How to Paint a Tulip in Oil

Skill Level : 1 Beginner

Medium : Oil Painting

Subject : Flowers

Tutor : Nolan Clark

Class Length : 3 hours 45 minutes

Avg Rating :

Gold Level or Higher Class

Class Description

Join for a lesson on how to paint your first oil painting. We will start off with a basic tulip, looking at all the important oil painting concepts you need to know along the way.

This is a three  part class.

In the first part of the three part class you will learn:
1.    How to redraw your flowers
2.    How to mix and test if your colours are correct before you start painting
3.    How to get clean edges in your painting
4.    How to increase the amount of distance in a still life
5.    How to paint the background so it draws attention to the focal point
6.    How to save your paints for the next session

In the second part of the three part class you will learn:
1.    The easiest way to shade the petals
2.    How to ensure it looks like the sun is coming from one direction
3.    How to get clean edges on your petals and leaves
4.    How to get the “looking in” effect inside the flower
5.    How to use shadows to create distance between the petals
6.    How to paint the leaves
7.    How to fix mistakes
8.    How to tie the stem and the flower together to ensure the flower doesnt look like its been “plugged into” the stem, but that they naturally change from the one to the other.

In the third part of the three part class you will learn:
1.    How to adjust a colour that you are not happy with on a dry painting.
2.    How to paint water drops – all 3 variations
3.    How many water drops to paint and where to paint them to ensure they look natural
4.    The importance of choosing a distinctive signature
5.    The correct way to sign your name

Latest Reviews

Great tutorial! First flower I\'ve ever painted and can\'t wait to try another one.

Jim Lovell

As someone else put it to me, painting the tulip is a rite of passage for PB members. The instructions and explanations were so clear that I was able to complete well \'my tulip\' class, even though I had never painted before.


Class Tutorial


transferring the drawing

Set up your canvas and sketch in the flower.  Try to visualize familiar shapes when drawing it onto the canvas.  Note how the tulip is basically egg-shaped.  Use watercolor pencils to makes the job a lot easier.

Determine the placement and size for the leaves, then draw those in.

Colour Mixing

colors of the flower on the palette

Lay out the colours you will need on your palette.  Mix some test samples first and match them to the reference photo.  Mix a mid-tone, highlight, and shadow tone for each colour and be sure they have good contrast to each other.  Once the colours are adjusted satisfactorily, make up large enough batches to do your painting.

Masking the flower

masking the tulip outlines

To preserve the flower as you paint the background, mask it off.  Mold the tape to shape of the outline of the tulip.

Painting the background

painting the background

Add a bit of medium to your background paint to make it flow easily, if needed.  Note the two techniques Nolan demonstrates for painting large surfaces of canvas and the ways to add texture to a background.  Paint in the background.

Painting the flower

removing the masking tape

Carefully remove the masking tape, but add some more tape on to cover the leaves.  Save any background paint to the side of your palette, then clean your palette work space.

Storing the palette

storing the palette

Save the mixed paints for the next session by wrapping them in plastic cling wrap and putting them in the refrigerator or freezer.  Before you need them again, bring them to room temperature a few minutes before using.

Central  petal

start painting the petals

Study the reference photo and note that the central petal is concave in shape.  This will cause the highlight to appear on the opposite side from where you would normally see it.  Note also that the closer you get to the bottom of the central petal, the darker it gets.

Paint in the tones of the petal, starting from the lightest to the darkest.  Use Nolan's zig-zag and smooth technique to blend the tones together. Adjust the shadings.

Left petal

painting the left petal

Move to the left petal.  Again, paint in the tones of the petal, starting from the lightest to the darkest.  Try to paint them in the shapes you see them in the reference photo.  Allow your lightest paints to go over the masking tape or over the line slightly where you will add a darker tone.

Use the brush technique Nolan has demonstrated to paint the outer edge of the petal.  Do not overlap the lighter colour; leave a tiny gap between them.  Note the technique Nolan suggests to help hold your hand steady as you paint.  Turn the canvas as needed to paint hard-to-reach areas.

