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How to paint a bluebell wood in watercolour with Paul Talbot-Greaves

Posted on Thu 14 Mar 2019

Any watercolour painting that involves colour opposites needs to be treated carefully, otherwise bright fresh colour may be quickly lost. A couple of common landscape examples that spring to mind are bluebells (violets and greens) and poppies (red and green). With free-flowing techniques, these combinations can turn an intended masterpiece into a mud bath in no time at all. Whist it is important to achieve softness, you must also keep the colours separate; the technique for this is not wet-into-wet, but wet-against-wet.

The starting part of my painting was to set the lightest values – these were the patches of sky, some of the fresh spring canopy and the sunlit bluebells on the woodland floor. I worked onto dry paper with a large brush and wet-against-wet washes, so that I could place colours without them dissipating too much into one another.

I worked from the top down, beginning with the sky patches followed by mixing the bright greens on the paper until I reached the bluebells. Here, I used two damp, size 5 mop brushes, which have the advantage of delivering moist paint without it being over wet. I loaded each with colour, one with green and the other with violet and continuing my wash, I simply placed the colours side by side.

Next, I built up the colours, shapes and values, with consideration given to the previous wash. I added some slightly stronger foliage, working around the lit trees on the left-hand side and I painted the darker trees into this whilst it was still a little damp. Some violet was strengthened in the shadow parts and in the foreground. I again used a two-brush approach to mix violet and green side by side. I wanted to achieve softness to give the impression of the bluebells diffusing into the grass.

I was quite happy with the painting so far, so the amount of work I added was minimal, however I did add some more bluebells. To do this with watercolour would simply result in dull, dark flowers, so I chose to use a little gouache instead, spattering it onto the painting from a sable brush. With a few other spattered leaves in the trees the painting was complete.

DEMONSTRATION - Bluebell Woods


I drew out the placement of the trees and the slope of the land with a 6B pencil on 140lb (300gsm) Saunders Waterford Rough paper.

Working on the lightest values I began with a size 6 squirrel mop brush, applying weak cerulean blue in the two small patches of sky seen through the trees. I immediately switched to sap green, aureolin and yellow ochre, mixed loosely on the paper. At the slope of the land I changed to diluted Winsor violet. This colour is so strong I literally tinted some water with it. I interspersed this with the light green, but I was very careful to place the colours side by side rather than mixing them together. This kept them clean and bright but softly merged at the same time.


With a second layer of sap green, aureolin and yellow ochre, I applied an overall wash for the trees with a size 5 squirrel mop brush, finishing the colour along the sloping edge of the land. I waited for the sheen to disappear from the paper then with a thick mix of French ultramarine, yellow ochre and burnt sienna, I worked the background trees quickly using a size 8 sable brush. When I had completed all the trees, I added the deeper violet shade to the bluebells with stronger Winsor violet. In the foreground shade I added a hint of green to the violet and a hint of violet to the green to tone them slightly. I applied the colours side by side on the paper, then let the whole painting dry.


Bluebell Woods, watercolour on Saunders Waterford 140lb (300gsm) Rough paper, (28x38cm).

I mixed sap green gouache with primary yellow gouache and spattered a few light leaves across the canopy so that they would show against the darker trunks. Next, I mixed spectrum violet, cerulean blue and permanent white gouache colours to the consistency of single cream and with a size 8 sable brush, I spattered the bluebells into the foreground.

Paint a bluebell wood using the photo above as reference, along with my suggested materials. You might wish to follow the methods I used here in your own painting.


  • Good-quality cotton paper such as Saunders Waterford Rough
  • Medium to large size squirrel mop brushes, size 8 round brush for detail
  • Watercolours: sap green, aureolin, Winsor violet, burnt sienna, yellow ochre, cerulean blue
  • Gouache: spectrum violet, cerulean blue, permanent white

You can submit your finished painting to our website, PaintersOnline, by emailing a copy, no larger than 2MB, to by May 10, 2019 and Paul will select one painting for appraisal.

This demonstration is taken from the May 2019 issue of The Artist

Click here to purchase your copy.

How to paint a bluebell wood in watercolour with Paul Talbot-Greaves


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