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Art Lessons

Winter Blues, Meet Freshly-Painted Florals

You know how fresh flowers are the first things you see when walking into a Whole Foods store? Sometimes, especially this time of year, I'll just stand amongst the blooms and pretend it's spring. I'm always tempted to buy up the entire section, and often I'll walk out with a bouquet to bring some life to my living room.


Photo by Heather Linder

Spring can't get here soon enough, so I've found the perfect solution to spending my entire paycheck on short-lived stems. Painting floral scenes can bring bursts of color and life to your home or workspace, which is especially welcome if you live in a cold-weather climate like I do.

How to Draw and Paint: Flowers by Marcia Baldwin features ideas for all kinds of floral paintings and gives great instruction on painting techniques. I was excited to learn the difference among flat wash, graded wash, dry brushing, impasto and more. Too often I get stuck in the rut of using the same types of brush strokes and paint techniques. This book gave me the boost I needed to break out of my norm.

Your flowers can be realistic or more abstract. You can use colors found in nature or go even bolder than the typical hues. It's your painting; go crazy.

I'm in love with this step-by-step sunflower for its intense colors and layered gold tones. This baby will hopefully tide me over until summer.

Creating Texture: How to Paint a Sunflower

Color Palette: Oil Colors

Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber, Cadmium Barium Orange, Deep Yellow, Lemon Yellow, Lime Green, Phthalo Blue, Sap Green, Titanium White, Violet, Yellow Ochre

Step 1: Starting with the center of the sunflower, apply cadmium orange combined with your medium mixture using swift, bold brushstrokes. Next, apply deep yellow mixed with your medium. Loosely brush on sap green to indicate the stem and foliage. Finally, use a clean, dry brush to lightly blend strokes together. This will be your underpainting.

how to paint sunflower

Step 2: Next, load a quarter-inch brush with sap green and outline the leaves and foliage around the blossom. Using the same brush, use deep yellow to paint the petal outlines, followed by burnt sienna to delineate the center.

Step 3: Using a half-inch flat brush with a crisp edge, begin filling in the center with burnt umber. Use short, multidirectional strokes to create clean edges between the petals. As you move toward the center of the blossom, allow a bit of the orange underpainting to peek through. Continue this process and begin dabbing in burnt sienna, cadmium barium orange, and yellow ochre, to create depth and texture to the seeds.

Step 4: Using a variety of brush sizes, continue to apply heavy dabs of burnt sienna around the perimeters of the sunflower center, remembering to leave a bit of the orange underpainting showing through. Next, load a smaller bursh with deep yellow and cadmium barium orange, and dab color around the protruding seeds and surrounding petals.

Step 5: Begin defining the green petals and leaves by layering in sap green, phthalo blue, lime green, and burnt umber. Always remember to work dark to light. Work wet-into-wet until you are happy with the color; then add highlights with a clean brush dipped in titanium white.

Step 6: Begin to add highlights and lighter tones to further define the petals, leaves, and foliage. Use lemon yellow, followed by strokes of titaium white, for the petals in the foreground. Then lightly blend all remaining colors on the petals. Add strokes of violet, phthalo blue, and lime green to the green foliage to create added depth, and use the sharp edge of the flat brush to define the edges of your petals and leaves. Finally, apply violet, burnt umber, phthalo blue, and crimson to fill in the dark background. Then use a clean, dry brush to lightly soften the contrast between the petals and background.

how to paint sunflower finish

Images and text excerpted from How to Draw and Paint: Flowers

How has art kept your winter blues at bay this year?

Heather Linder

Heather is a journalist and writer living in Chicago with her composer husband and art-loving puppy, Lancelot. She's on an endless quest for the city's best coffee and is endlessly inspired by Chicago's magnificent skyline. Heather is a bookworm, aspiring chef, and NPR fanatic. She's in the process of teaching her beagle to use a French press and overcoming her fear of DIY.

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