I’m working on a new Wedding Inspired Watercolour of this beautiful bouquet of vintage style roses and I thought I’d share with you the process I go through to achieve the end result.
When I get a commission I firstly try to find out as much about the flowers in the bouquet as I can. It really helps me achieve accurate colours in my finished painting. Even with professional photographs flower colours can vary immensely under different lighting conditions. Amy’s beautiful bouquet was created by Bumlebeez Florist in Cheltenham.
Vintage Inspired Wedding Roses
Amy chose a vintage inspired bouquet of dusky lilac pink roses. Roses remain one of the most popular choice of flowers for weddings. There are hundreds of varieties, they come in most colours and are available all year. I chose big, blowsy avalanche roses in my bouquet which were in a Spring Colour Palette of peaches and creams.
Amy had a different colour scheme of pinks and purples. Pink Sweet Avalanche Roses worked equally well in each bouquet. Avalanche roses are big, blowsy flowers with Sweet Avalanche being the pink form. They start out as pale pink flowers with a hint of green around the outer petals. As the flower head opens the green hue fades and turns candy floss pink.
Memory Lane is a medium headed dusky pink rose with a hint of lavender. It is popular with vintage themed weddings.
Amnesia is another antique looking lilac rose with accents of beige and green.
Filler Flowers and Foliage
Brides often overlook Filler flowers and foliage. These are what fill in the spaces between the focal points of a flower arrangement. They are often subtle and blend into the background. Small, clustered flowers can help blend the colours of the other flowers in a bouquet together. Fillers enable you to stay on budget allowing you to allocate funds for more expensive flowers or keep the cost down. Examples include Baby’s Breath, Wheat, Heather, Hypericum berries, ivy and poppy seed heads. My florist used jasmine leaves in mine. However I would have preferred foliage which was less structured and more loose and natural, like a freshly picked bunch of garden flowers.
Amy’s Memory Lane Bouquet includes clusters of snowberries as a filler. Symphoricarpos, (common name snowberry) has small clusters of of pink flowers in Summer. It is usually grown for its elegant white berries that it produces in Autumn. The berries come in shades of white, cream and blush pink. I think they look beautiful in Amy’s Autumn Bouquet. Snowberries are also worth bearing in mind if you are getting married in the Autumn and want a delicate colour scheme rather than including brash, bold red and orange berries.
Other fillers worth considering are foliage with an aromatic scent. Herbs are a unique addition adding scent and texture for example you could include rosemary, mint or lavender. Amy chose to include seeded Eucalyptus. This has attractive green foliage and has a very aromatic smell.
Fillers can also be used to provide an accent of colour. Amy’s main colour scheme was purple. However she wanted a dainty, pretty pastel bouquet rather the drama provided by deep purple flowers. Bumblebeez florist therefore suggested including accents of Purple Veronica. Veronica is made up of a tall and narrow spike of little florets that are larger and more colourful at the base and grow smaller and fade to green at the tip. These flowers can be white, purple and pink and are available all year round. The veronica works really well in this bouquet. The shape provides a good contrast to the rounder shaped roses and the purple colour gives an accent of colour which would pick up the colour of a purple bridesmaid dress wonderfully.
Once I had gathered as much information as I could about the flowers I then decided on my composition. I had been given several photos of the bouquet. The photos included the Wedding Cake which was a gorgeous 3 tiered chocolate cake decorated with edible rose decorations which were exact replicas of the roses in the bouquet. The purple ribbon matched the purple veronica. One photo of the bouquet showed in part a piece of jewellery which had been sewn onto the ribbon wrapping the stems to form a handle. The vintage necklace had been the bride’s grandmothers so was quite sentimental and included her grandmother in her wedding day. I had to decide whether to include the cake and the blue necklace. It was a big decision. I wanted to include both the cake and the necklace. However I decided the bouquet was beautiful enough. If I included the cake and the bouquet the painting would have no point of focus. Was the focus of the painting going to be the cake or the bouquet? If I wanted to make the cake the main focal point I needed to paint the cake in it’s entirety and centre it in the middle of the page. The cake stands up so tall that the bouquet would almost disappear in a painting. I also felt that dark chocolate brown was not going to be a good colour in a watercolour painting. My paintings are quite delicate which works well for flowers. I felt that the dark brown would take over the picture and dominate too much. However I did draw the bouquet giving me enough room on the paper in case I changed my mind! I also considered painting two pictures – 1 of the cake and 1 of the bouquet. I sadly felt that the photo with the piece of jewellery did not do the flowers justice as you could see more of the stems and less of the flowers than in the other one as the bouquet was side on to the camera. The way the necklace dangled meant I didn’t quite have enough detail to work from. This view also meant the focus was on the back of the cake so the beautiful sugar flower decorations were hidden.
