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Art Masterclass               May 2006

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;

This month: an Art Masterclass featured in the current edition of The Artist, the magazine for amateur and semi-professional painters.





Fresh-picked flowers in oils



Fresh-picked flowers

in oils

Wild flowers and bunches

picked from her garden provide

constant inspiration for Anne

Cotterill, and she paints them

to capture their individual characteristics


Wild Roses, oil board,

12x10in. (30.5x25.5cm)



Anne Cotterill is one of the most accomplished painters of flower subjects in the UK today. Her paintings are distinguished by their sensitive use of colour, the vitality of the paint handling, and the skilful way that she manages to capture the character of different flowers. Without doubt they are painted by someone with a real passion for the subject matter, and it is not surprising to discover that flowers have always been her main source of inspiration.

“The continuing motivation,” she says, “comes from the immense variety of flowers, especially wild flowers, which give a non-stop display practically right through the year.”




White Wild Violets,

oil on board,



Inspiration, that inner excitement, is the essential starting point for every painting, Anne believes. “Whatever the subject matter, it is absolutely necessary to be enthused by what is there and have a strong desire to paint it. Maybe this is why I am not interested in commissions, for the initial idea must come from something that has attracted and moved me. But I suppose it doesn’t take much to get me excited about flowers and I am sure I will never run out of ideas!

“I paint all types of flowers. I am fortunate to live in a part of the country that has a wonderful variety of wild flowers in the hedgerows, lanes and meadows. And I also have a large, rambling garden with roses, lilies and countless other flowers. Paintings are also sometimes inspired by flowers that people have given me, or I may buy certain varieties to paint, but mostly I enjoy painting the flowers that I have picked freshly myself.”

Having decided on a selection of flowers to paint, Anne sets them up in her studio, choosing a vase or container that will complement the colour and nature of the arrangement. However, the flowers are not arranged in a formal manner.

“I normally place the flowers in their pot the day before I start painting, to allow them to settle. Essentially, they arrange themselves and usually when I return the next day they look just right. If not, I make adjustments or perhaps try a different container – I have literally hundreds to choose from.

“The lighting is another important factor, and for me it must be natural light.

I work seated, with the board fixed in a fairly upright position on an easel, and usually with the light coming from a large window on my left, although I do vary this approach by using other windows and positions in my studio. Artificial light changes the colours, I feel, and sharpens the shadows too much.

“There are various tables, chairs and stools in my studio that I can place the flowers on, depending on the viewpoint I want. Generally they are positioned about three feet from me, at eye level or just below, thought for large lowers or a big bunch I am farther away from the subject. While I am not a botanical artist, I still find it important tot be accurate as regards numbers and shapes of petals, sepals and so on. I aim for a good likeness of that is

there, and try to add something to that, particularly the sense of light and movement in the flowers.

Extensive palette

“I paint exclusively in oils. What I especially like about this medium are the textures and glowing colours that can be achieved, the way that you can move the paint about and develop different effects, and of course the fact that you can alter things and rework areas.
However, particularly with flowers, you have to be careful not to overwork the colours; they must always look fresh, so I clean the brushes frequently. I paint on hardboard, which is carefully prepared with three thin coats of size followed by a further three coats in oil-based flat white primer. Then the surface is sanded to produce a finish that is not shiny, but has a nice ‘bite’. One of the advantages of hardboard is that you can cut it to any size and shape you require.”

Anne works from an extensive selection of colours. Her basic palette includes titanium white, cadmium yellow pale and cadmium yellow deep, Indian yellow, yellow ochre, raw sienna, burnt sienna, alizarin crimson, scarlet lake, cadmium scarlet, permanent rose, ultramarine, cerulean, cobalt blue, Prussian blue, Prussian green, sap green, terre verte, viridian, mauve, violet, magenta and permanent magenta. She never uses colour straight from the tube; all her colours are mixed, using brushes rather than a palette knife.

