Three peonies, step-by-step

It is a day for garden painting. The extreme heat of last week has moved on, the sky is clear blue, the wind has died down and flowers are starting to bloom. I had briefly considered driving clear across the city to paint at the Botanical Gardens but there’s so much in my neighbourhood to paint. I found a stunning bed of perennials and an owner happy to share the beauty.


On a quarter sheet of Fabriano cold-pressed paper, I draw the main shapes of the flowers and foliage. Then I wet most of the sheet and paint in a light wash of pinks and greens, and wait until the first wash is completely dry.


The next step is to define the flower shapes by doing a little negative painting. With the three flower shapes I try to keep each one a different size and a different distance apart.


From there, more definition is added to the peonies, and with a finer brush some of the darker shapes appear in the foliage. At this stage, I try to keep it quite abstract.


The three peonies are quite isolated in the garden — mostly surrounded by foliage — with a few columbines and irises in the distance.


The final stage includes adding in detail stuff, mostly in the foliage and a little in the blooms.

56 Comments on “Three peonies, step-by-step”

  1. Very nice! 😉


  2. I love this so much! Hardly tried flowers at all but I love the way you start with abstract. Beautiful!


  3. A wonderful post! Thanks for the step-by-step, Shari. I love finding out your “thinking.”


  4. I love this post, Shari! Thanks so much for showing your steps. I’ve never really painted flowers and foliage much and want to try more. These are gorgeous! 😍


  5. Paul R. says:

    At what point do you consider a “work” as a painting as opposed to a sketch. I’m torn but I love it…the peonies. and many others too!! 😀


    • I get asked that a lot Paul. These days I consider a “painting” something that is done on a sheet of paper, using mostly pure watercolour, and larger than a book size. For me, these days, a “sketch” is something in a book, usually starting with ink and finished with wash. It used to be less clear but these days that is how I seem to be working.


  6. Miú says:

    It is so generous of you to share your expertise this way, Shari. Very useful and, as always, beautiful!


  7. Isabelle says:

    Love it. My paonies will soon be blooming & I am going to try this. However they are a very large white variety. Might have to change their colour or maybe wash with soft blue???


  8. monique says:

    It seems the WI is warmer than here as my peonies are budding but not blooming..what beautiful weather we are having..a gift!

    Love the peonies and thanks for the sbs..
    I am going to try when mine bloom:) Try..being the operative word.
    I love that they are perfect suggestions of peonies and not exact replicas..I am not as much moved by exact replicas..yet I know they are perfect.


  9. Patricia Burkhardt says:

    I love seeing the progression. Beautiful.


  10. Lynn Mourer says:

    Gosh. This is enviable. I’d like a class, please.



  11. Lisa says:

    Amazing what a great lesson– I have looked at this 3 times and I will be doing it again tomorrow. Love it


  12. Valmae Stonehouse says:

    Thanks I really appreciate the step by steps you do


  13. Jane Hannah says:

    Love the step-by-step Shari — I am soooo ready for a workshop or Craftsy course on pure watercolour… no ink lines. Three years later I am starting to see the light -))) Thank you!


  14. Gorgeous! Love the layering and seeing the development on sight. Thank you for sharing.


  15. jmnowak says:

    Don’t forget to tag this post #NatureDoodlewash for Charlie’s June Adventure! It is an ideal subject. Soft and beautiful.


  16. Beautiful! And fascinating to see the process.


  17. designsweet says:

    Thanks for this – it is lovely. Flowers are so difficult and the progression gives me an insight in how to make it slightly easier! The weather in the UK at the moment though is very cold – so I won’t be outside!


  18. anne farmer says:

    Gorgeous – and such restraint! Like the beginnings, with washes covering the whole sheet and blending together.


  19. Love it, and it was great to see the progress shots. Thanks.


  20. Bernadette says:

    Each day you offer such treasures of wonderful washes that form such lovely images. They are crisp and clean…. never muddy. It is a joy to watch the steps you take and helps me in my own craft of painting. Thank you, thank you.


  21. Hi Shari,
    Love the peonies step by step. Have been trying to do flower
    watercolor sketches here and it is not the easy. Negative
    shapes is something I will try.
    You are an inspiration!
    I wasn’t able to do watercolor until I took your workshop
    last summer and then followed up with your Craftsy classes.
    Thank you Shari!


  22. Donna says:

    Love the greens….they are so difficult for me.


  23. Dear Shari, Thank you for generously sharing your demos with us! “Someone” once said, “Give and Ye shall receive”. I hope you are showered with encouragement and love.


  24. Fred says:

    Shari: thanks for taking us through the process. When you apply the wash over the paper in step one, how do you prevent the paper from buckling? I find that when I tape my Arches 140 pound cold press (or Fabriano Studio paper) and then apply water over the surface, I typically will get some buckling of the paper. Maybe I am using too much water? Any advice?
    Once again, great work and thanks for taking the time to share it.


    • Hi Fred,
      Since this is unstretched paper I do get some buckling, but if I put it out in the sun to dry for a few minutes, it does go back to almost flat again quite quickly. You may be using too much water if the paper stays really bumpy. Try a little less next time.



  25. Louise says:

    I’m late with saying ‘thank you’ for taking the time to post another step-by-step. It is amazing how much you are able to teach us with these posts. I love to garden; maybe many of us have that in common. Because of my location way down south, I can have flowers year ’round. This post is a marvelous inspiration.


    • I am always happy to hear comments Louise, so it’s never too late for me. Lucky you, to have flowers year round. I spend half the year buying them at the grocery store when I need a colour fix.


  26. Vidya Krull says:

    Lovely work, and now I have some insight into how to paint flowers in watercolor!


  27. […] I am not by any means a botanical artist. I’m not even a painter of flowers in watercolor (not yet!).  I know the botanical people are committed to accuracy, and the flower […]


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