Wednesday, May 16, 2012

WATERCOLOR PROJECT, STEP-BY-STEP: Red Tulips with Black Background

In this project, we will be painting directly, as opposed to layering glazes.  We'll be mingling 2 or 3 colors in each petal and leaf, and then mixing and painting a black background, to really make those red tulips pop.




To begin, draw some tulips, stems, and leaves on your paper.  Try to have a variety of shapes and sizes, especially in your negative space . . . 




Next, prep three colors of paint.  For the tulips,  choose a YELLOW (like Winsor Yellow, New Gamboge, or Cadmium Yellow); a WARM RED (like Winsor Red, Cadmium Red, or Quinacridone Red); and a COOL RED (like Permanent Alizarin Crimson or Quinacridone Rose).  Prepare them by bringing them into the middle of your palette and adding enough water to activate them.  Make sure there is enough water and pigment in each mixture.  If there is too much water and not enough pigment, you will end up with wimpy-looking tulips; and if there is too much pigment and not enough water, the colors will not mix together within each petal . . .




To paint each petal, start painting with yellow on one edge, directly onto dry paper.  While this is still wet, start painting the warm red, just touching the edge of the yellow.  Then while this is still wet, paint the rest of the shape with the cool red.  Try to let the colors mix on their own and not "help" it too much with your brush.  We need to remember to let the watercolor do most of our work for us.  . . 




If you find it difficult to mingle the colors this way, try painting the entire petal with the yellow, and while that is still wet, drop in the red on one side of the petal. . . 





Work your way around the painting, using two or three colors within each shape.  Don't dwell on any one petal -- make yourself move to the next shape.  The watercolor will do interesting things as it dries -- so we have to learn to let things be and not fiddle too much.  And, get that paper towel out of your left hand!  We're painting on a level surface, so the paint is not going anywhere.  If it puddles up within your shape, don't dab it.  Just let it dry on its own. . . 




After cleaning the reds off your palette, prepare new colors for the stems and leaves.  Prep 3 colors:  a YELLOW, a WARM GREEN (like Sap Green), and COBALT BLUE . . . 




Paint each leaf or stem, by mingling these three colors -- just like you did with the petals . . . 




Again, if you find it difficult mingling the colors on dry paper, try painting each leaf or stem with the yellow first, and then dropping in the green and blue while the yellow is still wet.  Work your way around the painting, until all the leaf and stem shapes are painted. . . 





Now, we'll add a few darks to the stems and leaves.  Mix a DARK GREEN (with the Sap Green and Cobalt Blue, plus a little French Ultramarine).  Paint this dark green in a few spots, like where one leaf is behind another, or where the stem meets the blossom.  Paint a small shape at the edge, and then soften the edge of that shape by touching it with a damp brush . . . 



After cleaning the greens off your palette, mix up two colors of RED -- a BRIGHT RED (like Alizarin Crimson mixed with Winsor Red) and a DARK RED (like Alizarin Crimson mixed with Quinacridone Magenta).  Use the dark red to paint some areas where you want one part of a petal to sit behind another, or at the base of a blossom.  Paint the bright red anywhere you want -- starting at the red edge of the petal, and hitting the other edge with a damp brush.  Don't cover up all the oranges and yellows.  And, don't be afraid to leave some of the petals "as is", if you really like the way they look . . . 


Now, it's time to decide whether you want to stop here, or be brave and add a black background!  Since this lesson is about mixing and painting a black background, we will go on.  But, if you like the way your painting looks with a white background, feel free to leave it this way.  There have been many times that I wish I HAD left the background white.  Unfortunately, with watercolor, there's no turning back once you've committed to the black.  But, what the heck -- let's go for it!

To mix a nice black, use plenty of pigment and water.  If you have too much water, you'll just end up with a washed-out gray.  Using the darkest pigments on your palette, mix up a rich black or blue-black.  I like to use Winsor Blue (phthalo blue), Winsor Green (phthalo green), Alizarin Red, Burnt Sienna (or Quinacridone Burnt Orange).  You don't need all these colors -- just pick three and keep mixing until you get the dark color you want.  Then, start painting the background shapes. . . 




