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A Question of Focus: Watercolor Floral Paintings Up Close and Personal

Updated on October 9, 2012
Dbro profile image

I am Diane Brown (dbro), an artist and illustrator living in Texas. I enjoy all phases of the creative process. Enjoy and comment!

One of the most natural subjects for portrayal in watercolor has got to be flowers! The light, ethereal nature of watercolor washes lend themselves almost effortlessly to the depiction of flower petals. In this article, I will discuss the ways in which I have painted flowers in watercolor, with a particular perspective and intensity that, I believe, gives these paintings greater drama and import than a typical floral painting might.

Claire's Rose, watercolor, 15 x 15"
Claire's Rose, watercolor, 15 x 15"

A Closer Look

For most of my floral subjects, I like to focus in closely on (usually) a single bloom. This is the approach made famous by Georgia O'Keefe. I find that this up-close view of the flower gives it great visual impact, especially when paired with a dramatically dark background. You can see in my painting of a pink rose (Claire's Rose, watercolor), how this approach lends great visual impact to the subject.

Of course, focusing on only one bloom on such a large scale does intensify the need for an accurate rendering of the flower, with correct structure and proportions. While I don't think you need a degree in botany in order to accurately render flowers, I do think you need to carefully study the blooms you wish to portray. I generally work from reference photos that I have taken, exercising care to capture the flowers in the dramatic lighting conditions I prefer. These conditions can be exaggerated when the painting is done, but it is best to have references that show the affects this lighting has on the colors of the flowers. I do not generally paint floral subjects directly from life. I know many artists do to very good effect, but I guess I just work too slowly for this way of working. I find the lighting conditions change too quickly for me to capture what I want to portray in a live setting. I much prefer to have captured what I want in a photo and then render it at my leisure in my studio.

Preliminary Drawing for Purple Iris
Preliminary Drawing for Purple Iris

Preliminary Drawing

This is the preliminary drawing for my painting of a purple iris. You can see that there was a lot of attention paid to the structure and shape of the blossom. I like to lightly indicate folds and bends in the petals in the drawing. I like to have as much information included in the drawing as possible. Of course it is worthwhile to leave some areas of the painting open to chance effects of the interaction of the pigment and the water. I like to have a balance of these looser portions of the painting and the more tightly controlled washes.

Once the drawing is completed to my satisfaction it is time to begin laying in washes. These are done in layers, generally going from lighter (less pigment and more water) to darker (more pigment and less water).

Purple Iris, watercolor 14 x 11"
Purple Iris, watercolor 14 x 11"

Color Choices

Here is the iris painting once it was completed. This painting was executed with a more varied background, suggesting surrounding flowers and vegetation. You can see this gives quite a different effect from the rose painting, above.

One great thing about painting flowers is the freedom one can exercise in the palette one can choose to portray flowers. When an artist is portraying a person, great care must be taken to choose colors that are "believable" for skin tones, etc. With flowers, a much greater range of possible colors are available, so there is more latitude in color choices.


Easter Lilies (Risen Indeed!) watercolor, 10 x 8"
Easter Lilies (Risen Indeed!) watercolor, 10 x 8"

Final Thoughts

Painting white flowers is a challenge that I particularly love. I really enjoy finding ways to paint white flowers so that they "read" as white, but are not portrayed as boring or one dimensional. The key to this is to find subtle shifts in color in the petals caused by shadows or reflected light from other sources. You can see how I've attempted this in these Easter lilies.

I guess one of the main things I want to express about painting flowers in watercolor (or any other medium for that matter) is that floral paintings do not have to be wimpy or wishy-washy! If they are carefully rendered and powerfully lit, floral paintings can evoke great power and strong emotion. These Easter lilies do not give a weak impression, but rather one of vitality and presence, something we artists hope for in all our subjects.

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    • bkmuze profile image

      bkmuze 5 years ago from Northern California

      Your paintings are stunning. Thank you for explaining a bit about the process that brings these gorgeous flowers to life!

    • Dbro profile image
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      Dbro 5 years ago from Texas, USA

      Thank you for your comments, bkmuze. I'm glad you enjoyed this hub.

