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The Journey To Paint Beautiful Flowers

I really want to paint flowers well.  With practice, I am hoping to make progress.  Any help or feedback is appreciated - especially if you paint flowers well and have some tips or insights.  I have spent countless hours reading and watching dvds.  It is now down to the practice of getting better.  
My first flowers from my garden with Geneva paints - painted Summer of 2017

The above won 2nd place in the Advanced Amateur division of a local art fair but I was never pleased with the roses.  This is oil on linen  10x16

Below is just reference for my well documented thread of trying to copy a Michael Klein painting from his dvd.

After great feedback, I went back to my Geneva limited palette - picked a rose from my garden and attempted to paint it.  Not only was time an issue because of the death issue of flowers, but I was also going out of town for a month so only had a day to paint.
Excuse my messy studio - it is hardly Carder approved but I have about 8 other paintings in progress in various areas of the room. 

why I love painting from life - here is a photo snap just to get an idea of composition
I don't have to worry about camera settings or blown out areas when painting from life.  
So, I started going a tad crazy and had to paint a reminder to not push or exaggerate what I am seeing

Of course, I had to write subtle in red with exclamation marks :)
Below is as far as I was able to go - I don't remember the exact size of the linen - obviously not my usual golden mean dimensions.

the photo is grainy and from a cheap cell phone - it does look slightly better in person.

I still want to study while on holiday - I have some small tubes of Williamsburg oil paints but only 2 small brushes - no medium or solvents so I used my finger a lot - this beautiful hibiscus was in our yard so I decided to practice with it.  I do have some strips of linen here so this is about 5x7

I may go purchase a small container of mineral spirits as it is difficult without that.
Today, I will practice a small red rose from the neighbors yard.  
My goal is to paint beautiful flowers - any help or suggestions is greatly appreciated.



  • These are lovely so far.  The young artist Katie Whipple exclusively paints flowers, all from life, and is quite open about her process and methods.  You might want to look her up on instagram, if you are interested.
  • I think the yellow rose in the 2nd place painting has impasto that gives it a touch of the Kellogs, whereas the red rosebud in the lower left has delicacy.

    Your new 5x7 study also has delicacy, and those petals looks fragile and thin, the edges a little ragged, and I think that is what (some) flower paintings need, and why I like the study so much.
  • edited December 2017
    Very beautiful photo! Got the same at my place and much more to come over next few days, and I shovel it. LOL!
  • I feel that you love colours so much that you focus on those more than the values. I have a suggestion, but I don't think you'll like it.. get a really good photo of a flower (or flowers) and make it a black and white photo with a photo programme (we can do that for you if you want to). Then paint that with just black and white. I'm sure you will hate doing it as you love colour, but it will help you with the values.
  • I second what @Richard_P says. Studying value could really take your work to the next level. 
  • edited December 2017
    @MoeyMichele !!!  omg - thank you for introducing me to her work!!  it is so gorgeous - now, those are the kind of flower paintings I love!  @PaulB ; you are so insightful!  I treasure your comments - you have quite the eye - thank you.  @Kingston ; I'm jealous of all that snow!  that is gorgeous!  

    @Richard_P   I will be happy to do it!!  Will you help with a photo - I am very computer illiterate .  Now, I only have some small tubes of oil here (I wasn't able to pack my Geneva) - I have two small brushes and no medium - I have a few other brushes for some gouache I was playing around with so I can wait for them to dry out.  I may be able to get mineral spirits later in the week but I don't mind giving it a go without it - I do have several pieces of linen - it is oil primed so can probably get some of my lights with relief with a q-tip.

    Is it okay to use white, ultramarine blue and burnt sienna???  Do I really have to stick to black and white? This will be an excellent exercise!  Thank you for suggesting it!
  • Happy to help with a photo (making it grey, etc..) Do you have any you like already?

    I would really recommend sticking with black and white (which you should be able to make from ultramarine blue and burnt sienna). :)

  • edited December 2017
    I don’t have any suggestions, but I like the next to last painting the best (the grainy pic one) it just has a very romantic quality to it. 
    I am jealous of people who know exactly what they want to paint all the time.... I think that is a weakness of mine.... I can’t decide what it is I really truly want to paint so I just muddle through every subject . 

