Join Rachel McNaughton as she welcomes spring with this delightful exercise painting bluebells in watercolour
Draw just the main foreground flowers. I drew four or five stems but you could do less or more. The background flowers can be suggested wet in wet as the paint dries.
Be careful not to make the flowers too small. After all they are the subject of the painting. Drawing small flowers also makes the painting more difficult and encourages "fiddling". Draw the flowers first and then the arching stem and let both flowers and stems overlap for a more natural composition.
Notice how the flowers have quite straight sides and curl delicately at the base. It is important to get this shape right. If the flowers are too curved or too short they will look more like lily of the valley than bluebells. Before you start painting make sure your paper is securely fastened down to your board to prevent curling and cockling when wet. Mix up plenty of washes of the following colours:
Aureolin (you could use a very thin Cadmium Yellow Pale or Lemon Yellow) plus a little Ultramarine to make a shade of lime-yellow Ultramarine and a little Violet Other blues you have eg Cobalt, Cerulean etc.
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Use a big brush and wet all the paper. Quickly dash in the Aureolin and Ultramarine wash in random patches. Rinse the brush THOROUGHLY and then add just the Ultramarine wash around the yellow/green. Now tip the paper almost vertically and let the colours run at will. Try not to interfere with the paint brush!
When you are happy with the result return the board and paper to its original position and allow the paper to dry a little.
While the surface is still shiny take some of the mix of Ultramarine and Violet and drop in some of the resulting deeper blue on the drawn flowers. Don't overload your brush or the paint will spread too far.
With the lime-yellow you have already used dash in a few curved upward strokes for the leaves. Use a relaxed hold on the brush and let the leaves overlap occasionally. Then add blobs of blue into the background to suggest flower shapes. Remember the curved shape that is so characteristic of these flowers - but don't attempt to paint flower shapes. The curved arrangement of the blobs of blue will be sufficient to give the impression of flowers.
Now let things get a bit drier and then add more background flowers. As the paper dries you will get slightly more defined flowers. You can't really use a hair dryer on this. You just have to "sit and watch paint dry"!
When you are happy that you have enough flowers suggested you can dry the painting with the hairdryer. Mix Payne's Grey and Aureolin to make a green and then add a little Alizarin Crimson. Keep this mixture for the stems.
Use the original blues to paint the drawn flowers. There is no need to mix a stronger or darker colour for this. You are now painting on dry paper and over blue background colour. This will make the blues you have already mixed appear darker.
Add the stems as you go allowing the colours to run together wet in wet. This helps the stem and flower to merge creating a more natural looking effect. Just try not to overload your brush with too much colour. Don't just use one blue but vary the shade frequently using any suitable blue you might have such as Cobalt or Cerulean.
Fade or lift out the stems to nothing at the base with a clean damp brush so that they don't finish abruptly.
While the main flowers are drying add some more freehand in the background taking care with the shape.
This time, add stems in blue rather than green so that the flowers recede into the background - it may not be necessary to add stems every time. Again fade the lower part of the stem with a clean damp brush. If the flowers look too defined or too dark blot gently with a tissue to remove a little of the colour while the paint is still wet.
When some of the main flowers are dry use a fine brush (such as a rigger) and draw in the linear markings on a few with blue paint. Just use the colours you have already mixed - there is no need to make a darker colour. Keep building up in this fashion allowing flowers to overlap and using differing shades of blue. Again blot lightly with a tissue if the flowers are looking too defined or dark.
Once dry you can add extra emphasis if you want by using a darker blue and doing a little negative painting around the main flowers setting off the lighter coloured stems. To do this mix a much darker blue by adding a little more Violet and a little Payne's Grey. Take care! Both of these are strong colours and a little goes a long way.
To do "negative" painting you paint the shapes in between the stems and/or flowers to create a dark negative space. Use a clean damp brush to fade out the edges of the darks so that no hard lines form where you stop painting. You might also add one or two darker flower shapes behind.
Darken the insides of a few flowers with a deeper blue and when dry add some stamens with tiny dots of White gouache. Finish by mixing a slightly darker green - just add some Payne's Grey to the green you already have. Use this to paint some green leaves at the base with a brisk arching stroke in an upward direction. It looks more natural if you avoid grouping the leaves at the base of each stem too rigidly. Let them arch over in the lower part of the painting. Bluebell leaves don't grow up as high as the flower spikes.
To find out more about Rachel, and to see more of her paintings or find out about tuition, please visit www.artbyrachel.co.uk
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