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Art Masterclass   

                      August 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 Paint a Sunflower and Other Potted Plants

Julie King 

During the summer months our minds focus on our immediate environment: the garden. In preparation for brightening up our gardens, we are often enticed to our local garden centre where we are met with a fine selection of bedding plants.

petunia mix, watercolour

Petunia Mix, watercolour, (26x21cm)

Often, before planting, I pick out and paint an individual plant. It gives me the opportunity to capture its natural beauty and character without the distraction of its surroundings. I was drawn to the bright golden yellow sunflower (see demonstration below), which I painted approximately life size. Normally, we see sunflowers towering above us in fields and gardens so to be able to take a small pot variety indoors to observe and paint is exciting. Perhaps you would like to select a similar plant and work through the following stages to produce your own individual painting.



Before you begin to draw, make sure you are sitting comfortably with your paper attached to a board, placed in front of you at an angle of approximately 30 degrees. Position the plant at about arm’s length from you so you can see a reasonable amount of detail.


Place your subject against a light simple background such as an interior wall so that you are not distracted by clutter. If this isn’t possible, tape two large sheets of plain white mountboard together and stand them up behind the plant. A coloured fabric could be hung loosely over the board to create an alternative backdrop.


Consider the direction of natural light falling on the plant. I like to work side on to the light in order to create a light and shadowed side to the subject matter.




Fabriano Artistico 140lb NOT 173⁄4x113⁄4in. (45x30cm)

Round sables:
No. 8 predominantly
No. 6 for finer detail
No. 12 for plant pot


See colours below

artists' watercolours


Step 1

Begin by painting the petals with aureolin (a cold yellow). Work wet on dry and brush from the centre towards the tip, pressing down with the full belly of the brush then drawing the brush off to a point towards the tip of the petal.

In this way, fine areas of white paper can be retained in order to indicate the stripy effect of the petal. Work four petals at a time.


step 1



step 2

Step 2

Before drying, loosely apply new gamboge or cadmium yellow (a deeper yellow) on top of the previous wash. If the first wash of aureolin is very wet, leave it for a few seconds so that the deeper strokes of the new gamboge do not diffuse entirely but retain a slightly stripy effect.



Step 3

When dry, define the petals using a stronger golden yellow, such as Indian yellow (or a mix of new gamboge and a touch of scarlet lake). Observe how one petal relates to another. Is it in front or behind? Is it lighter in tone or deeper? If, for example, the underneath petal is deeper, apply this stronger shade of yellow in light strokes to suggest the stripy petal effect.






step 4


Step 4

Start painting the leaves. Prepare a pool of dilute cobalt blue and a pale green mix of cobalt blue and new gamboge or cadmium yellow. Paint a dilute wash of cobalt blue over the entire leaf. I chose this colour because the leaves appear to reflect the light and give a blue tinge. While still wet, apply the second mix. Brush in a suggestion of the centre line, working from the top of the leaf downwards, including the secondary veins.



Step 5

1. Mix two pools each of new gamboge and cobalt blue. One of the pools needs to be weaker and the other warmer (by adding a higher proportion of yellow in the mix). Add the palest wash to the base of the stem. When the wash is dry, apply the stronger mix to suggest its form.
2. Return to the flower head to work on its centre. Prepare the following pools of colour (below) and apply quickly wet on wet to give a diffused effect.



step 5


pools of colour


step 6


Step 6

1. Begin with a cool wash of aureolin in the centre of the circle, surrounded by a warm band of new gamboge. Where the cool yellow meets the warm shade, drop in a touch of cool green followed by burnt sienna on the outer circle applied with the point of the brush (to give a stippled effect).

2. Returning to the aureolin base of the central circle, stipple a purple mix on to it, followed by a stronger purple on the outer edge. The colours will appear lighter when dry so, using a strong mix of purple, stipple a few dots on top of the centre and outer border of the circle to give depth.
3. In order to define the yellow petals and balance the tones against the strength of the centre of the flower, touch the odd petal edge with a sweeping brushstroke of the palest purple.


Step 7

Return to the leaves. Using new gamboge and cobalt blue prepare three mixes: pale, mid and deep. Work wet on dry. Leave gaps to suggest the central and secondary veins and apply simple vein patterns to suggest form and light and shade. Begin with the palest and increase the strength when dry.





step 7

Step 8

To give a strong textured effect for the soil, use a base of burnt sienna followed by a touch of purple (indigo and alizarin crimson mix) while still wet. When dry, combine burnt sienna with indigo and apply near the base of the stem so it appears to be going in to the soil.

step 8


Step 9

1. Paint a suggestion of a dark rim, leaving white areas of paper for the highlights. The colours of a plastic pot are very similar to terracotta.
2. Apply a wash of burnt sienna on the shadowed side, diffusing it by adding more water on the light side to suggest the round form. Apply purple on top of the shadowed side while it is still damp. When dry, use this colour to define the rim and diffuse it.
3. Finally, the pot needs to be grounded. Just a soft wash of colour, reflecting the colour of the flower head works well. Use a pale wash of new gamboge and while wet, add the mauve mix to create a shadow.





step 9



Finished Painting

finished painting

Sunflower, watercolour, 173⁄4x113⁄4in. (45x30cm)

This article was taken from Leisure Painter.




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