Tutorial: Monet's Waterlilies 1916-1926

Famous Paintings in Miniature Number 6: Monet's Waterlilies

In this, the sixth in my famous paintings in miniature series, I will be showing you how to recreate Monet's Waterlilies, 1916-1926

Click on the links below to see other tutorials in this series:


Claude Monet (1840-1926) was born in Paris and grew up in Le Havre, where his artistic career began during his teens. Monet was gifted with a pencil and paper and he quickly learned that he could earn good money drawing and selling charcoal caricatures of the townsfolk. He was quickly talent-spotted by the artist Eugene Boudin who encouraged him to turn his hand to painting landscapes in the great outdoors - a direction that was only possible through the relatively new invention of oil paint in tubes in 1841. 

In 1859, aged 19, Monet travelled to Paris to develop his artistic career, where he studied at the Académie Suisse. During his time in Paris he met many artists including Renoir, Sisley and Bazille, and the four of them would often go on en plain-air painting trips together, bouncing ideas of each other. They would later go on to form the impressionist movement, which was predominantly grounded in painting outdoors. 

In 1874 Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, Manet and others were struggling to get their work accepted into the conventional Salon, so they banded together to form the “Société Anonyme des Artistes, Peintres, Sculpteurs, Graveurs etc” as an alternative. At their first exhibition the title of one of Monet’s works, “An Impression, Sunrise” gave the whole impressionist movement its name. 

In 1883, aged 43, Monet moved away from the city and settled in Giverny, where he diverted the local river and built a waterlily pond in his garden. As with many of his subjects, he obsessively paint this same scene over and over again in different light and weather conditions. There are over 250 paintings of this pond, and he probably destroyed many more through self-doubt and depression. 

Towards the end of his life Monet suffered from cataracts and was almost blind when he died in 1926. In the last 10 years of his life he painted a series of very large canvases, 12 of which were promised to the French nation as a monument to peace and are now on display at the museum of the Orangerie in Paris. 


The canvas that we are going to reproduce, “Water-Lilies”, is one of the set painted between 1916-1926 that was not promised to the French nation and is currently on display in room 43 at the National Gallery in London. It is a VERY big painting so please consider where you will display it before you work out which scale to work in. It may more practical to choose a scale that is not accurate for your house but will at least fit inside it!

Monet worked his paintings on canvas. To recreate Water-lilies in miniature we need a support that will give the impression of a miniature canvas but without the weave of the canvas dominating the finished painting. I recommend using off-cuts of smooth mount board, easily obtained from a framing shop - if you ask nicely the proprietor will probably give you his off-cuts for free. 

You will need:

  • Off-cuts of smooth mount board or other thick card
  • Sharp craft knife, cutting mat and steel rule
  • Acetate and marker pen
  • Pencil
  • Gesso
  • Size 16 flat brush 
  • Size 4 round acrylic brush with a good point
  • Size 00 round acrylic brush with a good point
  • Small bristle fan brush
  • Atelier interactive acrylics in: 
    • French Ultramarine 
    • Tinting White
    • Yellow Ochre 
    • Arylamide Yellow Light 
    • Crimson 
  • A stay-wet palette (I make my own using a plastic takeaway box with a layer of damp kitchen towel at the bottom followed by a layer of baking paper on top)

Step 1

Monet’s painting measures a huge 200.7 x 426.7 cm. That’s over 4 metres long so think carefully about where you will display your miniature version of this piece before you start! To find how big yours needs to be simply divide these measurements by the scale you're working in. On a 1:12th scale, dividing by 12 will give us = 16.7 x 35.5cm; for 1:16th we need to divide by 16 to get 12.5 x 26.7cm, for 1:24th divide by 24 giving 8.36 x 17.8cm. This would be a good piece for those of you who like to work in 1:48th scale as your measurements will be 4.2 x 8.9cm.

I'm working at a 1:12th scale.

Using your steel rule and craft knife, cut out the mount board to the correct size and apply 2 coats of gesso with a flat brush to prepare your canvas. This will stop your paints from soaking straight into the board. You'll need to leave it for at least a day to thoroughly dry.

Step 2

The drawing for this piece is very straight forward, we just need groups of lily pads in the right places. I recommend using a simple grid, keeping your grid lines and pencil marks as faint as you can.

