how to paint watercolor sunflowers in 5 easy steps

How To Paint Watercolor Sunflowers In 6 Easy Steps

Vincent Van Gogh famously painted his abstract sunflowers in the 1880s and they have been a subject that has fascinated artists for decades. In this post I’ll look at how to paint them in a loose style with just a handful of colors.

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How To Paint Watercolor Sunflowers

Let’s look at how we can give the subject of sunflowers a loose and vivid abstract expression in watercolor.

Total Time Needed :




Princeton round detail brush 9650R-2 Buy from Amazon
Princeton Heritage, Series 4050 Round Brush Buy from Amazon
Watercolor palette: Buy from Amazon
Binder clips (For securing individual sheets of watercolor paper): Buy from Amazon
Adjustable desktop easel: Buy From Amazon


Ultramarine Blue: Winsor & Newton | Daniel Smith
New Gamboge: Winsor & Newton | Daniel Smith
Burnt Umber : Winsor & Newton | Daniel Smith
Arches watercolor paper block, cold press, 9″ x 12″, 140 pound Buy from Amazon

How To Paint Abstract Watercolor Sunflowers Step By Step:

Step 1

abstract sunflowers 1

This loose lively painting of sunflowers will benefit from a swift application of color, so be prepared to work quickly. You can give yourself more time by mixing up your colors in advance and keeping them in separate wells in your palette.

Mix a rich mid-green from 70% New Gamboge and 30% Ultramarine. This should be a weak tea consistency, i.e. thin enough to form small beads of color. For the seeds in the center of the flower mix a warm dark neutral of cream consistency from Burnt Umber and a little Ultramarine.

With your paper tilted at approximately 30 degrees, start by taking the larger round brush and painting three sunflower heads with New Gamboge, which is a rich warm biased yellow. Don’t worry about painting each individual flower petal, just get the overall shape. I’m using a synthetic haired brush which has a springy quality to it that I find works well for these types of shapes.

Step 2

abstract sunflowers 2

Pick up some of the pre-mixed green on your brush and paint in the stem. Don’t worry about the yellow running into the green. Allow the two colors to blend naturally and don’t be tempted to control it too much as we want to create a fresh lively painting. The best way to do this is avoid the temptation to do too much brushing, as this may lead to overworking the painting

Step 3

abstract sunflowers 3

Paint a couple of leaf shapes either side of the flower stem. The leaves should be offset from each other slightly and not directly opposite each other. Connect the leaves to the main stem with a thin line.

Step 4

abstract sunflowers 4

Paint the remaining stems and leaves in the same way. You can also drop in some darker greens here and there to create some interesting tonal variations.

Dropping in additional colors creates what is called a “Variegated wash”. In real life colors tend to vary in tone and hue, so using a variegated wash will make your work stand out and look more professional

Step 5

abstract sunflowers 5

Make sure that your paint is more or less dry to avoid your colors running uncontrollably into one another. Looking for any shine on the paper and double check by placing the back of your hand against the paper if it feels cool to the touch then it will still be slightly wet. Switch to the smaller detail brush to paint the dark seeds using the Burnt Umber/Ultramarine mix.

Adding Ultramarine to Burnt Umber cools it down and creates a warm neutral color that contrasts well with the bright yellow petals of the sunflower

Step 6

abstract sunflowers 7

Add some shading to the petals with some thin glazes of New Gamboge. As watercolor is transparent the glaze will automatically become darker as the previous layer of paint shines through the glaze

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