How to Paint Cosmos Flowers in Watercolor

Skill Level : 1 Beginner

Medium : Watercolour Painting

Subject : Flowers

Tutor : Dennis Clark

Class Length : 2 hours 05 minutes

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Gold Level or Higher Class

Class Description

This is the start of a wonderful journey into the world of watercolour painting. It is different to the other mediums in that it is a living medium. What do I mean by that? No other medium has the ability to just let the pigments automatically flow and mingle on their own without the artist even touching it! This quality, and its transparency, lets the artist manipulate it into some wonderful visuals. It is a challenge, it is a skill, but it can be mastered. Join with me on this journey to you becoming a Master Artist.

In this lesson you will learn:

1.   The introduction to watercolour painting
2.  The importance of drawing skills
3.  The basic sketches of cosmos flowers
4.  The wet-in wet technique
5.  How to paint a bunch of cosmos flowers

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Class Video

Class Tutorial

What are Cosmos flowers?

Cosmos flowers grow wild in South Africa and bloom around the start of winter. They are either white, pink or maroon.

What colours are used in this painting?

Ultramarine Blue
Crimson Lake
Light Red
Cadmium Yellow
Raw Sienna or Yellow Ochre
White (Acrylic or Gouache)

General Forms of Flowers

These are the main shapes needed for painting. For other angles simply rotate the sketches provided as needed. The dotted lines at each form indicates the preliminary sketch needed for the correct positioning and perspective of the petals.

Here you can see the correct petal tips while the right hand tip shows the incorrect saw-tooth effect used by some artists. REMEMBER: the wild cosmos always have 8 petals! I have seen too many professionally painted cosmos with anything from 5 to 10 petals. Take time to observe nature and that which you are painting. Study them and practice them until you are able to draw the various shapes and positions without referring to the illustrations.

The sketch above shows a closed bud.

Pencil Sketch

In order to keep a spontaneous atmosphere do not sketch in any more than just the outlines of the flowers and the buds. Without these pencil lines it would be very difficult to obtain a clean form for the flowers and the buds as the masking fluid is not easily seen when applied directly to the paper. Do not try to sketch in the stems or the leaves. These will be drawn (painted) in later with the Rigger brush.

Masking Fluid

Prior to using the masking fluid shake the bottle vigorously for a while to ensure a thorough mixing because if the bottle has been standing for some time the upper layer will be fairly stiff. If the fluid is too thick it will not cover the painting properly and will leave open areas which are not easily seen. These spaces will ruin your painting. If necessary, add water virtually drop by drop, while stirring with the handle of your Rigger brush, until the correct consistency is obtained. Don’t forget to treat your brush with the lather of a green Sunlight soap bar BEFORE putting your brush into the masking fluid. CAREFULLY paint in the flower and buds areas with the masking fluid, making sure that the edges are clean and tidy, especially the petal tips as these are very characteristic of the cosmos. Clean the brush thoroughly with water between each flower application and re-treat with the soap bar lather. A reasonably thin consistency is needed for the stems otherwise the stem will be too thick, irregular and look unnatural.


It is the background that sets the mood and the atmosphere of the painting and can be any colour scheme you personally want. In this particular painting the blue background was chosen to give it an outdoor feeling.

First mix separate mixtures of :-
French Ultramarine for the main background:
Medium density Crimson Lake for the faded flowers:
French Ultramarine and Light Red in a fairly strong mixture for the darker background –
More Light Red for the green-brown background shadow area and even more Light Red/Ultramarine to obtain the dark green colour for the stems and leaves.

Add a light blue fluid wash to the upper area of the painting and slightly darker as one proceeds lower down. Into the bottom section add some of the dark green mixture so that the colours mix, being careful that the upper section stays lighter in value. This can be obtained and controlled by slightly lifting up and placing a packing under the upper part of the board. Be careful to work the paint to the very edges of the masking fluid. Don’t be scared to make the centre area very dark, especially around the white flower(s) as the colour will dry lighter than you think it will. Once dry, this area may even be over-painted with the same colours to increase the shadow area(s). Remember, contrast is needed to show up the white flowers! Don’t be scared of painting over the areas treated with masking fluid.


Now paint in the leaves with the Rigger brush. Paint in a sketching way with the brush held virtually in an upright position and with the point just touching the paper. Practice on a separate piece of paper first until you are confident. The long line must be executed in a flowing action with the brush slowly lifted up at the end of the stroke in order to obtain the thinned down tips. The tiny sub leaves on the side stripes are best executed with short swift “flicks”. Remember, the leaves, and the buds, are only there as “fillers” to round off the composition of the painting, so do NOT overdo the amount of leaves – rather a bit too few than too many.

Remove Masking Fluid

What is left now is the removal of the masking fluid. MAKE SURE THE PAINTING IS COMPLETELY DRY before removing the masking fluid. If the paper is even slightly wet or damp the rubber compound will grip the paper and tear away the damp paper underneath it and ruin all your hard work.

You may remove it by rubbing with your finger, but this can be disastrous if your finger is even slightly dirty or oily. The best method is the use of a piece of masking tape to pull the rubberized fluid off with a stroking action ACROSS the paper. NEVER pull the rubber off with an upward action – it may just cause the paper fibres to separate! A light pressure of the finger across the painting will tell if any masking fluid is still left on the paper.

Flowers and Buds

As the flowers are slightly cupped in shape the top of the flowers will be in shade and thus darker in value. Many artists forget this feature and so paint them incorrectly.

For the pink flower make sure that your brush has been thoroughly cleaned of any other colour. You want the flowers to look clean and fresh. Paint the light colour first, dry with a hair-drier, and then add the slightly darker colour for the shadows.

For the darker red flower mix a darker mixture of Crimson Lake and then carefully add some pure French Ultramarine until a dark maroon colour is obtained. While the paint in the flower is still wet lift out the lower half in order to obtain the sunlit area.

For the white flower shade mix a light mixture of French Ultramarine and Crimson Lake to obtain blueish purple. Add only to the top half leaving some of the petal edges white. Don’t forget to have a variety of pink, red and white buds and add some shadows to the bottom of the buds.


With Cadmium Yellow and French Ultramarine mix a yellow green mixture for the stems and completely paint in the white areas. With the same mixture as the leaves now add shadows to the stems and finish off by adding small cover leaves at the base of the buds.

Flower Centres

Using either the Raw sienna or Yellow Ochre paint in the flower centres straight from the tube or pan. The shadow area of the centre is a strong mixture of Crimson Lake and French Ultramarine. Apply it with the point of the brush in a series of dots so that the edges of the shadow is uneven. The final touch to the painting prior to signing your name is the highlight on the flower centres and on the buds. For this use a touch of Chinese White or white Gouache/Acrylic. Without these highlights the painting is “dead”.

Finished Painting

That completes the painting. I hope you have enjoyed it. See you next time.

About Dennis Clark

Read more about Dennis Clark

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