Select Delivery Region:
Our magazines
In this section

Capture a moment in time - paint fading roses in watercolour with Julia Trickey

Posted on Wed 21 Nov 2018

Capture a moment in time

Award-winning botanical artist Julia Trickey demonstrates how to paint a faded rose in wet-in-wet watercolour layers.

I am a big fan of painting specimens at a less than perfect stage, such as autumnal leaves, seed heads or fading flowers. My interest in the latter subject came about by accident, when the pressures of family life didn’t allow me time to paint a fresh bunch of flowers  immediately. I love the way the colours become muted and petals twist, sometimes becoming translucent. Nowadays, I dry out flowers, especially for painting purposes. Some, such as roses, fade better than others. I might leave a whole bunch of flowers in a vase without water, or hang them upside down in a warm, dry place, although once desiccated there may only be one or two specimens that appeal to me.

Layers for form and depth

Botanical artists use a variety of watercolour techniques to build up their paintings but most paint in layers to achieve the desired depth of tone and richness of colour. Some use several initial pale washes whilst others may complete an entire painting using small, dry brushstrokes throughout. I favour starting by looking at the form and shape of each petal and endeavour to recreate what I see using wet-in-wet watercolour layers. Working with the paper flat I will wet a section with clear water and, when this area has an even sheen finish (but no surface water), dab in colour. As long as the area is still wet, this colour can be teased into place or other hues added. However once the wetted section starts to dry or loses its sheen it is important to stop, even if you haven’t finished what you are doing.  One of the golden rules of any style of watercolour painting is never to fiddle with drying paint. If you do you will lose the freshness that is so associated with this medium. After the section or petal has completely dried (another golden rule) the wet-in-wet process can be repeated, and areas adjusted accordingly. When each petal has sufficient form, controlled washes can be used to enhance and deepen the colour of each section. It is important at this stage to compare each shape with its neighbour, assessing which is lighter or darker, brighter or duller, cooler or warmer in colour. As the painting progresses it is worth looking at the image in a mirror or at arm’s length to check the overall balance of colours and tones. Fine detail such as the veining can be added towards the end of the process using small amounts of paint on the tip of the brush. 

What with the careful observation of colours and detail and the application of paint in every increasing dry layers, there is no rushing botanical art. This is in complete contrast to other styles of watercolour painting. Yet the process can be satisfyingly absorbing and meditative as it takes you out of the pace of normal life. So why not rescue a flower otherwise destined for the compost bin and see what you can discover and depict?


Painting the rose

I was attracted to the rose used for this demonstration because of the challenge of capturing the dark, velvety petals in watercolour. Not enough paint and the petals would not appear rich enough. Too much and they would look heavy and, ironically, rather dead. To achieve the desired effect, I identified areas of brightness as well as touches of real dark such as under the folds in the petals and in the creases where the petals meet. Capturing a whole range of tones can really bring the painting to life (I think this is key for any painting in any media). Note also the blue-grey appearance of the very edges of otherwise dark petals.

As well as observing the lights and darks I spent some time just turning and viewing the flower in different positions until I found an angle that I liked. Depicting it from the front seemed too obvious and complicated whereas a back view enabled the inclusion of characteristic sepals and reduced the number of petals to be painted.

I set the flower up in front of me, lighting it from both sides in order to illuminate all the crevices and detail (rather than lighting it from just one side as I might usually). I often take reference photos at this stage though always prefer to work from the real specimen if at all possible, finding this the best way to explore the nuances of colour and detail – I will use a magnifying glass if need be. Because the flower tends to shrink in the process of desiccation I like to depict it larger than life and in this case the image is over twice the size of the original flower. I decided to take some artistic liberties as the original flower was bolt upright, which I felt was less lyrical.

In botanical art it is usual to celebrate a subject in its own right and accordingly display it on a pristine, white background. But to create a vintage feel in keeping with the fading rose I decided to give the background a mottled texture to reflect the foxing found on the pages of old books or the markings found on calfskin vellum. 

Just four watercolour tubes were used for this painting and all the colours needed were mixed from these four hues. The violet is close to the petal colour but on its own dries dull and so was enriched by adding magenta. Small touches of the blue or gold were then added to this mix for the petal shadows or the brighter areas. These two were then mixed together to make the basic colours needed for the stem and sepals.



Drawing equipment
Transfer paper
Fabriano Artistico HP paper 640gsm (pre 2016 stock)
Sable brush size 6 with a good point
Watercolour paints: Daniel Smith quinacridone gold, Mayan dark blue; Winsor & Newton perylene violet, quinacridone magenta
China plate for mixing
Water jar and water
Cotton cloth or kitchen towel


To create the mottled background I thoroughly wetted the paper then daubed in patches of pre-mixed creams and beiges. Whilst the paper was still wet I added markings and flicked in specks of grey


The initial drawing was made on tracing paper to avoid spoiling the surface of the watercolour paper through any necessary adjustments or erasing. Once happy with my drawing I used transfer paper to trace the basic outline of the rose


Working wet-on-wet on one petal at a time I focused on the underlying creams that I saw on the back of some of the petals, adding in pale, dusky pinks if time allowed


Further layers of wet-in-wet were applied to strengthen the colour and express the form on each section of the flower


When happy with the general form of the flower I focused on deepening the colour in each area using damp washes and drier brushstrokes (without wetting the paper first). From my chosen view most of the petals are seen from the underside, but I noticed that where any upper surface was on show the colour tended towards a richer magenta. In every case, each shape was compared with its neighbour to check for the correct relative colour and tonal value


Drier detail and veining were added and adjusted, using small amounts of paint on the tip of a damp brush. For this I picked up the drying edges of previously mixed paint found on my plate. I could have swapped to a smaller brush for this, but was so absorbed in the process that I forgot. As long as I have a decent size, quality brush with a good point I can use it for every stage of painting


The sepals and stems were strengthened and general adjustments made by checking, at arm’s length, the relative lights and darks of each part of the flower


The Last Rose, watercolour on paper, 81⁄4 x 81⁄4in (21x21cm).

I tend to paint on bigger paper than needed so the intention was always to trim this picture before framing. I concluded that a torn edge (left) would complement the vintage feel of the image, achieved by scoring along a border then placing a ruler along this line. With one hand pressed firmly on the ruler the paper was torn carefully along the scored path. The painting will be floated within a picture frame to accentuate the torn edging

Julia Trickey is an award-winning botanical artist; she exhibits internationally and teaches botanical art classes and workshops. Her book Botanical Artistry is to be published by Two Rivers Press on January 21, 2019. Details of her resources for aspiring botanical artists and online tutorials can be found at

This feature is taken from the January 2019 issue of The Artist

Click here to purchase your copy




Capture a moment in time - paint fading roses in watercolour with Julia Trickey


Please login or register to enter your comment click here

  • A wonderful demonstration very interesting thanks. Love the way Julia 'aged' the watercolour paper.

    Posted by Carole Swingler on Thu 29 Nov 13:48:29