Watercolor Tutorial Lesson Six: Plants

Hello there! It's time to pick up where we left off before the holidays and get those brushes out again! These past tutorials can be a refresher for you before we begin.

I thought we could spend a few weeks talking about flowers and leaves since there's a lot to cover on that subject, and they're really fun to paint. At first we're just going to practice in our sketchbooks until we feel more confident to combine a few of the skills I've taught you into one nice painting.

The book I'll be using as a reference is called "Natural Companions" by Ken Druse. You can purchase a copy here. It's gorgeous! I'll probably be using it in other tutorials as we go along.

1. Paint a leaf with three brush strokes.

Start with a #10 round brush and the color yellow-green. Use the tip of the brush to create a small line, then press down harder to make a wider, darker line as you paint the outline of a simple leaf shape. Then, with a slightly bluer green, fill in the center of the leaf by pulling the brush along. 

Leave a slight white line to define the center of each leaf. Try adding different green hues (some warmer and some cooler) to each leaf. 

When your leaf is painted but still wet, drop a bit of color into the wet areas to add dimension.

2. Now change colors and brushes to paint the flower petals.

I moved to a smaller brush- a #6 or 8- to paint the flower petals. Work your way around the center of the flower clockwise, pulling the paint from the center outward until all the petals have been added. Some of the petals might touch, which is fine, while others will look a bit separated from the center. You might want them all to touch or be separate, it's up to you!

Here's another look at the floral picture I used as reference...

3. Add a smaller flower and a few buds.

The object of this lesson is to practice your brushwork, so don't worry if your painting doesn't match mine exactly. In fact, I'd encourage you to create your own painting all together!

Wherever you want to add a smaller flower is fine. Be sure to move down a size in brush. 

Then go in and add a few small buds with very simple lines, making sure to put varying degrees of pressure on your brush as you go to make sure the line isn't uniform. You want it to be varied.

4. Add a stem and darker lines to the leaves.

Since I like a fair amount of dark values in my paintings, I'm going to go in and add some dark details to the leaves. Use a #8 brush and a blue green to add varying lines to each leaf to show the veins and folds of the leaves.

Add a yellow-brown stem by gently pulling the tip of your round brush down and around. I like to add a curve to it like it's blowing in the wind.

While the stem is still wet, drop a darker value into the wet areas by tapping the end of your brush and letting the pigment flow into the wet areas of the paper.

5. Add the finishing touches.

Toward the end of every painting I like to lean back and look at the painting as a whole. If there are any gaps of white space that make it seem out of balance, add a leaf or a simple flower bud. You might even want to continue the painting to fill the entire page! It's up to you.

I make my living painting houses and people and animals, not flowers. So, there's plenty of room for improvement in my flower-painting skills. I don't claim to be an expert floral artist, and in fact, would advise you to search the internet for supplemental help when it comes to floral painting techniques. Yao Chang is one of my favorite floral artists and shares a lot of her techniques on her blog

I do, however, know enough to get you started in the right direction. I'm going to share more about botanicals in the coming weeks including tips for painting botanical wreathes and combining florals and lettering.

And don't forget- painting flowers looks easy but is actually a very delicate thing. The more you practice, the better you'll be! Good luck and have fun!