Watercolor painting Chrysanthemums

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.


Forth Bridge – Scotland

I painted this watercolor painting of the Forth Bridge in Scotland as a gift to a very close family friend. He has often mentioned how much he admired this bridge so I thought I would surprise him with this little gift when we visited him in Oregon.

I have seen this bridge myself and could see why my friend liked it so much. Unfortunately my photo reference was lost. It was also a very grey day during my visit. However I was able to find the photo below on wikimedia.org by George Gastin for which I thank him.

The Forth Bridge from South Queensferry. By George Gastin (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons
The Forth Bridge from South Queensferry. By George Gastin (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

Drawing the bridge

The first step is to draw a detailed sketch of the bridge. The drawing is more important with these iconic structures.  If you have difficulty drawing this type of structure you can trace it and then transfer it to your watercolor paper.

Once you have completed the drawing you will need to mask any parts of the bridge that are in full sunlight. I did not mask the parts in shade or on the other side of the bridge as they would be slightly duller in color anyway.

Drawing of Forth Bridge Scotland UK with masking fluid applied
Drawing of Forth Bridge Scotland UK with masking fluid applied

Watercolor under painting for Forth Bridge

I painted the sky with cobalt blue and some Alizarin Crimson and Yellow Ocre for the clouds. I made sure to leave some parts of the clouds untouched so the white of the paper could act as a highlight. You can read about how I paint these skies in detail in this article: Painting the sky and clouds.

watercolor under painting of Forth Bridge Scotland
Watercolor under painting of Forth Bridge Scotland

I ran the sky down to the distant waters edge. I then painted the water with mixes of French Ultramarine, a small amount of Cobalt Turquoise and a small amount of Alizarin Crimson. I used lighter tones (more water) in the distance and less water in the foreground.

The ripples in the foreground were dropped in wet-on-wet with a thicker mix of French Ultramarine, combined with a little bit of the other two colors. I have written an another article on how to paint water which is well worth reading if you are interested.

I let this stage of my watercolor painting dry thoroughly.

Painting the distant shoreline

The shoreline is painted with lighter and bluer colors in the distance with warmer ones in the foreground. For the closest land on the left I mainly used French Ultramarine and Raw Umber.

With the distant land masses painted I was ready to tackle the bridge.

Painting the distant shoreline with watercolor
Painting the distant shoreline with watercolor

Watercolor painting steps for the bridge

I used Cad Red with a little French Ultramarine for the bridge sections which are furthest from the light. I used a lot for water in the mixtures for the sections in the distance and reduced the water content as I painted the closer bridge spans. I use the water content of my watercolor mixtures to simulate the effect of atmosphere on colors.

Once this section of my watercolor painting was completed I let it dry completely before removing the dry masking fluid. I use a crepe eraser to take off the masking fluid.

First step in panting the bridge structure with watercolor
First step in panting the bridge structure with watercolor

To finish off this watercolor painting I did the following:

  1. Painted the pillars with mixtures of Yellow Ochre and Raw Umber. I used some French Ultramarine with Burnt Sienna for some of the darker and shadowed sections.
  2. I painted the remaining brightly lit beams of the bridge with Cad Red which was mixed with some Cad Orange in some places. Again the strongest tones and brightest colors were used for the parts of the bridge closest to the viewer.
  3. Once the bridge structure was completed I was able to work on the reflections. I used similar water colors to those used for the bridge but made them a little duller. You can read more about the color of reflections and shadows in my article on the subject.
  4. I first wet the entire area from under the bridge to the bottom of my watercolor painting with clean water. I used a very soft two inch flat brush for this. I then dropped in the reflected colors from the left hand side making them stronger and brighter as I worked from left to right. Notice how the reflections in the distance a quite a bit softer than those in the foreground. The sharpest edge reflections I put in as a second layer after the original soft reflections had dried.
  5. I placed a few birds in the sky to break up that space to finish my watercolor painting of the Forth Bridge.
Forth Bridge Scotland Watercolor painting by Joe Cartwright
Forth Bridge Scotland Watercolor painting by Joe Cartwright

While this article was about how I painted the Forth Bridge, the technique can be used or adapted for any other bridge in a similar scene.

Plein air watercolor landscape painting

Here is today’s plein air watercolor landscape painting I did with my Thursday plein air group. The location is in Luddenham, a semi rural area just outside of Sydney, Australia. It was a lovely day to be painting outdoors. Warm but not too hot, few clouds so no moving shadows to contend with, and no wind – perfect!

I was immediately drawn to an old shed in the distance and the pattern made by the trees around it. The form of the hills would allow an interesting lead into the focal point – the shed. While the distant hill would add space to my painting.

Here is the scene I was confronted with.

Luddenham landscape reference photo for watercolor painting
Luddenham landscape reference photo for watercolor painting

The steps I took for this plein air watercolor landscape painting are as follows:

  1. Decide what attracts my attention in the vista along with any compositional changes I will make. Remember there are no rules that say you have to try and paint everything you see when painting outdoors. I try to work out what is the minimum I need to put into my painting while still achieving the message I want to present. Too much information can lead to a confusing message.

I set up my plein air watercolor painting kit which you see below. Because the sun was already quite high in the sky I used my umbrella to shade my watercolor paper and as much of my palette as I could.

watercolor painting set up for plein air
Watercolor painting set up for plein air

The umbrella is supported by a lightweight extendible pole and attached to my plein air easel with Velcro tape. I used my carry bag as a counterweight as my plein air easel is very light and the umbrella could have toppled it. The bag hangs on the other end of the aluminium arm that supports my little folding palette.

