Carrie Waller | Sunflower Watercolor

Sunflowers are my favorite flower. They make me smile because they are such a happy flower. I have painted sunflowers a few times and am always amazed at how hard it is to paint the yellow blooms.

I struggled with the shadow colors in the past. You want the blooms to have depth but still retain the happy yellow color. I think I have finally come across a palette that I love for painting these yellow beauties.

DANIEL SMITH Sunflower Palette

Cadmium Yellow Deep Hue
Quinacridone Gold
Quinacridone Burnt Orange
Perinone Orange
Transparent Yellow Oxide
Payne’s Gray
Undersea Green
Sap Green
Piemontite Genuine
Sleeping Beauty Turquoise Genuine
Cobalt Teal Blue
Verditer Blue

I transferred my drawing to Arches 260lb cold-pressed paper. I make my own transfer paper which allows me to transfer my drawing with a lot less graphite than using store bought transfer paper. I masked any areas that needed to remain white with DANIEL SMITH Masking Fluid.

Transferred pencil drawing of the sunflowers onto watercolor paper.


I start painting from right to left so that my hand doesn’t drag across my drawing smearing my graphite lines. I began laying in my yellow areas using the Cadmium Yellow Deep Hue, painting paint petal to petal. After the initial yellow is laid down I begin to shape the petals using Quinacridone Gold and Quinacridone Burnt Orange. Perinone Orange is used as the last layer on top of the Quinacridone Burnt Orange and Quinacridone Gold. This pop of orange layered on top really livens up the petals. In the darkest areas of the petals (at the base and in the creases). I used Piemontite Genuine. I blend with a damp brush to soften the transitions. In the center I used a wash of Quinacridone Burnt Orange around the edges, a Quinacridone Gold wash was the next ring and Payne’s Gray was used in the very center. Piemontite Genuine was used again on the outer rim of the center of the flower at the base of the petals. It is a beautiful dark color for the center of the sunflowers.

I finished the first bloom by painting in the dark center intentionally leaving small areas of the Quinacridone Burnt Orange, Quinacridone Gold and Payne’s Gray peeking through. The dark center was achieved by using Piemontite Genuine. This is the first time I had used this color but it is a fantastic color. It gets great coverage with few layers and has a slight purple/brown cast to it that worked well for the sunflowers. I once again followed the process described above for the second bloom. In the center of this flower I used Quinacridone Burnt Orange around the outer rim followed by undersea green with Quinacridone Gold in the very center. The “black” background surrounding the flowers is a 50/50 mixture of Indigo and Sepia. I love this dark combination and use it as my “black” in all my paintings. It has full coverage and dries with a mat finish.

Working on the third bloom in the composition, I followed the same process as mentioned in the above steps. The “sagey” green color used in the leaves was accomplished by doing a light wash of undersea green with a hint of sap green layered on top. The shading of the leaves was achieved by using Payne’s Gray. At this point, I started to lay the aqua canning jar in using Cobalt Teal Blue.

Having complete all the blooms, I continue working on the canning jar. The jar is a lot of fun because you can see all the stems but they are abstracted because of the water and shape of the jar. It is important in these situations to paint what you see and not what you think you see. Really focus on the shapes and colors. I have used a combination of Sap Green, Cobalt Teal Blue, Sleeping Beauty Natural Turquoise, Undersea Green and Payne’s Gray.

In this photo you can see my set up. I tape my paintings to a corrugated plastic surface using acid free Artist Tape. This prevents buckling. The 260lb Arches cold-pressed paper is a heavier weight paper but I still like to tape it down. I use a drafting brush any time I need to brush eraser bits, masking fluid or anything else off my painting, it keeps me from using my hands which may have oils. I use a chambered water bucket that I love because I have one side for dark colors and the other side for my lighter colors keeping my water cleaner and my painting brighter. I keep all of my paints in these little bead container pots that are labeled on the bottom with the name of the pigment in permanent marker. I go straight from the little pots of paint to my painting and mix colors on my painting. **note my 50/50 Indigo Sepia mixture that I use for my darks is premixed in one of my bead pots.

The jar was sitting on a marble table top. I used layers of Payne’s Gray to achieve the marble. Payne’s Gray was also used for the wire on the canning jar and for the darks of the canning jar. Payne’s Gray is a color that I use in almost every painting I paint. It was a joy to paint this happy painting. I consider the yellow palette that I used in this painting a success and look forward to using it in future sunflower paintings.