we’ll match

You’ll notice that I’ve marked out a series of numbered squares on the photo. Before we start painting we’ll go through each of these and try and identify and mix the color as accurately as we can. This will feel laborious to start with. And it will take a long time – much longer than you think. But every one of these swatches that you make is worth it. We will go through the hard work of identifying the colors we’ll need ahead of time. The final painting itself will be made easier and we’ll paint it relatively quickly.

A color isolator is a very useful tool for color identification

gray color isolator
Gray color isolator

I strongly recommend you have a color isolator handy if you’re painting from a printed photo reference. This is just a small (say 3″x5″) piece of mid-gray card with a 1/2″ square cut out of the middle. I have a number of these handy and there’s always one close to the easel.

Your brain lies to you about color

One of the many problems we face as painters is that our brains are constantly translating what we see into what it thinks we need. If we look at a white cup in shadow our brains helpfully disregard the shadow and will be insistent that what we’re seeing is white. In practice of course it’s likely a dark blue gray and, if we want to paint it so it reads realistically, that’s the color we should paint it. We have to constantly remind ourselves that we can’t trust that little brain voice and think and look harder.

Context also makes seeing color harder

The other problem we have when identifying color is that what is around a shape affects how we see it. A mid-value gray can look lighter than it is next to black. But when it’s put next to white paper it will look darker than it is. This is where the color isolator helps us.

Use the isolator as a learning tool not a crutch

The color isolator is very useful but we need to be conscious that it’s a learning tool not something we need to rely on. So we need to use it in the following multi-step way

The first step is the hardest! Thinking – it takes soooo much effort. But it’s really worth it. And you’ll be amazed how quickly you get a lot better at seeing color. And maybe more importantly you’ll start to learn which types of colors you get consistently wrong. For me (and I suspect most of us) it’s shadow colors and especially shadow colors of light objects. After a while when you come across these when you’re painting a little alarm will go off in your head reminding you to pay extra attention to these regions.

Color match each swatch

watercolor color matching swatches
watercolor color matching swatches

Here’s my version of these swatches. You can see that I’ve put test swatches by each box until I’m satisfied that I’ve got it as close as I can. Only then do I put the final color in the box. And you can see that some of these colors are very different to what we consider a fruit color. Number 2, for example is the shadow on the bananas. It’s a sludgy dark green. Not bananaish at all! And the shadow sides of both the apple and the lime are really quite dark even though they are still identifiably green and red.

I’m going to be making some more videos on how I go about this. It’s hard to describe in text and much easier to show and learn from a video. I warn you that the process feels awkward at first but has huge rewards. And you’ll be going around identifying colors everywhere you go!

Livestreams and Videos

If you’re interested in this process (and have I mentioned how much it’s helped me? 🙂 I livestream paintings and techniques. If you want to know when these are coming up please sign up on my mailing list. I’d love for you to join me.

Watercolor Pear and Apple

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.

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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.

Fruit Painting Reference Photo

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.

pears painting
Reference for watercolor pear watercolor apple

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.

Watercolor Materials List

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

A Mechanical Pencil and Kneadable Eraser are Good for Watercolor Drawings.

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.

Start with a Careful Drawing of the Fruit

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.

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Use Relative Measurements and Comparisons When Drawing Fruit

how to draw a pear step by step
Pencil drawing for watercolor pear watercolor apple

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.

Painting and Drawing Fruit are Great Practice Subjects

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.

Identify the Colors in Preparation for the Watercolor Pear Painting

Color isolator - print on paper or thin card and cut out the central square with a knife.
Color isolator – print on paper or thin card and cut out the central square with a knife.

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.

Guess First – Then Check

Color isolator close up
Getting ready to use the isolator – but have a guess first!!

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.

Identify the 2 Main Colors in the Watercolor Pear

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.

Color isolator for light side of pear
Color isolator for light side of pear

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.

Shadow color for watercolor pear
Using the color isolator on the shadow side of the pear

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Mix the Colors of the Watercolor Pear.

