Sometimes, it’s just fun to let loose and paint loosely instead of worrying about details. In this FREE Live Demo, Sahar Imran shows us exactly how she paints flowers effortlessly and quickly while maintaining the essence of what makes a rose a rose. Strap yourselves in – this is one roller coaster of a ride!

Step 1: Practice Brushstrokes

I would say “Step 1” is more of a pre-step, like a warmup exercise in preparation for the final piece. Sahar demonstrates the basic brushstrokes and techniques she uses to paint flowers.

First, a rundown of colours: she uses mostly permanent rose, sap green, olive green, and green gold. Payne’s grey and intense blue are for the shadow areas. Next, she recommends making watercolour charts, where you take two colours and create a chart mixing them using different paint and water ratios.

This activity helps with getting a better understanding of colours and how to mix them. The colour charts aren’t essential, but they’re good for reference, especially if you’re new to watercolour.

For the actual practice, get a sheet of watercolour paper (preferably one of “practice” quality). Then, with either a small round brush or a large round brush (that comes to a fine point), use pink to paint some small “C” shapes that encircle one another. These will form the centre of your rose.

Next, switch to a large round brush, dilute your paint slightly, and make larger “C” shapes. You can taper one or both ends, but make sure to keep it loose and wet! You could even use just clean water to spread the paint more towards the edges of your rose.

When you’ve finished, you take a spray bottle of clean water and give your flower a light spritz. Doing so will give it a more “abstract” feel. Don’t worry if the spray has spread the paint too much; we’ll bring it all back together in the end.

Tip: Watercolour dries lighter than when you first put it down, so don’t be afraid of making your roses a little darker than they should be.

Step 2: Practice Leaves

Another basic brushstroke is leaves. You’ll need a large round brush and some sap green paint, or you could mix blue and yellow for variety.

For leaves, load your brush with paint, and start by painting a thin stem. Then, flatten your brush a bit to create a thick stroke before gradually lifting your brush off the paper to taper the end.

You can also curve the brushstroke, as leaves are rarely entirely straight. Some leaves can also be broader than others by painting them in 2 brushstrokes instead of 1 - you do this by painting two strokes back-to-back.

While the paint is still wet, you can add other colours such as yellow ochre or blue to make the leaves less monochromatic. You can also add tiny spikes to the edges of the leaves for a thornier look.

Step 3: Practice Detailing

Next, Sahar shows us how to paint white roses. It’s pretty much the same as the pink rose. However, you use gamboge yellow for the centre and clear water for the larger petals.

While the paint is still wet, drop a heavily diluted Payne’s grey around the edges of the petals to define the shape of the flower. If your grey is accidentally too dark, use a paper towel to dab gently the area before you try again.

Lastly, once your roses are dry, you can add a water-soluble coloured pencil or pastel lines to the petals’ edges (pink for the pink rose and yellow for the white rose) and dilute the lines slightly with clean water. We will use all of these techniques in the final painting, so make sure you are thoroughly familiar with them.

Step 4: Flowers First

When your hand has loosened from the practice session, it’s time to paint for real! This time, grab your good watercolour paper for final paintings – Sahar recommends using 100% cotton paper because it takes water much better than cellulose-based papers. Because we’ll be using multiple wet-in-wet techniques, you’re better off with thick cotton paper!

Bonus tip: I taped the edges of my paper with artist’s tape to help minimise warping.

Start with the pink roses, painting them as described in practice. You can use the reference photo to help with placement if you wish. Notice how the roses face different directions (i.e. don’t paint them all at the same angle or facing the same way). You have to paint fast because you want to get that soft spread by spraying it with water.

Once you have the pink roses and have sprayed a few of them with water, add green stems. The paint will bleed a little, but that’s ok – again, we’ll bring it all together at the end.

Step 5: Leaves Left

After you have painted all the roses, including the white ones, start adding leaves. Some can be a yellower colour, while others can have more sap green in them. In terms of placement, you don’t have to follow the reference photo.

Just fill in some of the gaps in your painting, and spread them out randomly rather than evenly. Vary the size and shape of each one as well for a more exciting piece,

Step 6: It’s All Coming Together

Once your paint is dry, mix a very dark green using sap green and intense blue (or Prussian blue). Use this colour to paint the spaces between the roses and leaves (i.e. negative painting), especially around the white roses, to make them pop. You can use a diluted version for the areas near the top so your picture won’t be too dark.

Tip: With a large mop brush, you can use clean water to soften and spread the edges of the paint, creating a more abstract look!

Step 7: Soluble Details

Once your most recent layer has dried, use the water-soluble coloured pencils or pastels to add the rose petals’ edges.

Smooth them out like before, using a clean brush and water to go over the lines. Avoid adding too much water because you want to keep some texture so roses stand out.

Step 8: Finishing Leaves

Last but not least, mix a very dark green using sap green, intense (or Prussian) blue, and burnt umber. Darken the spaces between the roses even more or wherever you feel is needed to make your roses more prominent.

Once this layer is dry, paint a few final leaves on top to intensify the painting’s depth. I suggest stepping back to see from a distance to gauge the overall look of your work. It should help you with placement and balancing all the elements to bring the whole painting together!

Voila, you’re done! I can’t believe how fast time flies in this demo. You should try it yourself by following along with Etchr’s live demo recording. You can shake out those “watercolour kinks” and have fun at the same time! If you're looking for a more in depth class, I highly recommend that you check out Sahar's mini workshop

We also have live art classes every week! You can stay up to date with them by subscribing to our email newsletter

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

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