I absolutely love cherry blossoms for so many reasons and I decided to post my cherry blossom watercolor painting process for anyone who needs some fresh, spring inspiration!
Their pale pink and white petals are like the cotton-candy of the flower world and I love watching the bees and butterflies collect nectar from them.
Cherry Blossoms are such symbols of spring and new beginnings and hope, and this is something we all need a fresh dose of in our current global climate!
So, how do you paint cherry blossoms in watercolor?
Cherry Blossom Watercolor Painting: Step by step
Step 1- Collecting your reference material
Whenever you paint a plant or flower, it is a good idea to get a clear and good quality reference image to work from.
Work from your imagination
You can work from your imagination, but the truth is that most people’s brains leave out important information about the original flower. As a result, the flower may be more stylized or simplified than the original.
If you want to paint a flower or plant in a more abstracted or expressionistic manner, then it is absolutely fine to work with a more stylized, simplified drawing. In this case, drawing from your imagination would work well.
In this painting demonstration, I wanted to capture the smaller details of the cherry blossoms, as well as the soft, pink, feminine aesthetic.
Work from your own photos
Because I wanted a level of naturalism in my artwork, I chose to work from a photograph of a cherry blossom branch, which I took myself. My street is just about lined with cherry blossoms at the moment – it is absolutely exquisite and so it was easy for me to step outside and get some good photos!
Work from a free stock photo
If you cannot get your own photographs of your chosen subject matter, then you can always use free images from unsplash.com or pexel.com. There are a huge variety of free stock photo sites on the web, but these two are the ones I have used the most for good reference photos.
Step 2 – Decide on the size of your painting
I find that working on an A4 or A3 sheet of watercolor paper is a good size to start off with for botanical art. The cherry blossoms I painted are on an A4 sheet of paper.
I would recommend sticking to at least A4 in size, because if you work any smaller you may struggle to get a good amount of detail in your painting.
Interestingly enough, working on a larger surface is a lot easier than painting on a smaller surface.
With a larger sheet of paper, you can accentuate details and there is space to enlarge tiny areas. Your brush strokes can be wider and there is more room for error in a sense.
Step 3 – Pencil Drawing of Your Subject Matter
Once you have decided on the size of the paper you will be working on, you can think about your composition and then draw it out in pencil.
Think carefully about how you will position your cherry blossoms on your page. It’s a good idea to position your subject matter off-center in order to make your artwork more interesting. If you place your cherry blossom dead center on your page then it may not be as interesting to the viewer than if you position your cherry blossom branch at an angle.
I recommend using a 2B lead pencil to first softly sketch out the general shapes of the cherry blossom petals, leaves and the branches to which they are attached. Make sure you are applying only a very light pressure onto the pencil to achieve very light pencil marks on the page.
Once you have sketched the light general shapes, then you can start going over the form again and making changes and alterations to your shapes in order to get your cherry blossoms looking more accurate.
At this stage of the process, you can also add elements like additional leaves, stems or buds to your artwork to complete the composition.
Remember to check where your light source is! This is so important in order to accurately draw forms and get a sense of three-dimensionality. Your shadows will fall opposite your light source.
Step 4 – Go over your pencil drawing in pen and ink
For the pen outline, I use two different methods of drawing.
I either use a very solid contour pen line to go over my flowers, or I loosely sketch the shapes of my flowers. In my first cherry blossom example, I loosely sketched the pen and ink over the pencil markings.
When you sketch your subject matter loosely, you leave your shapes open. This creates a lovely whimsical effect which complements the watercolor aesthetic. This method softens your artwork and essentially your pen and ink become the medium which creates shadows and structure.
Drawing cherry blossoms with a solid pen and ink outline is also a lovely way to render your artwork. The solid outline helps to give the artwork an almost design-type feeling. The shapes are closed and this sort of illustration can be very effective. It is often used form pattern design and fabric design.
To develop my shadow areas, I use a combination of shading techniques such as cross-hatching, scribbling, hatching, stippling and grading. I find this to be especially effective on the cherry blossom branches.
I like to use Faber Castell Pitt Pens in order to draw my pen outline. Their ink is permanent and then dry vert quickly, which means I can use watercolor over them almost immediately without my ink bleeding.