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.

Record Your Swatches on Your Scrap Paper

Color swatches for watercolor apple and pear
Finished Color Swatches with Notes

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.

Mix the Colors of the Watercolor Apple

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.

watercolor apple colors
Looking at the light side of the apple

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 Moon – Sorry Apple

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.

Shadow Colors

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.

Color Swatches for Watercolor Painting
Finished Color Swatches

And finally we paint!!!!

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.

The First Layer – the light values

pear color paint
pear color paint

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.

paintings of pears
The Finished First Layer – Yes it looks flat but not for long

The second Layer – the shadows

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.

Fade your darks colors into the light

Shadow layer for watercolor apple and pear
Second layer – starting to put the shadows in. Not so flat now!

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.

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Apple Watercolor Painting – Shadow Colors

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.

Assess how the apple and pear look

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.

Paint in the cast Shadows

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.

Add in the stalks

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.

Final Touches

Final touches for watercolor painting
Getting close now – deepened the shadows

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.

Final Final Touches for the Watercolor Pear and Apple

Michele Clamp Watercolor Pear and Apple Painting
Michele Clamp Watercolor Pear and Apple Painting

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.

Full Video Demo For the Watercolor Pear and Apple

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.

YouTube player

Other Watercolor Tutorials

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.

Oil Painting Surfaces – A Cautionary Tale

Apple still life oil painting study
Two Apples. Michele Clamp. Oil on panel. 5”x7”

Yes I never thought the title would be ‘oil painting surfaces- a cautionary tale’. Today was supposed to be a set of apple studies with different types of brushwork. It turned into a sorry saga of unsuitable surfaces. With pretty horrible results.

Strathmore Canvas paper – too absorbent for oil paint

As this was just meant to be some studies I first started with a quarter sheet of Strathmore canvas paper. I’ve used this before with good results but what I forgot was that I gessoed the surface first before painting on it. And this time I didn’t. Ugh! The paint just sinks in, you can’t blend it, and it somehow darkens and goes matte on the paper. After struggling for an hour or so trying to get the paint to cover the surface (it soaks in and in!) I gave up. Here’s the result:

Disastrous apple still life oil painting on canvas paper

Blergh. Almost no form on that left hand apple even though I was *so* careful with the values.

Not all ‘gessoboard’ is the same

After a quick stomp around the studio I fished out a small 5”x7” Ampersand gessobord. *Gesso* board so this surface must be ok yes? Hmm. Well it was better but boy so slick! The paint just rides around on the surface as there’s no tooth to speak of. It was definitely better than the paper but only just. Here’s my chunky block-in.

Apple still life oil painting study color block in
Apple still life oil painting study color block in

Kinda okay. I had a lot of trouble getting the chroma right on the light side of the apple. I was using Munsell chips but was still struggling. Will try and tweak that tomorrow and see if I can get it right. It has a certain charm but nowhere near what I was aiming for.

Finally I blended some of the edges and beefed up the darks a little. And that was it for the day. 4 hours – 2 apples! I have to get back to watercolor.

Apple still life oil painting study softened edges
Apple still life oil painting study softened edges

Apple Study in Oil

Apple Study in Oil (Paul Foxton Livestream)

Apples today with Paul Foxton. A lot of detailed mixing but the whole thing only came alive when the detail spots and the highlight went in. Could do a lot more on this. I only started to see a lot of the detail towards the end when I was really looking at it. But fun thought.

Oil study – Lime Wedges and Backgrounds

Oil study for Threads

Well this was fun. I learned a lot here. The subject was a lime wedge against different colored backgrounds. In the end I used pretty much the same colors for the wedge itself but the background (obviously) and the foreground and reflection changed color. In particular that reflection, even though it looks yellow/orange is in real life a pure grey. Who’d have thought? In hindsight I should have known as a yellow reflection on a gray background will result in a neutral gray!

Here’s a closeup of the result

Lime wedge oil study