This article was originally published on The Pigeon Letters blog and contains affiliate links.
Watch the full tutorial below!
- A piece of draft paper
- A piece of tracing paper (ideally 90gsm: if you go thinner the paper won’t handle the watercolor, and if you go thicker it will not be transparent enough)
- Pencil and eraser
- Watercolor set (I use the following colors, but feel free to substitute: Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Buff Titanium, Pyrrol Scarlet, Sap Green, Hansa Yellow Light, Jane’s Grey, Phthalo Blue, Phthalo Green)
- Sergeant major nib
- Studio round brush in size 4 to mix your paint and fill your nib
- Studio round brush in size 2 for the watercolor accents
- Washi tape
STEP 1: Sketch Your Pressed Poppy
The first thing you’re going to do is sketch your pressed flower (I picked the lovely, delicate poppy, but feel free to choose a different flower, or even a leaf). Remember to keep your movements nice and free, and don’t overthink it: this won’t be part of the final artwork, so it’s ok if you make mistakes or need to adjust your strokes.
It’s better not to get too caught up in trying to be perfect, as this will often make your sketch a bit stiff. Rather, try to channel wildflowers and their “untamed” nature!
That being said, if you’re not a confident drawer, you can replace this step by simply printing a photo, which you will later trace instead of your sketch!
STEP 2: Tape Your Tracing Paper to Your Sketch
Once you have your sketch, grab your piece of tracing paper, and tape it to the draft paper with a small piece of washi tape. Try not to touch the tracing paper too much, as it can make it water repellent… not ideal when working with watercolor, right?
STEP 3: Draw the Outline of the Poppy
Now it’s time to mix your color for the poppy’s petals! I chose a dusty, muted pink, to reflect the vintage, nostalgic look of pressed flowers. To get the right shade, I used Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Buff Titanium, and a touch of Pyrrol Scarlet, but you could go for a burnt orange, or a dirty purple.
Once you’re happy with your pink, you can use it to fill your nib with your Studio round brush in size 4 , and use it to trace the outline of the petals, loosely following your sketch (or your photo, if you chose to print a flower instead). Once again, you want to keep your hand as loose and relaxed as possible, so your strokes can retain a free and lively quality.
Remember to refill your nib every so often, but don’t use too much paint at once or you won’t get a clean line. You might need to experiment a bit with water-to-paint ratio and pressure until you achieve that beautifully textured line!
STEP 4: Paint the Overlapping Petals
Next, use the same color and your Studio round brush in size 4 to paint the overlapping petals - just like a Venn diagram! The watercolor on tracing paper will create a beautiful, stained-glass texture, as long as you remember not to use too much water. To do so, simply squeeze the excess water off your brush before painting.
STEP 5: Trace the Details of Your Poppy
Going back to your nib, trace the details of your petals first (actually called venations! I had to Google it). The sergeant major nib will allow you to work these details in with as much sharpness and delicateness as possible, as long as you keep your hand light and free.
You can also improvise a bit here: don’t feel like you have to stick exactly to your sketch! Remember, we’re painting nature, which is never perfect, nor symmetrical! So don’t worry about little mistakes and mishaps, they will just make your artwork more authentic.
Next, you can mix your green for the seed pod. I used Sap Green and Hansa Yellow Light to create a fresh, vibrant green, in contrast with my slightly more muted pink. Once you have traced the seed pod and pollen with your green, you can mix a mock black for the stamens (yes, yes I Googled all these words). Pure black is traditionally not used in watercolor, so you will need to create a colored black for this part of your poppy. I used Jane’s Grey, Phthalo Blue and Phthalo Green to mix my black, before tracing the stammens.
If you are not a fan of the sergeant major nib, or you simply don’t have one, The Pigeon Letters finer brushes, like the Studio round brush in size 2, size 0, or even size 3/0 or 20/0 will be perfect too!
Before you move on to the next step, make sure you let your artwork fully dry!
STEP 6: Paint Your Poppy
Once your line drawing is dry, remove the tape, and flip your artwork, so that the line drawing (the recto) is facing down, and the verso is facing up. Using your Studio round brush in size 4 (can you tell it’s my favorite?), dilute your original pink until you obtain a slightly lighter shade (you can also add more Buff Titanium). Make sure to squeeze out as much water as possible before painting, starting with the outer petals. Don’t worry if the paper buckles slightly, I have a tip to fix this later!
Next, you can paint the inner petal, using a slightly darker shade of pink. This will replicate the transparency variations created by the overlapping petals of a real pressed flower!
Once you have painted all your petals, swap for your Studio round brush in size 2 to color in the seed pod, using a slightly brighter green than for the outline (simply add a bit of yellow to your original mix).
Then, go back to your mock black to paint the dark spots at the base of the petals (a bit more Googling told me that these are thought to mimic the presence of a female beetle, and attract more pollinators - how cool is nature?). You want these to be really faint and transparent, so make sure your color is highly diluted first.
Once again, let the paint dry before moving on to the last details! If you’re sure (and I mean, really sure), clean your brush and go back to your pink, to highlight the petal’s venations by pulling flowy brush strokes towards the center of the flower.
STEP 7: Cut Out Your Poppy
Almost there! Now that you’ve finished painting your poppy, grab your scissors and cut it out. If you are a perfectionist, you can also use a stanley knife to closely follow the outline, but scissors are usually good enough.
If your paper has buckled with the water, here is a handy tip: gently rub the paper with your finger - the heat of your skin will ease the paper back into shape! If this doesn’t work, you can also iron your artwork at a low temperature.
Et voilà! A lovely, delicate, quaint little pressed poppy, which you can frame and hang on your wall! I hope you enjoyed this tutorial, and if you share your pressed flowers on social media, please feel free to tag me as I’d love to see what you created! Thank you and happy drawing!