Step-by-Step Demo: Painting Stargazer Lilies

Birgit O’Connor shows how to control color using masking in this free step-by-step demo from The Artist’s Magazine, which features her floral paintings in the March 2008 issue.

Stargazer lilies are basically white flowers with bold strokes of color in the center of each petal. The challenge here is to control color within a designated area and not allow it to flood to the edges of the petal. This is a good example of how using the right brush gives you more control over the medium. In this case, masking will come in very handy, allowing you to continue the flow of color without interruption.

Materials you will need:
Paper—½ sheet 300-lb. (640gsm) rough or cold press
Brushes—No. 30 natural-hair round, mop or hake • No. 14 sable/synthetic blend round • Nos. 3 and 8 synthetic rounds
Pigments—Carbazole Violet • French Ultramarine • Hansa Yellow • Indanthrene Blue • Indigo • Permanent Alizarin Crimson • Permanent Carmine • Permanent Sap Green • Phthalo Green • Quinacridone Magenta • Winsor Red
Other—Graphite pencil • Masking fluid

drawing and masking flower
1. Draw and mask; then begin the petals.
Lightly sketch the flower, then mask the stamens and let the mask dry completely.
For the petals, prepare a mixture of some or all of the reds. Paint the petals one at a time as directed in the step 1 close-up.


1a. Petal Close-up: Apply water.
Using a no. 30 natural-hair round, apply water to the inside of one petal, almost to the pencil line.


1b. Petal close-up: Begin the stroke of red.
As the shine leaves the paper, load a no. 14 sable/synthetic blend round with your red mixture. Apply a sweeping stroke starting at the base of the petal and brushing out toward the tip. As you reach the tip, sweep and lift the brush for a tapered line.


1c. Petal Close-up: Stroke again.
To intensify the color and widen the stroke, apply another stroke over the first, again beginning at the base and moving toward the tip. Minimize the number of strokes and don’t brush back and forth.

Birgit O'Connor, watercolor flower painting, adding details 1
1d. Petal Close-up: Add the details.
While the surface is still damp, use a no. 3 synthetic round to apply small dots of color of the same red mixture. Practice on a separate piece of paper first so you know how dry the paper needs to be for optimum results.

Birgit O'Connor, watercolor flower painting, adding details 2
1e. Petal Close-up: Darken if needed.
If the color is lighter than you would like, you can apply more color, but the paper must still be damp enough, or you will lift out the first application. If this happens, wait until the first layer is completely dry before reapplying.

Painting a Stargazer Lilly with Watercolor 1
2. Darken the petals, then add the greens.
As the color from step 1 dries, it will lighten. If necessary, intensify and deepen your red mixture by adding a little Carbazole Violet to it; then apply a second or even a third layer. Once all the petals are filled with color, begin the stems and leaves using a mixture of Permanent Sap Green, French Ultramarine and Hansa Yellow.

Painting a Stargazer Lilly with Watercolor 2
3. Paint the background.
Let the painting dry completely. For the background, mix Phthalo Green and Indanthrene Blue; this will give you a crisp, clean color to complement the magentas and reds. If you think the mix needs to be darker, add a little Indigo. Paint the background one continuous section at a time, following the step 3 close-up.
Let everything dry, then remove the mask from the stamens by rubbing with your finger.

Painting a Stargazer Lilly with Watercolor 3
3a. Background Close-up: Start in the corner.
Begin with dry paper for the darkest possible hue. Cut into the corners using a no. 8 synthetic round. This brush will give you optimum control and a nice, clean edge.

Painting a Stargazer Lilly with Watercolor 4
3b. Background Close-up: … and work outward.
Paint out from the corners, using large sweeping strokes to avoid an overworked appearance.

Painting a Stargazer Lilly with Watercolor 5
3c. Background Close-up: Dilute with water as you go out.
Using clean water on a no. 30 natural-hair round, start pulling out the darker hue into the background. The resulting variations of value will add interest.

Painting a Stargazer Lilly with Watercolor 6
3d. Background Close-up: Continue pulling out color.
Following the forms of the petals, continue to pull the color out and around.

Painting a Stargazer Lilly with Watercolor 7
3e. Background Close-up: Finish the section.
Continue pulling color around with clean water on the brush, not stopping until you have filled that particular background section.

Birgit O'Connor, watercolor flower painting, stamens
4. Paint stamens and details to finish.
Paint the stamens much as you did the petals: Fill each one with water, then add color as the shine starts to disappear. Apply a very light value of green along both edges of each filament to give them form. For the anthers (the structures at the tops of the filaments), use a mixture of Hansa Yellow, Permanent Alizarin Crimson and a little Carbazole Violet. When all the petals, stamens and stems are filled with color, reevaluate the overall painting and adjust values as needed.


Self-taught as an artist, Birgit O’Connor has shown her luminous paintings all around the world, including China. A frequent and longtime contributor to The Artist’s Magazine and Watercolor Artist (formerly Watercolor Magic), she teaches workshops in her studio in Bolinas, California. Currently she’s working on a book, Watercolor Essentials (North Light Books), which will be released in spring 2009. For more information, visit her website at www.birgitoconnor.com.

This demonstration is excerpted from Birgit O’Connor’s book  Watercolor in Motion (North Light Books, 2008). The demonstration also appeared in Birgit O’Connor’s article “Fancy Flowers” in the March 2008 issue of The Artist’s Magazine. Don’t miss her other online demos:


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