Kay Barnes: Watercolor Rhodies
Kay Barnes demonstrates her method for painting realistic Rhododendrons with Daniel Smith Extra Fine Watercolors

Before starting your painting, do a simple line drawing. Stamens are saved with masking fluid – let it dry thoroughly.

An abundance of light and shadow creates a composition of warm and cool colors in Kay Barnes’ painting “White Rhodies”. Kay’s spontaneous “dancing” brushwork and her use of color, wet-into-wet and dry brush techniques result in a realistic floral painting that remains loose and dynamic. Starting with a line drawing and a structural underpainting, Kay takes us step by step through the process of painting “White Rhodies”.

Learn to capture light on flower petals, add variation and interest in the shadows and leaves as you follow along with Kay’s watercolor demonstration.


Steps 1-7

If the paper loses its moist shine, take a dryish brush and blend or feather the paint edges where needed.

My Process
The underpainting is the structure – the skeleton of the painting that everything hangs on – the first layer. Think of it as an outline. When you add stronger colors on the top, the underpainting won’t show, but a good underpainting helps prevent confusion in a complicated painting. In this initial stage, it is a road map. Establishing patterns of light with Aureolin, Raw Sienna, and a pale wash of French Ultramarine Blue (1) will remind you to keep background areas cool.

In floral painting, begin with Aureolin (cooler yellow) and Raw Sienna (warm and buttery yellow), it will give the flowers a warm glow. I add Quinacridone Rose (2) and various blues to create wet passages of lavender shadows.

For instance, using a large brush, make a large, loose T shape (3) with Raw Sienna. Add daps of French Ultramarine into other areas. (4) Do it fast and keep your paints fluid.

Using Raw Sienna, Quinacridone Gold, French Ultramarine Blue and Sap Green, place in the leaf shapes (5). The colors will bleed. Paint these in the bare spots, not necessarily over pre-determined leaf shapes. Touch the edges with French Ultramarine.

By working on the leaves as the paper dries, you will get nice harder edges (6). To blend and connect the clear areas, add clear water – the wet paint will pull toward these areas. This works only if your paper is still shiny wet. Dance your paint…blue to green…light to dark…

Pull paint and soften the edge. Coax it gently with a slightly damp brush. Make sure some leaves come in from outside the picture plane (7) Don’t have them all going out – it draws your eye away from the subject.

steps8-12-smSteps 8-12

Even though the flowers are all pink, Quinacridone Rose, make them each unique by varying tones from pink to lavender to blue.

When a painting is still in the early stage, with a preliminary background – and it is completely dry – you can rewet the paper (mist it front and back) and put on a second layer of background for more soft details. (8) With this level of moisture, you can softly blend elements into the background. As long as you have lost the shine, you can lift – as in the light veins on the leaves (9), or to correct an area that is over-painted or too dark.

Quinacridone colors, transparent and ranging from moderate to strong staining, are great for flowers. Underpaint some petals with Quinacridone Rose, then touch in French Ultramarine Blue at the edges. (10) Add Aureolin in the center – all while wet so they run into each other.

Greens are good shadow colors when painting flowers. Consider underpainting purple shadows (11) and let them dry, then glaze yellow tones.

After establishing the light and mid values of the first three layers, tweak your painting by adding darks to key areas where you need emphasis. Focal areas pop when you play lightest lights against darkest darks and brights against neutrals.

Glazing washes of light to medium density colors can really warm (12) or cool areas to push or pull objects around. Consider lifting some areas and softening others. Now is a great time to let your painting dry and analyze its weak areas or over-painted ones. Adjust thoughtfully. This final step is the one that makes or breaks a painting. Err on the side of “less is more”. Sometimes removing paint is all you need to do. Now, sign it, sell it, and go on to the next one.