Woodland Flowers, watercolour on Bockingford 140lb NOT watercolour paper, (26x26cm)

Follow Julie King step by step as she paints a delicate bunch of much-loved woodland flowers.

Spring brings to mind woodland walks and purple carpets of bluebells, interspersed by sparkling white wood anemones growing in the dappled shade.

Not only are these flowers found in the countryside, but also in parks and gardens. Every spring I look out for these two very different shaped, delicate flowers, contrasting against one another in the border of my front garden.

For this demonstration, I decided to pick a few stems of each from my garden and place them loosely in a small spotty jug to create a natural arrangement.

Getting to know the subject

An easily recognisable flower, the wood anemone is low growing with six or seven petals in the shape of a star, surrounding a cluster of distinctive yellow anthers and freshly coloured lobed leaves, as opposed to the elegant English tubular-shaped bluebell.

Small individual flowers may produce little impact on their own so selecting complementary foliage to give contrast can be important.  The stems of the bluebells are quite thin so the foliage of the wood anemones placed initially in the jug gives some weight to the
arrangement and strength of colour surrounding the white flower heads so that they appear strong and bright.

As you will see from my demonstration below, I began by painting the background, applying soft washes of colour on which the greens and purples will sit. This gives the painting cohesion. The overall effect of the painting is a complementary mix of golden yellow and mauve, with green as the balancing colour, connecting the purple and white flowers.

You can follow my demonstration or perhaps pick your own flowers and try interpreting them in this way.  Enjoy the challenge!

Demonstration: Woodland Flowers

Step 1

Attach a sheet of watercolour paper to a board with masking tape overlapping each edge.  

Draw an outline of the flowers and leaves with a B-grade pencil.

Step 2

1. Prepare four pools of colour: dilute ultramarine blue; a soft purple mix of dilute ultramarine blue and permanent rose; transparent yellow or an alternative, such as pale cadmium yellow or new gamboge; and a soft yellow-green mix of transparent yellow and ultramarine blue.

2. Using a No. 12 brush wet around the white flowers to leave them as dry paper and sweep the water to the edge of the painting and to the line of the table.

3. Apply the dilute ultramarine mix with a smaller No. 6 brush, sweeping it downwards in the direction of the growth of the bluebells.

4. Whilst still damp, apply the second mix of soft purple, allowing the colours to merge together, but subtly suggesting the bell shapes. Try to avoid putting purple in the area beneath the foliage.

Step 3

1. Whilst damp, add a hint of the yellow mix on top of the blue wash in the area of the foliage. The yellow will combine with the soft blue base to make a pale green.

2. Add a touch of the pre-prepared green mix here and there. 

3. Drying will depend on the consistency of paint and the temperature of the environment you are working in.  In the event that the paint dries too quickly, make sure it is thoroughly dry then rewet with clean water before applying another wash.

Step 4

1. When the background is thoroughly dry begin painting the bluebells. Prepare the following pools of colour: a pink-mauve mix of permanent rose and ultramarine blue; a blue-mauve mix of proportionally more ultramarine blue with permanent rose; and a pool of ultramarine blue.

2. Simplify and suggest the bell shapes. Working wet on dry with a No. 4 or 6 brush, apply a wash of the pink-mauve shade on the paler bells, drawing the paint from the top of the bell downwards so as to taper towards the finer edging at the base of the flower.

3. Whilst damp add a touch of the blue-mauve shade, followed by the ultramarine blue at the top so that it flows downwards to create a variegated wash.

4. Using a stronger shade of the previous mixes (more pigment, less water) paint variegated bluebell silhouettes, suggesting that they are in shadow. To create a deeper purple, add a touch of yellow into the blue-mauve shade.

5. Prepare a green mix of ultramarine and transparent yellow and drop into the purple mix to suggest the tighter buds at the tip of the stem.

6. Load the brush with the same green mix and, using a sweeping movement, draw the brush from the tip of the stem towards the base.

