Monday, July 23, 2007

Flowers in Art: Tips and Techniques for working from life

Plumbago and Daisies (NFS - fine art print available from Imagekind)
16" x 20", pastels on rembrandt pastel board
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

This post is a summary of a number of tips and techniques for working from life when drawing or painting flowers. It's partially derived from a thread that I started a while back in the Artwork from Life Forum on Wet Canvas called Flowers: Tips and Techniques for working from life.

This post is a distillation of the tips offered in that thread - with links back to the blogs or websites of those people who contributed to the thread. I must give a special mention for Chuck Law and his very generous sharing of his specialist knowledge. Besides my own contributions to the thread, I've also added in a few more thoughts at the end.

Getting enough flowers to draw and paint
  • Find places which discard their flowers on a periodic basis. These will usually include blooms which are suitable for artwork.
  • Places which will supply blooms vary from florists to hotels to funeral parlours. Some florists will give away flowers if an effort is made to pay. (Chuck Laws - Chuck Law's Art Pages blog)
  • Keep a wide bucket with a little water on the floor of your car to keep flowers well watered on the way home. Also carry shears or scissors to cut wild flowers from grass verges, abandoned properties, construction sites. (Chuck Laws - Chuck Law's Art Pages blog)
Selection of flowers
  • Remember that when you buy flowers in bud that they all have different timings for coming into full flower - how ever long it took last time is almost certainly not going to be how long it's going to be this time! (Me)
  • See Chuck Law's excellent advice in the thread he started called Tips on Flower Selection, Care and Arranging. Here's an extract...
Single blooms are great, but for mixed arrangements first choose a primary or focal flower, then the supporting cast...greens and fillers. Think of color harmonies (monochromatic, complimentary etc). Mixing shapes and sizes adds interest. Having a picture in your mind of what you want to do before hand helps............
Care of Flowers
Care: For a good long life when using flowers as a still life, cut them and place into fresh warm water immediately......The longer they stay out of water, the more likely it is they won't be able to revive.......When you get home cut at least an inch off the stem with a good sharp knife or scissors and place immediately into warm water. Be sure to first remove any leaves from the part of the stem that will be in the water. Let them drink for an hour or so...Then arrange them, recutting as you place each blossom into the vase. All this insures a steady flow of water to the flower head and a longer life....When there are signs of wilting or other problems a simple recut may save the day!
Protecting your flowers
  • I'm not sure if having a cat is compulsory before painting flowers ;) - but there's fair few of us who tend to suffer from undue feline interest in any blooms they can reach:
    • Keep your flowers in high spots to avoid unwanted attempts to eat the foliage (Chuck Laws - Chuck Law's Art Pages blog)
    • when placing your flowers up high, don't forget to place obstacles underneath to avoid 'interested' cats trying to take an interest (me!)
    • cut your flowers back to just blooms and put in low vases with no foliage showing (Chuck Law)
    • try using flowers which they don't like eg roses (Chuck Law)
    • Close the door (I've had permanent rose and ultramarine footprints go straight across my painting!) (Botanical Artistry - Peter Neish)
  • Lower your house temperature on the theory that in a cooler room, the flowers will take longer to wilt. Put on an extra sweater and save money on energy costs too! (SilverAnn - Ann Lynott Fine Painting)
Arranging Flowers
If you are using greens, place them in the vase first to form a web that will hold your flowers in place. The wider the vase opening, the more challenging it is to hold your flowers in place. To do a simple one sided arrangement picture a triangle or diamond shape. Cut and place fern or other greens then add the focal flowers ( largest blooms). Place the tallest flower first. It should be the same distance from top of vase as the vase is tall. Add next flower to halfway point between top bloom and vase, Depending on number, stagger each bloom in between, filling the space to form your shape. Use odd numbers for focal flowers..3, 5, 7 etc. Flowers should not "kiss" or be side by side...give each bloom its own space.....(continues in thread)
  • I often have in my arrangement one or two flowers on the table outside the vase...when I take a break or lunch, I put them back in water until I get back, then rearrange them after. (SilverAnn - Ann Lynott Fine Painting)
  • For single stems, the little test-tube like containers you can get at florists (especially around Valentine's day) are excellent for keeping plants hydrated. I use an arm with clamp on the end (bought at an electronics shop) to orient the plant in the right direction. (Botanical Artistry - Peter Neish)
Lighting Flowers Indoors

