A bit of vitamin C anyone? Oranges are another staple part of any artist’s repertoire. They’re a terrific subject to learn how to paint because of their simple geometric form, but at the same time they provide opportunities to explore light, shade, color, and texture. In short, oranges are a great subject for getting to grips with watercolors.
But you don’t have to just paint a classic still life. You can paint watercolor oranges using a variety of different styles and techniques. There are many fun and creative ways to portray oranges, and that’s what this tutorial is about!
At the same time I’ll be delving into various aspects of art theory and watercolor painting techniques… After all, the best way to learn is to get your brushes wet !
Watercolor Oranges Pattern
This first method involves painting a repetitive pattern of oranges. This is an easy and fun way to begin painting oranges.
I find patterns in themselves are aesthetically appealing. But the usefulness of this kind of exercise is the repetition. Repeating the same gestures again and again is an excellent way to learn brush control and watercolor handling. I can guarantee that by the time you’ve painted all 9 oranges you’ll be into a good rhythm and you’ll develop a better feeling about how to control your paint strokes.
This simple painting covers a range of topics:
I like painting patterns. The composition of these orange slices is pretty simple but visually appealing. You might wonder why we find this kind of pattern attractive? I think it’s because the oranges are set up in a regular arrangement which has repetition, which in turn creates harmony and rhythm. There’s no particular focal point or suggestion of movement, but even though we're painting the same thing repeatedly, with watercolors you can create a variety of color, texture, and shapes (each of the slices is slightly different to the others)..
In a nutshell, repetitive patterns are pleasing to the eye, so don’t hesitate to use this idea whenever you’re looking for a new way to present your artwork.
The colors in this composition are what’s known as analogous.
Analogous colors are a range of colors that are close to each other on a color wheel. They create color harmony because of the proximity of the hues relative to each other. Think of the colors of the rainbow, then extract only a small section of the colors, in this case, yellows and oranges. Because of the close relationship of the colors you get a pleasing harmony.
Also, when you mix watercolor paints that are close to each other on the color wheel, you get nice bright vibrant colors because the mixtures are not dulled by tainted hues. This is one of the secrets to mixing bright intense colors with watercolor paints (shhh… don’t tell everyone).
Step by Step Tutorial
Begin by sketching your oranges pattern onto watercolor paper (If you prefer you can download the templates for the sketch I drew and use this for tracing). I’m using 140 lb / 300 gsm watercolor paper for this. It’s what I consider the minimum for comfortable painting without the paper buckling too much.
The paints I’m using for this are Daniel Smith Hansa Yellow Deep which is a warm yellow and Transparent Pyrrol Orange (l just love this color). You'll find some more of my recommendations for paints here...
Start by painting the edge of each circle with a line of yellow. Whilst painting this, try not to overlap the little triangular orange segments, but don’t worry if the width of the line varies.
Next paint the individual segments with an orange color. I made a mix of orange and yellow paint for this, but with more of an orange bias. Don’t be scared to mix a puddle of fairly strong paint. The idea is to paint strong, rich colors, so keep in mind that watercolor paints always dry lighter in appearance than when they’re wet. Leave the white paper showing through occasionally to create a small white highlight.
The aim is to get some variation of color in each triangular segment, so while the paint is still damp, load your brush with yellow paint, then dab some yellow pigment into the wet paint (This technique is called “charging in”). The idea is to create a slight gradient of color within the segment, changing from orange to yellow-orange. In the world of watercolors this effect is called a variegated wash.
Now return to the edge of the oranges and paint an orange line on the outer edge. Make this outer circle thinner so that you get a yellow inner circle still showing.
As a final touch, add some texture to the segments. Make sure the paint is dry before doing this. Using the edge of your brush, and holding the brush almost horizontal to the paper, dab three lines of color to the edge of each triangular segment. Adding successive layers of paint in this way is a watercolor technique known as glazing. The lines produced by the edge of the brush are a nice graphic way to imitate the orange pulp texture.
Macro View Watercolor Orange Slice
In this next painting project we get “up close and personal” with an orange slice! This time the composition zooms in on a single slice so we can paint a little more detail.
There are a lot of things you can learn doing a painting like this, including:
Notice how the subject is framed in this painting. I decided to move in close to the subject to the extent that it covers most of the sheet. This plays on a compositional idea that uses negative space.
Every painting contains negative and positive space. Very often the subject is the positive space, and the surroundings are the negative space. By exaggerating one or the other, you can create some interesting compositions.
The orange is also framed using a guideline known as the rule of thirds.
To apply the rule of thirds, you divide your sheet into thirds, and use the resulting imaginary gridlines to help place the subject of your painting. For a balanced and harmonious image you place the subject anywhere along, at at the intersection of the gridlines.
As you can see, I’ve placed the center of the orange slice near the intersection of two gridlines. The fact that the edges of the orange fall off the edges of the sheet help to accentuate the closeness to the subject.
