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Watercolour Dry-Brush Technique


Judith Milne - Posted on 22 Dec 2011

Try the dry brush technique for botanical paintings

The botanical studies of fuchsia  (below) were painted on Bristol board, which has a very white and satin-like surface. Loose washes are not suitable on this paper so the best option is dry brush, where you gradually build up layers of paint with small brushstrokes until you create the desired density of colour and tone. It is slow and painstaking, best used for small subjects, but worthwhile to obtain a precise image.
The favoured surface for botanical painting is Hotpressed (HP) paper, in order to obtain the fine detail required (as in this lily, right). Dry brush is used frequently on this type of paper, where surface form, colour and texture is gently built up by gradually teasing out the dry paint. Small brushes must also be used to allow you good control of the paint.
Be empathic with your subject; the true character of the plant needs to be captured in botanical painting. Experiment with this method by just painting a petal or a leaf first and build up your confidence and skill.


Many flowers, including the rose and tulip (below), appear to have a ‘dusting’ of colour on their petals. Dry brush is the best technique to convey this subtle effect. A NOT surface paper was used here along with a No. 2 brush; the paint was teased out of the brush, which built up a gradation of colour. The deeper hue was achieved by working over and over with the dry paint until I was satisfied with the depth of colour. The pigment in the petals follows the line of growth through the veins so I followed those lines with my brush, and the form and curves appeared.


The trunk and branches of the tree below were painted first to achieve the basic structure. The feathery appearance of the small twigs was created by using dry brush, but this time dragging the side of the brush across the paper. When you want to use the side of the brush like this, it is better to choose an old brush in case you damage the hairs.

The silver birch twigs were also portrayed with dry brush; the downward brushstrokes give the character of the pendulous twigs.

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