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Demo: Sarah Simon’s Layered Watercolor & Ink Botanicals

Watercolor artist Sarah Simon, of TheMintGardener, demonstrates how layering washes and incorporating ink can encourage the feeling of joy in a botanical painting.

By Sarah Simon

Follow along as Sarah Simon demonstrates how to create this watercolor and ink botanical painting.

Beauty in the Bloom

Composing a piece often begins with an inspiring element from my garden. A flower will catch my eye, and my mind will start swirling and making connections. There’s a deeply internal element that makes each artist’s expression unique. From that individual place, it flows from our hands. And — with our brushes and colors — we’re able to bring our choices to life on the paper.

Sarah Simon shares how she plans a color palette

The Color Palette

When planning a color palette, I start by making swatches of all the colors available in a set in order to “soak in” the options. Then, I blend and mix color — using subtle additions or slight adjustments to ratios — until I’ve found the right combinations. So, my palette will have pure tube pigments along the outside rim; the color mixtures I’ve created on the inside.

To get started, I begin with one color I’d like to mix, and then build similar colors from the same base mixture. For example, I mixed a “copper rose,” using permanent alizarin crimson, Indian red, and Payne’s grey. Then, by adding just a dash of raw sienna and permanent white to that base mix, I created an “antique brass.”

For this piece, I also created “cedar chest” with my copper rose base plus raw sienna, permanent white, and cadmium red light pure; “tumbleweed” with permanent alizarin crimson, English yellow, permanent white; “Dutch white” with the tumbleweed base plus Payne’s grey; “antique bronze” with Hooker’s green, raw sienna and Payne’s grey; “feldgrau” with the antique bronze base plus viridian and ivory black; “slate grey” with cerulean blue pure, Payne’s grey and permanent white; and “brandy” with permanent alizarin crimson, Indian red, golden earth and Payne’s grey.

Sarah Simon’s Toolkit

  • PAINTS: Utrecht Artists’ Watercolor Paint. The 12-color Landscape Set includes: lemon yellow, English yellow, cadmium red light pure, permanent alizarin crimson, Hooker’s green, spring green, ultramarine blue, cerulean blue pure, golden earth, Indian red, burnt umber and Payne’s grey
  • INK: Sakura Pigma Micron pen set (01) with six assorted colors
  • SURFACE: Blick Premier Watercolor Block, with 9×12-inch sheets of cold press, 100% cotton, 140-lb. paper. First, I remove a sheet, and use a ruler to create a straight edge, fold the sheet and then tear to create a lovely, deckled edge.
  • BRUSHES: Princeton Velvetouch synthetics, Nos. 1, 4 and 8 rounds
  • MISCELLANEOUS: handmade ceramic palette (potterybyeleni.com)

A Demo With Sarah Simon

The Ink Layer

Once my piece is composed and sketched, I draw it directly onto my watercolor paper, using a Micron pen. These pens create a thin and consistent waterproof line that doesn’t run or bleed when you paint over it. Ink is a great way to combine the precision and detail of drawing with the flowing freedom of watercolor paint. By using a strong botanical line to give shape to my piece, I’m able to create a crispness in my watercolor work that feels contemporary.

The Underpainting

I use a wet-into-wet wash technique to lay down a warm underpainting. Starting with a clear wash, I then add pops of color from my palette to build interest. Pinky hues, greens, and blues all make their appearance at this stage. I like to think of this as the “movement and shine” phase in which the paint and water dance on the surface of the wet paper, bleeding and blending. I use a No. 8 round brush to hint at where I’d like certain colors but embrace what happens in the dance of paint and water.

Adding Details

When I work wet-onto-dry to paint details, I like to think of each individual flower as its own unique painting — a separate masterpiece with its own personality and details. At the same time, I’m also balancing the composition and making sure that the particular floral I’m working on is a synchronistic part of the whole.

The Final Painting

A Gardener’s Delight (watercolor and ink on paper, 12×9) by Sarah Simon

Sarah Simon is the Seattle-based designer and artist-illustrator at TheMintGardener. com. She’s also a watercolor teacher and author of several books, including Modern Watercolor Botanicals and Watercolor Workbook. Follow her on Instagram: @themintgardener.

Learn more about Utrecht Artists’ Watercolor Paint, including the Landscape Set, at dickblick.com.


Check out The Best of Watercolor: Splash 22 Competition Winners, our special issue devoted to the outstanding works of art from the Splash 22 watercolor competition!

We would like to extend a special thanks to our competition sponsor, BLICK Art Materials for their ongoing support for artists!

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