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Designing a Watercolor Floral Painting

If you love painting watercolor florals but are never sure how to turn them into a larger painting, that is exactly what I'm here to help with. We will start by creating a guide for the layout, refining it by choosing flowers and thinking about the detail, before transferring and painting the final piece.

Watch along for the step by step here:

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The supplies are not super important here, I'm starting with my sketchbook but you can use scrap paper too. For the final product we will use proper watercolor paper and paints. For the rough guide I always start in pencil and decide on my shape first. For this one, I am starting with an arch and draw a curving line.

To start thinking about the flowers I add in the circles. A large circle indicates a large flower, medium circles or ovals indicate a different or smaller flower. Then I will add some small flowers or buds and some lines for leaves or longer stems. I fill in the nooks and crannies until my rough guide is complete.

Step two is refining my guide in pen. At this point, you want to add detail to your flowers and decide what types of flowers you will use. I chose poppies and roses to keep it simple. If you knew beforehand, you may simply be replacing the circles with daisies and the lines with lavender. I am starting with a large and medium poppy and two medium roses. The smaller flowers are nondescript and I have different shapes and sizes of leaves.

Now I know exactly what I will be painting. I have planned the overall shape and the types of flowers. With unlimited combinations, there are so many possibilities though! It is quite another thing to create a unique design yourself so before moving on, I will create another example.

My rough guide for this one was an oval shape, filled with two large flowers instead of one, one medium flower, and three small flowers. I tucked leaves of different sizes and shapes into all the corners to create the basic guide.

In pen, I am adding more detail. The two large flowers are open peonies, and two of the smaller flowers will actually be peony buds. I am going to use roses for the medium flower and third small flower and then I just need to figure out the different leaves.

With two paintings prepped, we are ready to get painting! The next step is to transfer from sketch pad to watercolor paper. The first option here is to use tracing paper. In this photo I am going over the entirety of the design in fine liner pretty quickly - it doesn't need to be perfect.

After covering the back side of the tracing paper with graphite from a pencil, I trace over it again on top of my watercolor paper. Here, I am working on Arches Cold Pressed paper, I've used a little piece of tape at the top so it doesn't move while I am tracing it. I go over it in a mechanical pencil to get sharp lines. You can transfer as many details as you want, I find with simple lines for the leaves and the circles for the flowers, it frees me up to paint more loosely. Your final piece doesn't have to match this guide exactly.

For a less technical way to transfer my painting I simply keep my guide handy and copy as I paint. This is great for painting painting more loosely without those lines boxing you in.

Let's paint! In this method I am simply looking at my guide and painting into my watercolor sketchbook. I'll typically start with the largest flower and work out from there. Once you have two on the page, it gets a lot easier. I started with the loose poppies, tucked the first rose into the corner and added the other on the opposite side.

Transferring this way, you will usually love it or hate it. If you love to paint very loosely and skip the technical aspects, this is great - otherwise you can use the transfer paper and the outlines can keep you on track. Once you have your main flowers placed this way you are just looking at your design and filling the rest in, or you can make changes as you go.

As I started adding my smallest flowers, I began to go more off guide, letting the painting guide me. I went back to add the warm brown to bring those flowers to life and then ended up adding fewer leaves than originally planned. Once everything is on the paper you are just going back to add details, like the stamens and the shading.

To begin my second painting, I am keeping the colors similar. The florals are all very loose here so we can focus on the design and layout rather than details. I have a lot more of a guide to work with so it is easier to get going. If you don't mind the extra steps, I have a feeling this will be the more popular approach.

I started with the two largest flowers again - if I screw them up, I will know right away and can start over. After the two little buds, I started working on the leaves so I could have some wet into wet bleeding. With our guide there to remind us where everything goes, the order doesn't have to be as strict.

I still keep my guide handy as I am painting. I didn't transfer all the details and like to see the overall image despite having the rough guide on the paper. This can give you the best of both methods. If there are any lines left in the end that you didn't paint over, you can simply erase them since we used graphite.

I always start with a darker shade in the center as I paint my roses, watering down my paint as I move outwards. This painting I did more dry on dry to add details and shading afterwards. Don't forget to finish the painting by adding the darker stamens and darker greens to the leaves, it will help the painting pop, and bring it all to life.

If you are struggling with your florals, remember this post is just about design and layout! There are lots of blogs and videos on painting different florals you can refer to. I hope you found this helpful, it can be very intimidating to get those ideas from your sketchbook onto your watercolor paper.

If you want more assistance with this process I have a worksheet available on patreon. That is there for patrons, and if you want to support the channel, there are lots of great extras to be found there.

Worksheet available on Patreon:

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1 Comment

This was so helpful, Shayda! <3 Using the shapes as a guide is such a great idea and takes the fear out of the blank page. thanks for this!

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