Make a branch bloom with cherry blossoms in this tutorial with artist Jola Sopek! In a playful yet relatively realistic way, she shows how easy it can be to paint flowers, so if you love a bit of botany, feel free to practice along.

Step 1: Quick Branch Sketch

For this painting, you’ll need a sheet of A4 cold press watercolour paper, a sheet of scrap watercolour paper, a pencil, a kneaded eraser, watercolour paints (Jola has Etchr’s set of 24 watercolours), a palette, a size 8 and a size 1 round brush, two or three containers of water, and paper towels.

Note: You’re welcome to use whatever art supply brands you have! Just try to match them so they’re at least similar to the list above. I’ve also taped my paper down to a wooden board to help keep it flat, but this is optional.

To kick things off, Jola does a quick sketch of a cherry blossom branch in pencil. She recommends just drawing the branch, as this will help keep the flowers looking free and loose.

You can use these references to help inspire you. And remember – you don’t have to sketch the branch or flowers exactly as they are! Just keep your lines loose and light.

When you’re done, use a kneaded eraser to gently dab at your lines to lighten them, especially if your lines are still too dark.

Step 2: The Lightest Layer

Next, prep the paint on your palette ahead of time. Jola prefers mixing her paints instead of using them as they are, as mixing seems to offer more depth in her paintings.

For the flowers themselves, you’ll need 2 shades of pink. The first is a magenta/pink mixture of Pretty Pink and Simply Red, while the second is made by adding Just Yellow to the first mixture for a more coral result.

Tip: Colour names will be named according to Etchr’s 24 watercolour set, but you can always make substitutions in the paint! 

Use the size 8 brush to heavily dilute the magenta mix, and paint the first flower at the top of the branch. If you’re not sure how light or dark your paint is, use some scrap watercolour paper to test your paint first before painting.

To make the flowers look natural, they should be angled differently, and also vary in size. You can do this by making the first one look like it’s partially on its side.

This is done by painting the bottom two petals in a moustache shape, then diluting your paint even more before painting three more petals above that. Then, add some contrast by using a more saturated coral mixture, and dropping it into the middle of the flower while your paint is still wet.

For a front-facing cherry blossom, paint five petals relatively evenly-spaced around its centre. You can leave the middle white. It’s also fine to leave streaks of white within the petal.

Again, drop some saturated coral paint into the middle while it’s still wet. You can also dot in a tiny bit of this into the ends of a few petals. 

For more of a side-facing flower, you can either do the same as the first type but make the moustache shape into more of a banana shape, or you can just paint three petals instead of the five from the front-facing flower.

Step 3: Variation is Key

Constantly vary the hue of pink you’re using, and make sure to keep your petals a very light colour. Even a tiny bit of pigment goes a long way! Also, keep dropping in saturated paint into the centres and tips of your flowers, and keep things loose and free while still following the general direction of your branch.

If you ever accidentally make a flower petal too saturated in colour, just wash out your brush, then continue painting petals that touch the initial petal, so the extra pigment can flow into the new petals.

Tip: If you find it difficult to angle your flowers in different directions, try angling your paper instead! 

One final type of flower shape you can use is the flower bud. Paint these with more saturated pink to add contrast, and to make your painting look more visually pleasing. 

Step 4: Initial Branch Layer

While your flowers are drying, pre-mix the colour of your branch using Mighty Ochre and Dark Brown. Once your flowers are dry, use this mixture to paint the branch you’ve sketched. Leave streaks of white for a wood-like texture, and keep the branch looking knobbly for a looser and more natural look.

To make your petals look thin and delicate, dilute your light brown mixture, and paint in the branches that go behind the flower petals. This is why it’s so important that your petals are light in the first place! If they aren’t, then your light brown colour won’t show through.

Step 5: Flowery Details

Next, switch to the size 1 brush, and use a slightly more saturated magenta mixture to add some lined texture to your flower petals. Try to make your lines a little irregular, and don’t feel like you have to cover the entire petal with these lines.

To paint the stamens coming from the flowers, mix Pretty Pink with Dark Brown for an earthy purple colour, then paint in small and thin lines coming from the centre of each flower. Add some dots at the end of each line as well for the anthers. 

Note: The stamens should point in the direction the flower is facing! And if the flower is front-facing, then just add the dots, with more of them being concentrated in the middle. If there’s a petal blocking the view of the flower’s centre, then either leave out the stamen or paint around it.

Step 6: Branch Textures

For the branch, mix a very dark brown using all the browns in the Etchr palette, plus some Power Black as well. Using the size 1 brush, dot in this saturated brown in the branch areas under the flowers, and where it bends or branches out. This will make a textured shadow that contrasts with the lightly-coloured flowers.

To make the shadow transition less drastic, dilute the brown with more water, and add more dots extending from each shadow. You can leave some areas lighter and untextured, though try to focus your dots on the mid-tones and shadows in the branch. You can also emphasize the ends of the branch with darker dots of brown.

Also, for continuity’s sake, use a diluted version of this brown to dot the areas of the branch that are behind the flowers. They should be barely visible! But it’s little details like this that show an artist’s care they have for their craft.

Step 7: Finishing Up

Lastly, finish off the painting by adding some sepals to your flowers. These are thin leaf-like shapes that peel off just before flowers bloom.

For the colour, add the previous earthy purple mixture to the dark brown one, and adjust the hue by adding more Pretty Pink until you get a dark burgundy colour. With this, use the size 1 brush to “flick” some sepals off a few of the flowers.

Jola prefers adding them to the flower buds and recommends not adding too many as they can distract from the flowers. It’s also okay to overlap them on top of other flowers if that happens to be the case. 

Keep stepping back from your painting to see what’s missing, or if anything needs to be tweaked. One such thing may be to add some line textures to the flower buds, which you can do with a slightly diluted version of the sepals’ colour.

Add more branch texture if needed, or more stamens if needed, but try not to overdo your painting! The key here is just to keep things loose and to have fun while learning.

When you’re finally finished, you can sign your painting, and give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done! 

If you’d like to watch the recording, check out the 90-minute workshop on Etchr Studio. It’s a joy to watch Jola paint, and even more enjoyable to follow along.

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Nicola Tsoi is a practising graphic designer and illustrator based in Hong Kong. During her downtime, she likes to watch birds do funny things, search for stories, and bake up a storm. She keeps a pet sourdough starter named Doughy. 

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