I find I mostly use the XS pen nib in order to get very fine, sketchy lines. Faber Castell also has a lovely brush pen in their wider set.
Don’t forget to use your kneadable eraser to remove the pencil markings before you start your watercolor. Once your watercolor paint is painted on top of your pencil, it can be almost impossible to erase the pencil.
Sometimes it can be quite effective to leave your pencil marks visible under the watercolor paint. It adds a vintage and illustrative quality to the artwork. You may even decide to only use the pencil and not the pen and ink. These are things you should explore and experiment with to find your own art style.
Step 5 – Start painting washes of your lightest color
As you begin painting with watercolor you will be using a technique called wet on dry. Essentially that means you are putting paint on your paintbrush and then painting directly onto the dry surface of the page. This is a good way to start because you have more control over the areas you are painting color.
Once you have defined your shapes using your initial color you can then work into them using a technique called wet on wet.
Wet on wet is where you paint you paint your watercolor paint onto a watery surface. The color then blooms and bleeds and creates interesting washes of color. This is less controlled than wet on dry, but I love watching how the watercolor pigment creates gorgeous textures and patterns as it dries.
At this point you need to carefully examine your subject matter and determine what the lightest color of your flower is.
With cherry blossoms, I left a lot of white space in order to give a wonderfully light feeling to the petals. The next lightest color was a very pale pink.
I started by painting very soft washes of the pale pink within the centre of the flower and towards the petals, without reaching the end of the petals.
Step 6 – Washes of darker pink over the flowers
Paint washes of darker pink in the centre of the cherry blossom. To mix this color, I used a bit of Permanent Rose with a Cherry Red to get a warmer pink color.
Step 7 – Washes of pink on cherry blossom branches
Using the same warmer pink from the previous step, I painted light washes over the stems and branches of the cherry blossoms.
Step 8 – Final Washes onto Branches
I think used a mixture of sepia and sap green and painted washes over the branches to build up my shadow areas and create a natural, organic color.
Step 9 – Details
Lastly, go over the small details, adding yellow to the heads of the stamens and some permanent deep red to the centre of the flowers.
You can also go over areas of your Faber Castell Pitt Pen line in order to create emphasis or clarity. I also use a Sakura White Gel Pen to add small dots of white to the stamens and other areas of detail in the flower.
Remember the following when doing a cherry blossom watercolor painting…
Make sure to use a round, soft bristle brush to compliment the flow of the watercolor paint. It is a good idea to always have a scrap piece of watercolor paper nearby, in order to test out your color combinations and ideas before you put them onto your final piece!
If you are painting a solid background color in your watercolor painting, then it may be a good idea to use masking tape to define a border of about 1.5cm in width. This will give enough space for mount your artwork or frame it if you so wish.
List of materials and supplies needed to paint your own Cherry Blossom Watercolor
- Kitchen paper towel
- Masking Tape
- 2B Pencil
- Kneadable Eraser
- Scrap piece of watercolor paper for testing colors
- 300gsm Watercolor Paper: You need a good-quality, heavy paper that doesn’t buckle.
- Soft Bristle Round or Filbert Brush
- Watercolor pans or tubes. I am currently using the Windsor and Newton Watercolor Pan. The colors are rich and the tray itself is portable and easy to use.
- Faber Castell Pitt Pens
- Sakura White Gel Pens
Further Questions Related to Painting a Cherry Blossom Watercolor:
How do you make cherry blossom color?
To make the cherry blossom pinky-red color you can start off with using a watered-down permanent rose color. Slowly build up your washes and add in washes of cherry red in order to warm up your pink. The center of the cherry blossom will be a lot more of a solid red-pink color than the areas towards to outside of the petals.
How do you paint cherry blossoms for beginners?
The step-by-step guideline above will work for both professional and beginner artists. I have given you a comprehensive list of materials and supplies you will need to start the process and if you carefully follow each step, you will be able to complete your own easy cherry blossom painting!
Here is another Cherry Blossom Watercolor I did:
Painting a cherry blossom watercolor is a fun and easy painting for beginners and more advanced watercolorists. I hope you have found my advice on techniques and materials to be useful as you begin your own cherry blossom watercolor painting!