Make a quick mix of a slightly darker tone to use for the right side of the petal, then finish up with the darkest tone at the bottom of the petal.

Use the same zig-zag/smooth technique to blend the tones.  Remember to use a light brush stroke and follow the direction of the shape of the flower.

Right petal

painting the right tulip petal

Note on the reference photo how the colour of the right petal is darker because the rounding of the flower rolls that petal away from the sun.  Therefore, the tone of the highlight, mid, and shadow colours will be different on this petal.

Make new mixes of the tones you will need, then proceed to paint, blend, and smooth this petal as you did the others.  Adjust the shadowed areas, especially where the two petals meet.

Bottom center petal

paint the bottom petal

Note that you will create a “looking in effect” in this spot.  Check the reference photo as you will need to mix some impromptu colours in this area. Start by painting the darkest areas first.  Move to the lighter tones, then the blending and shading.

Leaves - Colour mixing

leaf color palette

Mix the greens you will need for the leaves – mid-tone (base colour), highlight, and shadow tones.  Adjust with drops of medium if the paint is too thick.

Leaves - left

painting the left leaf

Begin by painting the highlight colour on the left side of the leaf first.  Then move to the darker tones, using the same technique you used on the petals. Blend, smooth, and adjust the shadows.  Don't worry about bits of stripy lines as they do naturally appear on the leaf.


painting the stem of the tulip

Paint the stem using the techniques used on the petals and leaves, then do the blending and shading.  Watch how Nolan determines where the shadow will fall so that you can paint the spot where the stem meets the flower.  Mix a darker shadow colour and paint that area in.  Soften the line between stem and flower.

Leaves - right

painting the right leaf of the tulip

Complete the painting of the right leaf in similar fashion as the left leaf.

How to do a colour wash

painting a wash over the tulip

Take a small amount of the colour you will be using for your wash and place it on the palette.  Brush this very lightly and evenly on the colour you wish to change (tone down).

Water drop theory

water drop theory

Through illustrations, Nolan explains just how a water drop is formed.  Note that the sun is highlighted on the opposite side of the drop and the shadow is on the side closest to the sun.  This is the reverse of how a highlight is normally painted.  The drop will also cast a shadow on the opposite side of the sun. And, because the drop is water, it will have a reflection of the sun on the sun side.

As for colours of water drops, they are made from your original flower colours, although you may have to adjust the highlights and shadows for maximum contrast.

Water drops are usually found in small clusters (families) and tend to be few in number.  They are usually found at the top of the flower (or close to where the water source is).  Often, there may be one or two running down the side of the flower.

Front view water drop

front view of a water drop

Brush on your flower colour in an elongated circular shape.  Add your highlight colour on the side opposite the sun.  Take a clean dry brush and lightly fade some of the highlight paint partially into the drop.

Paint the shadow colour on the side closest to the sun.  Fade the colour partially into the drop as you did with the highlight.

Add the shadow to the highlighted side, then fade it out.  On the side closest to the sun, add a small curved sky reflection.

As a finishing touch, run a thin white line along the bottom edge of the highlighted side.

Side view of water drops

side view of a water drop

Paint a thin outline of the water drop on the side of the flower.

Add the shadow and fade it partially into the drop.

Use a darker shadow colour for the shadow on the flower itself.  Fade it out.

Add a reflection on the sun side of the drop.

Running water drops

running water drops

Brush on the outline of the running drop.

Paint on the highlight colour, then fade it partially into the drop.

Paint on the darker shadow colour on the side closest to the sun.  Fade in.

Fade out the running lines, but dab in a bit of highlight there to give it a bit of shimmer.

Add the sky reflection, then add a dark shadow.  Use the brush technique that Nolan demonstrates to get the chisel point effect on your brush to make sharp edges.  Fade out the shadow.

Add a bit of lightened highlight colour in the farthest corner.

Finishing up

final painting of a tulip in oil

Go back over the painting to be sure you have all the details correct.


About Nolan Clark

Read more about Nolan Clark

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