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Botanical Art Techniques - ASBA, Instalment 2 - Watercolor on Paper Section

'Watercolor has historically been the most used medium for creating botanical artworks, and it continues to be so today. Watercolor’s broad range of techniques for application, expansive range of pigments, transparency, and ability to portray fine details are some of the reasons it dominates the field.'

Below, Jonanda Kannemeyer reviews the Watercolor on Paper section of Part 2 of this book from the American Society of Botanical Artists (edited by Carol Woodin and Robin A. Jess, and published by Timber Press in 2020)

Review by Jonanda Kannemeyer, Illustrator & Botanical Artist, ABA Education Team Member


The Watercolor on Paper section in Part 2 of Botanical Art Techniques consists of 83 beautifully designed pages. This section holds something for everyone, from the foundations of understanding watercolor pigments & paints to watercolor application techniques, followed by a selection of applied and advanced watercolor tutorials.

Components of watercolor paints
Components of watercolor paints (image courtesy of the publisher

The section starts with a foundational guide on the Properties of Watercolor Paints by Susan T. Fisher. This well thought out section will help artists understand watercolor terminology. This is essential when selecting paints and the section covers terms like binders, pigment, opacity & transparency, the pigment identification system, lightfastness and other labels used by watercolor manufacturers.

Watercolor paints and palettes
Watercolor paints and palettes (image courtesy of the publisher)

Palette Philosophies by Marilyn Garber compliments this section with a concise and beautifully documented teaching on color and examples of a few different types of color palette approaches. This includes the Six-Color Limited Palette, an Unlimited Color Palette, Jean Emmons’s Watercolor Palette as well as contemporary botanical artist John Pastoriza Piñol's Watercolor Palette.

Carol Woodin’s section follows with practical tips on Transferring a Drawing onto Paper or Vellum before Painting Begins. Next, Rose Marie James demonstrates the basic techniques of working with watercolor washes, and follows with concise tutorials on how to create a flat wash, graded wash and how to charge watercolor washes.

APPLIED TUTORIALS A rich selection of Applied Tutorials follows, starting with Catherine Watters demonstrating four more watercolor techniques: Drybrush, Layering, Glazing and Detailing using a practical example of how to paint a life-like red apple. The Applied Tutorial section is jam-packed with beautiful tutorials covering flowers and leaves. Constance Sayas teaches various watercolor methods on how to paint realistic flowers, including Tulip, Bearded Iris and Floribunda Rose. Margaret Best “leaves" no stone unturned detailing her unique approach to painting realistic leaves in the next Applied Tutorial sections on the Silver Maple Leaf and Bur Oak Leaf.

Sarah Roche covers an interesting topic on the “unsung heroes of botanical paintings” namely Stems, Twigs, and Roots. Sarah uses practical examples to explain how to paint a cylindrical shape and how to apply it to various types of stems. Her practical examples includes the stem of a tulip, thorny stems, rose stems in early spring, hairy stems, twigs (woody stems) as well as roots.

Lara Call Gastinger, known for her Perpetual Journal, completes the Applied Tutorials section with a dedicated tutorial on Painting a Leaf in Sepiatone, using an elm leaf as her subject.

ADVANCED TUTORIALS The Advanced Tutorial section holds a rich collection of intricate subjects and masterfully executed paintings. Each tutor shares well documented steps and tips, challenging the artist to achieve similar results. Contemporary botanical artist John Pastoriza Piñol offers a step-by-step tutorial on Painting a Slipper Orchid Using Wet Techniques and Masking Fluid.

Karen Kluglein’s advanced tutorial on Painting Gloss, Bloom and Reflected Light in Grapes caught my attention after marveling at her detailed painting of Joie de Vivre Grapes.

painting tutorial
Painting tutorial by Karen Kuglein (image courtesy of the publisher).

Karen begins her tutorial by sharing a photo of her subject which she describes as “grocery-store” grapes. That prompted me to visit the grocery store and select my own bunch of grapes as reference. I was not able to find a bunch of grapes with leaves and tendrils, but found a juicy bunch of “Sweet Celebration” variety grapes and photographed it as she advised. I focused on following the first section of the tutorial to try and achieve the bloom affect on a smaller bunch of grapes. In hindsight, what makes her painting so appealing was not only the bloom effect on the grapes, but the variation in color between the green and red and purple drupelets. I would recommend when following this specific tutorial, to select grapes that has this color range, from green to dark red and purple.

Using one’s own reference photo has the benefit of challenging you to put extra thought into what is being taught and applying that to your own subject matter, rather than just copying and reproducing a tutor’s painting. I found that Karen’s tutorial prompted me to really look at the subject, and provided practical tips on how to approach the layering process, colors, reflections and shadows. I found it challenging, but extremely rewarding in creating my own original artwork using my own reference photo. I could still compare my process photos to those of the tutor, and although the bunch of grapes looks different, her progress steps and instructions were still a great aid to track where I was in the process and keep me from stopping the layering process too soon. I thought that painting a few drupelets at a larger size would take less time than painting a bigger bunch at a similar size. I was mistaken. Once I started to focus on the subject, I got lost in all the details.

Grapes painting tutorial
Exercise by the reviewer; tutorial steps of painting gloss and bloom.

I enjoyed this Advanced Tutorial as it inspired and taught me how to create my own painting, rather than simply producing a duplicate painting of a tutorial. To get most out of this specific tutorial, one will need to find a bunch of grapes with variation in color, leaves and tendrils.

The remainder of the Advanced Tutorials section includes Lizzie Sanders’ Drybrush Watercolor and Color Mixing, explaining how to create a complex composition and painting by using a limited palette and dry brush techniques. Next, Betsy Rogers-Knox briefly explains her step-by-step process of Creating an In-Situ Painting of roadside wildflowers, followed by a 6-page tutorial on Painting a Magnolia with Watercolor Washes by Beverly Allen.

Heirloom tomato and butterfly
Madama Butterfly, Portrait of an Heirloom Tomato, by Asuka Hishiki (image courtesy of the publisher).

I found the Atmospheric Perspective section especially captivating; featuring an atmospheric treatment of how to create an illusion of depth, using a painting by Elaine Searle “Helleborus ‘Penny’s Pink’, as example.

Lastly, a stunning step by step tutorial of an heirloom tomato by Asuka Hishiki concludes this jam packed 83 paged Watercolor on Paper section.

Watercolor on Paper in Part 2 of Botanical Art Techniques, from the American Society of Botanical Artists, is a treasure chest of painting prompts and challenges to take your watercolor skills to the next level, from beginner to mastering the art of watercolor on paper.


American Society of Botanical Artists (ASBA)

The American Society of Botanical Artists was founded in 1994 by Diane Bouchier and “has grown from an organization of 200 to over 1900 individual members and from 5 to 40 institutional members from around the world.” Its mission is to “provide a thriving, interactive community dedicated to perpetuating the tradition and contemporary practice of botanical art”.

To purchase this book: (shipping to US only), also available internationally online and in bookshops

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