I’ve been planning a kitchen remodel that’s plodded along since January of last year. After a year and a half of waiting due to supply chain delays, the remodel finally starts at the end of this month. The finished kitchen will feature some open shelving, and I want to use that shelving as an opportunity to display artwork that adds personality to the room. Today’s basil watercolor art is the perfect thing, and I’m providing it as a free printable if you want a pretty herbal painting to add to your home decor, too!
Before You Get Started …
Today’s basil watercolor painting project isn’t quite a beginner-level endeavor. It requires a considerable amount of blending and contouring! If you’re new to watercolors, consider enrolling in The Ultimate Beginner’s Watercolor Online Course. Complete that course, and you’ll be able to tackle this project plus any other herb you might want to paint.
Let’s Make a Watercolor Basil Painting!
1. Print the Reference Photo
First, print out the basil reference photo. It’s free, and you can download it by clicking here.
2. Select Your Colors
Now, select the colors that you want to use in your watercolor basil painting. I have chosen a simple four-color scheme consisting of Serpentine Green, Bismuth Yellow, Perylene Green, and Violet Hematite (all from Greenleaf & Blueberry). You can use colors from any palette you have at home as long as you have a light green and a dark green, a yellow, and a deep purple.
3. Make a Light Green Base Layer
Now, place the reference photo printout behind a piece of 8″x10″ watercolor paper and put the two papers on a light box. Note that if you don’t have a light box, a bright window or a computer/iPad screen could work … though you’ll find yourself at a bit of an uncomfortable angle as you paint.
Next, use a size 3 paintbrush to cover the entire piece of basil with your light green tone (Serpentine Green). I love using a light box to get an herbal painting started in this way for two reasons. First of all, it allows you to create an accurate layout without making pencil guidelines, which can be hard to completely erase from watercolor pieces. Secondly, it’s a big timesaver! You get your layout right the first time without frustration.
Once you finish, the basil won’t be a uniform green tone. Instead, it will look something like the piece below:
4. Create Ombré Lettering
Once you’ve got that light green draft on the page, use that same light green paint and a size 0 paintbrush to paint over the top third of the “B” in “BASIL”.
Then, while the light green paint is still wet, blend a darker green into it (like Perylene Green). If you can clearly see the juncture between the two colors when you’re finished putting on the darker green, moisten your brush with only water. Then, put your wet brush at the juncture and gently move it back and forth between the two colors to fill in more of the letter. Voilà! Your colors will re-hydrate and blend together.
Now, end your letter by applying your dark purple shade (Violet Hematite) to the bottom part of the letter. Blend it into the darker green in the middle part of the letter.
Use the same blending technique on the rest of the letters. You’ll end up with an eye-catching ombré effect that goes from light green at the top to an earthy deep purple at the bottom.
5. Shade Your First Watercolor Basil Leaf
Once you’re finished painting the letters, you’re done with the light box. You can put it away, then continue on with the project by using your watercolor paper and the reference photo.
Now, moisten a small paintbrush (anywhere from size 000 to size 0) with light green paint. Use the photo of the basil as a reference as you draw lines with the paintbrush to separate the leaves.
The trick to any botanical painting? Take it one element at a time. In the case of this basil watercolor painting, you’ll want to focus on one leaf, completely finish it, then move on to the next. I prefer to do it this way because I find that if I try to do a little of this and a little of that on all leaves at the same time, I get overwhelmed. So: pretend that each leaf you are working on is the only leaf, do your best to make it a lovely leaf, then move on.
To get started, use your dark green tone to paint in the shadows in the top left leaf. (Again, use your reference photo to figure out where those shadows are.)
Once you paint the dark green shadows, you’ll want to blend them in to the leaf. To do that, moisten your brush with just water, then rub the wet bristles at the edges of your shadow. Your goal is to tease out the edges of the shadow so the shadow fades from dark green into the light green color.
After your dark green shadows are painted, it’s time to go in and add that deep purple color! Figure out where that color should appear by observing the leaf in the reference photo again. Look at where the darkest shadows are, and that’s where you’ll paint that purple color.
5. Continue Shading
Use the technique outlined in Step 4 to shade and blend every leaf. The series of photos below will show you how I painted one leaf at a time:
Don’t forget to include light veins in most of the leaves, which is how they appear in the reference photo.
The secret to a lovely basil watercolor painting? Blend, blend, blend. (If you’ve got shaky blending skills, consider taking The Ultimate Beginner’s Watercolor Online Course).
Don’t be afraid to use a high concentration of the dark green and deep purple. Those two colors contrast beautifully with the light green.
A lot of people are afraid to put a lot of contrast in their pieces, but contrast will make the piece look realistic. More contrast will result in leaves that have a realistic, nearly 3D look.
Continue to work your way down the plant.
See how realistic the leaf in the middle left looks with some strategic blending?
Just keep painting one leaf at a time until you’re finished! This isn’t a speedy project, so it’s okay if it takes you a couple of sessions to finish painting it. In the world of watercolor, slow and steady is always good.
In the end, this 8″ x 10″ basil painting took me around four hours to paint.
Once you’ve finished your painting, there’s no need to apply a fixative. If you can, frame the piece and keep it out of direct sunlight. It should stay vibrant for years to come, especially if you used artist grade paints to create it.
Free Printable Watercolor Basil Art
This basil watercolor art is a fun project to create, but it does involve a chunk of time! If you like the artwork, but you don’t have the time to make it yourself, I’ve made this into a free downloadable printable for you. Choose from three different sizes — 4″ x 6″, 5″ x 7″, and 8″ x 10″.
Remember, if the techniques used in this tutorial intimidate you, it’s a good idea to take The Ultimate Beginner’s Watercolor Online Course. Alternatively, for a free run-through of basic watercolor techniques, see Painting with Watercolors for Beginners (and Painting with Watercolors for Beginners Part II). Happy painting, and have a great weekend.
This article first appeared on the TPK Blog in May of 2015. I updated it to include new photos, helpful printables, and clearer information.