Realistic Still Life with Quilt Watercolor Tutorial for Beginners

Watercolor still life painting with quilt by Deb Watson for painting tutorial

Even beginners can paint a great looking still life in watercolor if you know the secrets! Paint your shadows first, have fun painting all the quilt squares (or make it a solid color – it will still look great), and give the quilt a smooth background so your viewer’s eye has a place to rest.

Note – the outline page is different in the lower left quilt squares as the changes improve the composition.

Downloads for Still Life with Quilt

Suggested Paint Colors for Quilt Watercolor Tutorial

  • Red – any Quinacridone based red
  • Blue – Cobalt Blue for Quilt
  • Yellow – Lemon or Azo yellow
  • Dark or Black – use a tube black or mix Ultramarine Blue + Burnt Sienna
  • Opaque white – Bleed Proof White by Dr. Martin or other white

Painting Steps for Still Life with Quilt Watercolor Tutorial

Reference photo for watercolor tutorial how to paint a still life with quilt for beginners

Step 1 – Draw or trace your quilt and lemon outline onto your watercolor paper with graphite paper.

Step 2 – Paint the shadows on the quilt and lemon.

Note – This is the hardest bit for students, but once your shadows are on and dry – you’ll have fun painting the quilt!

Watercolor Still life with quilt - painting tutorial shadow step for beginners by Deb Watson


Mix a big puddle of a gray – blue gray or slightly purple gray works well.

Mix mostly blue + a little red for bluish purple. Add a tiny bit of yellow to gray the color down.

Test your color on scrap paper. If it dries too dark add more water.


Mix a puddle of dark or black using Ultramarine Blue + Burnt Sienna or a tube black.


Wet the lemon with a small brush and clean water, just damp.

Paint the shadow color on, leaving a highlight area at the top and top right.


Use a large brush to paint the shadow area on the quilt. You can work on dry paper or wet the area with clean water first – either way will work.

Watercolor still life with quilt tutorial - lemon photo black and white


Quilt – Add dark or black to the left side of the center fold with a large brush and soften the edge with a clean, damp brush.

Lemon – Add dark or black to the bottom of the lemon with a small brush and soften the edge.

Step 3 – Paint the Quilt

Quilt reference photo for watercolor tutorial painting a quilt for beginners by Deb Watson

When the shadows are dry, start painting the quilt squares. Start with your primary red, yellow and blue squares.

Then add areas with your secondary colors – orange (red + yellow), green (blue + yellow) and purple (red + blue).

Then do as many patterns as you like.

On the left are two of the quilt squares so you can see some of the fabric patterns included.

Step 4 – Paint a Smooth Background

Switch back to your large brush for most of the background. Use a small brush to carefully paint around the lemon.

WET THE BACKGROUND – sloppy wet with clean water, and tilt the painting to drip off the excess water.

smooth watercolor background tutorial in watercolor still life with quilt by Deb Watson

MIX YOUR COLOR – mix a big puddle of your background color. I mixed blue + a little red for a bluish/purple. Remember – this will dry lighter because you’re working on a wet surface, so make your puddle with plenty of paint.

PAINT YOUR SMOOTH BACKGROUND – Start on one side and continue painting across.

If you colors aren’t smooth – don’t try to fix it with your brush – tilt the painting and let gravity smooth out the brushstrokes and colors.

If your paint is too dry to move, you can paint the whole thing again with more paint (work wetter this time) OR spritz the background with a misting bottle to add a tiny bit of water. Be careful to keep the spray off the lemon and quilt or the color may run.

Step 5 – Evaluate and tweak your colors and values.

Student watercolor painting of watercolor still life with quilt tutorial by Deb Watson
Student painting from in person class

Too light? Add another coat of color.

Too dark? Rewet the area with a damp brush and dab some of the color off with a paper towel.

Wrong color? If you want to change the color in a square, put masking tape around the outside edges (be sure the paper is dry) and use Mr. Clean’s Magic Eraser to wipe off the color. Remove the tape and repaint the area in the color you want.

Step 6 – Opaque White for Highlights on Quilt and Lemon

Optional – Use opaque white to add a white highlight on your lemon or quilt top. Apply the white fairly thick, then use a clean damp brush to feather the white softly into the surrounding areas.

Summary for Watercolor Still Life with Quilt Tutorial for Beginners

A busy quilt looks best with a smooth background, as it gives your viewer’s eye a place to rest. Painting the shading before the colors and patterns on the fabric is an easy way to build in success and will give you great results. Paint great work the easy way when you follow the steps, and enjoy painting all the different fabric patterns – it’s so creative! You may want to set up your own quilt in a still life to paint. Happy Painting.

Painting is a means of self-enlightenment - John Olsen