Divide your canvas into 4 x 4 equally spaced sections. They will not be squares since your canvas is rectangular, but I will call them squares for simplicity’s sake. For this article I have drawn my gridlines heavily so that you can see them, but please draw your grid lines very faintly so that you don’t need to worry about paint coverage later on.

Starting in one of the corners, copy the black lines into your chosen square. Methodically moving from one square to its adjoining square, continue to copy the drawing until yours is complete. Try not to be tempted to jump around the grid – it is all too easy to make a mistake when counting squares and very frustrating to find that the drawing doesn’t meet in the middle!

Step 3

Cut a piece of acetate or cellophane and trace your drawing using the marker pen. If your acetate is larger than your canvas then remember to mark the corners so that you can match it up with the canvas later on. 

Step 4

Squeeze out 5cm of Tinting White and a small blob of French Ultramarine. Add the blue to the white to loosely mix a pastel blue.

Step 5

Using the size 16 flat brush entirely cover your canvas in pale blue. Make the blue varied in colour and texture across the whole piece, using different directional brush strokes. You will cover your pencil marks completely – this is why we have made the acetate so that we can position our lilies correctly later. 

Step 6

Squeeze out some Yellow Ochre and mix with the white. Then add this mix to the edge of your pastel blue until you have a very pale green-gold. 

Step 7

Once the blue paint in your canvas is touch dry, place your acetate over it to locate the position of the main lily pads. You can gently mark them in pencil over the blue paint if it will help you. Then, using the green-gold and a size 4 round brush, very loosely mark them out.

Step 8

Quickly blend the lilies using the small fan brush

Step 9

Squeeze out a very small amount of Burnt Sienna. Spread the edge out thinly in your palette and pick up a tiny amount on a clean size 4 round brush. Twirl this around against a clean section of your palette so that you have the tiniest amount of paint along the outside edge of your brush.

Step 10

Using the side edge of your brush, apply the Burnt Sienna to the top right hand corner of the painting. This is known as a dry brush technique. 

Step 11

Work your way around the whole of the top right hand quarter adding Burnt Sienna using the dry brush technique. Notice that except at the very top of the painting, the majority of the brush strokes are directional, with your brush moving from bottom to top. 

Step 12

Continue in the same way for the bottom right. 

Step 13

Now complete the bottom left

Step 14

And the top left.

Step 15

The whole piece should look something like this.

Step 16

Squeeze out a tiny amount of Crimson and using the dry brush technique with the tiniest amount of paint on your brush, scrub over the top right hand quarter of the painting using horizontal strokes. Take care to leave some areas without any red as per the photos.

Step 17

Repeat for the bottom right hand quarter. 

Step 18

More of the same for the bottom left hand quarter.

Step 19

And the top left hand quarter. 

Step 20

Mix Yellow Ochre, French Ultramarine and plenty of Tinting White until you have a green-gold similar to the one in SG 05. Then add a touch more blue to one side of your mix. Use the darker of these colours to add in the green in the top right with your number 4 round brush and the dry brush technique. Occasionally add in some of the lighter green-gold for variety. 

Step 21

Continue in the same way in the bottom right hand quarter. You can use your acetate overlay to help you identify where the vertical strokes need to be.

Step 22

The bottom left hand quarter also uses vertical strokes

Step 23

The top left hand quarter uses horizontal strokes.

Step 24

The whole should look something like this.

Step 25

Add a very subtle layer of Burnt Sienna over the green gold, again using the dry brush technique.

Step 26

Now we’re going to swap to the size 00 round brush and look at the lilies in detail, beginning with the top right section. Using the darker of the green-gold mixes, add in some lowlights.

Step 27

Mix a small amount of Arylamide Yellow Light and Tinting White with the palest of your green gold and use this to add highlights, keeping the lines as vague as possible.

Step 28

Using pure Tinting White on the tip of your size 00 brush, sweep in the white highlights on the lily pads. Next, dab in 3 marks each for the lily flowers on the right hand side.

Step 29

Smudge in a little crimson at the base of the flowers and inside the white sweep on the left hand lily.

Step 30

Moving on to the middle right hand batch of lilies, add Arylamide Yellow Light in a circulare sweeping motion to the lilies that you already have, plus a couple more above.

Step 31

Add pure Tinting White, again in broken circle motions both on and around the lily pads.

Step 32

Pick up a touch of Burnt Sienna and brush most of it off in your palette or on a scrap of paper. Then add in the faintest hint of colour on the top of the middle two lilies.

