Roses are red, violets are blue; if you have time, you can paint one too! Or if you happen to be looking to gift something special to someone special, this just might be what you’re looking for.

So for those who want to learn how to paint a rose, keep on reading! It’s easier than it looks, and it’s sure to brighten up anyone’s day.

Casual Realism

As artists, we often don’t have a lot of time to spend slaving over getting the perfect photorealistic painting, so we tend to simplify things to the degree that makes them still recognisable (sometimes barely so!) yet captures our subject in its essence.

So this painting style is in what I like to call “casual realism”, where it’s pretty realistic, but not so much that I’m spending too much time trying to make all the details perfect.

Step 1: Laying the Foundation

To start, you may want to do a quick pencil sketch. I’ve found this reference photo from ProFlowers, but you can work from a real rose or a different picture.

Take your time to observe how the petals gently curl outwards. Also, observe how the petals in the middle are smaller and bunched closer than the ones on the outside.

There are also a few sepals at the flower’s base, with the stem supporting the rose. Note that the stem isn’t perfectly straight, but rather it curves slightly in different sections.

Tip: If you’re struggling with the sketch, squint your eyes and try to simplify the shapes you see. From this angle, the rose looks like a cup within a cup, with the petals curling over the edges. You can even draw the general shape before “cutting away” at this shape, starting from the middle and working your way outwards. 

For the leaves, they sprout from where each section of the stem connects, and they tend to curl over themselves as well. The leaves higher up are also smaller than the ones at the bottom, plus they often grow in groups of 1, 3, or 5.

Bonus tip: If you’re a more experienced artist, feel free to place and shape leaves in ways that may not look like the reference photo but still look natural to you.  

Since this is just a sketch, you don’t have to draw every single detail. Draw just enough so that the general shapes are easy to see while leaving the details for later.

When you’re done, you can gently dab at your sketch with a kneaded eraser to lighten the pencil lines or shape it into a log and roll it over your paper.

Step 2: Painting the Rose

The next step is to paint! For the rose, I recommend using cadmium red or alizarin crimson, with Payne’s grey on standby for mixing in later.

Dilute the red so it’s quite light, then paint the individual petals. Try to paint ones that aren’t touching each other, as you want to keep the petals separate from each other.

Then, while your paint is still wet, use a more saturated version, and drop it in the mid-tone to shadow areas.

Tip: If you find your paint is bleeding too much, wait a few moments, so the paper isn’t so wet before dropping in your paint. Watercolour is about water control, so very wet paper will mean a lot of bleeding, while dry paper will mean no bleeding.

Try your best to preserve your highlights, especially the innermost petals and along the top edges of the larger petals. And keep painting different petals until all of them are painted!

For the darkest shadows, mix in a little Payne’s grey to your red, then drop them on the inner parts of your flower, especially where petals overlap.

If at any point you feel that the shadows aren’t blending enough, dip a clean brush in clean water and gently touch the edge of the shadow to spread out the paint.

Tip: You can also use ultramarine or indigo instead of Payne’s grey for a brighter mix. The colour suggestions here are just that – suggestions! So you’re more than welcome to use whatever you think will work for your rose painting.

Step 3: A Good Complement

While you’re waiting for the rose to dry, you can paint in the leaves and stem. For the stem, mix yellow ochre with sap green, and paint the sepals and stem.

Wait a few moments for the paint to dry a little, then darken your green mixture with more sap green to paint the mid-tones. You can also drop in some of your red paint to tie in the rose’s colour with its stem.

Paint the leaves using the same colours, but this time, add a little Payne’s grey to get a darker green. If you want, you can paint a layer of light green first, wait for it to dry, then add a layer of mid-green while painting around the veins of each leaf.

Alternatively, you can paint the veins in a darker green instead of keeping them a lighter colour.

I’ve also dropped in some of the darker red colour into the leaves, giving the leaves a more natural look. Again, it also helps with the colour balance and overall harmony in the painting!

Step 4: Finalising the Details

Once you’re done, give your flower a once-over to see where you might want to enhance the shadows or add details, such as a bit of texture on the petals or leaves. Remember to preserve your highlights, though, as this will add contrast and depth to your painting!

For my painting, I’ve gone over a few of the shadows in the rose to give it more depth, and I’ve also used a diluted Payne’s grey to add a few cast shadows on the sepals and stem. And once you’re done, you can sign it like I did! 

Trial and Error

I hope you had fun following along! If this isn’t quite the style you’re looking for, you can check out this post about Valentine’s Day card ideas that has a simpler rose you can try.

Or how about using gouache instead of watercolour paint? Or changing the flower’s angle? Or painting on black watercolour paper instead of white? The world is your oyster when it comes to experimenting in art, so let your creativity run free!

What’s your favourite flower to paint? Do you prefer a more realistic style or a more casual or cartoony style? Let us know in the comments below!

Additionally, if you’re interested in getting more tips, tricks, and general advice about creating art, feel free to subscribe to our email newsletter. You’ll be updated with our latest product releases and flash sales, too!

Nicola Tsoi is a practicing 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. 

Leave a comment