How to Paint Wisteria in Watercolor – Adding Floral Details to Architectural Painting – Fabio Cembranelli

Painting by Fabio Cembranelli
Tutorial in Artists & Illustrators

“Wisteria is not an easy subject to paint in watercolour. If you suggest round shapes instead of drooping clusters, for example, it’s going to look like a climbing rose instead. Colour choice is important: the most well-known shades of wisteria are lavender, pink, violet and white but the pink is not so vibrant. Most of the time the flowers have a softer, pastel look. The leaf colour also needs attention – it’s not a dark shade of green; it’s an intermediate one, sometimes with a yellow bias.

“My approach to watercolour is intuitive and I like to paint loosely. I try to take the essence of the subject and represent it according to my interpretation. Therefore, I don’t pay too much attention to the number of flowers in each cluster. The general concept is much more important than a single detail. Instead of trying to paint flower by flower, try to focus on the play between light and shadow. You will create a stronger focal point and draw the viewer’s attention.

photo reference for learning how to paint wisteria in watercolour

Photo Reference

Fabio’s materials

  • Paper: Arches Aquarelle 300gsm cold-pressed watercolour paper, 58x48cm
  • Brushes: Synthetic round brushes, sizes 6, 10 and 16; synthetic flat brushes, size 1/2”, 3/4” and 1”; synthetic rigger brush, size 2; fan brush, size 4
  • Paints: Raw Sienna, Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber, Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Quinacridone Magenta, Rose Madder, New Gamboge, Green Gold, Sap Green, Undersea Green, Manganese Blue Hue, Cobalt Blue, French Ultramarine, Ultramarine Violet and Shadow Violet, all Daniel Smith Extra Fine Water Colour
  • Pencil: Derwent watersoluble 2B sketching pencil

1. Work the verticals

Step one of painting a wisteria covered doorway in watercolour

“I began by sketching out my composition. For this, I used a water-soluble pencil so that when I started painting my sketch would disappear – the water works as a natural eraser. I began adding the wall colour with a size 16 round brush and a mixture of Burnt Sienna, Quinacridone Gold and Shadow Violet. If the building wall is a vertical plane, try to move your brush in a vertical or diagonal way. If you apply the first layer vertically, it’s going to look more natural.

2. Pick out colours

2. Pick out colours

“I started adding a few greens, mixing up Sap Green, Quinacridone Gold and New Gamboge. Remember it’s only the first layer so don’t add darker greens at this point. Try to leave a few soft edges between the green leaves and the wisteria clusters.

“When painting greens I like to use different brushes, so I can create a diversity of brushstrokes and marks. My brush choice here was a size 10 round and sometimes a size 4 fan brush, too.

4. Start on the wisteria

“Using a size 10 round brush loaded with a mix of Quinacridone Magenta, Rose Madder and Permanent Alizarin Crimson, I began painting the wisteria clusters. For variation, I sometimes added a little bit of Cobalt Blue to the mix so I could it becoming too pink.

“Suggest a few clusters, working with the paper upside down. Try and really think about the cluster’s structure, it’s not a square or round shape, but rather a conical arrangement, pointed downwards.

5. Soften edges as you go

Step 5 of learning how to paint a wisteria covered doorway using watercolour

“I continued working on the wisteria clusters with the size 10 round brush, using different combinations of Quinacridone Magenta, Rose Madder and Permanent Alizarin Crimson, still with a subtle touch of Cobalt Blue. The more I added clusters, the more I tried to soften a few edges between them and the leaves. A good balance between hard and soft edges is crucial to enhance the sense of depth in a painting so blend, connect and mix clusters and leaves sometimes.

6. Tone it down

Step 6 of learning how to paint a wisteria covered doorway using watercolour

“Next I added darker values to the wisteria clusters and leaves. I used a mix of Quinacridone Magenta, Permanent Alizarin Crimson and French Ultramarine for the clusters and a mix of Sap Green and Undersea Green for the leaves, all with the same size 10 brush. At this stage, I also lifted out some pigment from the clusters using a 1/2” flat brush in order to create a few highlights. Don’t forget to suggest different forms within the wisteria – avoid making the same cluster shape everywhere, otherwise it’s going to look like a stamp if you try to repeat it.

7. Add greenery

I continued to work with greens, suggesting a few distant hues on the left-hand side. For these, I mixed Sap Green, Undersea Green, Ultramarine Violet and Shadow Violet, and applied them with the size 10 round and size 4 fan brushes.Think about values here: all the greens added to this left-hand side of the painting were a bit darker than the wisteria clusters, so the focal point (the wisteria) was further enhanced.

8. Work on contrasts

Step 8 of learning how to paint a wisteria covered doorway using watercolour

“Using a size 10 round brush, I added a mix of Burnt Umber, Shadow Violet, Burnt Sienna and French Ultramarine to the doors and windows. The main door in the middle of the building was darker than the wisteria clusters around it, so painting this added to the value contrast and made the wisteria seem more highlighted in comparison.

At this stage of a painting, I like to step back and take a look at the overall balance so I can decide where to add more details. Thinking ahead about the next steps in any composition is quite important.

9. Bring in details

Step 9 of learning how to paint a wisteria covered doorway using watercolour

“It’s time to add a few more details to my composition. I painted the streetlamp using the size 10 flat brush and a mix of Shadow Violet, Burnt Umber and Burnt Sienna. Adding a few details is important to create interest but don’t overwork them. It’s just a streetlamp – it should be part of the composition, not the focal point.

I also added a few very subtle darker values to the window and doors, using a colourful grey mix of Burnt Umber plus Ultramarine Violet.

10. Darken the flowers

Step 10 of learning how to paint a wisteria covered doorway using watercolour

“It’s now time to add darker colours to the wisteria. Mix Quinacridone Magenta and Cobalt Blue for the flowers, and darker greens made with Sap Green, Ultramarine Violet and Shadow Violet. I used three different brushes for this stage: the size 10 round, the size 4 fan and the size 2 rigger. It is important to add different brushstrokes and marks to create interest, as well as dots and other tiny marks to suggest single leaves or flowers.

11. Gently add shadows

Watercolour painting of wisteria covered doorway

“It’s time to add shadows under the wisteria. I used two brushes for this, the larger size 10 and 16 rounds, with a mixture of Ultramarine Violet, Burnt Umber and Burnt Sienna. Don’t make the shadow mixtures too thick, by adding too much pigment. If this layer is too saturated, it’s going to look like a texture on the wall instead of a soft cast shadow. These shadows were just strong enough to suggest the play between light and shade. They conveyed a sense of drama to the composition and drew attention to my chosen focal point: the wisteria.

12. Finishing touches

How to paint wisteria in watercolour: the final painting

“By this stage, almost all the shadows had been added. I added a final few using the larger two of my round synthetic brushes (sizes 10 and 16) again with the same mix of Ultramarine Violet, Burnt Umber and Burnt Sienna. Note that all shadows follow in the same direction and they were added according to the direction of the sunlight. This helps to create a rhythm, connecting everything together and enhancing the focal point.