Step 33

Now we’ll move on to the bottom right lilies. Using the green-gold mix, add lowlights to the lily pads and strengthen the vertical pond weed marks. Add in a touch of pure Yellow Ochre to the centre of the dominant pond weed, again using a vertical brush stroke.

Step 34

Add Tinting White highlights on the lily pads and around to create ripples in the water. Using a mix of French Ultramarine and Tinting White that is slightly darker than your background, paint in lowlights to accentuate the ripples.

Step 35

Let’s move on to the lily pads in the bottom left hand corner. Add a touch of Arylamide Yellow Light to a section of your green-gold to warm it up a bit. Using the tip of your 00 brush add warm lights to the top of the lily pads and then use the side of your dry number 4 brush to scrub in some warmth all around this bottom quarter. Leave some areas without the warmth for contrast and interest.

Step 36

To create a sense of movement around these lily pads use Tinting White to add in ripples and highlights. Next pick up some of your original green-gold and paint this in next to some of your ripples to create depth. Add a touch of French Ultramarine to the green-gold and use this to add depth to some of your other ripples. The most central ripples are given depth by using French Ultramarine mixed with Tinting White that is a shade darker than the background blue.

Step 37

Finally for this section we need to add in the flowers. Pick up a tiny amount of Crimson on your size 00 brush and wipe most of it off against the side of your palette. Then paint in the 5 flowers beginning with the one on the right and working left. The two at the top left are barely there at all. Next add pure Tinting White to create the highlights.

Step 38

Now for the final set of lily pads in the top left hand quarter. Using pure Arylamide Yellow Light and a horizontal stroke with your size 00 brush, add highlights to your lily pads. I found my acetate drawing very useful at this point to confirm where they should be.

Step 39

In the same way as the bottom left lily pads, we need to create movement. Using Tinting White, green-gold and the French Ultramarine/green-gold mix, add ripples and shadows. Most of the brush strokes are horizontal with the occasional wiggle.

Step 40

As before, use tiny amounts of Crimson to dot in the flowers, and then go over parts of the Crimson with pure Tinting White to add highlights and blend in the red. 

Step 41

Moving on to the final set of lily pads at the very top left, use your three shades of green-gold and Tinting White to create the hints of the lily pads. There are no distinct pads here, just greenery and ripples in the water.

Step 42

As before, dot in the Crimson red flowers and then highlight with Tinting White.

Step 43

Take an objective look at your painting. Step back and squint at it, hold it up to the mirror, take a photo of it on your phone or digital camera – any of these techniques help to create some distance between yourself and your work, and usually any errors will jump out at you. Study it carefully and make improvements where necessary. Any areas that are too blue can be toned down with green-gold using vertical strokes and the dry brush technique.

Step 44

Finally, we need to sign the painting. Practice Monet’s signature on a scrap of paper before signing in the bottom right hand corner. Monet used paint but on this scale that would be incredibly difficult so I recommend using pencil. 

And we're done!

If you have a go at any of my painting tutorials I’d love to see your artwork, you can share it in the comments below, on my facebook page or email it to me. 

You can also comment below if you need help with any of these instructions.


To make my own stay-wet palette I use a small plastic takeaway box lined with wet kitchen roll on the bottom and greaseproof paper on top. When I leave my paints for any length of time I simply put the lid on and the paints stay workable. 
Always store your brushes flat, never resting on their points as this will damage them (either in or out of your water).
Wash your brush in a series of three water pots, beginning in the dirtiest water pot and working towards the cleanest. You should find that this means that your clean water will stay clean for longer, you will need to change water less often and your colours will not get muddy. Dab your brush on an old rag or piece of kitchen towel before picking up fresh paint. 
Always wash your brushes before leaving them for any length of time. Dried acrylic is difficult to get out of brushes and will ruin the flexibility and point of your brush. 
If you make a mistake, don’t panic! Either wipe it off with a damp tissue or wait until it is touch dry and paint over it.
If paints in your palette begin to form a film, spray with water.
If your paints feel too thick, you can dilute with a small amount of water or a medium such as Atelier Interactive’s Clear Painting Medium. 
If the paint on the brush becomes blobby, clean it and pick up more paint with the tip of the brush.
Remember we’re painting miniatures, you don’t need to squirt out a lot of paint from your tubes, just a pea sized blob at a time will suffice.


You can see Monet’s water-lilies at The National Gallery, London, and online here http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/claude-monet-water-lilies

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