Apr 9, 2012

A Quick and Brisk Study in Painting Flowers



By Linda Lover

The beauty of painting flowers is that there’s so much variety in the choice of flower, the style in which to paint them and, of course, color, design and composition. Flowers can be included in a landscape as a garden, or a vine of wild roses growing with abandon on an old fence or a window box full of red geraniums. Flowers can be painted as a still life, set in a vase, in clay pot or as a botanical. They can be painted singly, in a mix or in various stages of bloom. There is practically no end to painting flowers.
They have played a significant role in the art world for hundreds of years. Though Monet painted people and non-floral landscapes, he is best known for his Japanese water lily garden paintings. He would paint the same garden scene at different times of day and from different angles to capture the essence of change, especially the play of light. He modified his techniques as well, creating more than one series of water lily paintings.


Though one of Van Gogh’s most popular works of art is “Starry Night”; I would venture to guess many would first think of his vase of radiant yellow sunflowers.
When deciding to paint flowers, among two of the first considerations after the choice of flower, is to study the shape and decide upon the colors. For example, poppies are round, and did you know they can be found in shades of pink, red, white, yellow and even blue? They can have tinged edges or graduated colors from dark to light and be layered with ruffled petals or crepe paper thin with few petals. Some are as large as traditional orange Oriental poppies or small and delicate like a Shirley or California poppy.
Flowers come in shapes such as spikes, teardrops, puff balls, discs, trumpets, and bells. Some bloom in clusters like lilacs and hydrangeas and, when beginning to paint either of these two flowers, it’s noticeable that lilacs form a cone shape while hydrangeas are round. Once a shape is determined, it makes it easier to form the flower.

Leaves are individual to each flower and should be studied as well. Though a broadleaf shape, such as found on a hydrangea or lilac is similar, the differences are obvious. The lilac leaves are generally a darker and more polished looking green while the hydrangea is much broader and somewhat dusty in appearance with more definition in the veins and texture along the edge.
Geranium leaves are practically rounded and the ones on a cosmos are narrow and serrated like the edge of a steak knife.
Blade leaves are compatible to flowers such as iris and day lilies while fronds are fern like and can be found on certain varieties of poppies.
Crispate leaves are the finely frilled leaf margins on plants like parsley.
After breaking down a flower by shape, leaves and petals, there is also the center to be considered. Some are disk shaped and dense, such as a sunflower, which is actually two flowers in one like the zinnia and mum.

The outer petals are flowers as well as the disk in the center.
Lilies and tulips have an anther and stamen while hollyhocks have pollen covered pistils. Some flower centers consist of hair like clusters or are a massive group of dots or even a mix of both. Flowers such as clematis and poinsettias are usually described in terms of petals but they are actually bracts and the center is a tiny group of flowers.

This is a very simplified explanation for the study of flowers, but knowing the flower you are painting will make it easier to reproduce it in paint.
It’s helpful to have reference material such as photographs, garden catalogs or other forms of illustration. When picking out a flower, have images of it in various stages of bloom and showing it at different angles. Consider the color choices that the flower offers as well.

For beginners, choose a flower that is easy to paint such as a daisy or sunflower rather than one that’s complex or multi-layered such as a rose or peony. Choose patterns or reference material that appears simplified and easy to understand. If you can, look for patterns that show step by step applications.
Observe the details in the flower you are painting.
To keep it interesting, determine your composition and avoid repetition. Nature is beautiful but it’s not always perfect. For example, leaves can be curled, petals can be spaced unevenly or missing and centers can vary in coloration.
In composition, avoid having each leaf or flower open and facing the same direction. Overlap some of the leaves and petals to create interest; bending stems in different directions can present movement. Often stems that are straight can appear somewhat lifeless or stiff. Create depth and contrast using color values.
If painting flowers from a photo, keep balance in mind when drawing out the design. It can be one flower with three leaves and a bud, or it can be a group using several small flowers to balance out a few larger ones. It’s not necessary to paint every leaf and petal as it can make a painting too busy and also lose the focal point.
 
As the flower(s) is now ready to be painted, the choice of brush can be an important factor. Rounds are wonderful for petals that are teardrop or comma shaped, as example….the daisy. Flat shaders can also be used for teardrop shapes but are usually used for “S” stroke petals, often shown with sunflowers. Angles and shaders are both good for painting roses. The filbert is another brush to consider for short round edged petals, such as for painting clusters of flowers for hydrangeas, geraniums and lilacs.
Liner and round tips as well as the chisel on larger brushes are fine for spiked petals such as those on asters. Even the Deerfoot or other stipplers can simplify for flowers such as red clover, pussy willows or Queen Anne’s lace. Some of the newer specialty brushes can make painting flowers quicker and easier than their traditional relatives.

Applications are another consideration. Techniques such as the traditional Tole strokes lend themselves to countless flowers. Pressing the brush image for petals or bell shapes is a non-traditional and very simplified method for creating flowers and leaves. Double and side loads as well as piggy back loads, where paint is applied from the ferrule to mid brush and from the mid-bristle to the edge, are ways to add the base color with either a highlight or a shade color. Dry blenders are excellent for softly blending colors.
Liners work well for adding detail such as veins to petals and leaves. Glazes can add depth of color in layers or add subtle tints of color to enhance. Float mediums, textures, watercolors, oils, acrylics the list goes on for options with which to paint your flowers. There’s no possible way to include every brush or technique, which ultimately leaves the choices up to the painter.
Experimenting with brushes and techniques can offer discoveries than you may never find in books.
I can attest to that after having discovered the methods and possibilities for simply pressing the brush images. This is very basic and simplified and the more I worked with it, I eventually combined it with blending and stroke work, which I refer to as “fine tuning” the design to give it more realism. Working with specialty brushes and non-traditional methods was a well spent period of growth for me.
Nature gives us endless inspiration and, as painters, it’s up to us to be the keen observer and interpret what we see or feel with brush and paint.


The flowers are the ones I describe as "fine tuned" which is pressing the brush image and touching them up with stroke work or blending.
 

 The poppy field is a simple exercise in stippling with a deerfoot


The geranium is using the new double filbert

 

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