How To Paint Flowers

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Flowers are everywhere, from those growing in the backyard or park to a bouquet bought at a shop or cut from a magazine. A student never lacks for material when he decides to paint florals or include flowers in his compositions.

Floral painting is a great beginning for a novice art student to become acquainted with using all his new tools and products. Whether using acrylic, oil, watercolor, gouache, pastel or pen and ink, painting flowers is enjoyable and educational.

A Rose Is A Rose

For many beginning artists, painting familiar things is a comfortable start. Manufactured items, which require drawing and perspective can be challenging and daunting to a novice. Flowers have few hard and fast rules, and pleasing compositions done in a painterly manner makes it possible for even a new student to produce a satisfying canvas.

A floral painting need only give the essence of the subject. Merely suggesting the botanical components in an impressionistic manner is often enough to give a light, airy arrangement of the subject. A few more detailed areas or point of interest may be all that is required to complete the piece.

As a student progresses, he will learn to observe and put down on paper what he sees. A wise artist will have live specimens available, as well as photos, since cut flowers will change and wilt with time. The student can, at his leisure, observe and make sketches from drawings, but having a live plant to scrutinize is ultimately helpful in learning the intricacies of plant structure and how best to portray a flower.

Observe the way the petals attach to the base of the bloom, how the petals are shaped and if they have a specific number. Look at how a bud is shaped, and how the progression of maturing changes its appearance and size. Once the student is comfortable understanding the anatomy of a blossom, he is better able to translate that to his painting.

Blossoms and buds are not the only thing to be considered when painting a flower. Stems and leaves are unique to each species, and should be taken in consideration when painting. Again, a precise rendering is not necessary, but the fundamentals of the shapes should convince the viewer that the flower is attached to a proper stem with appropriate foliage. Do the leaves have a delicate, feathery appearance or are they hard and leathery? Examine the veining in the leaves and their separation into segments. The ability to convey an idea of the foliage enhances the believability of the composition. Note that the veining itself may have substance and shape, not simply a darker green line running through the leaf. It may also be lighter than the leaf itself. If using acrylic or oil paint, a lighter shade would be applied to the structure of the leaf. If the artist is painting in watercolor, he may use a fine brush with clean water to remove paint from the area that is the vein, revealing the white of the paper.

Roses Are Red, Violets Are Blue

Just as with any object, a flower is not painted with just one shade of color. Although some petals may appear to be uniform in local color, there will be shading as the shape turns, or is shadowed from another object. There may also be reflected color that affects the tones on the surface of the petals or leaves. Many petals gradate their coloration from the base to the tip, or have multiple colors splashed or striped on one petal.

Muddy colors are not found on flowers, unless there has been a rain shower. Shadows are important to give the blooms three dimensions, but using grays and blacks are unnatural and make a flower dingy with just a few brush strokes. Use the complementary color to produce a shadow mixture. Using a darker shade of the color can create a shadow effect. Using a cooler version of the color is another technique some painters use. For example, try using Yellow Ochre to shadow a bright or light yellow flower, or Alizarin Crimson to shadow a peachy-pink bloom. Do not be afraid to use all three methods, if there are multiple light sources and shading.

For a real challenge, paint a bouquet of white flowers. Spend time examining how nature tints the white petals and shades the edges and hollows to create three dimensions in a white world.

Leaves and stems are not necessarily all green either. They may have areas of browns, blues and reds. Use multiple colors to give some leaves more prominence and direct the eye to interesting passages in the painting. Foliage in the background may appear in silhouette, and have more of a grey-green coloration. This is effective for filling in areas that would otherwise be boring.

Fill The Page

One common mistake of the beginning artist is thinking small. Fill the support with the composition. Do not make the mistake of drawing a bouquet of flowers in a vase on a table, with vast expanses of empty space to fill. Let the flowers take over the bulk of the composition, even if they fall off the side of the canvas. No one will mind a few petals on the floor. Think really big like Georgia O’Keefe, for an experiment in close-up realism, or daubs of paint in an impressionistic method like Claude Monet. If the composition looks a little stark, just add more flowers and leaves.

Flowers are eternally interesting for the artist to paint and the public to view. They present unlimited challenges and choices. The beginner will get satisfaction from the colorful paintings he produces and the established artist will find it refreshing to return once again to a familiar and happy subject.

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