Now that I am all set up I do a loose drawing of the scene. I am mainly interested in the general layout of shapes when doing my drawing. I do not put in a lot of detail as I want to keep the whole watercolor painting free and loose.

Drawing for plein air landscape watercolor painting
Drawing for plein air landscape watercolor painting

Inital wash for plein air watercolor landscape painting

With the drawing done my next step is to paint the sky and the ground under painting. It is very important that you get your tones right for this stage. The sky is usually the lightest tone in the landscape. The ground should be lighter, cooler, and softer in the distance. It’s tone increases as it moves towards the foreground where warmer colors are used. At this stage of the watercolor painting it should already look like a landscape, with the sky and your ground almost finished.

The greens I used for the ground are made up of various mixes of Aureolin, Raw Umber, Cobalt Blue (only a little) and French Ultramarine. All these water colors a artist’s quality and made by Winsor and Newton.

Under painting for plein air watercolor landscape painting

Under painting for plein air watercolor landscape painting

I take this opportunity to have a coffee and a chat while waiting for this stage to dry thoroughly. If you try to keep painting without letting the watercolor under painting dry thoroughly you risk creating mud.

The painting is now well on the way. Next comes the trees and the shed. I made sure the distant tree line was lighter in tone to those around the shed.

The shed is painted with a mix of Cobalt Blue and some Burnt Sienna to create a grey.

The rust on the roof is created with Burnt Sienna and very little water. I used the side of my round brush and barely touched the paper. This creates a dry brush effect.

Painting the trees with watercolor
Painting the trees with watercolor

This plein air watercolor landscape painting was now nearly finished. All I had to do was put in the details, the pond, cows and fence lines. These objects are all placed to help the composition. Even the birds in the sky are placed to add interest and depth to the sky. They also help direct the viewer’s eyes to where I would like them to go.

The painting is finished and signed. The finished painting is below. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to let me know either through the comments section below or better yet through the forum pages.

Plein air watercolor landscape painting of Luddenham Farmland
Plein air watercolor landscape painting of Luddenham Farmland by Joe Cartwright

Simple watercolor painting subject

Here is a simple watercolor painting subject for beginners. It is also a good subject if you are sitting around your home and not feeling too inspired. It will get your creative juices flowing without a great deal of emotional investment on your part. I have a number of other similar simple watercolor paintings for beginners on this website which you may be interested in.

Simple watercolor painting subject – egg shells

This is a very good watercolor painting exercise which can also result in quite a nice work of art. I recently had my students paint egg shells as a class painting. While the subject can appear very basic it opens the eyes to such things as subtle reflected lights, cast shadows, form shadows, and composition.

Simple watercolor painting subject for beginners - egg shells
Simple watercolor painting subject for beginner watercolor artists – egg shells

A subject like this is very good when you are feeling stuck for a painting subject. It’s simplicity will mean you can get your drawing down quickly and get painting with your watercolors. It is a great subject for when you are feeling creatively blocked. You can treat it as an exercise rather than a full painting so you will not be so hesitant to start. After all, it only requires a little of your time and almost no cost. It generated a great deal of interest amongst my watercolor students. What at first just seemed a simple watercolor painting subject, turned out to be a lot more challenging. It is a watercolor painting for beginners but it can also be done by more experienced artists.

The first step in this painting, after collecting your egg shells, and finding a suitable bright spot light, is to arrange your composition in an interesting manner. Set up your spotlight to cast an interesting shadow pattern to aid your composition. I selected three pieces of egg shell with two touching and one a little apart from the others. The shells were placed so that there was a lot of variation in the spaces between and around them.

Simple watercolor paintings for beginners - eggs and their shadows
Simple watercolor painting  – eggs, under painting and shadows

After lightly drawing up my composition I painted the egg shells with a wash of burnt sienna and French ultramarine. I made the mixture quite watery so that some of the paint beaded at the bottom of each egg. After I quickly painted the two connected eggs I let the paint sit there for about thirty seconds to give it time to stain the paper but not fully evaporate. I then paint their cast shadows. I used French Ultramarine mixed with a little Alizarin Crimson, this violet mixture leans to the blue. Notice that some of the egg color has bled into the shadow area, this acts as reflected light which you should notice in real life. This bleeding into the shadow color was done on purpose and is the reason to keep a bead of paint at the bottom of the egg shapes.

With the egg shell on the right I did not bleed any egg shell color into the shadow area as there was light shining through a gap in the egg shell on its left hand side. Sorry but you can’t see this in my image as it is out of the field of view.

After the egg shapes and shadows were totally dry I went back and painted each egg shape again with my previously mixed egg color. I also dropped in some soft edged form shadows with French Ultramarine and a little Alizarin Crimson.

I let this stage dry completely.

Next I re-wet the shadow areas and drop in some strong dark water color made up of French Ultramarine and Burnt Sienna. This goes just under each of the two egg shells on the left.

Simple watercolor painting of egg shells, initial under painting
Simple watercolor painting of egg shells,dark shadow under eggs

I used a weak wash of Yellow Ochre, Cobalt Blue, and some Burnt Sienna for the inside of each shell. I let this dry fully. The watercolor painting was finished with the addition of some shadow color to the inside of each egg shell. The one in the middle has a hard edged cast show which you can see in the finished painting above.

While this is a relatively simple watercolor painting subject it can be enhanced as much as you like to build it up to a full work of art.

Watercolor painting demo of warm red sky and reflections

I have just finished posting my latest watercolor painting demonstration. This one is of Lake Bonney in South Australia. You can view the complete demo at this link: Lake Bonney watecolor painting demonstration.

You can see the finished watercolor painting below.

Lake Bonney sunset completed watercolor painting demonstration by Joe Cartwright
Lake Bonney sunset watercolor painting by Joe Cartwright