Step 5

1. Whilst the stem is still damp, drop a little of the pink-mauve mix into it.

2. Using the No. 4 brush add detailing and wispy brushstrokes to the bluebells with the stronger mixes to suggest some shape and form. Keep the interpretation simple so that the flowers do not become too overworked.

Step 6

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1. Where the tubular inside of the stem can be seen, begin as before with a variegated wash background and, when dry, suggest a deeper tone within the bell shape.

2. Continue painting the bluebells and stems in the same way.

Step 7

1. Prepare mixes of two shades of green for the leaves: transparent yellow and ultramarine blue (warmer mix) and transparent yellow and Winsor blue (green shade) to make a cooler mix. 

2. Working in a similar way to the bluebells, apply paint wet on dry and vary the shades by dropping in colour whilst wet.

3. Begin with the first warmer mix of transparent yellow and ultramarine blue, leaving a small gap of dry paper to suggest the central vein. Drop in the cooler green mix to give a feeling of form.  Continue building up the leaves in this way.

Step 8

1. Add deeper leaves using a mix of ultramarine blue and transparent yellow with a touch of permanent rose. Apply to the leaf shapes wet on dry and lift a little colour out using a damp brush.

2. Fill in areas between the leaves by adding purple to imply there are more bluebells and add darker tones in the shadowed areas just above the rim of the jug between the stems.

Step 9

1. Using the deeper mix of green use a No. 4 brush to add veins with a sweeping brushstroke.

2. Now for the remaining wood anemones. Use the point of the brush to stipple transparent yellow into the centre of the flower. When nearly dry stipple a mix of yellow green on top.

3. Prepare a mix of a pale grey by adding a touch of permanent rose to ultramarine blue plus a tiny amount of transparent yellow or alternative yellow to tone down the shade. Dilute and apply wet on dry on the petals, paying particular attention to where one petal overlaps another.

4. A little fresh yellow-green can be dropped into the damp grey paint.

Step 10

1. Before adding the stamens add a few stronger grey wet-on-dry brushstrokes on to the petals and soften if necessary.

2. Add the golden stamens to finish off the flower heads. Stipple tiny brushstrokes with transparent yellow, followed by a warmer shade by adding a tiny amount of permanent rose to it.

3. Paint a few loose fine lines to connect the stamens to the centre.

Step 11

Once the foliage and flowers are complete begin to paint the surface of the table. Wet the area surrounding the jug with a large brush and add a hint of transparent yellow, followed by a slightly stronger mix of transparent yellow with a touch of permanent rose.

Step 12

1. Whilst still damp, add horizontal brushstrokes of a purple mix to give the impression of shadow cast on the surface.

2. To create a neat round dot on the jug’s surface, apply masking fluid with either a fine brush or a sharpened point of bamboo. Leave to dry thoroughly.

Step 13

 Woodland Flowers, watercolour on Bockingford 140lb NOT watercolour paper, (26x26cm)

1. Wet the surface of the jug, avoiding the circles and leave a few gaps of dry white paper to suggest highlights towards the right-hand lighter side.

2. Apply a hint of transparent yellow towards the top rim and let it flow downwards, followed by a pink-mauve mix of permanent rose and ultramarine blue and, finally, a blue-mauve mix of the same two colours, but with a dominance of blue.

3. Using a stronger creamier mix of blue-mauve, apply another wash while damp, beginning on the shaded left-hand side.

4. When the paint is dry, suggest a few horizontal and vertical shapes, created by the reflective surface of the jug. If the lines appear too hard, soften with a dampened brush.

5. When complete, remove the masking fluid and add a hint of the grey mix used in the white flowers on the surface of the circles.

6. Add the finishing touches to balance the painting. I added a few wet-on-dry stronger brushstrokes to indicate the shadow on the surface of the table and a stronger purple mix along the base of the jug to ground it.

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