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Painting a Realistic Rose in Watercolor

Updated: Oct 7, 2021

This is my process for rendering a life-like rose. My intention is always to freeze the flower in time and help the viewer have a sense of being right there with the bloom. This requires me to make the most of my materials to achieve brilliant color and realistic effects of light.

Roses are intriguing to paint because of their petal patterns. The petals spiral out from the center of the flower, moving from smallest to largest. I work from petal to petal, rendering each fully before moving on. Like many watercolorists, I work from light to dark and reserve the whites of the paper for the lightest areas. Large paintings take several weeks to complete because of the level of detail on each flower. I include as much detail as you might see if looking at the flower in real life.


I use cold-pressed Arches Aquarelle watercolor paper with a weight of 300lb. For this painting, I used a full sheet, 22”x30”. The heavyweight paper allows for many paint layers without buckling. I don’t bother with stretching the paper, but I do adhere it with artists’ tape to a plywood board before I begin. Many botanical artists use smoother, hot-pressed paper. I prefer cold-pressed because it has the right texture for absorbing wet washes of paint and still retaining vibrancy. My brushes are kolinsky sable brushes from a variety of manufacturers and my paints are by Daniel Smith or Winsor & Newton and come in tubes. For palettes, I use a different ceramic plate for each color family. Sometimes, I mix my colors in small tapas dishes, which are great for holding in my left hand while I paint with my right hand.


Make a precise drawing using an F or 2H pencil. Be careful to work lightly so as not to incise the paper. When the drawing is complete, roll a gum eraser over it to remove excess graphite. Then mask the light areas. In this case, I used masking fluid from Winsor & Newton applied with a synthetic brush.

Decide on the paint pigments that will work to achieve the color of the different values of the rose’s local color. Here, I am using Permanent Alizarin Crimson for the midtones, Quinacridone Red for the lighter pink areas and Quinacridone Rose for the darker areas and cool pinks. These three reds mix to create a range of reds from warm to cool with permanent alizarin crimson as the base. As I worked, I added Quinacridone Violet to increase the darkness of the shadows. In some petals, I started with a base of yellow to add a warm glow.

Protect the background areas of the painting with drafting vellum or acetate. Begin to wash in light tones on each petal wet-into-wet. Slowly darken the petals with wet on dry layers of thin paint. In this step, I added some Pthalo green to nuetralize and darken the shadow.

Repeat the process for each petal. Details are added using a No. 1 or two brush, depending on the size of the flower.

Continue working back into previous petals to adjust values as needed. You may find the need to darken as you add adjacent petals. You may also need to add warm washes of yellow or cool washes of blue to intensify color that has dried too dull.

When working on larger petals, use larger brushes and more water in the initial wash. I never work on two adjacent petals at the same time.There needs to be a dry border around the petal when using wet into wet paint application to keep the petals separate.

Remove the masking fluid and begin painting the lightest parts when the entire rose is painted. This allows for value adjustments without having to work around the light areas. In this case the light areas are water droplets. I paint these using lighter, but similar pigments as the surrounding area.

No rose is complete without beautiful green leaves. I’ll create a separate post for painting shiny, wet leaves. This painting will be #10 in my series of paintings that depict women from literature as flowers. I’ll be posting the finished painting soon on my website at

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