Painting Flowers Step by Step: Radiant Reds

Painting Flowers Step by Step: Radiant Reds

Flowers are gorgeous and joyful in a bouquet or a garden, but I love to paint blooms up close, so I can bring to light their intricate, often convoluted, forms. I paint in watercolor, what I consider the most fluid and expressive medium. Watercolor lets me do a lot with a little. I paint with lots of water and though I don’t use much pigment, I get intense, vivid results. My basic practice is to apply water to the paper and then paint, allowing the color to move on the paper.

Red is challenging because you have to keep it fresh and clean if it is to retain its vibrancy. For this painting I wanted to keep the lighter colors in the foreground so the viewer would come close and look inside the flower, and then peer more deeply into space, into the background and the shadows.

Step 1: After making a light pencil drawing on a sheet of Arches 300-pound, cold-pressed paper, I applied water to one petal. With a No. 30 brush, I let Winsor red, permanent alizarin crimson and quinacridone magenta mix on the palette. Combining warm (Winsor red) with cool (alizarin crimson and quinacridone magenta) helps push and pull the color. While that surface was still wet, I applied Indian yellow, allowing it to blend into the red.

Step 2: While the surface was still damp, I methodically worked on each petal with a No. 20 brush. I made sure there was a lot of paint on my brush, and then I applied swift, sweeping strokes of color. I lifted and moved the paper as I worked, so I could avoid feathering or other unwanted effects. I inspected the color as it started to dry. If it seemed that I needed deeper colors, I would apply another layer of paint.

Step 3: Then it was time to work on the shadows. I used the same colors I’d used for the petals, only I added carbazole violet or a very small amount of indigo. I started with the largest areas first, adding water and then color. Again I let the color move within the water. This technique creates a luminous, filtered-shadow effect. As I painted the shadow, I allowed it to cover the stamens and the petal. I’ll worry about details later.

Step 4: Mixing a rich dark, I applied paint to the negative spaces; a dark background suggests drama. Once I’d got the deepest darks in place, I evaluated the colors and the shadows to make sure there was a balance. Then I decided what areas still needed to be darkened.

Step 5: After studying the painting awhile, I decided there wasn’t enough contrast to make the lightest and most vivid areas pop. I deepened the background. With a small round brush, I then added the details to the stamen in Parrot Tulips (watercolor, 30×22).

For full article view "Watercolor in Motion" (North Light Books, 2008),

My Materials

Arches cold-pressed, 300-pound paper

2- to 3-inch bamboo hake brush

No. 30 natural hair brush

No. 14 and No. 20 natural and synthetic blend brushes

No. 20 synthetic brush

My Palette (I love Winsor & Newton watercolors)

Winsor red

permanent alizarin crimson

quinacridone magenta

carbazole violet

Indian yellow



  1. Thank you for sharing this wonderful watercolor design. Love it!!

  2. Great tutorial! I love to see how Masters paint their masterpieces step-by-step. Thank you for showing it. It's really inspiring!

  3. Really beautiful make it look so easy!

  4. I love your style of painting. I have one of your books.
    Thank you for sharing your talents with us.

  5. Birgit, I want you to know how much I appreciate not only the quality of your instructional videos, but the quantity and variety. I'm learning so much from you.

    1. Thank you so much, your comment is truly appreciated :)

  6. Birgit , another wonderful tutorial, might you know if there is chart somewhere that lists different makers colors? I mean, I use M.Graham and schmincke watercolors and the names are slightly different for the same colors. I hope this makes sense.


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