Watercolours: Scarlet Silk Rose (demonstration)

It’s been a long time since the last time I attempted to paint a rose (and that one was a disaster), so when one of my Facebook friends posted a photo of a scarlet silk rose, I decided to give it another go. This painting is based on a photo by Michelle Cassandra Vincent.

I should disclose up front that I ran into a lot of issues during the painting process, mainly because of some unpleasant texturing effects I was getting in unwanted places (particularly noticeable in some dark areas of the rose). I knew I hadn’t used any granulating colours in these areas (I used Ultra Blue in some parts of the leaves and stem but that was it), so at first I wasn’t sure whether I overworked it, or whether there was an issue with the sizing in the paper, or maybe a combination of both. However, in the late stages, when I did the background, I applied a wash of clear water over the entire background, so that I could drop some other colours in and have them flow and blend. Usually when I do this on other papers, the paper will stay wet for a few minutes. When I did it on this paper, it immediately absorbed the water I’d put down (and I had put down a LOT of water) and was basically touch dry in seconds. I have done a painting on another sheet in the same block previously, but that was more than a year ago and because it had a lot of small details, there were no large, dense washes. I’m not sure if the whole block is faulty or if sizing can degrade over time (though the block is only a couple of years old so that really shouldn’t be the case).

I decided to go ahead and finish the painting and post the progress shots and demo anyway, since I think it may still be useful for some people (I’ll also point out the places where I think I made mistakes so you can hopefully avoid them). It was also good practice for me to do a bit more painting, since I haven’t had as much time as I’d like to paint this year.

Also, apologies for the inconsistency of the hue of the rose. My desk lamp tends to wash colours out and/or make them look a bit yellowish sometimes, so the rose looks like more of an orangey-red in some pictures, but the final image (which was scanned) is true to the original.


Derivan Watercolours:
-Lemon Yellow
-Yellow Deep
-Scarlet Red Light
-Phthalo Blue
-Ultra Blue
-Yellow Oxide
-Burnt Sienna

Princeton Neptune Synthetic mop size 6
Jackson’s Raven synthetic mop size 10/0
Escoda Grafilo Kolinsky Tamyr size 4
Isabey Kolinsky Sable Round size 3/0

St Cuthberts Mill Saunders Waterford Watercolour Paper – 300gsm Hi-White Rough press (180X250mm)

Step 1
Mix a very pale wash of Scarlet Red Light and put this over the whole rose, adding in a touch of Magenta for some of the darker areas on the underside of the rose and on the tips of some petals. For the leaves, mix some Yellow Deep and a little Phthalo Blue and paint all of the leaves this green (for some variation, use Ultra Blue instead of Phthalo Blue for a more dull olive green). Paint the stalk this colour as well, adding in a tiny bit of Yellow Oxide and Burnt Sienna near the bottom.

Step 2
Lay in an initial wash for the background. The background should be blurry and abstract with no real detail, but it’s still important to have some variation so it looks like there could be some other plants or foliage in the distance. Make a green mix of Lemon Yellow and Phthalo Blue, then add some Magenta to create a soft dove grey. For this stage I had the grey mixture in a large porcelain dish, partially so I’d have enough to do the background in one hit and partially so I could drop more green mix in here or more Magenta in there to vary the grey. Once the wash is in, carefully drop some weak mixes of green and Magenta into the grey on the paper to create variation in the background, then let this dry.

Note: I originally intended the background to be quite light, but after the initial wash, I didn’t really like how the colours granulated and how the brushstrokes showed from where I wasn’t quick enough to blend, so I decided to keep going over it in subsequent steps and make it a darker – but still blurred – background.

Using Magenta and Scarlet Red Light again, continue to build up the rose petals. Start with the brightest red parts of the petals, using a weak wash of pure Scarlet Red Light. I leave around a 3-5mm gap around the edges of the petals, so I can rinse my brush and gently go along the edges with some plain water and let the colour blend gradually to leave a soft highlight. Let each petal dry before starting the next so the paint doesn’t run (you’ll see I ended up with runs in a few places because I was too impatient). The tightly coiled petals in the middle are painted with a weak mix of Scarlet Red Light and Magenta (leaning more towards red). Make another pass over the deeper red areas of the petals with a stronger mix of Scarlet Red Light and Magenta, this time with more Magenta. The shadowed areas of the rose (especially down the right side and in the folds where petals wrap around the rose) are a darker mix of Scarlet Red Light and Magenta with a little of my earlier green mix dropped in.

