How to create a beautiful dark background – Free Watercolour Video Lesson

Currently I am working on a beautiful pink rose bud painting in watercolor. When I was planning the painting I played around with it in Photoshop to see how it would look with a dark background. And I immediately loved it. I often use Photoshop to see the possibilities in the composition, to emphasize the colours when needed or to cut the painting etc.

This post will be a free watercolor lesson on creating a beautiful dark background to support a rose.

Here is a photo of the rose with still the white of the paper. I won’t talk about the colours on the rose in this post – I will do this in a separate post.

work in progress of a pink rose bud in watercolor - rose paintings in watercolor by Doris Joa

Pink Rose Bud painting – watercolor by Doris Joa (work in progress)

I am using 340 Lb watercolor paper from Arches. My technique is most wet on dry – which means wet paint on dry paper. To learn more about this just check this lesson about Watercolor Technique

The first image shows the pink rose bud in progress. The rose isn’t finished yet but I decide always at a special point to start with the background. Because when the background is added I already know that I have to darken colours, to soften edges, to maybe lift some colours on the rose.

Step 1 – adding a yellow underwash

adding a yellow underwash to create dark backgrounds on rose paintings by Doris Joa

Art-Photo 1: Pink Rose Bud painting with first yellow underwash – watercolor by Doris Joa (work in progress)

On the white background I added a wash of yellow. I used Aureolin Modern (a transparent yellow). I love this clean yellow. Let it dry.

Why do I add at first a yellow underwash?

When creating my backgrund I want to have a very rich coloured background. I also want that at some points the yellow shines through my next layers of colours, which will also be transparent colours. This adds more depth to the painting. For this painting I don’t like a plein dark background. I want the feeling that there is more in the background  – some atmosphere. And the first yellow underwash helps me to achieve this.

In the next photo you can see that I added a first dark wash over the yellow underwash.

I used the following colours:

  • Anthraquinoid Red
  • Winsor Green (blue shade) OR Phthalo Green
  • Sap Green mixed with the colours above or use it alone in some areas
  • Indigo

Indigo is a very dark and rich deep blue colour. So if you use this dark blue over the yellow underwash you know what will happen, right? It creates a dark greenish colour. As I want to have a very dark background this works perfect.

For a beautiful black you can mix Anthraquinoid Red with Winsor Green. You also can add some blue to this mix. If you vary these mixes you can decide if you want to have your dark color warmer (using more red) or cooler (using more blue or green).

how to create beautiful dark backgrounds in watercolor

Art-Photo 2: Pink Rose Bud painting with first yellow underwash – watercolor by Doris Joa (work in progress)

Let this wash dry completely before you add another layer of color.

In the next photo you can see another wash of the same colours used as before. The painting is still wet and it needs to dry.

How to create a beautiful dark background in watercolor - free watercolor lesson

Art-Photo 3: Pink Rose Bud painting with first yellow underwash – watercolor by Doris Joa (work in progress)

Is there an alternative?

Yes, there is. If you don’t like to work in this way you also can apply your colours as you go and let them mix on the paper. But then make sure that you add a lot of yellow, also some sap green and also your dark mix. If there are areas which are too dark you always can get warmth and lighter areas back when you add cadmium yellow light. This is an opaque colour. Opaque colours sit on the paper and if these washes are not too strong the underlayers will show through. This means you have also a wonderful effect in your background.

Pink Rose Bud with raindrops in watercolor by Doris Joa

Art-Photo 4: Pink Rose Bud painting in watercolor – finished painting by Doris Joa

Free Video lesson on how to create beautiful dark backgrounds

I made a short video and showed on a piece of paper how I did the background on my new watercolor painting. Enjoy!





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