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How To Paint Roses

Updated on August 9, 2016
Completed Still Life Painting of Old Fashioned Roses by Stan Awbrey
Completed Still Life Painting of Old Fashioned Roses by Stan Awbrey

A Listing of Materials

This painting of an arrangement of old-fashioned pink "cabbage roses" was created on a commercial stretched cotton canvas that is 11" X 14" in size. I used acrylics for this painting, but the procedure is exactly the same if you are using oils. Any brand of commercial artists' colors may be used with good results. I used Liquitex and Golden brand acrylics. and #3 round, #5 round, and #4 Filbert brushes, all synthetic sables made by Langnickel. The colors of paint used were Titanium White, Ivory Black, Cadmium Red Medium, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna, Phthalo Blue, and Ultramarine Blue. These seven colors will be all you need to mix all the various hues used in the painting. I thin my acrylics slightly by using plain water. If you are using oils, try thinning them slightly with a commercial medium made of linseed oil and thinner mixed together. Oil alone tends to make the paint too slippery and hard to control, and thinner alone makes it dry with too flat a surface finish. With either oils or acrylics, try to create a consistency similar to that of heavy cream.

Start With A Simple Drawing

To begin your painting, start with a simple line drawing using a medium grey color made by mixing Titanium White and Ivory Black. I prefer to use paint to draw with rather than pencil or charcoal, because it will become an integral part of the completed painting, whereas pencil lines sometimes show through and can be difficult to cover.

Using a No. 3 round brush, loosely draw the edge of the back of the table the arrangement will sit on. Make sure you keep this line straight and level. If it is tilted or uneven it will make the whole painting look skewed. Next draw the shape of the container that holds the roses. Be careful to keep the shape even and symmetrical. Then draw a large circle for each rose. It is important to make the roses look as if they are turned in different directions, and have some with only their backs showing on the back side of the arrangement, to give a feeling of depth and wholeness. Have one rose lying on the table as if it had fallen out of the pitcher, to create a feeling of romance and to add interest to the lower part of the painting. When you are satisfied with the placement of the large circles, draw a smaller circle inside each one for the centers of the flowers. When placing the centers, make the smaller circle closer to the side the rose will be facing, as shown. At this point your roses will look a little like doughnuts. If you make a mistake or don't like the position of the circles, you can just wipe them off and start over.

Circles with smaller circles inside for each rose.
Circles with smaller circles inside for each rose.

Add Shapes For Petals

Next you will indicate the back petals of the roses by drawing triangle or rectangle shapes at the back of each large circle. Try to space them evenly around the back of the circles. Vary the shapes and sizes to create a more natural look, rather than making them all the same. Its OK if they overlap one another.

Triangle and rectangle shapes added for the back petals.
Triangle and rectangle shapes added for the back petals.

Start Adding Color to the Roses

When you are satisfied with the shapes and placement of the roses, you are ready to start addiing some color. Use a light pink made by mixing Titanium White and Cadmium Red Medium. You want enough red to make a nice soft, rich pink, but the color does not have to match exactly for every rose. If some areas are slightly lighter or darker it will give a more natural appearance. Fill in the circles you have drawn for the roses that will be toward the front of the arrangement, and the petal shapes that are turned where they would catch the light. Leave the ones that will be in back blank for now. These will be in shadow and will need to be a darker color. You can let the grey lines of your drawing show for now. They will be covered at a later stage of the painting, but you need to be able to see them now so that you don't lose the individual shapes of the flowers.

Start adding light pink to the roses that are in front.
Start adding light pink to the roses that are in front.

Add Some Shadows To The Roses

Now you will fill in the shadowed areas of the flowers using a darker pink-grey color, made by mixing Titanium White, Cadmium Red Medium, and Ivory Black. This is the basic shadow color for the roses. Add this color to the areas that will be behind other flowers or on the backs and bottom of shapes, where there is less light falling on them. Creating a distinct direction the light is coming from in the painting is very important. It should originate from one side and fall across the shapes of the flowers, table, and container creating light and shadow areas to give depth and contrast.

