Yellow chrysanthemums in red pot

Chrysanthemums can present a challenge to watercolor artists. The temptation is to try and paint all the detail. While this is possible it can lead to a tight lifeless painting. While visiting my sister in law recently I did this watercolor painting of her pot of chrysanthemums as a gift. This is a demonstration of the steps I took in completing it.

I did this watercolour painting outdoors, on her patio, because that was where the flowers were situated. The flower pot was sitting on a metal table. The light was excellent at the time. Luckily the weather was quite mild so it did not create too much of a challenge. If it had been a hot morning I would have taken the vase of flowers indoors and painted it there.

When I do a still life painting like this I do not aim for reality but more the feeling of the flow of the shapes (flowers). I like to let my water colors run into one another in places while making sure I keep some pure colors where they are needed.

Sometimes I paint the background first but this time I painted it after I finished the flowers and pot. I left lots of little unpainted highlights to keep a sketchy feel to the painting.

Reference photo for watercolor painting of chrysanthemums

Here is a photo of the chrysanthemums I painted in case you would like to try painting this same subject.

Pot of Chrysanthemums reference for watercolor painting

Pot of Chrysanthemums reference for watercolor painting

Preliminary sketch of chrysanthemums and pot

My first step was to do a loose and light sketch of the chrysanthemums and pot on my watercolour paper. I settled on a simple design for my watercolor painting. My pencil marks were light as I do not usually erase them when the painting is completed.

Preliminary sketch of flowers prior to watercolor painting

Preliminary sketch of flowers prior to watercolor painting

Watercolor paints used

The colors I used are all artists quality watercolors by Winsor and Newton. The pigments were:

Cadmium Yellow Pale, Aureolin, Cobalt Turquoise, Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Cadmium Red, French Ultramarine, Raw Umber, and Burnt Sienna.

I prepared my initial the watercolour mixes. One was straight Cad Yellow Pale, another was a green mixed with Aureolin (a cool yellow), Cobalt Turquoise ( a greenish blue), French Ultramarine, and a little Raw Umber to grey the mixture off a bit. The third mix was Permanent Alizarin Crimson with a little Cad Red – this will be used for some of the reddish tips of on some of the flowers. The reddish mixture will later be modified into the color for the pot.

Preparation of initial water color mixtures for watercolor painting of chrysanthemums

Preparation of initial water color mixtures

Painting the flowers

I started with the yellows. Cadmium Yellow Pale for the sunlit flowers. I painted quickly to so the mixture would not dry before I finished laying down all of the yellows. As soon as the yellows were done I gave them a little spray with my fine mist spray bottle to keep the shine on the flower area.

Start with the bright yellow of the chrysanthemum flowers using Cad Yellow Pale

Start with the bright yellow of the chrysanthemum flowers using Cad Yellow Pale

While the flowers were still wet I dropped in some of the red mixture in the tips of a few of the chrysanthemums. I also started placing some of the green stems and leaves. Notice how I let some of the flower color flow into the stems and vice versa. I like this effect and in real life you would get these colors reflecting into one another anyway.

watercolor painting of the stems and leaves of the chrysanthemums

Painting the stems and leaves of the chrysanthemums

I continue working in this manner until all of the flowers, leaves and stems are complete. I added some French Ultramarine into my green mixture for the greens in shadows. The darker mixture also had less water in them.

Completed chrysanthemums and foliage

Completed chrysanthemums and foliage

Watercolor painting of the flower pot

I now moved on to the red flower pot. Again I did not wait for all of the flower section of this painting to dry. I was happy for some of the flower and stem colors to flow into the pot color.

The pot was initially painted with a wash of Permanent Alizarin Crimson and Cadmium Red. I painted the entire surface of the pot with this mix. While it was still wet I added some French Ultramarine into the red mixture in my palette and then dropped this into the shaded sections of the flower pot.

Notice how I saved the white paper in sections to retain highlights. This is especially important at the top rim of the flower pot and its tray.

I added more French Ultramarine to my mixture in my watercolor palette till it had a creamy consistency.  You may need to add more of the red colors if you mix is too blue. This was used to add the deep shadow areas at the top of the pot amongst the foliage, and at the bottom. It was also used to add the shadow of the flower pot on the table top.

Painting of red flower pot and yellow chrysanthemums with watercolors

Painting of flower pot with watercolors

All that was left to do now was the background.

Painting the background of my watercolor still life

I used a mix of French Ultramarine and Permanent Alizarin Crimson for the background and table top. I used lighter mixes for the background and stronger ones for the table top. These colors were selected as they complemented the yellow of the chrysanthemums and would make them appear brighter. The background wash was varied to add interest.

I hinted at the table top with crisscross lines. Again in keeping with the style of this work I purposefully allowed some edges to bleed into one another. Someone pointed out that the distant table edge could have been higher as currently the pot tends to look like it is leaning forward a little – this is correct.

This watercolour painting was done quite quickly taking about 45 minutes from start to finish. As I was allowing water colors to flow into one another I did not have to wait for sections to dry.

Watercolor painting demonstration of Chrysantemums in red pot by Joe Cartwright

Watercolor painting of Chrysantemums in red pot by Joe Cartwright

Should you have any questions about this demonstration or watercolor painting in general please let me know through my Contact page.