If you are serious about painting flowers you need to study flowers in depth – flower shapes and leave shapes especially. What I would also recommend is before you even open your paint box you complete a detailed drawing of the subject matter. This is a way to learn how flower shapes can or can not work together in a composition. Any fine painting is based on a strong composition, so design skills and knowing the principles and elements of design are very desirable too for this task.
I had photographed a pot of petunias and pansies for two of my classes and in the Friday drawing class we all completed a drawing of the pot of flowers, using graphite, working from light to dark value, and also scaling up the shapes. A detailed drawing can take many hours, but these are hours well spent in the studio. By completing a drawing of this kind you have prepared your composition and practiced all the shapes. A perfect precursor for your painting. Indeed, this task should be completed before any painting, not only for flowers.
When I started my painting – there was no need to draw in all the detail and shapes for this – I had already done that in my drawing – I only drew in the major shapes of the flower heads on my painting – nothing else. You do not want to see any pencil marks on a watercolour flower painting, so when I drew the contour shapes I impressed the pencil into the paper so as I worked I could erase the pencil marks.
Palette – purples, lilac, chromatic black, yellows, greens, orange and blue.
Have your palette prepared and also a wash of the base colour of the flowers (lilac). Start at the top of the composition.
During a classroom lesson yesterday here is how I approached this subject …
I erase the pencil contour of the flower and then I wet that area. I then apply a very transparent wash of lilac. Whilst the paper is damp I add more colour, but this is not as weak a wash as the first layer of paint. I then use a very fine brush to mark in the vein system on the petal. I then add dark tone for the darker area and also the dark stem. This process takes me fifteen minutes for each flower head. Once you have a methodology in place, you repeat that same method on all of the flowers. I then painted in the marigolds, first with a base colour of yellow and then used a vermillion red (which is nice and orange) for the orange parts of the petals. Again this method is repeated on all that type of flower.
I then painted the leaves, yellow underpainting and then used a range of greens from light to a really dark green which I needed to give the leaves their three dimensional appearance.
After the lesson, and at home in my studio, I worked further on my painting. I used a chromatic black for the earthy brown colour in the foreground. I then photographed the painting to evaluate the palette and composition.
This was really only the start of my painting as I had not stopped there. I needed to glaze –wet over dry paint – over all my work to get it to the required tone for my style of palette. So I used a stronger mix of lilac, greens, yellows and orange. I used a burnt umber for the background and a stipple brush to paint in the white and flesh tint colour in the background. This process took around three hours.
The final task was to make the flowers three dimensional from the background. This is achieved using the principle of light against dark. I mixed a wonderfully dark chromatic colour and used that around the flowers.