Friday, February 21, 2014

WATERCOLOR WORKSHOP: Painting Bearded Irises

Drawing and painting purple irises can be a challenge!  It is also a great opportunity to draw these intricate, undulating shapes, and to create some beautiful violets and purples, through mixing and mingling on the paper.  We will use a range of colors to get both cool and warm temperatures, so that these irises will glow with warmth.

For this project, you'll need the following watercolor pigments (or something close to it):

Quinacridone Rose (or Permanent), Quinacridone Magenta (or Permanent), French Ultramarine, Cobalt Blue, Quinacridone Gold, Quinacridone Burnt Orange (or Burnt Sienna), Sap Green, Alizarin Crimson, New Gamboge, and Aureolin Yellow (or Hansa Yellow).

You'll also need some salt, and some alcohol (the rubbing kind) in a little bottle with a dropper -- for texture.

1.  Start with a pencil drawing, on the white watercolor paper, which has been mounted on a board.

Finish your drawing by adding long narrow leaves in the background.  Be sure to take them off the edge of your paper, so as to divide the negative space into interesting shapes.

2.  Prepare a gold wash for the background.  Mix Quinacridone Gold with Yellow (New Gamboge).  Mix up enough water and paint together to cover the entire background.  Since you will be painting this onto dry paper, you need more water than usual.  Have a dropper-bottle of rubbing alcohol on hand.

3.  Paint this gold wash over the background.  Paint the wash onto dry paper, painting around the iris blossoms, but over the leaves and stems of the flowers.  Have your board at a slight angle when you paint, so that you have a "bead" at the bottom of the wash.  When you pick up more gold from your palette, you will pick up the "bead" where you left off, and paint downward from there.  Don't go back into what you've just painted.

Continue painting this gold wash until you come to a stopping point, at the bottom.  Then, lay the board flat, and add a few drops of alcohol to this wash.  

Finish painting the rest of the background with this gold wash.  Then, lat it flat again and drop in a little of the alcohol drops.  Let this dry completely.

(There's no right or wrong way to add these drops.  Don't worry if it doesn't look exactly like this -- we're just adding a little "texture" to the background.)

4.  Paint the Yellow "Beards".  Clean off the gold wash from your palette.  Then, prep two Yellows -- like Aureolin Yellow and New Gamboge.  You won't need much.

Paint the "beards" with these yellows.  You can also paint a little of the yellow onto the middle veins of a few of the petals.

5.  Prep 3 pigments for the purple iris petals.  Clean off the yellow from the inside area of your palette.  Now, prep 3 pigments -- French Ultramarine, Quinacridone Rose, and Quinacridone Magenta.

6.  Paint each petal with these three colors.  Working wet-in-wet, start with the Rose, then switch to the Magenta.

Finish off the petal with the Blue.

While the petal is still wet, turn your board upside down, touch your brush to the blue, and "pull down" a few strokes of the blue, into the pink.  Don't "fuss" too much.  Then, move on to the next petal.  

Painting in this manner, move from petal to petal, but painting every other one -- so that you don't get in trouble by painting right next to a petal that's still wet.  Change it a little on the bottom petals, the "falls", by touching some rose to the bottom lacy edge at the end.

Now, move to the bottom flower.  Try something a little different with some of these petals, using the same three colors.  Wet half of the petal with clear water, then touch the frilly edge with the Rose, all the way around the edge.  Then touch the other edge with the Magenta, leaving the middle unpainted.  Then, paint a few strokes of the Blue.

Continue painting every other petal this way, mingling the colors in different ways.

Go back up to the top flower, and finish painting the petals.  Then, do the same with the bottom flower.

7.  Paint the background leaves.  Clean off the inside area of the palette, and then prep three Greens -- 1) Sap Green, 2) Sap Green + Cobalt Blue, and 3) Cobalt Blue + Aureolin Yellow.

Use these greens, wet in wet, to paint the background leaves . . . 

8.  Paint the stems.  Prep two Greens -- Sap Green, and Sap Green + Yellow; and prep a Quinacridone Burnt Orange (or Burnt Sienna).

Use these warm colors to paint the stems and the buds.

9.  Paint another layer of Gold in the background.  Clean off the palette, and then prepare another Quinacridone Gold wash.  Once again, you'll be painting wet on dry, so be sure to mix enough paint/water.  This time, you will paint only the negative background shapes -- NOT the leaves.  After painting each background shape, sprinkle it with salt.

Let this dry completely, and then brush off the salt.

10.  Mix up some deep Purples and a Blue.  Clear off the gold wash from your palette, and then prep three dark colors -- 1) French Ultramarine, 2) Quinacridone Magenta + French Ultramarine, and 3) Alizarin Crimson + French Ultramarine.  

11.  Darken the petals.  Strengthen and deepen the colors of each petal, without becoming too opaque -- you want some of the original colors to show through.  You can leave some of the upper petals as is, except for the base of each petal, which you can darken.

You can see how you don't darken every part of each petal, and that the bottom "falls" are generally darker than the upper petals.  

