How to paint a loose watercolor peony flower in 12 easy steps

How to paint a loose watercolor peony flower in 12 easy steps

In this step-by-step guide, I’ll show how to paint a loose watercolour peony flower with lots of texture in its frilly petals. I worked from real life, which you can do too. Alternatively, you might want to find a peony photo to use as a reference, or you can paint along just by looking at the photos I’ve provided.

Peonies are one of my favourite flowers and I’ve been getting very inspired by them lately. I just love the way their flower heads are so tightly packed with overlapping petals, each so delicate and thin, but collectively such a dense, large bloom.

We’re going to use washes and colour layering to create a loose watercolour look.

Painting in this style is fast and fun, so grab your paintbrush and give it a go right now!

What you’ll need:

If you don’t have the equipment and paints I recommend, get creative and try with what you have handy.

  • A peony flower/or reference photo as your reference.
  • Mop paintbrush – Rosemary & Co Size 3/0
  • Daisy palette (for mixing watery paints)
  • Water bowl
  • Paper towel
  • Watercolour paper (I recommend Arches cold pressed paper)
  • Paints (see colour list below). I use Winsor and Newton paints.

Paint colours needed:

  • A pink colour of your choice (I used Opera Rose, Permanent Rose & Quinacridone Magenta)
  • A green colour (I used Olive Green)
  • An earthy yellow (I used Yellow Ochre)
  • A contrasting blue (I used Cobalt Blue)
  • Step 1: Place your peony flower (or reference image) as near as you can to your paper. This will help you to get as close up as possible to observe the shapes of colour and tonal variations as you paint

Step 2: Heavily dilute your pink colour (here I’ve used Opera Rose), and apply an initial first wash all over the flower head area. This will create the shape and patterned edge to your peony flower head. Take care to leave some areas white which will be the highlights at the end.

Step 3: Into this watery wash, quickly drop a thicker mix of the same pink colour (e.g. Opera Rose) into the areas where you want to create depth in your peony flower head. Watch how the colour disperses into the wet paint.  It’s time to let this base colour fully dry, so let’s move on to the stem and leaf.

*TIP* when you’re using watery washes whilst you paint, you may see ‘watermarks’ appear around the edges of the wet area, where the pigment can’t travel any further. These are to be welcomed. They’ll all add to the textural effects of your loose watercolour peony petals.*

Step 4: Water down your green paint (e.g. Olive Green) to a watery consistency. Then use your brush to form the stem and leaf shapes underneath the peony flower head. You’ll see it then really starts to take shape!

Step 5: When the flower head area is dry, it’s time to return to it. Using the tip of a clean brush, apply a layer of the pink (Opera Rose) colour to begin creating the textured edges and shapes you can see in the petals. 

*TIP* To create the various shapes, load your brush with clean water and gently drag, or blend the colour outwardly.


Step 6: It’s time to add more depth and definition to your peony. We want to create the impression of creases in the petals and show their delicate papery texture. For this, you’ll need to introduce some darker pink. I used Permanent Rose, and used it at a thicker, less watery consistency. Look closely at your reference flower (or photo) and notice where the darker areas of pink are. Then apply your pink mixture to the corresponding areas on your painting.

Repeat the process of softening these bolder marks by using a wet brush to drag the pigment around. This will help create the various shapes and shades in your peony.

Step 7: While your petals are still wet, add an enhancement by dropping in a little of your earthy yellow colour to the centre of your peony. I used Yellow Ochre as my colour for this, and kept it quite watery. This addition will give the illusion of the centre stamens coming through. Now let this layer completely dry.

Step 8: Whilst the flower part is drying, we can return to the stem and leaf section. Using a watery mix of your green paint, add more pattern and detail to the leaves. Using a combination of thicker and more watery paint will help add more depth and create a variety of greenery effects. 

*TIP* To enhance my painting, I also included a little of my pink colour on the leaves to show the way the leaves reflect the flower colour. Adding enhancements like this can help bring unity to a painting.

Step 9: Working quickly whilst your paint is still wet, gently soften the edges of the stem and leaves by blurring them into the background with a very watery pink paint mix. This will really bring out the loose watercolour look, and have the effect of uniting the greenery with the pink petals at the top. 

Step 10: Continuing with your watery pink mix, now also gently blur the edges of the flower head into the background. This will create a soft atmosphere to surround your peony. Now let the painting completely dry.

*TIP* If you feel like your paint is too watery, you can use a paper towel to gently lift off any unwanted excess water or pigment.*

Step 11: Once your peony flower head has dried, and take your time to add in extra layers of textured edges. Look really closely at your reference to decide where they should go. You’re repeating the same process as Step 6 for this, but this time you’ll want to use an even darker pink mix. Here I used Quinacridone Magenta to create more depth. For this stage, you’ll want to work wet-on-dry, so let each layer dry before repeating the layering process. Where watermarks have formed, try to keep them as part of the painting. They add to the textural effects to my petals and will help bring your peony to life.

Step 12: As a final enhancement to bring out the colours in your peony flower, it’s time to introduce your blue hue to the background. I used Cobalt Blue for this. Make sure the painting is dry before you begin this stage. Then using a watery brush, apply some watery blue pigment around your peony.  With the side of your brush, blend the blue paint outwardly and across the background to create a light wash. Now leave your painting to try for the final time.

I hope this step-by-step guide has helped inspire you to paint your own Peonies and given you the confidence to paint texture in watercolour.

Remember to keep your cut peonies in fresh water and they will last many days, so you will have plenty of time to paint them.

If you paint your own peony, I’d love to see your results, so tag me on Instagram and use the hashtag #jenniferrosegallery so I can see how you got on. You can also find me on Facebook

Make sure you hear about my latest step-by-step guides, video mini-classes and inspiration journal entries – all for free – by signing up to my newsletter.

Until next time!

Love Jennifer Rose  xx

Share This Post:

Leave Your Thoughts

Sign up to be able to leave your comments and thoughts.

The information that you provide here will only be used to deliver relevant updates from me. You can unsubscribe at any time. Click HERE for my privacy policy.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.