To paint these background shapes, you may want to use two brushes -- a small one with a good point to get into the little narrow spots and a bigger round that holds more paint.  Switch back and forth between these brushes, picking up more black paint from the palette often, as you fill in the shape.  Use enough water/pigment so that the paint moves easily.  If you don't have enough paint, the result will be streaky.  If you have too much water, the result will be a gray color instead of black . . . 




Hope you had some success with this project -- I'd love to hear from you about your experience!



34 comments:

  1. Hi Pat! I had a lot of fun painting the red tulips.
    I had not read your blog entry about red color and so I didn't have many reds in my palette...but I managed to mix up some "warm" and "cool" reds :)
    I also intend to paint your other step by step projects.
    I have always been fascinated by watercolors but hearing horror stories about how they are so hard to manipulate has always kept me away from them.
    But now, suddenly I just HAD to try them and through your blog, I have managed to start using them.
    I wonder if there is a way to post my work on your blog... i would love to hear what you have to say about my effort of painting the red tulips!
    :)

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    1. I know what you mean about the myth of watercolors being so hard to control that it makes it tough to even START! I felt the same way, many years ago, but after my first feeble attempts, something clicked, and I knew that watercolor was the medium for me. So glad you found the blog and are able to learn from it.

      At this time, there is no way for you to post directly on my blog (a photo, that is). I am thinking about starting an "Inner Circle" private blog, where you could post your work and I would critique it. Will be doing that this year.

      For now, send a photo of your tulips to my e-mail address: thepaintedprism@gmail.com
      I'd love to see how you're doing!
      Thanks for sharing!
      pat

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    2. Thank you so much for your reply. I am going to send you the photo in a few minutes :)

      I definitely look forward to joining your private blog!

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  2. I am doing all your tutorials and falling in love with the medium and with art for the second time in my life--though the first was in elementary school and ended in middle school. Now I am pushing fifty and finding this new passion. Thank you.

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    1. This made me so happy, to read your comment. Thank you for letting me know that my blog might have rekindled your love for art and got you interested in watercolor. Isn't it funny (and kinda sad, really) that just about all children love art and think they're artists all the way through elementary school, and then some time around middle school they lose interest or begin to doubt their ability, or something? I'm glad you found this new passion -- hopefully, you will enjoy it for a long time.

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  3. I am looking forward to trying this painting tomorrow! I have always wanted to learn watercolor but I just can't seem to get a good start. You're blog has lots of wonderful information and is very motivating! Thanks!

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  4. I hope you have fun painting these tulips! I know that learning to paint in watercolor can be frustrating, but eventually it can be really rewarding, too. I'm thrilled if my blog can be helpful to you. Thanks for your comments, and happy painting!
    pat

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  5. Thank you Pat for the interesting, fun step through. I'm fairly new to watercolour painting, but I was pleased with the results. One thing I couldn't do though, was achieve the soft transition between colours (yellow to red, yellow to green) that you did.

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    1. I'm glad to hear that you tried the project and were pleased with your results. It just takes some practice to get soft transitions. If you're getting hard lines instead of a gradual transition, it's because your paint is too dry. If your red or green completely takes over the yellow, it's because it was too wet. Just keep trying, and one day, you will have an "AHA" moment, when it will click.

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  6. Thanks so much for sharing your skill with us. Although my final product is not perfect, I'm really pleased with the results and encouraged to stick with my new hobby. The black background really made the flowers pop and made all the difference. I'm glad I did it. You're awesome!

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    1. Thanks -- I'm glad it turned out well! And, thank you for your comments.

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  7. Thanks for your inspiring tutorial. As a novice I appreciate the step by step guidance. I am having trouble with the outlining of each petal and leaf shape. My outlines look like an afterthought - especially where the edge changes color. Any tips?

