There are times when you just don’t have any, or you need a quick exercise to warm up your “art muscles”. Or maybe you want to try painting some flowers, but don’t know where or how to start.
If so, this tutorial will fulfil all those needs! I’ll show you some basic strokes and flower shapes that you can use and apply to create those floral shapes, even if you don’t have a reference photo.
Roses are Red
One of the most classic flowers is the rose. But the shape they have can be generalised to a broad-petalled, rounder kind of flower, due to the numerous petals blooming outwards from the centre. Other flowers that look similar are lotuses, camellias, and gardenias.
For this particular flower shape, start with painting 3 tapered strokes that form a rounded triangle, before surrounding those strokes with gradually larger and longer strokes.
If you’re looking to paint more of an angled view, paint the centre a solid colour before adding petals surrounding that centre, with the petals at the back being smaller than the ones in the front.
Try to curve them to create a “cupping” effect, and make sure to leave some white gaps in between some of the petals.
Tip: The colour you use for the petals doesn’t matter too much, as long as you don’t pick green! While green flowers do exist, they don’t really offer a great contrast to the leaves and stem, which you may want to paint later. Also, if you want it to be white, just paint the shadows or edges of each petal in a very light grey-blue colour.
To define the flower better, you can drop in a shadow colour where each petal meets the stem. Alternatively, for a different effect, you can add it to the tips of each petal.
You can also add some of the stamens (i.e. the pointy parts where the pollen comes from), though make sure your paint is dry before doing so!
Tip: If the stamens are a lighter colour than the flower petals, try using gouache paint instead, or mix in a little white gouache paint with your watercolour to make them more visible.
To complete the look, paint some leaves and a stem! Thorns too if you’re painting roses, but that’s up to you. Make sure to vary the tones on the leaves as well to give it a sense of depth.
Bonus tip: For a super-simplified version of a rose or peony, you could even paint a spiral before dropping in your shadow colour in the centre. Make sure to leave some white gaps and perhaps a stray petal that goes off to the side!
If you want more in depth tutorial for these flowers, I suggest that you check out our Mini Workshop on how to paint roses in just 10 steps, and this Mini Workshop on how to paint realistic peonies!
Violets are Blue
Another common type of flower is violet. Violets fall under the category of narrow or wide petals but in one or two layers instead of many. Other flowers like this include daisies, poppies, and sunflowers.
Since there aren’t as many layers of petals, the middle area of these types of flowers is much more exposed. So paint the centre part first, whether it’s yellow (like for violets) or brown (like for sunflowers), before surrounding the centre with the appropriately-coloured petals.
Tip: The key here is not to make the petals look too evenly spaced or similar in size! They don’t have to be arranged in a perfect circle, especially if you’re doing a side view. If you are doing a side view, paint the centre part in a flattened oval shape before painting petals that fan out downwards.
Again, you can add some stamen, a stem, and leaves to complete the look. You can also drop in shadow colours to add some colour and/or tone variation, just to keep things more interesting!
For something with petals that fan out like a daisy, you can paint the round centre part first, then add 4 petals in a cross shape before adding 4 more in between each of the previous petals. Add another 4 extra ones between each petal again, and voila! You have a daisy.
Lavender is Purple
The next type is lavender. These consist of tiny flower flowers all bunched up together along one stem, so it’s difficult to see each individual petal. So it’s best to simplify them! Other flowers that fall under this category are hyacinths, sages, and basils.
They’re pretty easy to paint to boot – paint some elongated dots along a line that will be your stem, then paint in the stem with a darker green colour, making sure to avoid the parts where there’s a flower in front. Flowers at the bottom should be larger than the ones at the top, too.
If you’re having difficulty following an imaginary line, feel free to pencil it in beforehand! And again, vary the flower’s tones with some lighter and darker tones within the flowers themselves.
Bonus tip: Sometimes, the bunches of flowers might cover the whole stem (like hyacinth); if so, just make marks that gather around the hidden stem and add a few petals that might jut out before adding a stem at the bottom.
And Tulips are True
The last main type of flower I’ll include here is the tulip, or what I would describe as the bud or cup type. Other flowers in this category include dahlias, calla lilies, bellflowers, and any that are still in their bud form.
They can range from being quite spherical in shape or looking like a bell or a cup with the petals curling slightly outwards at the top. This often makes them easier to paint, as they’re pretty simply shaped to begin with.
For painting flower buds, just paint almost oval shapes that taper near the bottom of the bud (where it attaches to the stem). You can also paint some that are starting to bloom by having a petal or two pop out slightly from the main bud.
For cup-shaped flowers like tulips, paint the main middle petal with a flatter top and a rounded bottom, then add a petal on each side that’s curved towards the stem. You can also add some pollen or stamens sticking out from the top if you want!
Again, don’t forget to add your stem(s) and leaves, and make sure to connect everything naturally. For example, the leaves should be staggered in general, and if your flower leans towards a particular direction, make sure that the stem curves that way too, as if it’s being weighed down a little by the flower itself.
Want to try creating something more realistic? Here's a wonderful Mini Workshop on painting realistic tulips in watercolour!
While it may seem like I’m oversimplifying these beauties of nature, I think that it would be best to do so considering that there are almost 400,000 types of known flowering plants in the world!
So I hope that once you’ve grasped these basics, you can pretty much go off and do some mixing and matching in terms of flower type, size, shape, and colour. And don’t worry – whatever combinations you come up with, I’m almost certain a flower that looks like it will exist somewhere in the world!
Once you get the hang of it, you’ll get a better understanding of the random order found in nature, plus a page (or pages) full of lovely watercolour flowers to brighten your day!
Journaling is a great way to practice your skills. Here's a quick article on how to start floral journaling in just 4 steps!
You can even apply what you learned in other art media as well, such as ink, gouache, and acrylic. So keep it loose and fun, and experiment to your heart’s content!
If you want to learn more about how to paint flowers, I highly suggest that you check out our Mini Workshops and Master Classes! You get to choose from a wide variety of styles and mediums, and the instructors are extremely knowledgeable and fun!
What’s your favourite flower? Do you like this kind of loose and simple style, or do you prefer painting more details? Let us know in the comments below!
Additionally, if you’re interested in staying up to date with our classes, getting more tips, tricks, and general advice about creating art, feel free to subscribe to our email newsletter.
I really like to dig into these kind of watercolor tutorials as I have a goal to be an awesome botanical/nature artist!
March 26, 2023