Shadow color added to roses
Shadow color added to roses

Fill In The Centers of the Roses

Now fill in the small blank circles in the center of the roses, with a very bright pink or light red made by mixing Cadmium Red Medium and a little Titanium White.These will become the deep centers of the roses, the heart of the flowers.

Centers of Roses Filled in with Light Red
Centers of Roses Filled in with Light Red

Add Some Leaves

Next, using the medium grey you made the first drawing lines with, draw the shapes of some leaves and stems around the sides and top of the arrangement, and here and there among the flowers. Leave some space for the background to show through in places to give the feeling of air and light .Vary the shape and direction of the leaves and have some only partly showing. Give the rose that is lying on the table a stem and some leaves as well.

Add Some Leaves and Stems
Add Some Leaves and Stems

Fill In The Leaves With Color

Using a mixture of Phthalo Blue, Yellow Ochre, Ivory Black, and a little Titanium White, mix some dark green and fill in the shapes of the leaves you have drawn. Using a lighter green made by leaving out the black, make some of the leaves on the highlighted side of the arrangement brighter and lighter.

Fill In The Leaves With Light and Dark Green
Fill In The Leaves With Light and Dark Green

Add Color To The Container and Background

Now fill in the shape of the container the roses are in with shades of golden brown, made by mixing Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna, White, and Black. You want to make the mixture much darker, by using more Black and Burnt Sienna, on the side away from the direction of the light, and the other side much lighter using more Yellow Ochre and White.

Fill in the background of the painting using light and dark mixtures of Ultramarine Blue, White, and Black, with touches of Yellow Ochre, and Burnt Sienna. Make one side of the background light and the other side dark, for added interest and drama. Place the dark side of the arrangement against the light side of the background, and the light side of the arrangement against the dark background for contrast and drama. This will make the painting more interesting to look at than making the whole background equally light or dark.

Add Color To The Container and Background
Add Color To The Container and Background

Paint The Top Of The Table

Now paint the top of the table, using mixtures of White, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna, Ultramarine Blue, and Black. Vary the color and tone of the table rather than making it all one color and shade, to show the play of light on the surface and the effect of shadows. You can use more blue and black in the mixture for the darker areas, and more Yellow Ochre and White in the lighter ones.

Paint The Top of the Table
Paint The Top of the Table

Add Light Petal Edges

The next step is to start defining the individual petals of the roses. Using a very pale pink that is almost white, made by mixing Titanium White with a touch of Cadmium Red Medium, draw in the shapes of the petal edges. The petals overlap one another in a criss-cross pattern as shown, and will become smaller and more numerous as they get closer to the center of the flowers.

Add Light Petal Edges
Add Light Petal Edges

Add Shadow Color To The Petals

Now, using a deep reddish brown make by mixing Cadmium Red Medium, Burnt Sienna, and a little White, and a small round brush, carefully add shadow color to the deepest parts of the petals and the recesses in the depths of the roses and petal creases. This step is what will start to give the roses depth and character.

Add Shadow Color to the Petals
Add Shadow Color to the Petals

Tone It Down With Grey

To ease the transition between the light and shadow areas of the flowers, mix a brownish halftone using White, Cadmium Red Medium, Black, and a touch of Burnt Sienna. Use this color to tone down and soften the contrast between the brightest lights and the deepest shadows, and to make the roses that are in back recede behind the front ones. You can make this color lighter or darker as needed by adding more or less white or black.

Add Grey Shadows
Add Grey Shadows

Finishing Touches

Now add some finishing touches to the leaves and stems by refining the shapes and adding highlights to them with lighter green and Yellow Ochre. Place a few delicate final highlights and shadows to any areas you feel need more contrast or definition. When you feel satisfied that no more detail is needed, sign your painting. Your roses are finished and ready to place in a frame and enjoy.

The Finished Painting
The Finished Painting


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