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    1. Well, the two colors need to be mingled at the same time -- otherwise, it will look like the outline was an afterthought. By wetting each petal and leaf first, and then adding the two colors, they will blend together and form soft edges, rather than just outlines. Keep practicing -- it might take some time to get the effect you want.

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  8. Hi Pat, I really enjoyed this exercise. It was really the first time I played around with water colours and I found your instructions very useful. I made a number of bloopers, but did learn a lot, as I wrote in my blog today, at the end of the exercise. I'd love your feedback on the result of my efforts: http://cristelpastelartist.com/experiment-with-watercolour-i/
    Kind regards, Cristel

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    1. Hi, Cristel! So glad that you discovered my blog, through Pinterest, and tried out this tutorial. I checked out your blog, and your tulip painting -- loved them both! The fact that you were able to achieve what you did, working on Strathmore drawing paper, was amazing. I hope that isn't the end of your watercolor experience, because you have much potential -- especially since you already draw beautifully. Keep me posted on your future efforts with the medium. (By the way, I'm not Canadian -- I live in Colorado, in the western US.)

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  9. Very beautiful. I hope try to do something as this in a free time .. on vacations or with my students. Congratulations.

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  10. I loved this project. I am new to painting and it was a very good project to figure out the right amount of pigment needed. My black is a bit streaky so I was wondering if I could do a wash of black over it? I think the biggest struggle for me has been figuring out the right consistency of the paint. I am getting better, though.
    It is very generous of you to share these projects. Thank you! I will do more of them for sure!!!

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    1. Thanks for you comment -- sorry for the delay in responding. Yes, you can paint over your black to try to get a more even wash. The trick with painting black is to have enough pigment, not too much water, but just enough to keep the paint moving, and to not overdue the brushwork. That is THE struggle, for sure -- getting the right ratio of pigment to water on the brush, to water on the paper. Practice and experiment! Also, when you know you've kind of screwed up and gotten too streaky or gray instead of black, wait for it to dry completely. Then, go back for another go. Good luck!

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  11. I've kept a sketchbook for years and have always loved dabbling with watercolors. This is a wonderful exercise and you are so generous to share it with us. I plan on trying the tulips this weekend. I'm still learning how to properly mix the paint and I need to add a few more colors to my palette. Thank You!!!!

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  12. Please dont stop sharing with us your exercises! I love them and are so helpfull you have the best Blog I have ever seen!
    Please give us more exercises and your knowledge and thank again and again!!!

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    1. Thanks, Patricia, for your comments! Don't worry -- I haven't totally stopped the tutorials. Just had to take a little break from it -- to plan and teach a few workshops, and to plan and take a trip to Italy next month. I promise I will get back to adding projects, tutorials, and sketchbook exercises to my blog, after I return. I'm glad you've been enjoying my blog. I appreciate it!

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  13. It is so beautiful! I did it myself and I enjoy doing it! Thank you for your instructions! There is the result of my attempt http://dominikaonline.blogspot.com/2014/10/tulips.html

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  15. Hola, I ran across your blog looking for some negative painting instruction and stayed for a while (and subscribed). I was up very early this a.m. so I tried this exercise for fun and realized this is a skill set I don't have, or use. My main obstacle seems to be whenever I try this, I don't get visible borders between petals and leaves like you do here. I do let adjacent shapes dry before painting the new ones, but without the subtle "outline" effect (which in your example is actually very bold and lovely), the shapes don't read properly. Did you work this in some gentle way to get the outlines? Thank you!

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  16. Hi, Blake! Thanks for your comment. It's hard for me to know exactly what your problem is, but I'm guessing that you just don't have enough contrast between your shapes (where they meet) -- and that could be either color contrast or value contrast. Could that be it?

