Sometimes a quick sketch gets us started in the day. In this case, dying tulips caught my interest – for some reason more than newly opening ones. There seems more depth of colour, more character, more expression in those petals that are almost falling. So, I grabbed my sketchbook.
My sketchbook is a Moleskin watercolour book (that is, it has a nice texture from cold pressed paper and I think the paper is about 60 lb weight (though not sure). The book (closed) is about 8″ x 5″ in size.
Step 1: Using a 2H pencil I decided on layout. I did this first by putting in oval shapes to represent the flower heads. I am working from the life plant in front of me so the sketch will retain some “life” to it (even if the flowers are dying, haha). Note that none of the stems are completely vertical – the angles tell a story of their own. And I like uneven numbers so I decided to include 5 flower heads. Initially I thought I might turn the sketchbook so its length is vertical, but I realized that would allow limited flowers and would show a lot of stems and leaves. My real interest was in the flowers. The leaf tips add some dynamism and context and that’s all I needed.
Using a 2H pencil (or H or 4H) allows me to lightly sketch in the image. What is important at this stage is to ensure that the overlaps are correct. Everything makes sense. It is possible to understand what is in front of something else. For each flower head, the pistol and stem went in first to align the angle of the flower. Then, starting from the centre (where the stamen and stem meet), I drew the petals in front on either side, then progressively filled in the petals all round. Note that if I was drawing this as a final pencil sketch, I might use different lines, different weights and certainly 2B, 4B and 6B pencils. But this is an undersketch so I am more interested in getting an accurate idea of the flowers, stems and leaves. One of the petals fell off just as I finished that flower head. Lucky I captured it before that happened.
Step 2: For this kind of quick sketch, this step is fairly simple. Still, there are some important considerations. I used a black ink Micron 05 waterproof pen. This pen is going to give a design-like image, not so much expressive in the lines as we would get if we used waterproof ink and a drawing nib or other implement. Because I am going to paint over the ink with watercolour, I want the ink to be waterproof. An interesting variation can occur if we use soluble ink, but that is a different kind of look and has its own tricks to master. Bear in mind that you can still get a bit of expression in this ink sketch. The lines that overlap other lines can be a bit heavier. In order for the image to “read” properly, I ensured that the lines met each other so the sketch has a look of completeness (is that a word?). The image is now a much stronger statement. I waited a few minutes to ensure the ink was completely dry. Then, I used a soft malleable eraser to erase the pencil undersketch.
Step 3: My goal in applying the watercolour is to loosely apply the colour, remembering this is a sketch not a painting. I don’t want to spend all day on this. I deliberately allow the paint to move outside of the lines a bit, apply the paint quite wet and let it flow, while dabbing in some more intense colour in places. I do aim for accurate colour where I can. For this painting, I used my Winsor & Newton professional quality watercolour palette.
For the stems, I used Aureolin and then, while still damp, I ran my brush down the right side of the stems with a bit of Cerulean Blue mixed with just a touch of the Aureolin to create a slight shadow. Because the paint is going over an ink sketch, the result is always going to be flatter than if I used paint alone. Since this is a sketchbook sketch, I am fine with that.
The leaves were painted with the same colours, Aureolin & Cerulean Blue, with a bit more intense colour mixture was added on a second pass while the leaves were still damp.
Starting with lighter colours is a good idea. So, with a clean pot of water and a very clean brush, I used a yellow mixture of Aureolin and Cadmium Lemon Yellow for the centre of the flowers. I applied a light wash, then added a more intense mixture (less water) to get more concentrated yellow in places. I did much the same with the purple petals, using Dioxazine Purple (be careful! this is a very powerful colour) quite diluted, then dropped in a more intense mixture while the petals were still wet. Because the petals had a rosy hue in places, I dropped in some Permanent rose in places to capture that sheen.
The the pistol had a yellowy-green round tip, and the stamens were more yellow. I didn’t want to dwell on all the subtle differences, so made the pistol a pale green with Aureolin and a tiny touch of Cerulean Blue, and the stamens yellow with the Aureolin and a touch of the Cad Lemon Yellow.
So, there it is. I captured some energy of these dying tulips and got a good exercise in at the same time. I can now decide if I want to make a larger polished painting of this subject matter. I have captured some important information if I decide to do that. A photo of the subject matter can come in handy too in case I decide to create the painting which would focus more on light and dark, foreground and background, highlights, and depth of colour.
Let me know if you find these steps helpful in considering watercolour. Have a great spring day!