If you find that you've gotten too opaque, or that you want to lighten an area, lift out some highlights with a damp brush.

12.  Add more green to the leaves and stems.  Mix up two more greens -- Sap Green, and Sap Green + Cobalt Blue.

Paint all the leaves and stems again with these two Greens and plenty of water, to strengthen the colors, but still keep it transparent.

You can also add a few darker colors to the tan parts of the stems, using a mix of Burnt Orange + Magenta.

If you like, you can stop your painting right now, and call it done.  Or, you can proceed to finish as I did, with these last two steps.  

13.  Paint a Burnt Orange glaze over the background shapes.  This will tone down the texture a bit.  If you like your gold background with the texture, don't do this step.

14.  Paint a few dark greens on the leaves and stems.  Mix up a dark green (Sap Green + French Ultramarine).  Darken a few areas of the leaves and stems with this green.

And, you're finished!  Be sure to sign it.


  1. LOVE THIS and can't wait to try it. Thank you, Pat!

  2. Wow! You make it all look so easy. I am just learning about watercolors and I really like how you show your palette. I think the most difficult thing for me is water to paint ratio and...just having fun. Love the irises and perhaps I'll get up the nerve to try them! Thanks for your tutorial!

    1. Thank you, TK! I agree that the most difficult thing to learn in watercolor is the water-to-paint ratio. Just keep at it -- the more you paint, the sooner things will "click".

  3. I loved your painting and your step by step instruction. I gave it a try and it came out great! Thank you so much.

    1. Oh, I'm so glad that you tried the irises and were happy with your result -- yea!

  4. Thank you for your encouragement, Pat!

  5. I was wondering if you used wet on wet over the entire petal for step number 11? And how you got the darker hue to look almost spotty as well...?
    Love the blog, thanks!

    1. I don't paint wet-on-wet when I'm adding darks. I stroke on the dark, and then soften one edge, and finish the shape with clear water. I think the darker hue looks spotty because I've used French Ultramarine in the mixture, which is a sedimentary pigment, and that is what happens when it dries. Thanks for your question -- hope that helps somewhat. pat

  6. I am going to try it out. Your instructions definitely made sense. After being an acrylic painter for so long, I always had to remember the lighter to darker rule! Thanks for sharing the instructions.Thank you so much for explanation.

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  7. Really good tutorial! Love your art work and your instruction is top notch!

  8. I came across your beautiful site on facebook,i love it,going to try some of projects

  9. Thanks for the detailed tutorials. They are really inspiring

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  11. Just discovered this site and I love it. I'm beginning watercolor and struggle with the water to pigment ratio. For example, is step 7 you say to paint the additional greens on the leaves using the wet to wet method. Do you re-wet the green on the leaf and then add the additional paint? Your instructions are very clear and understandable but I don't quite understand this process. Thank you for taking the time to help us "newbies" learn!

    1. Hey, Maggie! Glad you like the site and hope that you get something out of it. To answer your question: Yes, when I say to paint the leaves wet-in-wet, you can re-wet the leaf, and then add the additional paint. Just make certain that the paint is dry, before you re-wet it. Also, after you re-wet the leaf and then pick up more pigment with your brush, touch the tip of your brush on a paper towel, before you add the paint to the wet leaf. That way, some of the excess water will come off your brush, but will still leave the pigment on the brush -- so that you're not flooding that shape with too much water. You only do that if you wet the paper first. You don't do that, if you are painting on dry paper (wet-on-dry). Hope that helps!

  12. Yes, thank you! That helps me understand the process. I think I've been using far too much water so I started using a smaller brush to help control the water while I practice. I'm just working on a few leaves and a few petals to get the feel of the water before I attempt the entire picture. Thank you again!

  13. I must say, your tutorials are amazing! I have learned so much from you and I am inspired to keep learning!
    Thank you for sharing this wonderful information and thank you for turning the impossible, into possible!

  14. Using alcohol to create texture in the background is very new for me. thank you.

  15. Excellent tutorial. I intent to paint a variety of irises and orquids, using my own photos as reference. I have prepared 14 drawing. I will be using your instructions step by step. I will send you pics when finish. Thanks again for sharing your expertise. Hugs

  16. Excellent step by step guide... Thank you

  17. Love this step by step guide. Your guide on the colors to use is very much appreciated.

  18. I really love the arts/design of your website. I am so thrilled I found your website, I really found you by mistake, while I was browsing on Yahoo for something I found another one Sneha arts like you, Anyhow I am here now and would just like to say thanks a lot for a tremendous post blog and check these Broadcasting media, also look like your website on arts.

  19. Great step by step instructions for the watercolor processes, but I am not talented in drawing. Is there a template I missed so we have am image to work with?

  20. Good GOLLY! FINALLY! Your instructions are truly STEP-BY-STEP, easy to follow, clearly stated, complete with photos of paint mixing (the first I have ever seen in a lesson!) and now my favorite artist to follow! THANK YOU!!