    • profile image

      Claire 5 years ago

      A GREAT article and a beautiful flower...it would have to be as it is named Claire:-)

    • Dbro profile image
      Author

      Dbro 5 years ago from Texas, USA

      Thank you, Claire! I'm glad you enjoyed the article. I can paint them, but have trouble growing them! That flower is named for my niece, Claire Elizabeth - another lovely flower.

    • debbiepinkston profile image

      Debbie Pinkston 5 years ago from Pereira, Colombia and NW Arkansas

      Sorry, but I'm envious...(forgive me Lord :-) I'm just beginning and I want to much to paint beauty! I will check in regularly to your hubs to learn from you. Thank you!

    • Dbro profile image
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      Dbro 5 years ago from Texas, USA

      Thanks, Debbie! I'm glad you enjoy my hubs. I just love to "talk shop" with people who paint or are interested in art. I'll keep 'em coming!

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Beautiful. interesting, very helpful. Thank you. SHARING

    • Dbro profile image
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      Dbro 5 years ago from Texas, USA

      Thanks phdast7! I'm glad you enjoyed my article. Are you a painter?

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 5 years ago from the short journey

      This is an interesting read and your floral paintings are beautiful. I have a special affinity for white flowers and I've enjoyed making photographs of them. You have encouraged me to try painting them. Thanks very much! I'm going out to take photos of some white clematis in a bit and your watercolor floral paintings will be on my mind. Nice!

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Dbro - No, I am not a painter; I cannot even draw the proverbial straight line. I am a professor of European history so a lot of my Hubs are based in history.

      BUT, both of my Polish immigrant grandparents were extremely artistic and talented. I have done several Hubs on my grandmothers oil paintings, watercolors and y grandfather was a sculptor. You might appreciate their work. :)

    • Dbro profile image
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      Dbro 5 years ago from Texas, USA

      RTalloni - What a lovely comment! I'm so glad that my hub has inspired you! I love white flowers too. They are such a wonderful challenge to paint. I have done a white peony that I just love. You can see it on my website if you are interested. Thanks again for your encouraging note!

    • Dbro profile image
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      Dbro 5 years ago from Texas, USA

      phdast7 - I will most definitely check out your hubs. Thanks so much for your comments. I appreciate how you value your heritage, and especially how you honor the talents of your grandparents. What a gift our ancestors have given us! Wise people remember where they come from!

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 5 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      Your water colors of flowers are really very, very good. I's love to be able to do that. Thanks for sharing!

    • profile image

      dbro 5 years ago

      Rebecca mealey, thank you for your kind comments. I'm glad you enjoyed this hub.

    • Happyboomernurse profile image

      Gail Sobotkin 4 years ago from South Carolina

      Wow! Your watercolor floral paintings are exquisitely rendered and you've given some wonderful tips on how you create them.

      Loved this hub and am voting it up across the board and sharing.

    • Dbro profile image
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      Dbro 4 years ago from Texas, USA

      Thanks so much for your comments, Happyboomernurse (I love your screen name!). I'm so glad that you liked this hub. I hope you enjoy some of the other things I've written as well. I love what I do and so much want to share my art and the creative process with other people. Again, thank you for taking the time to leave a comment!

    • Happyboomernurse profile image

      Gail Sobotkin 4 years ago from South Carolina

      Your love of what you do definitely came through in this hub.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

      What gorgeous watercolor floral paintings! You really have talent and I enjoyed seeing your sketch and the final painting of the iris. The rose at the top is simply stunning! Many up votes! Tweeting as well.

    • Dbro profile image
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      Dbro 4 years ago from Texas, USA

      I appreciate your comments, Peggy W. I love painting all subjects, but florals are one of my favorites. I also greatly appreciate you spreading the word about my hubs. I love to find people who enjoy sharing their experiences in creative expression.

    • Dbro profile image
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      Dbro 4 years ago from Texas, USA

      Thanks, Happyboomernurse! I do indeed love to paint, draw, etc. I also love sharing with other people who appreciate art. People like you! :)

    • shrestha monsoon profile image

      shrestha monsoon 4 years ago

      Your paintings are beautiful. I especially love the Purple Iris.

    • Dbro profile image
      Author

      Dbro 4 years ago from Texas, USA

      Thanks for your kind comment, shrestha monsoon! I'm glad you enjoyed this hub and my paintings.

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