Bougainvillea Progression Painting

I was surprised at how many likes and shares this particular painting received when I posted it on Facebook.  I even got a request asking how i painted it.   So sharing here some progression pics and a bit of explanation.

The reference photo is a bougainvillea plant from our garden.  It is a daily routine for me to walk and check for possible paintings among the flowering plants.  Sometimes when I see a promising bouquet forming, I would observe it daily watching for that perfect reference.  I saw the possibility with this one.  While the two white groupings on the left can be distracting, it can be remedied later.  What is important is I liked how the cluster hangs. 

I stopped drawing on some watercolor papers with a pencil since I realized erasing the pencil lines was responsible for me having problems with those brand paper.  Erasing can sometimes burnish paper and make burnished areas more water resistant.  Sometimes it can tear surfaces on the more delicate papers

I draw as I go with very light watercolors to map out areas.  I am not pressured to copy the reference exactly so the dimensions I just approximate.

Starting with the focal point, I used very light washes and dropped in colors for my base layer.  Colors used were permanent rose, cobalt blue, cobalt turquoise, sap green and Winsor yellow.


I try not to concentrate and finish just one area.  I constantly extend and this allows the previous parts to dry so I can work on them again.

Some bougainvillea trivia.  The colorful parts many often refer to as the flowers are actually modified leaves.  These colored leaves are also referred to as bracts.  The true flowers are the small protrusions that sometimes look like spent match sticks with white crowns on them.

When you add the darks, the petals pop out.

I continue to add more leaves and details.

I do not copy everything.  Just enough of the parts to make a convincing realistic rendering.  After this I just go with what feels or looks right.


One of the advantages of not finalizing specific portions is it leaves you with the option to tweak those parts later with the overall look of the painting in mind.  

I continue to extend and work on different areas.

See how the background color that peeks through the foliage and open spaces is a darker or grayer version of the colored leaves.  This helps in redirecting the viewer’s attention back to the focal point.  

Almost done.  I have taken all the elements that i liked about the reference photo and incorporated it into the painting.  Time to step back and analyze how I can add more drama or mood.  

For my final touch, I dimmed the two clusters I saw in the reference photo so that they still look interesting but will not compete for attention with the focal point.  And done.


White Bougainvillea
watercolor on paper
50 x 35 cm


Private Collection

Bougainvillea, 35 x 50 cm, ©2016