How to Paint Tantalizing Watercolor Tulips

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There is such an incredible variety of tulips around my neighborhood at the moment and I absolutely love the colors and variations! Because of their striking color and shape, I thought I would share the process of my watercolor tulips – for anyone who needs some fresh, spring, inspiration!

Do you know that tulips close up at night? It is a highly evolved flower which responds to heat and light to protect its pollen! Fascinating! They are known for the bright colors and many of them are actually perfectly symmetrical.

[Related Article: Pen & Watercolor Flowers Tutorials]

So, how do you paint tulips in watercolor?

Let’s begin.

Watercolor Tulips Painting: Step by step

Step 1- Collecting your reference material

Whenever you paint a plant or flower, it is a good idea to get a clear and good quality reference image to work from.

Work from your imagination

You can work from your imagination, but the truth is that most people’s brains leave out important information about the original flower. As a result, the flower may be more stylized or simplified than the original.

If you want to paint a flower or plant in a more abstracted or expressionistic manner, then it is absolutely fine to work with a more stylized, simplified drawing. In this case, drawing from your imagination would work well.

In this painting demonstration, I wanted to capture the smaller details of the tulips, as well as the bright, bold color and so I needed to work from a reference.

Work from your own photos

Because I wanted a level of naturalism in my artwork, I chose to work from a photograph of tulips, which I took myself. My neighborhood is filled with tulips at the moment – it is absolutely exquisite and so it was easy for me to step outside and get some good photos!

Work from a free stock photo

If you cannot get your own photographs of your chosen subject matter, then you can always use free images from unsplash.com or pexel.com. There are a huge variety of free stock photo sites on the web, but these two are the ones I have used the most for good reference photos.

Step 2 – Decide on the size of your painting

I find that working on an A4 or A3 sheet of watercolor paper is a good size to start off with for botanical art. The cherry blossoms I painted are on an A4 sheet of paper.

I would recommend sticking to at least A4 in size, because if you work any smaller you may struggle to get a good amount of detail in your painting.

Interestingly enough, working on a larger surface is a lot easier than painting on a smaller surface.

With a larger sheet of paper, you can accentuate details and there is space to enlarge tiny areas. Your brush strokes can be wider and there is more room for error in a sense.

Step 3 – Pencil Drawing of Your Subject Matter

Once you have decided on the size of the paper you will be working on, you can think about your composition and then draw it out in pencil.

Think carefully about how you will position the tulips on your page. It’s a good idea to position your subject matter off-center in order to make your artwork more interesting.

I recommend using a 2B lead pencil to first softly sketch out the general shapes of the tulip heads, petals, leaves and stems. Make sure you are applying only a very light pressure onto the pencil to achieve very light pencil marks on the page.

Once you have sketched the light general shapes, then you can start going over the form again and making changes and alterations to your shapes in order to get your tulips looking more accurate.

At this stage of the process, you can also add elements like additional leaves, stems or buds to your artwork to complete the composition.

Remember to check where your light source is! This is so important in order to accurately draw forms and get a sense of three-dimensionality. Your shadows will fall opposite your light source.

Step 4 – Go over your pencil drawing in pen and ink

For the pen outline, I use two different methods of drawing.

I either use a very solid contour pen line to go over my flowers, or I loosely sketch the shapes of my flowers. In my tulip drawing I have used a combination of solid outline and sketchy, loose pen and ink over the pencil markings.

When you sketch your subject matter loosely, you leave your shapes open. This creates a lovely whimsical effect which complements the watercolor aesthetic. This method softens your artwork and essentially your pen and ink become the medium which creates shadows and structure.

Drawing tulips with a solid pen and ink outline is also a lovely way to render your artwork. The solid outline helps to give the artwork an almost design-type feeling. The shapes are closed and this sort of illustration can be very effective. It is often used form pattern design and fabric design.

To develop my shadow areas, I use a combination of shading techniques such as cross-hatching, scribbling, hatching, stippling and grading. I find this to be especially effective on the tulip stems.

I like to use Faber Castell Pitt Pens in order to draw my pen outline. Their ink is permanent and then dry very quickly, which means I can use watercolor over them almost immediately without my ink bleeding.

I find I mostly use the XS pen nib in order to get very fine, sketchy lines. Faber Castell also has a lovely brush pen in their wider set.

Don’t forget to use your kneadable eraser to remove the pencil markings before you start your watercolor. Once your watercolor paint is painted on top of your pencil, it can be almost impossible to erase the pencil.

