Sunday 19 October 2014

Stargazer Lily in Gouache

 I have a confession to make. Although I love flowers, I don’t really like painting flowers. I know that sounds odd coming from a botanical artist, but I find them really quite difficult. Perhaps it’s because I don’t paint quickly, or because I prefer dry brush to wet washes, but flowers have a transient beauty that can fade before the paint is even on the page. I know I’m not the only artist to howl with frustration when that perfect bloom wilts before your eyes and drops it’s petals. It’s far easier to paint fruit and vegetables, which last much longer and have their own distinct beauty and textures. Flowers can be scary!

However, this Natural Law exhibition is fast approaching, and Liz’s words are ringing in my ears
 “Paint the things that people like to give to each other, like flowers”

So I threw caution to the wind, bought some lovely stargazer lilies for myself and decided to paint a flower in gouache on dark green mountboard. Yes, I was feeling brave!

I selected a nice bloom, one that had just opened. I positioned it using a floral oasis and placed a dark green board behind the flower. If I was painting on white, I’d use a white board. It just helps isolate the bloom from the background.

I drew out my design on tracing paper. I find it useful to draw rough shapes like the circle as a guideline.

I traced the design on the reverse using a white Polychromos pencil, and then transferred that onto the green mountcard by going over the design with a pencil. So far, so good… the flower is still fresh and I’m still feeling quite confident.

Using white gouache, I began to paint over the white pencil lines, and slowly building up the form of the flower. This is the bit where you start to question your sanity as it can take a long time to get the right tones. The gouache tends to dry darker, so you have to keep building up the layers... and then more layers!  Inevitably, I ended up taking quite a bit of paint back off again too, but fortunately the mountcard is quite forgiving.

I know from previous experience with lilies, that it’s easier to paint the stamens and stigma first, and then to paint the petals around them, rather than to try to paint the petals first.

Once I had painted the stamens and stigma, and built up the form of the petals, it was time to introduce some colour. I switched here from gouache to watercolour. At first I mixed some of the watercolour with the gouache to make an opaque paint, but once the gouache is dry, it’s possible to continue building up the colour in transparent layers. 

As well as my red colour chart, I did a quick chart of the various pinks laid over white gouache on green card. The colours that I used for the petals were Permanent Rose, Quinacridone magenta, Purple magenta (Schmincke), Alizarin, Winsor orange, Rose madder. The shadow colours were Cerulean, Cobalt violet and Indanthrene.

As my friend Claire Ward says, “With gouache, it’s a case of forward and back, forward and back.” 
I love Claire's beautiful flower studies in gouache. She has quite a few gouache tutorials on her blog, Drawn to paint Nature which are worth looking at.

Once I was happy with the petals, it was time to put on those little spots, and also those tiny protuberances on the petals which act as important signposts for pollinating insects. Everything on a flower is so beautifully designed... even those spots follow subtle lines which lead to the center.
Finally I added the leaves and the stem, which were surprisingly quite easy to do, although perhaps painting green on green helps. I used Cerulean, Indanthrene, Lemon yellow and Perylene green.

Lilium Oriental Stargazer
Amazingly my little bloom lasted all week, and filled my studio with it’s divine smell. I still wouldn’t rush to into painting flowers, but it’s hard to resist their seductive charms.

 "When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it's your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else. Most people in the city rush around so, they have no time to look at a flower. I want them to see it whether they want to or not."
Georgia O’Keefe


  1. I fill the same as you, about flowers. I like other thing the most, but anyway I understand it is necessary. I'll give a try once. and thanks to share your expirience. I'm a Clare fan too. and I love gouache. I dream to have a workshop with Claire, maybe!!!!!!!!!

    1. Renata, it's so nice to hear from you!! Claire has started workshops in Wales... wouldn't it be lovely if we could all go for a weekend? It would be great to meet you!

  2. Thanks for the mention xxx you're right about painting green on green , I find that easier too! Interesting how you painted the stamens first, I would have done them last.
    It really is beautiful Shevaun, and I bet it sells pretty damn quick!!! xxx

    1. Claire, your work is so inspiring and you've always been so generous with your knowledge. That is interesting about the stamens... I suppose it's all the same in the end xx

  3. Oh, my, Shevaun, this piece is stunning. Thank you for the Claire Ward connection. I'll check her out.

    1. Candice, thank you so much. Yes, do check out Claire's work... she's fantastic and very open to answering any questions that you may have.

  4. This is so beautiful - I think it should sell very quickly!

  5. Your lily has a lovely fresh look to it that will sell in a snap! The dark background adds a lot of drama to the piece.


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