Acrylics: Water Lily Reflection (demonstration)

When a friend let me know the local libraries were running a mini art competition, I decided to sign up and have a go. I was given a square canvas which posed a challenge for me as I usually paint in rectangle formats, but I found a reference photo by Chuck Underwood in the Photos for Artists Facebook group that I figured I could adapt to the square composition.

Note that the background blues and greens are significantly darker in real life than they appear in some of these photos, but my iPad camera didn’t pick it up that well because of the bright sunlight coming into the room.

Winsor & Newton Artists Acrylics:
-Titanium White
-Azo Yellow Medium
-Cadmium Yellow Medium
-Quinacridone Magenta
-Phthalo Blue Green Shade
-Ultramarine Blue
-Phthalo Green Blue Shade
-Burnt Sienna
-Raw Umber
-Mars Black

Golden OPEN Acrylics:
-Quinacridone Magenta

As I used two paints from different ranges called Quinacridone Magenta (I realised late in the painting that the Winsor and Newton one was too purplish so I also added the Golden Open one), I will refer to them with their brand initials (eg. WN and GO) during the procedure description.

Atelier Interactive Clear Painting Medium

-NEEF 970 Taklon Round (sizes 1 and 4)
-NEEF 970 Taklon Glaze (sizes 1/8 and 3/16)
-NEEF 970 Taklon Cat’s Tongue (size 2)
-NEEF 970 Taklon Oval (size 3/16)

Canvas Panel (10cm X 10cm not sure what brand).

Step 1

I started this project by using an online photo editing program to overlay a grid on my reference photo and then painting a grid onto my canvas using diluted WN Quinacridone Magenta, which I used to draw the outline of the flower and lily pads and indicate where the darkest areas in the painting would be.

Step 2
For the first layer, block in the colours using paint diluted to an ink-like consistency. It doesn’t matter if the colours aren’t exactly right here as you’ll be building up layers of opaque paint over the top anyway. Use Phthalo Green Blue Shade and a bit of Azo Yellow Medium to block in the lily pads, adding a little Burnt Sienna to this colour for the stem on the lily flower. Create a blurred background using Ultramarine Blue, Phthalo Green Blue Shade and a little Titanium White in some places, adding some Azo Yellow Medium for the yellowish foliage in the distance. The water below and to the right of the lily and its reflection should be added with mixtures of Titanium White, Azo Yellow Medium, Permanent Alizarin Crimson and Phthalo Green Blue Shade in varying quantities, to get those soft gold and peach tones in the reflections. For the darkest areas, mix WN Quinacridone Magenta and Phthalo Green Blue Shade to get a deep neutral grey an fill in the lower left corner with this mixture, as well as the shadow under the lily pad that rests up against the stem and a few dark patches in the background in the upper left corner.

Step 3
Now we start building up the layers and adding a little more detail. Using similar mixes as you did in step 1, blend in some more blurred shapes in the background, using slightly thinned paint in some areas to let the underlying colour show through. Try to use smaller strokes in the background and slightly larger ones in the foreground to help create depth. For the darkest areas of the background I used Phthalo Green Blue Shade and Phthalo Blue Green Shade with only a small amount of Titanium White. The water below the flower has some pale olive tones as well as the pink and peach colours, so add a few areas of olive as well. Mix up some Phthalo Green Blue Shade, Permanent Alizarin Crimson and a little white to block in the reflected petal under the lily pad with a dark olive colour. This should be darker than the other olive areas in the water reflections.

At this stage I started using a little Clear Painting Medium to thin the paint without watering it down and also to help it stay workable on the canvas a little longer (probably should have used it in step 1 but the bottle was on the other side of the room and I couldn’t be bothered getting up to get it).

Note: If you haven’t used any sort of slow or clear painting medium before, keep in mind you only need a very small amount. Don’t do what I did the first time I used it and mix equal parts paint and medium, as it will take ages to dry (the paint I did this with was still not touch-dry on the canvas after almost 3 months). I find it easiest to have a bit of the medium in the lid of a jar next to your palette, and just before you apply some paint to the canvas, dip the very tip of the brush into the medium. You might need to play around with exactly how much slow medium works for you but it’s a lot easier to start with too little and gradually add more than to start with too much and potentially end up with a painting that doesn’t dry.

Using a dark mix of Phthalo Green Blue Shade and WN Quinacridone Magenta, go over the black part of the water in the lower corner again, as well as the shadow under the lily pad that rests against the stem and under the curled petal on the lower left of the flower. Colour in the reflection of the stem with the same colour, and then use it to add a thin shadow under the lily pads where they touch the water as well as the small leaf on the right, then add a shadow on the stem of the lily flower just in the darkest area (where it is in the flower’s shadow). Paint this leaf with a pale mixture of Burnt Sienna, Permanent Alizarin Crimson and Titanium White (the leaf should be an off-white with a few patches of more pinkish-brown colour at the edges). With a warm brown made using Burnt Sienna and a little Azo Yellow Medium, add in the warm colours in the dark area to the left of the lily pads. Using Phthalo Green Blue Shade, Azo Yellow Medium and a tiny bit of Burnt Sienna, colour in the stem of the lily plant, using a little more yellow on the lower left where it has the most light.