    You do beautiful flowers and maybe because the stilllife captures your own style, flare and brushwork it stands out to me as the loveliest. 
  • @jswartzart ; thank you - I want to paint SO many things!  Thus my plethora of paintings in progress - I do know that I love flowers and I'm tired of not being in love with any of my flower paintings.  It is kind of difficult being away from my studio supplies for over a month so I grabbed some linen pieces and some small paint tubes and I am SO glad I did!  I have missed painting even if for a few days.  I'm sure I need to be more disciplined and focused and patient but that is not my nature.  Most of my paintings are unfinished - it is the process that I enjoy and savor - every single day and moment that I am painting, I am in a blissful state.  

    @Richard_P   I am attaching some photos that I have saved - please let me know what you think would be best.  I think simple and less complicated to start off with.  Here are my small tubes of paint and my brushes - I have plenty of linen pieces so no harm, no foul.  I'm not afraid to jump in and if that means some pieces of linen are in the garbage, that is fine.

    Please understand, this is what I have for supplies (i'm not going to let things not being ideal or perfect stop me from painting) - the lack of mineral spirits could be an obstacle.  I am thinking of having a light brush, dark brush, using a q-tip for relief in some places and I'll wrap the brushes in saran wrap - I'll probably throw them away when I am done if I can't get mineral spirits before they are dry.
    I have a million photos, these are just 3 - any suggestions appreciated.  Thank you in advance for your time.
  • That is so funky and cool!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!   I was just going to add this link for suggestions   I never knew about pixabay until now.

    I really, really love what you did with this @Richard_P !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    I wish I didn't have my hands tied with paint and mediums but I will never let that stop me from painting - I think people wait for perfect circumstances too much and don't paint because of needing something.  I will be using my fingers a lot and that will be fun.  

    If I was on Survivor and in the woods, I would take a stick and paint in the sand with shells and rocks.  I think this is magnificent @Richard_P    how did you do that?
  • Happy to help! :)

    Pixabay is great, but if it's your own photo I find I have more motivation to do the painting.

    I can't explain more about how I did the photo really than what I already said. There are some issues with it, but it should work for your purposes :)

    Oh, williamsburg is a stiff paint (from what I've read). You might well need some thinner or some oil to add to the paint.
  • And this is practice - not a "masterpiece"   -  I am happy to do 60 of these if needed.  My husband is not feeling well - has asthma, and flu symptoms and is very sensitive to solvents - our home here is not very large so anything I do is known throughout the home so I need to be sensitive to all of that.  I had a great suggestion to get some linseed oil as that should help with all of my issues.  I am a tad worried that I won't get the full dark value of the background but if I can get some solvents, it will help.  In the meantime, if I learn 30 lessons instead of 100, that is better than not having started.  Thank you again for suggesting this exercise. Please understand my limitations (although I do not want them to be an excuse for poor execution).   I really, truly appreciate it.  
  • Yes linseed or walnut oil will work fine. Skip the solvents. 
  • Julianna, no advice and no jokes; you have style and panache, you have the desire and passion to paint that's all you need. I also agree with Kingston about acrylics and big brushes.
  • What Kingston said makes sense.. however, if you just feel the urge to paint and treat this as a learning experience then personally I think it would be fine to try it with other paints and brushes.
  • edited December 2017
    If you feel the urge and you have the time to paint then I'd say paint with whatever you have to hand. Even if you have only black and white, a scrap of canvas and a couple of brushes it could still be an exercise in drawing and values. It doesn't have to be a masterpiece. If you learn  something from the exercise or hone one of the basic skills then it is worthwhile.
  • Seems like there is a lot of good advise on how you can improve... But, honestly, I think your paintings look amazing already! I love flower paintings, they make a home so happy! I
  • edited December 2017
    Julianna,  I don't use solvents at all anymore.They were giving me headaches and a very heavy chest. But I've found that I can get by without them.  In dark areas of a picture, which of course I paint first, I spread the paint very thinly with no medium. I have to sort of scrub the paint into the canvas which is a bit hard on the brushes but my health is more important than a brush.  As I get into the lighter values I use thicker paint. You can blend this before it dries but leaving the brushstrokes show allows you to get the lively, textured surface which I like and notice in your work. For fine detail with small brushes the paint needs to be a bit more fluid. This can be achieved by just adding a lttle linseed oil. All the paintings I've done like this dry to a hard, slighty flexible but durable surface. I don't even use solvents for cleaning brushes - not only for health reasons but also because I find it wrecks my brushes. Instead of washing them in turps or OMS you can just squeeze out most of the paint onto a paper towel then dip them in walnut oil which takes ages to dry and wrap them in plastic kitchen wrap and leave them for several days before using them again or re-dipping them in walnut oil or you could use Mark's brush dip.  So, solvent-free oil painting is possible even if, like us down here in Oz,  you can't get Geneva paints.

