Monday, January 5, 2009

How to Paint Peonies

"The Peony Commission"
Working Title

Peonies are such beautiful, lush flowers that it's no mystery that they are loved by nearly all flower aficionados. I received this commission a couple of days ago and thought it might be fun to share the painting process with you.

The size of the painting is 18" x 24" at the request of the client. I sent her three compositional images and she decided on this vertical format. I'm glad because I'm a bit partial to this composition. Mainly this is because I love drama. Even in something as quiet as a still life, there can be great drama.

Notice how the composition is at eye level. You can basically divide the canvas into three areas. Below the table, the top of the table to the Golden Mein (about one third of the way down from the top, and the top one third where most of the flowers reside.
I chose an "S" composition for this floral as I often do in vertical compositions. Notice how the flowers form a backwards question mark or take an actual "S" direction. I chose green apples to offset the prinks in the flowers. I actually added some cut apples to the right after this picture was taken. They become apparent in the painting.

I first prepared the canvas a couple of days in advance by coating it with a thin layer of under painting white mixed with Liquin to help it's drying time. I did this for two reasons: first, I prefer a smooth surface to one with texture and I like the way paint moves on a surface that has been primed with paint. The white under painting will cause the flowers to glow with an appearance of light emanating from within as the painting ages.

When the canvas was dry, I drew with charcoal the actual placement of the major elements and then sprayed the whole thing with a touch of hairspray. Nice to know that stuff is still useful for something.
Next I wiped on a thin layer of Burnt Umber mixed with Quinacridone Orange and then started to lift out the lights. I like this process of under painting because it allows me to make decisions as I go. If something doesn't look right where I've placed it, I can easily move it by painting back into the toned canvas and wiping out the lights elsewhere. But my drawing was good here and I was pretty happy with the way the flowers were placed. I had made some changes to the flowers you see in the photograph until I was happy. Often, I won't see things that need fixing until I start to get things on canvas. That's why I can't work from photos. Things looked flat in the photo I sent to the client but really started to fill out nicely when I started actually lifting out the lights on the canvas.

Here you can see the under painting developed further. I added a bloom or two to the left and filled out some other areas. I moved the flower on the table further to the right and the small one further to the left to bring out more of the "S" shape I was referring to. The large Peony in the top left of center is right about on the intersection of the Golden Mein, the sweet spot of the painting and where I want the viewer's eyes to go. While it takes precedence now, it will be a challenge to keep it's importance once color is added.

I pulled out lights where the light spills from the left across the vase. You might notice now that there is no design on the vase. That's the last thing that gets added to the painting.
I've filled in some leaves and you can see now also where the apples and cut apples fall. I've brushed in some shadows as well to unify the piece.

OK. I'm about done here. The cloth is not quite finished and I'm thinking I'll change quite a bit on there as the painting proceeds. I often move the light source to provide a few shadows and lit parts on the cloth in the front. I don't want to do that until the majority of the painting is done as once the light moves, it's difficult to get things back where they were. While a purist might say that the shadows will not be true to life, an "artist" knows that what works in a painting is not generally true to life in all cases.

I've lightened the background on the right. This will add more depth to the painting later. It won't be bright, per se, but will be a softly shadowed mid tone to allow the flowers to fade into it. The left side will be darker.

All this, mind you, is subject to change. But for the most part, I'm happy with this first stage. Check back tomorrow or the next day to see the next step. Thanks for tuning in.

If the lesson is difficult to follow on the blog, I suggest you click here to follow it on my website where the type flows smoother. Just click on "Peony Commission" when you get there.

1 comment:

Art with Liz said...

You are so amazing to share your techniques with everyone. This is fascinating and so informative and I'm looking forward to tomorrow!