Thursday, August 24, 2017

Painting Large Loose Florals

Painting Large and Loose

There are a couple of ways to approach a large image like this one. For that matter - any image!

You can draw out a detailed drawing and then fill it in. Or you can just start laying down large shapes, and then refine the image by breaking those larger shapes into smaller ones.

I went with the second approach on this one.

Acrylics are really well suited to painting this way. You can go back in with as many layers as you like. Trying different colors, shapes. Without ending up with mud, since the layers don't mix. I love that! It's an adventure in discovery :)

This is the finished painting. Acrylic on canvas. 18" x 24"

The Winding Road 

Here's the photo I took in my garden to start with. 

I love the color and shapes, but knew I wanted to work on the composition

It's important to realize that even though you are planning on trying to paint loosely, you still need to plan your composition, your color harmony, your story.

first, I decided to go with a portrait oriented canvas, to emphasize the vertical nature of the flowers.

So I took the image into Photo Shop and made some adjustments.

I lightened, blurred the background stalks. I also washed over them with a bluish tone. This was to give more of a sense of depth to the image.

 Next I moved the right hand stalk down to give more variety of height and to fill in the lower area.

Then I moved the petals in the upper left down to the bottom, and moved the nearest green tipped stalk over to the right more. It had a directional shape to it and was pointing us out toward the edge of the image instead of in toward the middle.

Then I just did some copying of various areas to fill in that bottom area with random petals.

If you are interested, I made a short You Tube video on how to make these kind of adjustments in Photoshop. You can find it here

Time to Paint! 

I started by toning my canvas with some of the colors I thought I would use. Doesn't this remind you of a Big Stick popsicle?!

This gives me a chance to experiment with my colors and start to understand which mixes were going to work for me.

I know I want to keep this loose and remember that my story in this painting is the color. 

Colors I'm using: Titanium white, Hansa yellow medium, Quinacridone gold, Napthol red light, Quinacridone Magenta, Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue, Hookers Green     

 Next, I started defining the overall shapes by painting a blue grey background color around the shapes. This is called "negative painting". Instead of painting the flowers, or the positive image, I painted the background in around them.

This is really fun to experiment with. The outcome tends to be more loose, with less of a controlled look. You should try it!

Then I came in with some darker colors for the shadow shapes. Further refining the forms.

Lots of squinting here. Avoiding detail. Using a flat firm brush about 1 inch wide. Just look for those big shapes and boldly place them with simple strokes. Keep moving around the canvas to build up all the areas at once. Don't fuss, overpaint, or fiddle. It's not easy! I have to remind myself many, many times! No detail!!

 Adjusting the Background

At this point I decide to darken the background and push it to a more greenish blue color.

My thought was that it would help the lighter colors pop more against the darker background. And the Complimentary blues and greens would also give more of a pop to the reds and oranges.

 Finding the Forms

My focal area is going to be the blossoms in the lower left third of the painting.

So that is the area that I want to have the most detail and contrast.

At this point I had spent quite a bit more time breaking up those larger shapes into smaller more accurate shapes and colors. 

Still working with my 1 inch brush.

Going back and forth between light and dark values to try to define the roundness of the forms.

I'm using my reference photo, but also a real flower that I have in a little bottle, lit with a spotlight. Notice how loose I'm keeping the background blossoms and the blossoms at the bottom and sides. Just big strokes of color in blossom like shapes.

At this point I let the painting sit for a couple of days. I wasn't happy with the background. And I didn't like the color and forms in the green buds. Hmmm. I like to keep a painting like this where I can see it many times a day. In different lights, in different moods. I just keep glancing at it hoping it will tell me what it needs. What? Don't your paintings talk to you?! ;)

  Light Bulb!

Ahhh, that was it. The background was all wrong!

I was trying to create this soft, richly colored world. Harmony was what I needed, not contrast! Having the blossoms pop off the page was not as important as creating this color mood. Sort of an enfolding atmosphere.

So back in with some Ultramarine blue and white, neutralized a bit with the same peachy tones I was using in the flower.

I also lightened, cooled and softened those background stalks a bit more.

Then I spent more time with lighter versions of the pinks and oranges in the foreground flowers. Experimenting with forms, color, shapes. Remembering to keep the most definition in my focal area - softening out to the edges.

At this point I have switched to Golden "Open" Acrylics. These take longer to dry than the regular heavy body acrylics I started with. You can't do much layering with these though, which is why I only use them toward the end of the process. what they do is let me do a little more blending of the colors. I know I don't want to be too "blendy though, I want to keep the brushstrokes showing for a more loose look.

I'm spending a lot of time thinking about the way the light - coming from above - will hit the various angles of the petals.

  Final Touches

I wasn't happy with all the buds and shapes on the stalk on the right. It wasn't looking so much like snapdragons. More like a gladiola or something :(

So I added some larger half open blossoms. with just 2 or three brushstrokes. Shadow color, mid tone, highlight. I worked on de-emphasizing the top of that stalk as well. Lighter colors, softer blending.

I also brightened up the yellows (Hansa yellow medium, with a touch of quinacridone gold in the shadows, and white in the highlights.

Added some darker darks and lighter lights. Reshaped some areas that were bugging me.

At this point I just step back and squint my eyes. Or glance at it quickly. If something grabs my attention, just seems wrong, I adjust it.

I've spent enough time with the color mixes, and the forms, at this point that I can paint more intuitively. For me it takes this process of spending time, trying things, getting to know my subject. I will often go through a stage where I start to get detailed and fiddly and blendy, and then I go back to bigger, bolder strokes. I often sit at my easel in the early stages of a painting, but in this final stage I will stand so I have more fluid range of motion and can step back more easily. Plus, it's easier to dance to the music :)

That's it! Hope you enjoyed this little journey with me :)

The painting is available in my Etsy shop:

Have you tried painting like this? Using a bigger brush, no drawing, developing the image from the large shapes to the small ones? I think it's more fun! Do you?


  1. thanks for sharing this Karen! I really enjoyed the read. I love all this learning :)

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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