A Guide to Painting an Orchid Flower Deborah Lambkin

Painting an orchid

To paint an accurate painting of a single flower face on, that records it life size shape and colour. This style of painting is useful to record the variety of flowers in your own plant collection. It is also useful if you breed plants to record the best cultivars or show the variety among hybrids.

Drawing an orchid

I start with a measured drawing and then I paint layers of watercolour until I think I have reached as accurate a portrait as possible.

You will need:

H2 pencil or propelling pencil

Polymer eraser


Fabriano Artistico Hot pressed (HP) heavy weight paper or a paper block.

I like this paper because it takes lots of layers of paint. If you use a very smooth paper, you may not be able to use too many layers. Or you can use whatever paper you are familiar with.

Always work from live material, a plant growing in a pot or a flower stem in a florists tube. Aim to have it set up so it is facing you, so you can see it clearly and it is showing the angle that you want to paint.

Feel free to take your own photo of your flower from the same angle as your painting as a reference only to be used as a last resort.

Using a well sharpened hard pencil (2H) or a propelling pencil and a dividing tool (shown) I measure and draw, measure and draw etc. continually cross-referencing different points on the flower.

I also take perspective into consideration by regularly checking the drawing looks natural to the eye.

When your drawing is finished and before you paint, gently rub down your pencil lines so they are only barely visible. This is especially important for pale coloured flowers.

Painting your orchid

You will need:

Watercolour brushes in two sizes about 3mm and 1mm

Water colour paints: suggested: Winsor and Newton Cadmium Lemon, Winsor Yellow Deep, Permanent Rose, Scarlet Lake, Winsor Blue (Green Shade), French Ultramarine, Neutral Tint, Quinacridone Magenta, Perylene Maroon, Cerulean Blue, Winsor Violet.

Start building in your colours with a 2 ,3 or 4mm brush (big flower, big brush!) starting with pale versions of the colours you need and working in stronger colour gradually remembering to maintain your brighter areas where you allow the paper colour to show through to form the highlights.

Begin painting the parts of the flower that are furthest away from you and work your way forward, ie. Paint sepals first and protruding lip last.

Always let each layer of paint dry before the next one is started.

It is really important to decide where is cold and where is warm?

Usually cold is where the day light falls directly from your window onto your flower. Where there is warmth is usually inside a flower and in your shadowy areas.

When you have a good but loose version of your flower painted and dry, move to a very small brush and begin to build in further details with tiny brush strokes and even dots.

I always leave sharp patterns and spots to the end of this stage. This is also when I often erase all pencil lines. Don’t worry we will draw them in again later!

Lastly, and this is the stage where I believe the magic happens, using your thicker brush again gently paint over very thin layers of warm colours usually warm yellow or warm pink washes into your shadowy areas.

Finally, I often redraw my flower again with pencil, just to sharpen some edges especially the shadowy ones, always referring back to your same plant specimen and check your measurements are correct!

Preserving your specimen

Orchids are usually quite forgiving in this regard.

Keep your flower cool, preferably laid on dry cotton wool, in an airtight container in your fridge. The same way you might preserve your leftovers.


1. Refer to your plant, refer to your plant, refer to your plant!

2. Ultimately it is all about observation, look, look and look again, you probably spend more time looking than painting.

3. Measure.

4. Don’t be afraid of starting again. You can trace you first drawing onto a new piece of paper. Your second and third painting will always be better!

5. Test your paint colours on a scrap of paper before you actually paint on your good paper.

6. Keep a cotton cloth handy to dab any blobs.

7. Work slowly in small areas, petal by petal, slowly and carefully.

8. If you have lost your highlights, try using an eradicator brush to bring back some brightness. Wash out the colour with a damp brush and dab firmly with a dry clean cloth.

All images and text © Deborah Lambkin

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Deborah Lambkin