Some suggestions from me about lighting when working inside :
  • you can only paint for as long as the light stays reasonably consistent
  • review how your light moves around the rooms. If you want continuous sunlight you need to find the place where it lasts longest. So that's my draining board in the morning (or the kitchen floor!) and my dining table in the late afternoon/early evening. You can move in props to dress the for background as required - although I have learned to mentally make backgrounds "disappear" when they're not helpful to the painting. Just because you're working from life does not mean that the taps have to be included - you can edit indoors as well as out of doors!
  • flowers are often lit by artificial light - and can be when painted from life under artificial light
  • flowers do not need to be front lit - often some of the most attractive shapes and colours come from back-lighting so rather than having one spot and painting flowers there keep moving them around within the confines of the spaces where you can take your art materials
  • light, whether artificial or natural, falling on a wall close by will provide a shadow - which will tend to have a hard edge if close. Try moving flowers further away from where they are throwing shadows and you may get a softer edge.
  • watch out for "black holes" caused by a shadow which has no differentiation or reflected colour - they can be very deadening and most flowers have a very hard time competing with them. The contrast between a dead black shadow and a light flower will also instantly attract the viewer's attention because of the contrast in colours and values. Which then means you can have designed a painting which directs the viewer to a "black hole" - not something you always want to achieve
  • Also, check out the recent thread on how to create a lightbox.
More tips

'Cultivated' wild flowers in a park in Limehouse yesterday

These are more tips which didn't make it in to the original thread

Poppies always tend to grow on freshly disturbed soil - they're very common near construction sites. Don't expect wild red poppies to last long once cut. The probably have a maximum life of around 12 hours before they start to wilt. Cut and draw them fast or better still draw them in situ!

Try sowing your very own wild flower meadow. There are a number of suppliers of wild flower seeds or you could try collecting your own. A number of gardens and public parks are also doing the same thing. For advice or inspiration, check out The Royal Horticultural Society's advice page on establishing a wild flower meadow or the Prince of Wales's garden at High Grove which was one of the first to do this in recent times. Note that there is a 3 year waiting list to tour the garden!

Finally don't forget the opportunities presented by flowers in pots. Not all drawings or paintings need to be of cut flowers. Pot plants can eliminate many of the potential problems experienced with cut flowers - and rearranging them can be rather easier!

If you've got a tip not mentioned above please don't hesitate to add it using the comments function. Similarly, if you know of any good websites with advice about selecting, arranging and caring for flowers used in artwork.

For those interested in owning one of my images, I am offering a fine art print of "Plumbago and Daisies" (see top) on Imagekind.

Links to "Making a Mark" posts for "Flowers in Art" month:


Lin said...

FABULOUS painting!!! Those sweet delicate flowers against a gorgeously done wall -- LOVE LOVE LOVE IT!

Making A Mark said...

Thank you Lin - I love it too which is why it's not for sale!

You can actually see a bigger version if you click the link to the print.

Jeanette Jobson said...

Excellent painting indeed. I love the light and colours, just fabulous. I can see why you don't want to part company with it.

And just the post for me! Still overcoming my 'flower fear'. I have lots of flowers to choose from - a whole commercial sized greenhouse in fact. Just trying to get over the hurdle of actually doing one...

Making A Mark said...

One at a time seems a good place to start Jeanette.

Just have a go - you do such nice drawings I can't see why you should have any difficulty

Maybe start with one which has a quite simple structure or one which you really like a lot?

Jo Castillo said...

That is a lovely painting.

Thanks for the info, as usual. How did you know I was working on painting flowers? Heh, heh.


Lisa B. said...

Another winner, Katherine. Good for you for keeping this one.

Another tip for cut flowers: Place them in the refrigerator overnight, or when not in use.

Anonymous said...

Great tips for flowers, and how timely for the season. And, and inspiring painting too: lovely.

DRB said...

Very nice, very thorough. Thanks for all the effort.

Robyn Sinclair said...

This is one of my favourites of all your work, Katherine. I'm about to tackle plumbago - but I think I'll start with just a spray.

Making A Mark said...

Robyn - try 6-10 feet away as well and see what you notice. This painting got noticeable easier once I decided I was going for broader shapes rather than detail.

Jana Bouc said...

I adore this pastel painting. It's so rich and wonderfully composed. I followed the link over to the print site too and saw it larger. The print company seems very professional--much more fine art oriented than some of the sites that offer printing. The flower info was interesting--I was near a cemetery a week ago that is surrounded by floral shops and I noticed that one had several large and lovely arrangements put out by their trash. I wasn't brave enough to take them, even though they were closed.

Making A Mark said...

Jana - keep an eye on the place - you'll probably notice that the flowers start to disappear because others are brave enough.

A commercial florist who did the arrangements for prestigious offices in the City of London and large hotels and restaurants used to be located quite near to me - and if I was walking in that direction I'd always take a look. Of course I had to queue up behind the locals who all arrived with plastic bags ready to remove!

To my way of looking at it flowers are there to be enjoyed by all. If some blooms are still in good condition then it's really sad to see them thrown away - particularly if they are really expensive at the sizes they used or difficult to get hold of.

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