Let’s Paint a Siberian Iris!

This beautiful Siberian Iris (of which type I do not know) unexpectedly grew in my neighbor’s yard. Sandy my neighbor, claimed that she did not plant it. I said, “Maybe the bulb fairies did it?”, but she didn’t buy it!

Anyway, what a treat to have something this beautiful mysteriously appear in your yard. So let’s paint it in watercolors before it mysteriously disappears….

Step 1:Set up your area by having your reference photo next to your watercolor paper and draw a sketch in graphite.

Step 2: Notice in the reference photo how light (almost white) and tender the spring stem is of the iris. We want to protect this area and leave it light. We will protect it by covering it with masking fluid (looks orange). Wait until this completelydries before you proceed or you may ruin your brushes! You know when it’s dry when it looks no longer shiny and when you touch it, it is not sticky.

Step 3: I like to paint my background first sometimes. And sometimes I like to paint my subject first. There are no rules. In this step I wet my background with clean water and dropped in some yellow for the top (because later the purple petals will contrast this) and a blue-brown mixture for the bottom (remember, our stem is really light and we need something darker to contrast this). On my blue-brown mixture while wet, I also dropped in some burnt umber and burnt sienna. Don’t worry if it looks too dark, watercolors always dries lighter. Also, don’t worry if this looks messy. Dirt is messy. We like messy.

I have to apologize, some of the next photos are blurry. I must have consumed too much wine. 🙂 lol.

Step 4:Before my background was dry I sprinkled a little sea salt on the “dirt”. Don’t touch or wipe off until the paper is completely dry (this might take some time, be patient). While the masking fluid is still on and your background is dry, splatter some dark brown paint on the bottom. I love how this looks. It really gives the painting texture and gives a natural feeling of dirt. When everything is dry, remove the masking fluid from the stems only and paint the stems using a light yellow/green and darker yellow/green watercolor paint.

Step 5:This is a close-up of the bottom stem. We are going to do some negative painting. Negative painting means you paint the space around your subject. In this picture I used a dark green-brown mixture and painted in between the shoots of the stem and on the bottom of the stem. To soften hard edges, before your paint dries take a clean brush with clean water and move the edge around. This step made the stem pop out!

Step 6: The fun part! Petals! I make my own purple using various mixtures: cobalt+rose=purple, indigo+crimson=purple, any blue+any red=purple, have fun making your own concoctions! I painted the petals wet on wet. This means I first start with a purple and while wet, dropped in some crimson in certain spots. When I say “dropped” I don’t mean painted with a stroke. This will make mud. Barely touch the purple with the tip of your brush loaded with crimson and watch them blend together.

Step 7: Make various purple petals and wait for it to dry. When dry make a dark purple mixture and paint next to the masking fluid. Wait for it to dry.

Step 8 Final: Remove the masking fluid on the flower and paint some yellow spots first. When completely dry, paint some dark purple spots over the yellow. I did not use a micron pen on this painting, I really don’t know why. Maybe this delicate flower reminded me of how delicate spring is and I didn’t feel  the painting wanted hard edges. Let the painting speak to you and loosen up your control…that’s a hard thing to master.

Sprung Together
image: 4.5×6.5
cream mat outside dimensions: 8×10
mahogany frame

Here is what it looks like framed:

I hope you enjoyed this watercolor step by step demonstration of how to paint an iris!


  1. Wow – gorgeous as always! 🙂 And yes, you mentioned in a previous comment that it would be fun to paint together – that would be so cool! I always did better with the teacher there with me then when I’m on my own. lol…true!

  2. Drowsey: Thank you! Wouldn’t that be cool, to paint together??? Well, if you ever visit Chicago, let me know, I’ll give you free lessons! 😀

    Joan: Thanks so much! 🙂

    Lana: Oh you do silly! Thanks!

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