Birgit O’Connor on Painting Watercolor Flowers (Pansies)

Painting Flowers Step by Step: Pansy Power

by Birgit O’Connor

When painting small flowers like pansies, it’s often hard to recognize a good composition from a poor one. The immediate response is usually to clump the small flowers together and make a bouquet. I recommend, instead, treating the pansy as you would any other flower: Focus on shape, shadow and color—the elements that can transform these small wonders into a bold composition.

Birgit O'Connor, watercolor flower painting, petals
1.  Mixing Naples and Indian yellow, I started with the lightest petals and worked one petal at a time, filling each petal with water and adding the color to the outside edge with a No. 14 brush. Applying the color only to the outside edge left enough area white so I could later place a complementary color and not have it mix with the yellow and turn muddy.

Birgit O'Connor, watercolor flower painting, petals 1
2.  As the surface started to dry and become more matte in its finish, I mixed carbazole purple, French ultramarine blue and quinacridone magenta to make a purple. Using a sweeping motion, I applied the purple with a No. 14 brush, starting at the center and moving toward the outside edge.

Birgit O'Connor, watercolor flower painting, petals 2
3.  As the surface started to dry and become more matte in its finish, I mixed carbazole purple, French ultramarine blue and quinacridone magenta to make a purple. Using a sweeping motion, I applied the purple with a No. 14 brush, starting at the center and moving toward the outside edge.

Birgit O'Connor, watercolor flower painting, petals 3
4.  To eliminate unwanted brushstrokes, I used a No. 20 brush to blend the areas already in place and to lay down color over larger areas quickly.

Birgit O'Connor, watercolor flower painting, petals 4
5.  Leaving a few white areas along the lip of the petal helped separate the petals. I continued working all over the flower, adding layers of color in the center to make the area rich and dark.

Birgit O'Connor, watercolor flower painting, petals, shadows
6.  After I’d added all the color and the petals were dry, I started working on the shadow. To create a neutral gray, I combined my earlier mixtures of purple and yellow. To make the shadows, I followed the same procedure: applying water first and then the color. It’s important to allow the water to carry the color.

Birgit O'Connor, watercolor flower painting, Pansy
7.  Once the petals and shadows were done, I began work on the background. I used sap green with Hansa yellow and French ultramarine blue to make a vivid dark.

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Birgit O'Connor, watercolor flower painting, Little Pansy
8.  To create an interesting gray for the shadows, I mixed the complementary colors already on my palette, yellow and purple, together. Another tactic would be to place complementary colors next to each other. I called this painting Little Pansy (above; watercolor, 15×10).

Pansy Palette

  • Naples and Hansa yellows
  • Indian yellow
  • carbazole violet (or violet dioxazine)
  • French ultramarine blue
  • quinacridone magenta
  • permanent sap green

Self-taught as an artist, Birgit O’Connor has shown her luminous paintings all around the world, including China. Her new book, Watercolor in Motion (North Light Books, 2008), will be in bookstores in March. 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 second book, Watercolor Essentials (North Light Books, 2008), which will be released in the fall. 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 O’Connor’s article “Fancy Flowers” in the March 2008 issue of The Artist’s Magazine. Don’t miss her other online demos:

Watercolor Essentials with Birgit O'ConnorWatch a free preview of “Watercolor Essentials with Birgit O’Connor,” a video from ArtistsNetwork.TV.

 


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