Watercolor for Beginners | Rosebud Demo

Watercolor Demo

In the following series of 5 videos, Nancy Couick demonstrates painting a rosebud with detailed instructions for the beginning watercolorist!  Couick says:  "The beauty of watercolors is that it's transparent. The light goes through your paint, reflects off the surface of the paper and gives this gorgeous translucent glow unlike any other medium.... there are a lot of techniques to learn and you need to learn the rules before you know how to break them..... it is difficult to paint loosely in watercolors when you first start."  but she goes through all the steps to help you get started with this simple rosebud.

Part 1 of 5...Getting Started

Part 2 of 5

Part 3 of 5

Part 4 of 5

Part 5 of 5

Below is a transcript of the step by step instructions shown in the videos.

I paint from photographs for the most part. I find it works well for students and also I tend towards realism. It's something that beginners can understand. They can tell whether it's right or wrong.

I think that there are a lot of techniques to learn and you need to learn the rules before you know how to break them. I think it is difficult to paint loosely in watercolors when you first start.

I use a color photo and a black and white photo. The black and white is your instant value study. I believe that we have a lot of technology tools and we should use them so before I start painting I make a photograph.

This particular one was a rose bud and that was one of several hours of shooting of probably 50 different roses and 50 different combinations with different light sources.

I shot for hours in my kitchen. I went out and bought tungsten bulbs and everything else that you think you need for true color.

I was getting ready to pack up and all of a sudden the sun came really low through the side window and hit this rose bud and I went "that's it!"

So I can tell when I see something if I want to paint it or not. This rose bud actually this color everywhere but the way the light hits it it bleaches out the color but gives it great shape, great dimension, great texture and that's what we want to learn how to do.

So we'll paint this rose bud today. Many artists will start and they tell you to paint or to draw a value study.

I really just want to paint so I make a black and white copy. I have my darkest darks, my lightest lights and I can see the values. It's hard for a lot ofbeginners to see values with the color, it gets in the way.

I took a week long workshop from Susanna Span in Florida years ago. The one thing I have always used that I learned in her workshop is the value scale.

I think that value often is even more important than color. That's what gives it the WOW factor.

You can make these on your own. Just a strip of water color paper, take a quarter, make ten circles, number them and put your name on the back because people do steal these. Then get Paynes gray which is almost a non-color, very dull.

You want ten to be your darkest dark and you're going to add a little bit of water to your mixture as you come down this value scale till one is white. This is excellent for looking at this and seeing if the values in your painting are where they should be.

You can put this right here, let's say you think that's kind of a mid-tone when actually four is not enough, or five, it's actually a ten. This is also a great tool to turn over and use the back.

It helps you isolate colors. You might look at this and think these greens are all the same shade but you've got a yellow green. By removing all the confusing factors and all the other color it allows you to see what you're looking at on it's own.

I think you should work with a limited palette as well. Before you start to paint, or even to get your iamge on the paper, if you can draw, have at it.

If you can't draw, take your black and white copy and then just trace it, transfer your pattern onto the paper. It's hard to paint when you don't have a good basis to paint.

Before you start to paint you need to wet your paints, especially if you've already put them in the wells and they are dry. In this case we're going to use permanent alizarin crimson, cobalt blue in the very end and new gamboge.

For now, just the permanent alizarin crimson. You need to pay attention to the names of colors, they can vary quite a bit. Alizarin Crimson and Permanent Alizarin Crimson are different paints, they're actually different colors as well.

A lot of people start and they come over here and they get a little bit on the tip of their brush and they rub it on the palette and then they have this nice faded out looking little blob.

Well that didn't do so they add a little more and by the time they get through they've rubbed a hole in their paper. You need good rich puddles.

Unlike a lot of people I use two brushes. I find it's easier to control.

If you spill some on paint on your paper don't worry about it, the best thing you can do to begin with is very gently touch it with a paper towel.

I often turn it around and paint upside down. I think that it let's you see things for what they are, the shapes and the values.

The size of the brush really isn't that important, it's the brush itself and whether it has a good point on it.

I've got colored water just so you can see where I am. I'm laying down this field of moisture and I'm putting this brush on the paper and I don't pick it up very often.

So I go up and catch that edge and then pull it back out. Your strokes should follow the form so in this case I'm trying to follow that shape.

The beauty of watercolors is that it's transparent. The light goes through your paint, reflects off the surface of the paper and gives this gorgeous translucent glow unlike any other medium.

So again I'm blending this up. It helps me get a little bit more value. One thing you need to know and remember very well is that you can't do two areas that are next to each other that are damp.

If you do then you end up with one big area instead of two little areas. I want to come into these passages.

You want to treat every little section as its own painting. I'm putting some color right here next to this, put the brush down and again start out here. Put down a little bit of moisture, come up and just catch that edge.

Let it do its own thing. Most of what happens happens after you put your brush down. That's a good thing, that's why it's such a rewarding experience. Sometimes frustrating but often very rewarding and it's suprising to see what happens.

Anytime I'm going to paint a new subject I'll try and study it if possible. In these it's a case of the darkest areas where it first comes out of the rose bud.

They're wrapped tightly so the darkest color is here, it's very dense, very thick at that point. Then as it comes up and into the light it becomes lighter.

Really studying light and how it effects objects and how we perceive objects is also important. The first reason you paint is to have fun so if you're not doing that go take a class, take a workshop.

I'm doing little bitty triangles, dark at the bottom and lighter as they come up. See you do every other one and then when they start to dry you come back and fill in those gaps.

There are things I can do in the meantime. This petal comes up and folds out and the light hits it and it reads as kind of flat but that's not really what I want to do. We want that to appear to curve back.

