BBC Countryfile Magazine
HOW TO PAINT FLOWERS
1 PAINT FROM LIFE
I work in my studio so I take lots of photos to work from, but there is no substitute for studying the real thing, so I keep a jar of leaves or flowers on my desk for reference. Even in the depths of winter, I can usually find a leaf or two to help me.
2 UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU ARE LOOKING AT
Take time to look closely and use a magnifying glass if necessary, or scale and enlarge to see how a plant is put together at the petals and leaf nodes, and the shape of the stem. It’s the details that give each species its special character, so don’t just paint what you think you see.
3 WHAT YOU TAKE OUT IS AS IMPORTANT AS WHAT YOU PUT IN
There is so much going in when we see a flower – our brain only takes in what we ‘need’. Use a black-and-white photo to simplify the information, or instead of building up colour, try starting with a section of dark paint and remove it to describe a leaf. This will become your background.
4 VARY MARK MAKING
Sticks, ends of brushes, old rags or cloths and different size brushes all create different
textures and marks to describe the variety of what you are seeing. Gather a selection and try them all with varying pressure to see the marks they make, then keep your favourites!
5 PLAY WITH TRANSLUCENCY AND OPACITY
Translucent light goes through a petal, like stained glass, and is different to opaque, which is chalky and light bounces off it. Oil paints have translucency ratings depending on the chalkiness of their pigments. Try modelling a leaf in translucent (sap) green and then add opaque (pale turquoise) highlights to see the effect.
6 SEPARATE FORM AND COLOUR
Form is 3D and colour is the way light hits the surface. A painting needs to convey both, but flowers can be tricky as they bend and catch the light. If you are struggling with the form, try modelling that in monochrome and adding colour once you’re happy you have the shape right.
7 EXPERIMENT WITH MEDIUMS
Painting mediums change the consistency, drying time and finish of your paint. Many of the historic ones are natural – some thicken paint without losing transparency; some speed painting up or slow it down, or make paint matt or glossy. Linseed oil paste and beeswax (pictured above) are two of my favourites, so give them a go.
8 EXPERIMENT WITH SURFACES
What you paint on is as important as what you paint with. I like to paint on metal and smooth surfaces so I can push the paint around; I am much happier with old road signs than a pristine rough canvas. Experiment with cardboard and other surfaces and find what works for you.
9 JUST DO 10 MINUTES
The first 10 minutes are the hardest and if I “just do 10 minutes” I’m invariably still there hours later! Sometimes, getting into a piece can be the hardest thing. I work every day, but compose ideas when I have lots of energy and save the executing for when I’m more sleep-deprived.
10 LEAVE IN THE MESS
We may feel the urge to tidy fallen wood, broken twigs, yellowed leaves and shrivelled seed-heads, but countless lives, including our own, depend on this mess. Ragged chewed leaves have their own beauty and suggest the ecosystem they and we are part of, so paint them in and the bugs, too.