I’ve always wanted to do art. I love botanical paintings, especially. Back when I was a college student, I took some art classes, and thought of minoring in art, but the classes required so many hours per unit, so I minored in physical science instead. I tried many times to draw roses, but could never get them right. This winter, I saw there was a “Realistic Watercolor Painting” class at Jade St. Community Center, which isn’t far from me, so I decided to sign up. It’s taught by Hanya Fojaco, who is very talented (see Some instructors demonstrate methods and have students copy. Hanya walks around the room and sees what each person is doing and makes suggestions and comments. Class is pretty low-key. You can keep signing up for classes on a continuing basis, so you can keep getting her advice. Newcomers sit at the front tables, returning artists at all the others. So besides learning to paint, we also get to make new friends and watch each others paintings come to life.

Watercolor painting is a slow process. She has us make a print or a photo of the size we want to paint. Of course, I chose a rose. Actually I printed half a dozen photos of different roses, and asked her which she thought would be good for a first painting. She thought the simplest one- “Durst Plot” (Which may or may not be Sutter’s Gold) would be best, so that’s what I did. The first thing to do is put a piece of graphite paper between the print and the watercolor paper, and trace all the petal edges. Then use the kneaded eraser to soften the darker lines so they won’t be too visible in the final painting. Then, using artist’s tape, tape along the edges of the area to be painted. We also each made a card with samples of each of our paint colors, first at full strength, then diluted, and then as a wash. These are really helpful in planning what to mix and how much to thin the color to get it just right.

Eventually, if one is going to do a painting, one must start putting color on the paper. This is very scary- don’t want to get it too dark, as it’s pretty hard to make paint lighter once it’s on the paper.  I started with very light yellow, and it was still darker than I wanted it to be. In a panic, I carefully thinned the color and spread it out, so that the lightest places weren’t already too dark. Here’s how it looked after the first day of painting:

Hanya said I shouldn't have started the pink yet, but it was too late for that, and turned out fine in the end.

Hanya said I shouldn’t have started the pink yet, but it was too late for that, and turned out fine in the end.

The next week I tried to define the petals a bit more and started adding orange to some of the outer ones.


I mixed the orange color. Hanya said I should have increased the yellow color, then used pink over it to get the orange, since watercolors are translucent.

The third week, I filled in some of the darker color of the interior and shadows.


The fourth week I started putting in the background to get the flower to stand out more.


Next I put in vague leaves with light and dark areas. The plan at this point is for the background to end up out of focus, so it will all be reworked.


At this point I went back to defining more detail in the petals, then smudging details in the background.


At this point Hanya said “Don’t be afraid of the dark.” It was time to add more color to the petals. I had been afraid to go darker, but with the background taking shape, it was easier to see what needed to be done to the flower.


Almost there. At this point I was mostly painting with water- smoothing out places where a color had a sharp transition when it should have a smooth one. Lightening or darkening small areas to create depth and 3-dimensionality. Eventually, I decided that if I did any more, I would probably do as much harm as good. It was done.

I showed it to my daughter and my husband, and both said, “It’s done.” I removed the artist tape and signed it. My daughter went looking through some mats we have and found this one which was exactly the right size and color. It’s now also framed in a dark green frame. I’m thankful for Hanya’s guidance. I tell the new students that she saved me from making many mistakes.

PaintDurst3-14I’m quite pleased with the result, but not ready to start in on another rose. I’m doing a landscape.


About Jill Perry

Since 2005, I have been the Curator of the San Jose Heritage Rose Garden, a part of Guadalupe River Parks and Gardens near downtown San Jose. I write about the Heritage Rose Garden, my garden and my travels when I feel inspired and have time. Since I have no regular schedule, if you'd like to know when I write a new article, please subscribe to this blog.
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5 Responses to Art

  1. Jeri Jennings says:

    EXCELLENT Jill! I’ve never been comfortable with watercolor (though I love it). But you’re definitely getting it.

  2. Susan Kohl says:

    Beautiful. I can’t believe you’ve never painted before. You’re a natural.

  3. Elaine says:

    Yep…you certainly could see the difference all along….super!!!

  4. Cathi says:

    Jill, this is beautiful! Truly, reflects your very soul (where thousands of cherished roses live). You are a natural. Can’t wait to see your landscape!

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