Everything is coming up roses!

I spent a lovely afternoon with an art group in Tidmarsh, near Pangbourne, on Tuesday. Given that the theme was painting loose florals the car was like a mobile florist shop as I went over – just waiting to load up:


I thought I would share how to paint roses loosely, as the group reacted really well to that. I cannot claim any originality, as many artists paint them this way, but the principle of painting flowers stands true:

  • Consider the shape – forget what flower it is – aim to capture the essence of the flower and not every detail
  • Look for the lights and save them
  • Don’t be afraid of the dark
  • Keep it soft and use lots of water to bring your paint to life
  • Plan your palette before you start – aim for harmony and to communicate how the subject makes you feel through your choice of colour

So, start with the tight centre and a few brush marks to capture the furl.


Next using clean water, soften and blend the marks, building larger petals.


Now drop in other colours and build up the interest.


Think where the light is coming from. Drop in clean water of lift off using a kitchen towel or a thirsty brush to show where the light is hitting. Think about hard and soft edges and get a mix to add interest.


Let it dry fully and see what you have. You can glaze further on top, lift more, soften edges, darken things down.


Negative painting is very powerful in painting floral subjects. By putting in dark foliage you can make the flower jump forward and define petal edges, but don’t make it too ‘cut out’. Even with negative painting have soft/hard or lost/found edges. I didn’t get very interesting outer petal shapes on this one – did I?


Here’s the entire process on a sheet.


I also showed the class a quick sketch in a different colour combination, as we discussed colour and emotion. I also suggested using different paper surfaces for different subjects. I tend to reach for a ‘not’ (cold pressed) paper, but a hot pressed/smooth surface might work well for stylised flowers or a rough on for a pen and wash.


Please don’t dismiss flower painting as a bit ‘girlie’. The colours and textures are infinite and you can do strong dynamic paintings of the most fragile blooms. Have fun!



2 thoughts on “Everything is coming up roses!”

    1. They are a lovely subject. I always admire the detail of the Victorian botanical artists, but it is the looseness and suggestion from watercolour I love.

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