No surprises here… The painting uses analogous colors again. I used Daniel Smith Hansa Yellow Deep, Transparent Pyrrol Orange, and Pyrrol Scarlet to mix a range of colors from deep oranges to yellow-orange hues.
Step by Step Tutorial
Sketch the orange onto some watercolor paper (you can download the template here for tracing).
Start by masking the small highlights inside each of the orange segments. You’ll need a latex type masking fluid for this - I like the Pebeo Drawing Gum (check the reviews on Amazon) because it’s blue color makes it easy to see where you’re masking. I’m also using a bamboo quill pen which I find gives good control, and is really simple to clean if the masking fluid dries on the tip.
Once your paper is protected, start by painting a faded outer edge. To do this you apply some paint, then clean your brush in water, dry your brush slightly on a sponge or a cloth, then use the damp brush to pull out the color you just painted. Run the damp brush alongside the wet paint, not over the same shape you just painted. The color will run into the damp area you just laid down, creating a graduated wash. It’s important to remove some of the water from your brush before blending. If your brush is too wet it will run into the damp paint and create an unwanted bloom pattern.
Move on to the segments themselves, and fill them with a wash of yellow-orange color. Don’t hesitate to use different mixes of orange to get some interesting color variation. By now the edge of the orange should be dry so you can paint a new layer of orange and add some detail and texture. You won’t be fading the edge this time. Create a more jagged edge and add a few dots of paint like I did.
Now were going to use a glazing technique to simulate the pulp texture of the segments. To do this I painted a kind of “tear drop” pattern like the one you see below. The idea is to let this pattern dry before glazing a second layer over the top. The second layer is exactly the same regular pattern, but offset so you don’t paint over the same shapes.
Paint your tear drop pattern so that the points are directed towards the center, so they radiate out from the middle of the orange. Don’t forget to let your first layer dry completely before applying the second glaze.
Take advantage of the drying time between patterns to add a third glaze of orange color to the outer edge to deepen the color and add more detail.
When everything was dry, I added a final glaze of hansa yellow to the center of the segments, to deepen the color of the center of the orange. I also reinforced the edges of each segment with a thin line of paint to help the definition of these shapes.
Now you get to remove the masking fluid to admire the final result. But before you do this, let the painting dry thoroughly! Believe me, there’s nothing more frustrating than reaching this step, only to smudge the paint while trying to remove the mask. I find the best tool for removing masking fluid is a kneadable eraser.
Ta da! All finished!
Pen & Ink Watercolor Oranges
This is an simple kind of watercolor painted in a loose and graphic style. You can apply this kind of method to any other subject you like. The pen lines give definition to the forms of this composition while the color can be applied quite loosely with relaxed brushstrokes.
Some of the techniques used in this painting:
The composition is a simple “ball” shape centered in the middle of the sheet. In the original sketch I did for this painting I was aiming to get a balance of forms and flowing lines. It’s what you might call a “bouquet” style composition. The idea is to place the center of interest in the middle of the painting, and let the forms recede towards the edges.
The color design is still analogous but this time the addition of green makes this a wider range of color harmonies spreading from yellow to green. For the greens I used a mix of Lemon Yellow and Phthalo Blue, plus Sap green.
Step by Step Tutorial
Sketch your composition in the middle of the paper, or download my template for tracing.
Start by painting the background foliage with a light green color. I used a mix of lemon yellow and sap green. I also added a few dabs of paint around the flowers at the extremity of the painting. Keep the mix fairly diluted so it doesn’t have a strong tonal value. Later you’ll see that this helps to give depth to the painting, since light colors appear to recede and dark colors always seem to advance.
Now you can have some fun with the oranges. I used Transparent Pyrrol Orange and Hansa Yellow deep for this. Mix a separate puddle of each paint. Then paint a fairly diluted orange over most of the surface, leaving a white highlight if you want.
Here’s an interesting tip for you… While the paint is still damp, you can use the wet in wet technique of charging in again. A good trick is to load one side of your brush with orange paint, then rotate the brush and load the other side with yellow. Use a fairly thick mixture. As you paint into the damp orange shape the two colors will blend and create an attractive variety of color!
Use the same technique to paint the triangular segments of the orange slices.
Once all the oranges are done, now you can paint the remaining leaves. This time you’ll be using a darker green mix. The darker tones will help give the impression that these leaves move forward in the composition. Also some of these leaves might overlap the orange shapes, creating layers of overlapping paint (glazing technique).
Conclude the painting by adding a few details. Use a faint green to help define the flower petals, and add some yellow to the centers. You can also add a few dabs of yellow to the oranges to add some texture to the surface.
The final touch is added with a black waterproof pen. Make sure you wait for the painting to dry before this step. The pen work helps to add emphasis to certain shapes. I’ve used a few lines to help deine and bring forward the foreground elements. I used two thicknesses, one fine and one broad, reserving the broader lines for the shapes in the center of the composition. I’m using Pigma Micron pens which are great because they don’t bleed on watercolor paper.
Try experimenting different ways to paint oranges in watercolor. I'm sure you'll have fun!