Build up the layers and shading on the leaves and stem using the same colours from Step 1: Lemon Yellow and Phthalo Blue for the cooler greens, with some Yellow Deep for the warmer bits. The dark shadows directly under the leaves and flower can be put in with a bit of extra Phthalo Blue added to the mix, and the golden brown areas of the stem are Yellow Oxide blending down into Burnt Sienna.

Step 3
This step basically repeats the previous step to build up the various tones of red in the rose, this time using less diluted washes. One of the mistakes I made here, I think, was using too many layers. It is possible to overwork a painting, though I think rough press papers can generally stand up to it a little better. Unfortunately the paper I used was a cold press but with a very smooth texture, so the surface did not really cope as well as I would have liked with my repeated scrubbing. You can see this especially in the dark section at the front of the rose and the largest petal behind the rose, where there is an unpleasant granulated texture (note that I did not use granulating colours here, so this shouldn’t have happened).

Here is a progress shot from when I was part way through Step 3.

Step 4
At this point I realised that if I finished the rose before doing the background, I might end up with a lack of contrast or mismatched lighting, so I decided to leave the rose for now and continue with the background. I kept building up layers of grey mixed from Magenta and a Lemon Yellow/Phthalo Blue green mixture so that the bright reds of the rose could contrast with an abstract grey. On top of the existing bluish grey background, I added another layer of the same sort of flat grey, but for the next layer I put down a wash of clear water and then dropped in some patches of Magenta and green, using these to create a mottled effect all through the background and give it some depth even once further darker layers of grey were added.

Step 5
I applied another deep wash of grey mixed from Lemon Yellow, Phthalo Blue and Magenta to the background, creating a much darker, more uniform grey. Now that the rose had a dark background, I could see some aspects of it that would need reworking (some areas would need to be made darker, while a couple of edges where I’d lost the highlights would need a small amount of white gouache applied to bring those highlights back). I decided to wait for the background to dry and apply a final dark layer of grey diluted with very little water, again with a few blotches of Magenta and green mix dropped in to create depth.

With the background established, it’s time to return to working on the rose. Using the grey background mix, I put in some of the deepest shadows on the rose, including in the folds between the petals and on the underside of the outer petals. I also darken the back leaf and the bottom of the stem, as well as the stem where it meets the rose. Using various combinations of Scarlet Red Light and Magenta, I strengthen the colours of the rose to create the bold reds of the brightest areas. For the greyish-purple reds of the shadowed areas, I add a little Phthalo Blue to these red mixes. For the lightest areas on the central petals, I use a mix of more Magenta than Scarlet Red Light and make this more diluted than the rest of the areas.

This photo is from when I’m part way through Step 5, in the process of deepening the rose petals (the background actually looked darker than this but my desk light washed it out).

Step 6
Finish deepening the reds on the rose. I applied a glaze of the Scarlet Red Light and Magenta mix to the remaining two large petals at the back, and a lighter glaze over the tightly coiled petals in the centre, as well as adding a bit of Phthalo Blue to the mix in the very centre of the bud where it’s darkest.

At this point the leaves and stem look far too light compared to the rest of the rose, so I go over the back leaf with a dark green mix of Phthalo Blue and Yellow Deep. Gradually adding more Yellow Deep to the mix, I go over the other leaves as well, trying to keep the one at the front lighter than the others. I also apply the dark Phthalo Blue and Yellow Deep to the stem just under the leaves, and blend this down into a more Yellow Deep mix and then a little Burnt Sienna as the stem fades into shadow. I also add a little of the red mix with some Pthalo Blue where the bottom of the rose meets the leaves. Conscious of potentially overworking the painting more than I already have, I wanted to finish it here, but the background still looked too light to me, so I mixed up another dense wash of Magenta, Phthalo Blue and Lemon Yellow to make a grey and laid in a final dark wash over the background, again dropping in a few blotches of Phthalo Blue and Lemon Yellow green mix and Magenta here and there. I add a bit of white gouache to this colour and use it to sign the painting.

In the end I think I managed to salvage the painting and make it look reasonable, but there are still a few areas of texture I’m not really happy with, and couldn’t go over them anymore or I’d end up with a muddy mess. That being said, I hope this demo was useful and that folks can learn from some of my mistakes 🙂

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