How to paint a loose watercolour sunflower in 10 easy steps

How to paint a loose watercolour sunflower in 10 easy steps

In this step-by-step guide, I’ll show how to paint a loose watercolour sunflower capturing the textures and contrast between its bold dark centre, and delicate light petals. I worked from real life, which you can do too. Alternatively, you may want to find a sunflower photo to use as a reference, or you can paint along just by looking at my guide below.

I just love the midsummer sunflowers and I always take the opportunity to visit my local sunflower farm and stroll among them when they are in full bloom. I love exploring the pale yellows of the petals and picking out the vibrant bold colours within the thousands of seeds to the bold centre.

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 sunflower or photo as your reference.
  • Mop paintbrushes – Rosemary & Co Size 1 & 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 yellow colour of your choice (I used Windsor lemon)
  • A green colour (I used Olive Green)
  • An earthy yellow (I used Yellow Ochre)
  • A reddish-brown colour (I used Burnt Sienna and Burnt Umber)
  • A contrasting purple (I used Quin Violet)

Let’s begin!

Step 1: Place your Sunflower (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: We are going to start by capturing the bold centre first. Using my larger size 1 brush, gently begin with a really watery brush of your reddish-brown (here I’ve used Burnt Sienna) to create the shape to the centre of the sunflower. Lightly form the round centre with your watery mix. At this early stage you may see watermarks appearing immediately, I love it when this happens! With our first colour applied, and still very wet, drop in some of the dark burnt umber colour to watch the wet-in-wet effects take place.

Step 3: Whilst this is drying we are going to use our lightest yellow colour to create the petals. I’ve used Windsor Lemon to make a watery mix, and start forming the shape of the petals. Try not to touch the bold centre too much, and try to leave some areas white around the edge to give the impression of light shining through the individual petals. Where the brown centre and newly applied petals do merge, blend the colours outwardly to define the petal shapes some more. Let these base colours settle and fully dry, and let’s move on to the stem and foliage.

Step 4: Make a lovely watery mix with your light yellow and green colours. (I’ve used Olive Green and Windsor Yellow to create different shades). Use your brush to form the stem underneath the sunflower head. You will see the sunflower really start to take shape! At the same time we are going to deepen the colour of the stem by adding a pure mix of the green colour (Olive Green) using the wet-in-wet technique. Drag the paint outwardly away from the stem to form the impression of foliage around the sunflower.

You now need to leave this to dry completely as all the base colours are now applied.

Step 5: It’s time to add more depth to the centre of the sunflower. So we are going to introduce our purple colour (I’ve used Quin Violet). This is a lovely contrasting and complimentary colour to the yellow. Use a thicker and less watery mix when applying this beautiful vibrant hue. Referring to your sunflower, pay close attention to where the darker areas are, and start to apply this mix to the centre. As you progress, slowly add water to this, so you’re  able to move the pigment to the edges of the sunflower to create the inner shapes and shades.

Step 6: We are now going to return to the petals. Using your purple colour again (Quin Violet), lightly blend the pigment from the bold centre outwardly to create and define the shape of the petals. Let the flower head dry fully again. 

*Tip* You may have watermarks that have appeared from previous layers, I LOVE these naturally occurring marks. I leave them to help create texture within the centre of my sunflower, so I will paint around them and include them in my painting.

Step 7: Whilst the flower part is drying, it’s time to return to the stem and foliage section. Mix your green colour and add some brown colour to darken the green. This will create a bolder stem, and give a good impression of where the stem is and the surrounding foliage as we build up the colours.

*Tip* To enhance my painting I have also added a little of my light yellow to a green mix to add to the foliage and stem. Adding these enhancements can bring unity to a painting. 

Step 8: Returning to the petals for the last time, I have  switched over to a 3/0 brush. This will help me create finer brush marks. Using the reddish-brown (Burnt Sienna) colour, define the outline of the petals and also create some shade. Remember to keep referring to your Sunflower for guidance. Add more paint to your mix to create a thicker consistency to define the sunflower centre.

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

Step 9: The last step is to add the finishing touches to your sunflower. Have a good look at your reference flower or photo. Do you see areas you would like to enhance? Your sunflower will look different to mine, but with mine, I would like to deepen the centre so that my vibrant yellow petals stand out even more. I’m going to do this by adding some more purple and reddish-brown. I’m always careful to make sure I keep the watermarks that have appeared, which also helps the other colour layers show through. 

Step 10: As a final enhancement to bring out the colours in your sunflower, it’s time to introduce our purple hue to the background.  Make sure the painting is dry before you begin this stage. Using a watery brush, drop in some watery purple pigment around your sunflower, mainly focusing around the yellow petals to really show off their vibrant yellow colours. With the side of your brush, blend the purple paint outwardly and across the background to create a light wash. Then leave your beautiful bold sunflower with lots of beautiful textures to dry.

I really hope this step-by-step guide has helped inspire you to paint your own sunflower and given you the confidence to paint textures and contrast in watercolour.

If you paint your own sunflower, 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

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Happy Painting!


Love Jennifer Rose xx

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