She prefers Winsor & Newton Artists’ oil colours, because these have the right consistency and oil content for the way she likes to work. Consequently there is no need to add any linseed oil or other medium to the mix. For brushes, she chooses Pro Arte Acrylix, which she finds are softer than hog brushes, have more spring, and are hardwearing.

Primroses, oil on board,

12x10in. (30.5x25.5cm)




   Spring Flowers, oil on board, 131/2x111/2in. (34x29cm)


The painting process

Some flowers last quite well when picked and arranged in a vase, others soon open up, shed petals or wilt. “And all flowers change to some extent,” Anne comments. “they never just sit still in the pot! Therefore it is often necessary to work quickly, and always the painting process must respond to the particular nature of the flowers as well as respecting the qualities and potential of the medium being used. Each new painting requires a slightly different approach.

“I normally start by covering the entire board with a neutral-coloured wash. This is usually made from a mix of burnt sienna, ultramarine and a touch of white, or it can be more of a purple colour, but always thinned with a lot of turpentine. It is applied with a wide brush.

“Then, for the lightest parts of the flowers, I use a turpsy rag to rub through the ground colour to the white surface beneath and, now working with a brush, I add the main darks. I keep to thin paint throughout this first stage, which probably only takes about ten minutes, and my aim is to suggest the general look and composition of the painting and begin to get everything moving.

“Having considered the basic tonal values, I start on the flowers, usually beginning with an area that I really want to pick out and treasure. For instance, if there are a couple of flowers that look wonderful together I paint those straight away, although not to an entirely finished state. Then I perhaps move on to the surrounding two or three flowers, and so on. The aim on the first day is to capture the sense of the whole bunch of flowers, leaving the detail to later. At the end of the day I put the flowers in a cool, dark place, to help preserve them.







Poppies, oil on board, 18x14in. (46x35.5cm)




Michaelmas Daisies,

oil on board,

161/2x153/4in. (42x40cm)


“While I paint I am constantly looking at the relationship of one flower to another, as well as the way that they cast shadows. All the time it is a matter of comparing light to dark. In a way it is like painting a landscape – you look through some dark leaves and there is a bright light beyond. It is this play of lights and darks that gives a sense of the roundness and form of the subject. Generally I exaggerate these contrasts."



The background colour

“My response is more instinctive as

the painting progresses and I focus

in turn on the parts that attract and interest me. Of course, it is equally necessary to react to things that

might be suggested by the painting itself. At this stage I also begin to

pay more attention to the background than how it relates to the flowers. In some areas I may use the background colour to delineate the flowers or, in contrast, sometimes it is very effective to ‘lose’ the flowers into a soft-toned background. Mostly I like a fairly neutral colour, so as not to compete with the flowers.

“Essentially I use the traditional

‘fat over lean’ approach, finishing

with the principal lights, which are

the most impasto areas. In fact,

I usually work on the pot and the foreground last of all, making the foreground fairly positive, to help

place the flowers in a context. Occasionally, the ellipses on the

pot cause me some problems, and

to check their accuracy I use a mirror. If you face away from the painting

and view it as a mirror image, this

will show up anything that needs attention. It is also

useful to turn the painting

upside-down and check the look

of things that way.

“In some paintings, after finishing

the pot I add a few leaves or flowers drooping across it, to unite pot and flowers. And something else I occasionally do, to capture the moment as it were, is to paint one

or two drops of water on a leaf somewhere or running down the side

of the pot. This enhances the sense

of freshness and vitality that I want

to convey in the painting.

“Over the many years that I have

been painting flowers, I have

learned that there is a limit to how much you can discipline them.

They have their own ideas and they obviously play a vital part in determining the success or

otherwise of the painting!









Pink Clover, oil on board,

18x14in. (46x35.5cm)



Buttercups in a Silver Coffee Pot,

oil on board, 151/2x111/2in.



Sweet Peas, 14x12in. (35.5x30.5cm)





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