Pink Roses in Watercolor Demonstration by Jan Kunz

Underpainting for Design Unity

Underpainting can help unify a painting as well as create movement and color. All kinds of exciting possibilities may present themselves for lost edges and much more. You really have to try painting this way to understand how much depth and color underpainting can add to your floral.

In this painting, taken from Jan Kunz’s Painting Watercolor Flowers That Glow, we will be using:

  • Curled edges receiving selected light
  • Painting convex and concave surfaces
  • Cast shadows


  • Surface: 15″ °— 22″ (38cm °— 56cm) stretched 140-lb. (300gsm) Arches cold-press watercolor paper
  • Watercolors: Alizarin Crimson, French Ultramarine Blue, New Gamboge, Red Violet, Rose Madder Genuine, Winsor Blue
  • Brushes: 11/2-inch (38mm) flat brush, Nos. 4, 6, 8, 10 and 12 round

Before we paint, let’s think about what we want to do with the wet underpainting. Our objective is to create a soft, abstract structure upon which to hang the flowers. To begin, we must leave some white paper where the roses receive the most light. We want to create an organized pattern of dark-and-light shapes along with a pleasing distribution of both warm and cool colors. Finally, our underpainting must be dark enough to remain visible in the finished painting.

1 Paint a Wet-into-Wet Background:

First draw the flowers, then using a large brush and clear water, wet the entire surface of the paper (almost to the point of creating a puddle). Use plenty of pigment because the paper is already wet. Add colors one at a time, remembering to leave some areas free of color. If any color should spread into an undesirable area, do not try to pick up or correct at this time. Your only concern should be to create an interesting pattern of warm and cool colors across the page.

2 Paint the Roses:

After the surface is completely dry, begin to paint the roses. Use a variety of cool and warm red plus New Gamboge and Red Violet. Study each rose and adjust the color temperature for vertical and horizontal surfaces. The cast shadows are a mixture of Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue and New Gamboge. Remember, shadows appear coolest at the edge where they meet the light. Keep the overall shape simple, connecting as many shadow shapes as possible.

3 Adjust the Background:

Work the shadow sides next and be careful to add reflected light wherever possible. Notice how the wet-intowet underpainting adds structure and color. Once the surface is dry, you may want to re-wet the background in some places to enhance the color or value.

Can you see where I darkened the area around the bud on the lower right? Begin to develop the stems and leaves at the bottom of the page.

4 Finalize Details:

Now is the time to add the final darks and make any corrections. Be sure to check the edges.

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