Watercolors Lesson: How to Color

Watercolors: Key features

  • ◆Transparent watercolors give vivid color tones and an impression of transparency.
  • ◆Color layering gives depth to colors.
  • ◆Control the amount of water to adjust the shade of colors, and according to the fine depiction or coloring of the planes, use brushes of differing thickness.
  • ◆The secret of how to use watercolors is to create a tertiary color by layering primary colors on the picture surface (not mixing colors on the palette).

How to Color “Pansies”

A bouquet of pansies

Divide the bouquet into the flower part and leaf part. To skillfully depict the overlapping leaves, apply the grisaille technique and depict leaf shading with a single color.

A sketch taken from “Nuri-e” published by Kawade Shobo Shinsha is used as an example.
Medium: Watercolors

1The flowers: base layers

Use bright colors to paint the base layers of the flower parts. Use pale pinkish colors for the warm color pansies, and pale bluish colors or lavender for the cold color pansies. To depict the whiteness of white pansies, use pale lavender to paint the base layers for the shaded areas of the petals. For the bright areas, do not paint any color; leave the whiteness of the drawing paper.

2The leaves: base layers

In this lesson, when applying the grisaille technique, mix Payne’s gray and lemon yellow and draw color shades. Pay attention to the whole of the composition, and compare the darkest and brightest areas and apply the mix so as to give variation to the shading.

3Adding layers of color to the flowers

To the whole of each white pansy, add a layer of very thinly dissolved yellow color. When using transparent watercolors, it is common to make use of the whiteness of drawing paper to express whiteness and leave areas unpainted. In this lesson, however, leaving the whiteness unpainted to express the white pansies will give an impression of incompleteness; therefore, apply very thinly dissolved yellow to every white petal.

4Adding layers of color to the flowers

Effectively use the base layer color and add layers of each flower’s color.
For yellow pansies, yellow shading will give bright and vivid color tones; in this case we do not use a complementary base color. For purple pansies, base layers of deep and darkish colors will give deep opaque purple tones.

5Adding layers of color to the leaves

On the base layers painted using the grisaille technique, add layers of different mixes of green. The greens made by mixing on the palette, and the greens created by adding layers of color and mixing on the picture surface show quite different color development, which allows you to paint leaves with good green color variation.


As this bouquet is only made up of pansies, to ensure interesting variation in the flower color tones, pay attention to the contrast of light and shade when painting, and create a rhythmical picture surface.
The base layers painted using the grisaille technique enables the finished work to have a realistic feel, even if the additional layers of color are monotone.