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  17. Good morning madam,
    I, first have to introduce myself, I'm an Algerian woman who loves silk painting and i'm really happy to discover your blog, I really love your wor, your instructions are so clear and easy to follow, and thank you for this. My question is: do we apply the same techniques of tulip painting with a black background on silk? or are there other techniques for silk?
    Thanks in advance for your kind answer and glad that I subscribed to your lovely blog.
    Have a nice day.
    My best ragards.

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  18. Hi Pat! Thank you very much for this project! I enjoyed it enormously! I really liked the technique of mixing yellow -> warm red -> cold red. After this step, the edges between the colors were natural and so beautiful. However, when I tried to add some darker colors to the shadow areas of the petals, I got into troubles. More precisely, I have problems with this technique "starting at the red edge of the petal, and hitting the other edge with a damp brush". When I do that, I get ugly, unnatural spots on my petals. Wet layer simply doesn't mix with dry layers. Damping with a brush makes a mess. Obviously, I do something wrong, but I can't understand what. I have this problem in every project. I hope I explained my problem good enough and would be very grateful if you give me any recommendations.
    Once again, the project is wonderful! I am so happy to follow your blog!
    Thank you,
    Ekaterina

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    1. Hi, Ekaterina -- I'm glad you're following my blog and have enjoyed painting the projects. I'm not real sure why you're getting the unnatural spots. Here are a few suggestions, though: Make sure the painted layer is totally dry, before you come in with more wet paint. You shouldn't be trying to mix the wet with the dry -- you're just trying to alter the color somewhat -- so the colors visually mix. You don't want to agitate the dry paint -- that will cause streaks. It takes a little practice to soften the edge, once you've laid in some paint. If dampening with a brush makes a mess, it could be that you have too much water on that brush, so that it floods the area. I don't know whether that's helpful of not -- hope so! Keep painting and trying different things -- you'll figure it out!

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    2. Hi Pat, thank you very much for the response! It was helpful for me. It looks like that I really have too much water on my brush and not enough pigment; therefore, I don't get the desirable effect of darkening the area, but only wash out the previous layer. Once again, it is so great that to hear from you and to receive such a valuable recommendation!

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  19. Hi! I'm so happy to find your website, because I've been trying to learn how to watercolor. I've had a couple of lessons, but I still don't get it. :) I'm working on your tulips picture, and I have distinct stripes between some of the colors. They don't look as blended as yours. I'm not sure what I did that caused that and how to fix it.

    Another question: I know that it is common to paint most of the picture, and then come back and add some darker color to add shading. I try to paint what I see on a picture I am copying, but I can't figure out how to begin and NOT initially paint the dark colors. Will I eventually figure that out as I paint your pictures where you have instructions?

    Thank you so much for your help!

    Diane

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    1. Hi, Diane! Glad you found my blog, and good luck with the projects. Don't worry -- it'll get easier, the more you practice. Here are a few tips, however: The hard edges (stripes) are caused by letting the paint dry, before you faded it out. Or, you didn't use enough water to begin with. Try wetting the entire shape with clear water, then come in with paint at one edge, and let it gradually move into the wetted shape. It will blend on its own. It takes some practice.
      And, yes, with watercolor, you usually build up to the darks, by layering transparent colors -- allowing the layers to dry before painting another layer. You sort of sneak up on the darks. Hopefully, by painting some of my tutorials, you will get the hang of it. (Or, look into my mentoring course.) Good luck and keep painting!

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  20. Hi Pat, Thank you for the tips about the hard edges. It worked well to wet an entire area first. What do I do to an area where it is already dry and painted, and you have to add some more paint to part of the section (maybe to make it darker, or to correct a color) without making a hard edge? Would I still wet the entire section, even though it's already been painted?

    With your mentoring course, would you be teaching me from the same pictures that you have on your tutorials, or would they be different ones?

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  21. What a wonderful tutorial. And so helpful. I just finished painting it and learned so much! Thankyou.

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    1. I'm glad this was helpful to you -- and that you learned a lot. Success for both of us!

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