Click here to print this page

Planning Retirement Online

Art Masterclass   

                      July 2010

Each month presents a feature from either The Artist or its sister publication, Leisure Painter.     

Art masterclass           

From The Artist, the monthly magazine for amateur and semi-professional painters, giving practical instruction in painting and drawing in watercolour, pastels and oils, as well as news of art events, exhibitions and competitions open to leisure artists;   


How to draw and paint flowers

Linda Birch

A practical guide to drawing and painting flower studies in oil


freesiasThere is often anxiety among beginner painters about painting flowers using oils, especially if coming to oil painting from watercolour. The apparent difficulty of flower shapes and the massing of them in a container is frequently daunting. I also notice a strange reluctance among men to tackle flower painting. Perhaps painting flowers is regarded as a feminine activity, but Manet painted many flowers in oils and Van Gogh’s sunflowers are so famous as to be recognisable by most people, whether they paint or not.


If you find the painting of flowers difficult, then consider this:

  • All flowers can be reduced to simple shapes.
  • Oil is an ideal medium in which to paint flowers because if things go wrong (and they will) the paint can be scraped off, or the image painted over without much trouble.
  • The painting can be built up slowly.




1. Flower shapes

Most flowers can be reduced to basic shapes, the most useful being cups, saucers, cones and cylinders. Being aware of these shapes will help you look for the perspective of the flower arranged in front of you. For example, is it facing you or turned away slightly? This will enable you to tackle it in a more informed way. Also, the way light falls on form is easier to understand when you know that the rose is a cup and therefore likely to be in shadow somewhere, according to the direction of the light.can be constructed using either a cup and therefore likely to be in shadow somewhere, according to the direction of light.


Rose Roses (depending on variety and state of flowering) can be constructed using either a cup shape or a cone.



Foxgloves and bluebells are constructed using a cylinder as the basic shape



Daisies fit neatly into saucer shapes



Daffodils are perfect cups and saucers




2 Foliage shapes

Foliage shapes are various: lozenge, oval, palmate, strap-like and so on. Whatever their shape, however, leaves behave like ribbons; they bend, twist or curl. All have a back and a front. Often the leaf is paler on the underside, yet you need to be able to see shadow, which will be darker. Watch for the way light hits the top of the leaf; is the leaf glossy in texture? Then it will reflect more light.



Leaves (whatever their shape) behave like ribbons, they bend and twist and curl. This also makes the effect of light and shadow easier to see.


3 Simplify composition

You can also simplify the marking out of a painting of a bunch of flowers in a container. The sight of a bunch of assorted flowers and foliage can strike terror into the nervous painter! As with the flower shapes, approach the procedure by first half-closing your eyes in order to clarify the basic shape that the whole mass makes. Often this will be something like a cone or fan shape, with the thinnest yet densest part of the bunch being around the neck of the container.

If the thought of masses of flowers still frightens you, then look for single blooms and include them in a still life.


When painting flowers always make them out a little larger than you think they are and you will find that is correct.

Oil painting process

The traditional method is to work from dark to light when painting with oils. Often a thin fluid underpainting is applied first. However, I use Walter Sickert’s method, which he may have adapted from the Impressionists. This technique entails rubbing in the areas that are darkest using little or no dilution. This method enables the painter to apply subsequent layers of paint on top in one session (alla prima) without having to wait for the underpainting to dry.

After ‘marking’ out the painting in a dilute dark brown or French ultramarine (as these colours get lost easily in the over-painting), rub in the darkest areas of the arrangement with dry paint, using very little dilution. Lay the midtones in next, both foliage and flower colours. This is where the truest colour is found – that is the reddest red or greenest green; this tone tends to be least affected by light or shadow. Finally, paint the lightest areas. This is where the paint is at its thickest and contains a large proportion of white. By all means use a painting knife to apply colour, but try to avoid a stickiness that looks too cloying and serves little purpose. Over-texturing of oil paint is like over-icing a cake – the effect is lost in the application. I use a knife to pick up a sharp edge, perhaps where the light is catching, or on stems where I want a broken line or dancing specks of colour, such as the small flowers on a cow parsley plant of alchemilla molis (ladies mantle).


Marigolds and geraniums

Marigolds and Geraniums, Chroma Archival Oils on paper, 9x12in. (23x30.5cm).
This painting was built up by rubbing in the darkest tones first using
very little turpentine. The thickest parts of the painting are the lightest areas.


This article was taken from Leisure Painter.




Advertise on