Sometimes it can be quite effective to leave your pencil marks visible under the watercolor paint. It adds a vintage and illustrative quality to the artwork. You may even decide to only use the pencil and not the pen and ink. These are things you should explore and experiment with to find your own art style.

Pen drawing of tulips

Step 5 – Start painting washes of your lightest color

As you begin painting with watercolor you will be using a technique called wet-on-dry. Essentially that means you are putting paint on your paintbrush and then painting directly onto the dry surface of the page. This is a good way to start because you have more control over the areas you are painting color.

Once you have defined your shapes using your initial color you can then work into them using a technique called wet on wet.

Wet on wet is where you paint you paint your watercolor paint onto a watery surface. The color then blooms and bleeds and creates interesting washes of color. This is less controlled than wet-on-dry, but I love watching how the watercolor pigment creates gorgeous textures and patterns as it dries.

At this point you need to carefully examine your subject matter and determine what the lightest color of your flower is.

I started by painting very soft washes of Alizarin crimson over the petals of the tulips.

With cherry blossoms, I left a lot of white space in order to give a wonderfully light feeling to the petals. The next lightest color was a very pale pink.

I started by painting very soft washes of the pale pink within the centre of the flower and towards the petals, without reaching the end of the petals.

Step 6 – Washes of darker red over the flowers

Paint washes of opaquer red. To mix this color, I used a bit of Permanent Rose with the Alizarin Crimson.

watercolor and pen tulips in red and green

Step 7 – Washes of green onto the stems

Paint light washes of green on the stems of the tulips.

Step 8 – Final Washes onto the stems and leaves

I think used a mixture of sepia and sap green and painted washes over the branches to build up my shadow areas and create a natural, organic color.

Pen and ink watercolor flowers - red tulips

Step 9 – Details

Lastly, go over the small details, painting a wash of yellow over the petals of the tulips and accentuating shadows with a darker red.

You can also go over areas of your Faber Castell Pitt Pen line in order to create emphasis or clarity.

finished tulips painting

Remember the following when doing a cherry blossom watercolor painting…

Make sure to use a round, soft bristle brush to compliment the flow of the watercolor paint. It is a good idea to always have a scrap piece of watercolor paper nearby, in order to test out your color combinations and ideas before you put them onto your final piece!

If you are painting a solid background color in your watercolor painting, then it may be a good idea to use masking tape to define a border of about 1.5cm in width. This will give enough space to mount your artwork or frame it if you so wish.

[Related Article: How to Paint a Cherry Blossom Watercolor]

List of materials and supplies needed to paint your own Cherry Blossom Watercolor

  • Kitchen paper towel
  • Masking Tape
  • 2B Pencil
  • Kneadable Eraser
  • Scrap piece of watercolor paper for testing colors
  • 300gsm Watercolor Paper: You need a good-quality, heavy paper that doesn’t buckle.
  • Soft Bristle Round or Filbert Brush
  • Watercolor pans or tubes. I am currently using the Windsor and Newton Watercolor Pan. The colors are rich and the tray itself is portable and easy to use.
  • Faber Castell Pitt Pens

Further Questions Related to Painting Watercolor Tulips:

What is a bloom in watercolor?

A bloom in watercolor is where the watercolor pigment has spread further that the area you initially painted it in. Sometimes a bloom is a good thing because it can add interest to your artwork. However, sometimes a bloom happens unintentionally and goes into an area you didn’t want color to be in.

Blooms occur when you paint using the watercolor technique known as wet on wet.

How do you fix watercolor blooms?

The best way to fix a watercolor bloom is to catch it as soon as it happens and using a piece of paper towel dab the color off the page.

How do you paint tulips for beginners?

The step-by-step guideline above will work for both professional and beginner artists. I have given you a comprehensive list of materials and supplies you will need to start the process and if you carefully follow each step, you will be able to complete your own watercolor tulips painting!

[Wondering How to Find Your Art Style? Read this blog post!]

What are the different watercolor techniques?

The two most well-known watercolor techniques are wet-on-wet, and wet-on-dry.

Wet-on-dry painting is where you paint onto dry paper. This is often used for illustrations and is the easiest watercolor technique.

Wet-on-wet is where you paint your wet watercolor paint onto an already wet surface. This will create blooms and cause your paint to bleed. It is a beautiful process and I love watching the pigment move on the surface of the paper and slowly dry. It is more difficult to control wet on wet painting than wet-on-dry painting.

Conclusion

Painting watercolor tulips is a fun and easy painting for beginners as well as more advanced watercolorists. I hope you have found my advice on techniques and materials to be useful as you begin your own watercolor tulips painting!

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