Tulip time

This tutorial illustrates how a photograph can inspire an individual interpretation through simplifying the composition and varying the use of colour.

I have focused on just two tulips, added leaves and changed the colour. Use the photo as a starting point and create your own composition. Add more tulips or just paint one!

You will need

Permanent rose or Quinacridone magenta
Alizarin crimson
Cobalt blue

Phthalo or Winsor blue (green shade)
Transparent yellow or Cadmium yellow pale

Size 4,6 and 10 round

Watercolour paper:
140lb NOT watercolour paper approx 29 cms x 21 cms

B pencil


masking tape

Reference photo

Step 1

Tape paper to a board with masking tape.
Sketch out an outline drawing with a B pencil.
Keep it light. Observe proportions
and relationship of one petal against another to create a cup shape.
Prepare 3 pools of colour:- Transparent yellow
Phthalo blue and Cobalt blue. Using the large brush wet paper surrounding the flower heads.
Drop in touches of yellow.

Step 2

Whilst damp add areas of Phthalo blue . Draw the brush upwards to create impression of leaf growth.

Step 3

Apply Cobalt blue from the top of the paper downwards to blend with the previous washes. You may need to tilt your board to assist the flow of the paint.

Step 4

When background is dry commence flower head.
Prepare a pool of Permanent rose, a pale mauve mix of Permanent rose with Cobalt blue added to it and a deeper shade of the two colours combined. (more pigment, less water in the mix)

Refer top petal: Wet on wet technique, no 6 brush. Wet with clean water. Sweep permanent rose from the centre upwards so it becomes more dilute toward the edges. Drop in the mauve mix and draw the brush downwards from the outer edge, leaving gaps of white paper to suggest its form. Right hand petal – a slightly damp no 4 brush has been used to draw out the pigment to suggest veins.

Step 5

When the petals are dry, rewet one by one and drop in touches of the stronger mix to give depth in the shaded areas. Lift out the lighter area in the centre of the petal.

Step 6

Prepare an even stronger mix of Permanent rose and Cobalt blue and apply to deepest areas while damp. To give more strength add a little Cobalt blue to Alizarin crimson and apply in deepest recess.

Step 7

Add finer detailing wet on dry with a smaller size 4 brush or a larger 6 with a good point with the stronger mixes.

Add second flower head followed by the stems.
Using a green mix of Transparent yellow and cobalt blue wet the stem and apply a stronger mix on one side so it flows to create a cylindrical form.
If the stem appears flat use a fine brush to lift out a highlight (see top stem)
Add more depth of colour towards the top of the stem by adding a little of the flower shade to the mix.

Step 8

Prepare a fresh yellow–green mix(Transparent yellow and Cobalt blue and and a blue-green mix of Phthalo blue and Transparent yellow.
Wet the entire leaf and apply the yellow-green first. Leave gaps between the brushstrokes to reveal the background wash.

Step 9

Apply the blue-green mix whilst still damp.

Final stage

Continue painting the remaining leaves. A little dilute cobalt can be added directly into the damp mix to give variation.
When dry add fine detailing with a stronger green shade as used in the stems. (Green with a little pink or a mauve in the mix)

Student Gallery

Here's some work completed by Julie's students based on this tutorial. 

Send your work to Julie

Have you completed this tutorial? Send Julie a photo or scan of your work and Julie will give her feedback.
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