    Hope this is helpful.


    Rob :)

  • Rob, I'm not sure why you are having to scrub then paint in for the dark values? Wouldn't it be easier to add a little oil? 
  • edited December 2017
    @Richard_P,  it's about fat over lean. I don't want to make the lower layers as oily as the upper layers so I just use paint and no added oil for the dark areas. My paint is very thick with a massive pigment load and therefore hard to move so I need to push it around with the brush to spread it. On top of the lower, less oily dark areas I can start to add a little oil.
  • @Kingston thank you for that - I have some gouache here (very new to me) so am enjoying the water solubility and ease of clean up.  I'm not sure what I'm missing but it tends more towards acrylic than watercolor to me. My gouache paintings are HORRENDOUS thus far. I also have my sketch pad and really should draw every single day -thank you for the reminder.  There is a little preserve area that has a bench, I want to sit at dusk (i'm not a morning person) and sketch - there are always heron, turtles and much wildlife and marsh - there are alligators as well so hopefully, none will be near me when I sit on that bench.  At sunrise and dusk, the way the light changes everything is amazing.  I am treating my strips of linen as I would a sketch book - the oils and some linen were here and will be left here so it's just practice.  However, you have a very valid point about practice having the right tools because then, it just leads to aggravation.

    @tassieguy that was very helpful!!!  Thank you.  I've never used oils with absolutely no medium before so your tips will come in handy.  I am finding the glory of the oil primed linen when I use my finger or q-tip - I have a horrible habit of piling paint on top of paint on top of paint so your trick about thin layers for the darks first by more scumbling is going to help.  I think my favorite art purchase ever was that brush dip - I wish I had some here!  Like you, my husband is very sensitive to any solvents - I know that I have used Dawn detergent to final wash brushes so may try that at the end (instead of throwing them away). I didn't know whether I should dip the brushes in a little more paint before wrapping them or drying them as best I can - so that is interesting the you wipe as much off as you can - I'll see if I can get some oils today.
  • @Richard_P   for me, the reason it will be helpful is I usually start my paintings with a very thin wash and then rub down sometimes with a papertowel - trying to be loose and creative movement initially - if I use a lot of oil, painting alla prima, on that initial layer, it will stay wet forever and I will really have to keep piling on the paint. 
  • edited December 2017
    @Juliana, I've been experimenting using "peanut oil" for brush cleaning/hand cleaning and more and brush-dip as an alternate. Peanut oil never goes bad and is similar to walnut and safflower oils. I learned of the preserving qualities of peanut oil when I used to make wooden flutes and other wooden musical instruments, for use as a finish, and brought out the best wood sound ever, fantastic, never dries out entirely and mixes with clove oil for the brush-dip. But the clove oil does expire when left on a brush for soaking, as when mixed with other oils after about a week or 2. The scent of peanut doesn't last long, I purchase mine from local grocery store (NN brand). I hope this helps.

  • Had time to practice a rose this morning.  

    Finding it difficult without any medium.  Husband still sick so I have plenty of time to paint (fingers crossed I don't get that flu).  

    Thank you for your help everyone - I am on a mission!  I'm semi-pleased with the white rose.  I do feel I am making progress.

