Spring is just around the corner and there may already be some early flowering blackthorn to be seen. Fruit blossom will follow soon then in May the hedgerows and fields will be filled with beautiful hawthorn trees in full bloom.
In close up blossom can appear to be quite a complicated subject to paint so start simply with a short section of twig that has four or five flowers and buds. For this demonstration painting I chose white cherry blossom, but the process lends itself to most floral subjects as well as other types of blossom.
Whether working from life or from a photograph, the lighting is very important. Portraying cast shadows on petals will give them depth and create a three dimensional effect. Twigs and stems are rounded so make the side away from the light darker to avoid making them look flat.
There will be leaves to paint, especially with the late spring blossom, and it can be quite tricky making bright spring greens look natural
Adding increasing amounts of Hooker’s green to cadmium yellow light will give a range of light and subtle greens
Add burnt sienna to the greens to give warmth and provide darker mixes for shadow colours
You will need:
- Good quality Watercolour paper. I used Saunders Waterford 140lb NOT surface (12.5x16.5cm)
- Cobalt blue
- Cadmium red light
- Cadmium yellow light
- Hooker’s green
- Burnt Sienna
- Rounds, Nos. 6, 4 and 2
- Rigger No. 2 or 3
- Nylon masking fluid brushes Nos. 6, 4 and 2
- 2B pencil
- Putty rubber
- Daler-Rowney Designers Gouache in Permanent white
- Masking fluid
Step 1 Drawing
Using a 2B pencil draw the blossom. This can be done directly onto the watercolour paper. However, with quite complicated drawings like this one I like to work on cartridge paper first since rubbing out, even with a putty rubber, can cause damage to the surface of the paper and spoil the look of the finished painting. When you are happy with the drawing on cartridge paper, trace it using tracing paper or a light box onto your watercolour paper.
Step 2 The background wash
1 Using a No. 6 and No. 2 nylon brush, very carefully apply masking fluid to cover your drawing and leave to dry.
2 Prepare two washes using cobalt blue with a little burnt sienna. The first wash should be fairly watery and applied quickly over the entire painting using a No. 6 Round brush.
3 The second wash should be much stiffer (less water) and painted into the first wash wet in wet, again using the No. 6 brush. Leave to dry completely.
4 Rub off the masking fluid using your finger or a rubber then re-establish your drawing, if necessary.
Step 3 Twig, stems & leaves
1 Using No. 4 and No. 2 brushes, paint the twig and stalks of the blossom using burnt sienna, with cobalt blue to darken, and introduce a little cadmium red into the stems and bud. Work wet into wet, remembering that the second wash must be thicker than the first otherwise run-backs will occur.
2 Paint the leaves and centre of the flowers with the same brushes using spring green mixes (see above). Work wet into wet using the darker mixes to model and give form to the leaves.
Step 4 The blossom
1 Prepare a moderately watery mix of shadow colour using cobalt blue and a little cadmium red.
2 Using a No. 4 brush, damp one petal with clean water. With a No. 2 brush apply a little of the shadow mix, taking care that it does not fill the entire wetted area. Let the petal dry completely. The shadow should dry with a soft edge. This is a difficult technique to master and may need a bit of practice. Don’t worry if you end up with some hard edges; they won’t spoil your painting.
3 Move on to the adjacent petal and repeat the process. You should be able to see from my painting that, where petals overlap, the dark area of one petal lies against a light area of the next petal. This helps to give form to the flower and prevents it from looking flat.
4 Continue in this way, painting shadow on all the petals and the buds and leave to dry completely.
Step 5 Finishing touches
1 Use a No. 2 Rigger or a very small Round brush and, with a slightly thicker shadow colour, paint the cast shadows of the stamens on some of the petal. Again leave to dry completely.
2 Paint the stamens with your Rigger or small Round brush using white gouache to which a small amount of cadmium yellow light has been added. The pollen is painted with orange mixed from red and yellow.
3 When your painting is completely dry, rub out any pencil lines.