You put a little blob right here and then it's called shade and fade. You want to catch this and then just pull it out to the end gradually. Catch this side and pull it out to the end. That side's now curving in a little bit.

You don't want to outline the whole thing cause in the end you'll end up with a solid red, flat pedal. So the way we contour things in watercolors is just that, color value and shading. The biggest tendency is to overwork things.

It's more of a layering process, it's starting out in kindergarten and working your way all through school.

Don't give up on them too soon. A lot of people do that, they get frustrated and say this isn't going to turn out so they put it away. You have to keep going.

Again I'm coming back in here. If you have a pause button on your VCR or DVD player or however you're watching this I would have stopped at the end of these two steps to try that.

These things need to dry just a little bit. If you look at areas like this they're slightly disjointed. Sometimes all it takes is one stroke to pull all of that together. I'm going to take again some Alizarin Crimson and run a line that connects all of those.

I'm going to come back and just soften the outside edge. What that does is all of a sudden all of these are connected, they're all underneath this petal. It starts to make more sense.

Along the same line I can come back on this side and put a little line of color here to soften that. Just soften this one edge and pull that down a little bit. Now this is almost three dimensional.

We can do one more step, it's called dry brushing. I look at this and I see a little bit of texture here and same thing here. I'm just going to put a couple little spots. That doesn't look too good. And then I'm going to soften those and it looks a lot more natural.

The important thing to know when you're painting nature, if it's too perfect it doesn't look like nature. If there are straight lines then it looks man made. This is almost too much of a line so I'm going to come back and add a little bit of color.

There's also a little sliver of light in there. I have too much water. The best way to solve that is to dry your brush off and lay it on there and just pick up the excess water and then you're free to continue.

I don't know if you noticed or not the little sliver here is a cut in that petal. And then a white stripe right there, that's where the light cuts through that cut and creates that shape.

We'll put the cut in there just by putting a little bit of dark and then this side we'll lift out.

Sometimes this does little things that really make them sing. If this is too detailed for you it's ok, you don't have to paint this way but it's a great start.

The stem scares people - your darkest dark and your lightest light all in one area. If they're right next to each other it will grab people's attention and it'll stay put.

I'm just going to paint this in with really wet new gamboge. The first time you do this you'll say "sure looked easy when she did it," but that's only because I do it a lot. The first one you do will be challenging but it will get easier.

Often it's a good thing to prop up your paper. I'm going to run this down the side with blue, and I'm going to hold it sideways and let the color run over. It creates a feathered effects which reads as texture in the stem. If it's still blue when it dries it's not a big deal.

I can come back - put another layer of yellow across.

If I painted that a solid color it wouldn't be very interesting and wouldn't have volume. In this case you always want to think of your light source. The light just glances off this edge because this is so dense it prevents the light from hitting the rest.

This two-sided petal is almost it's own painting. In this case I'm doing yellow, and just a touch of green I want it to be very pastel.

I don't know if you can see the triangle of light here, and if you put them in it makes things even more interesting. But it's up to you.

This needs to dry and when it does we'll put a very pale layer of pink over it. How do you know it's dry, hold it up -- if it's still shiny it's wet, or if it's raised it's still wet. When it dries it goes back to totally flat.

I want to make this underlying section darker. This petal here looks bumpy in the photo. So we're going to dry brush again to create texture. Lay your brush down and drag it across. The texture of your paper is bumpy so as you do this you want paint to sit on the high spots of the paper and not go into the valleys as it would if it were very wet. That gives it some texture. If you have too much, come back in with a cry brush and just soften.

You see where I'm holding the brush? When you hold it at the end it makes you bend over close to the paper. Back off, put your paper almost at an arm's length and hold your brush at the balance point.

It will free you up to be a better painter and give you a greater range of motion.

When you want to deepen, start with the darkest color when mixing. Work from puddles and add a little bit at a time.

Pulling the green on top of the red just darkens the red. That happens because they're complimentary colors.

I'm going to grab a light pink and apply it to this light green leaf. When that dries it will look as though you're looking through that leaf.

Backgrounds--optional. Just decide what you want to use. What would you see when you looked at this rose bud? You'd probably be close to the ground looking up, maybe the sky, just go for what makes sense.

I'm going to put just a touch of blue in this background - not necessarily to have a blue sky, but to enhance this flower. We talked earlier about paint traveling to the edge of the moisture and not going any further. If I were to put water on here and add that paint and leave it here, I'd end up with a halo around the flower.

I'm painting this whole piece of paper with water because I know this gradual transition from dark to light may not show at first and not until I put this away and come back and get ready to frame it.

I'm propping this up on the masking tape to avoid having this water collect. Sometimes if it's flat it causes ripples in your paper if it pools. I'm going to take some cobalt blue and just touch it around the flower. I'm not doing this in order to have a blue background but merely to enhance this flower.

I don't want you to actually notice the blue when all is said and done. This wasn't totally dry and is starting to run a little bit so I'm going to lift that color and push it back into that area. Then there's a good chance you'll never notice.

Red on the other hand will run! Try to keep your reds almost to the end.

So here I'm just trying to diffuse it--out and away.

It's amazing how it makes this flower pop. Sometimes very subtle changes can make all the difference.


  1. Hi Nancy , I have the rose bud dvd, but i lost the color picture and the b and w picture . Could i buy another one or do you have a high def picture on your web page?
    Thank you
    Eddie Omens in San diego

  2. Thank you so much. I have learned more from this painting in tutorial than I have learned in just about anything I have read. I really appreciate it; I am a cancer survivor and I am trying to bring my mind and space to share a parallel direction with a new and/or unique understanding of my own personal perceptionĺ of the space and peace within myself thank you

  3. This is the best watercolor video!


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