Step 4
Build up the greens on the lily pads with Phthalo Green Blue Shade and Azo Yellow Medium in varying quantities (adding more Azo Yellow Medium to the lighter areas at the front of each lily pad). Do the same for the stem of the flower, making sure the lower left side is more yellow and the right side of the stem is darker. Add a small amount of Permanent Alizarin Crimson to this mixture to create the darkest shadows on the lily pad to the right of the flower, as well as the top part of the stem just under the flower. At this point I used the dark Phthalo Blue Green Shade and WN Quinacridone Magenta mixture to redefine the shadows under the lily pads, and I used a mixture of Burnt Sienna, Permanent Alizarin Crimson and Titanium White to darken the floating leaf on the right. I also used some Cadmium Yellow Medium to dot in some brighter highlights in the patch of light green foliage just above the leaf. With Burnt Sienna and some flow medium, glaze a little patch of warm brown on the edges of some of the lily pads. I also glazed a little Titanium White onto the top centre of one of the lily pads where its smooth surface reflects light towards the viewer.

Make a pale mixture of GO Quinacridone Magenta and Titanium White and start blocking in the petals reflected in the water. Keep in mind the reflection will be noticeably darker than the actual flower, so don’t make the reflection too light. For the dark greenish underside of some petals, mix Phthalo Green Blue Shade and Azo Yellow Medium with a small amount of GO Quinacridone Magenta. I also used a bit of the same green mixture (in a much smaller quantity) to create the shadow on the reflection of the leaf that points almost straight down at the water. Add a tiny amount of Azo Yellow Medium to some flow medium and glaze a small amount of this on the bottom edges of some of the reflected petals, as well as in the centre. Start adding some of these dark olive greens and golds onto the underside of some of the petals on the actual flower itself, with a darker mix of Phthalo Green Blue Shade and GO Quinacridone Magenta on the dark curled-under tip of the lower left petal.

Step 5
Starting with the curled-under petal on the left, paint the upper area with a pink made from GO Quinacridone Magenta and Titanium White, and glaze a little of this over the greenish area of the petal to unify it. Do the same for the upright petal next to it. Working on petal at a time and going around the outside of the flower before moving towards the inner petals, continue using various pink mixes of the same colours to block in all the petals, ensuring they are lighter than the colours used in the reflected flower. Some of the most brightly lit areas will be pure white. Once all the pink and white is done, add a little orange made with Azo Yellow Medium and a small amount of GO Quinacridone Magenta in the centre of the lily where the stamens are (apply this as a glaze over the dark area from the underpainting). Mix some Titanium White and Azo Yellow Medium (should be mostly white with a hint of yellow) and using the thinnest, smallest brush you have, paint the stamens in the flower’s centre.

For the front petal that points down to the water, glaze a little Azo Yellow Medium where it joins the rest of the flower, and a little olive green from your previous mixes into the middle part of the shadow. Glaze a bit more Azo Yellow Medium on the lower left petal that points backwards.

Step 6
To finish the painting, we will refine the water. I realised in my painting that I had messed up the darkest area in the bottom right, so I added a few more layers to fix it up. Mix Burnt Sienna, Azo Yellow Medium and GO Quinacridone Magenta to make a brownish peach colour, then add a small amount of this to some Titanium White and glaze it over some of the warmer areas in the upper part of the dark section. Mix Phthalo Green Blue Shade with a bit of GO Quinacridone Magenta to make a greenish grey and add some of this to Titanium White, glazing this in a few small areas in the dark section as well. Add a little more GO Quinacridone Magenta to your brownish peach colour (along with a bit more Titanium White if needed) to get something similar to the peach-gold used in parts of the water. Adding some Clear Painting Medium, glaze some of this over the edge of the dark area in the bottom left corner, where it meets the lighter colours in the water (ideally you want the dark water and the lighter water to be distinct but there shouldn’t be a harsh/hard line between the two).

To create the ripples under the lily pads, mix two pools of paint; one a dark greenish grey that will make the shadows under the ripples for both the light and dark areas (I used Phthalo Green Blue Shade and GO Quinacridone Magenta), and one pale mix of the peachy colour used in the light areas of the water (Titanium White, with tiny amounts of Azo Yellow Medium, Permanent Alizarin Crimson and GO Quinacridone Magenta). Thin these with some Clear Painting Medium and use the smallest round point brush you have to paint the ripples under the lily pads, alternating between the dark and pale colours as you work your way outwards from the pads. Dot some of these colours elsewhere in the water where there are disturbances in the surface (from bubbles, bits of foliage etc).

Once this is done, sign your name in the lower left corner with Phthalo Green Blue Shade and a little Titanium White.

I hope you enjoyed this demo. If you’re nervous about working on a large painting because you don’t want to ‘waste’ a lot of paint or don’t have time to complete a work on a large canvas, try your hand at a mini artwork instead. It’s a great way to practice painting without fear or stress because if it doesn’t turn out well, you’ve only lost a little bit of time (and paint).

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