    Here's to a beautiful flower for tomorrow's lesson!  I did find some linseed oil this afternoon so tomorrow, there will be no excuses.
  • tassieguy said:
    @Richard_P,  it's about fat over lean. I don't want to make the lower layers as oily as the upper layers so I just use paint and no added oil for the dark areas. My paint is very thick with a massive pigment load and therefore hard to move so I need to push it around with the brush to spread it. On top of the lower, less oily dark areas I can start to add a little oil.
    Ah.. I thought you painted in one layer, so you wouldn't need to worry about fat over lean. This makes sense now :)
  • I love your enthusiasm @Julianna.  I have no tips on how to paint flowers.  I think they are extremely difficult. I do think you did a wonderful job on the above pink one in the clear vase.  I like the brush work on it.  One thing I do know, with just practicing over and over you will eventually be as good as your favorite flower painter.  
  • Richard_P said:
    tassieguy said:
    @Richard_P,  it's about fat over lean. I don't want to make the lower layers as oily as the upper layers so I just use paint and no added oil for the dark areas. My paint is very thick with a massive pigment load and therefore hard to move so I need to push it around with the brush to spread it. On top of the lower, less oily dark areas I can start to add a little oil.
    Ah.. I thought you painted in one layer, so you wouldn't need to worry about fat over lean. This makes sense now :)

    I do paint a la prima, wet in wet, @Richard_P, but it's just that I block in the dark areas first and make them thinner because I'll be putting lighter colours on top of these blocked in areas and that's easier to do when the dark paint beneath is thin and it also keeps to the fat over lean rule if I need to use oil to make paint  thinner for doing detail with softer brushes. Hope that make sense. :)
  • I finally got motivated this year.  I worked today on the Richard project - I have to say, it is great practice - thank you for the suggestion!   This is Geneva black and white only on 8x13 on linen = this is my first pass - I just can't help myself being heavy handed with the luscious oils.  My linen is triple oil primed and so I have a difficult time getting full coverage for black black - this will need another pass.  I should have primed this with a mid tone grey - learning lesson.  Thank you for your help.  Suggestions appreciated.  This is a WIP - too many hard edges and values need to be cleaned up and adjusted in many areas.  I have to say, it looks pretty cool across a room - I thought I'd be throwing this out but it is fun.  
  • @Julianna I love this! You really get the sense of flower reflecting bright light and emerging from the darker areas. We do this with our eyes: we focus and our mind drops out what is unimportant, in this case, the area around the flower. The top tips of the flowers, the petal unfolding on the right, and the almost translucent, presumably fresh grown stem at the bottom middle transmit a wonderful delicate membranous texture. This exercise has brought you a long way. You bring up something that I've recently been more aware of and that is the distance from which we view the painting. Your eye needs to see the totality of the painting, not the details to get the overall effect. Good work!
  • edited January 18
    This is fantastic! I like everything about this just the way it is, it shows as 10" x 14" on my screen. And just as you say, it looks awesome across the room, this is great! There is just enough detail in this in the right places already, those grasses in the back well done. The background is hardly noticeable because these flowers are so beautiful, wonderful brushstrokes and great with your values too. I've often been told that the eye isn't really interested in detail as much as it is in values. And across the room the eye sees the values first and is attracted most by this when done real well, such as in this case. If you can get a viewer's attention from across a room in a gallery situation, they of course will see your work first, most likely. Thanks for sharing, I enjoy your progress! This also reminds me of impressionism/impressionists.
  • That's beautiful, @Julianna. I love the way the thick juicy paint makes the petals stand out from the background. When I next paint flowers I want them to look just like that. :)
  • thank you @Renoir @Forgiveness @tassieguy   - I actually woke up this morning and looked at it and think I am going to leave it - I think I painted for about 3 hours total and I could spend another week on it and still see slight shifts - even my husband thought I should stop.  I am thinking of painting it on another piece of linen with some color (white, UB, and transparent oxide red) and then maybe try it again full color.  This is very good practice for me.  Thank you for your input and thank you @Richard_P for helping with the photo - I love it and would have never been able to edit like that.
    I used vine charcoal on the back of a print and outlined it for an easy transfer - so, I can easily transfer a couple more and then get to the painting exercise.  
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