A good detailed drawing is vital in this kind of painting. If the drawing isn’t right then good painting skills will never make up for a bad drawing. A lot of my other work is much looser and drawn completely free hand. When I go on holiday I keep a sketch book where I draw solely in ink and directly on to the page. This has a completely different quality. It’s not always accurate or with perfect perspective, but it does have a fresh, vibrancy. For this more Botanical work accuracy is needed. I get the photo up on a large computer screen and make the bouquet picture the size I want to draw. I then draw a boundary line on my page and work to the same proportions measuring against the screen as I go. It was difficult to know where to start on this drawing as there was so much detail to get in. I started with the snowberries. Where one berry touched and butted up to another I took an exact measurement to orientate this point on the page. The berry could then be drawn freehand when I had a few specific points measured. Once the berries were drawn it was easier to slot the roses in. The whole drawing took me 5.5 hours!
The Colour Purple
The next stage in the process is to think about the exact colours in the painting. I started by painting the purple veronica flowers. Before I put any paint on my drawing I always play around with my paints to find the exact hue I need. It helps that I love flowers and have already researched the colour of each individual bloom in the bouquet. Sometimes I even buy a specific flower from the florist to refer to. I have a reference sketch book full of my mixed secondary colours – purples, greens and oranges. This is invaluable. It is perfectly possible to make purple from red and blue. However I have found that in Botanical Painting you need to buy some pinks and purples as it is impossible to mix exactly the right colour from a red and blue. Holbein’s Bright Violet is a really lovely vibrant purple. It is redder than Winsor & Newton’s Winsor Violet. Winsor & Newton’s Cobalt Violet is more milky and lilac in colour. I then mix these ready made purples to make an infinite amount of different shades of violet, purple, lavender, lilac and pink.
Apart from purple I was going to need to mix green for the Veronica flowers. I experimented with mixing my colours in a rough sketch book. The idea is that this isn’t a perfect painting, but a chance to mess around with colour and experiment. I also make notes about the properties of paint. I found that Cerulean Blue would create fantastic textured effects, but didn’t have the boldness of Winsor Blue. My sketchbook is a chance to play around and find the exact shade I need. In the shadows I found I needed to dull the purple down with Paynes Grey or a blue red such as Alizarin Crimson. For the green part of the Veronica flowers I needed a fresh lime green. I needed to use a cool yellow mixed with a cool blue.
I experimented with Winsor Lemon which is on the cool side (no red in it) and various blues. I thought Cerulean blue was good if I wanted textured foliage. French Ultramarine looked a good choice, but I found it made an olive green which was too dull. Winsor Blue and Winsor Yellow made the most vibrant fresh green.
After all that experimentation it was time to get paint on my paper!
The first stage involved pale watery washes on all the veronica flowers. I allowed myself to be slightly loose with a wet on wet style at this point. In later stages the paint will be less watery onto dry paper. Wetting the paper first allows the different hues to run into each other and blend on the paper which creates interesting textures. However I made sure the greens didn’t run into the purples as my experimentation showed that this would turn the colour brown. I also added a very pale purple wash on a few of the roses using paint I had mixed for the veronica flowers and a bit of the watery green on some of the snowberries.
The veronica flowers are far from finished. However I am now planning to move onto my first pale wash on the roses. I will take each type of rose in turn starting with the pink Sweet Avalanche Roses as I fancy getting to grips with the various shades of pink in the painting next.
I started by having a good look at the colours of the flowers in my reference photos. Sweet Avalanche roses are a fresh pink with a peach hue in contrast with the other roses which are more dusky pink and lilac. I needed to use red hues biased towards yellow rather than blue to contrast with the other pinky-lilac roses later. Fresh pinky-reds can not be mixed from a primary red, so ready made pinks are crucial when painting flowers. I find my Winsor & Newton Hand Painted Artists Watercolour Chart invaluable.
I chose to use Rose Dore which is a delicate transparent warm peach-red pigment. It is difficult to produce a deep highly saturated colour with Rose Dore so this red wouldn’t work for my vivid red roses in my Ruby Red Bouquet. However Rose Dore is a beautiful pigment for delicate peachy, pink flowers. Where I wanted a coral colour I mixed Rose Dore with Indian Yellow. The other red I chose to use was Quinacridone Red which is a vivid, highly transparent pigment. It produces a pure central red for colour mixing, neither too blue nor too yellow and worked well for the pure pink areas of the roses. I favour transparent pigments due to their translucent properties keeping flower colours fresh and bright. You may find my Blog Post `Ruby Red Bouquet‘ interesting as I included a detailed description of various red pigments.
For the roses I used a Gradated wash technique – wet on dry. I mixed a fairly watery wash of the red pigments and applied to the rose petals following the contours of the petal. With a soft clean damp brush I pulled the colour out creating a lighter band of colour. This process was repeated until the colour faded into the white of the paper creating a gentle gradient of tone. Using a damp brush prevents hard edges from forming where they are not wanted.
The rose petals became beiger in the shadows. I therefore added a very small amount of French Ultramarine blue to my reds to make a shadow colour.
The outer petals of the Sweet Avalanche Roses are quite green in colour – a fresh, Spring Green. I observed this colour previously when I painted White Avalanche Roses in my `Simple White Bouquet‘ painting. For the green colour I used Olive Green and also a mixture of Winsor Blue and Winsor Yellow. I was careful to paint the green after the pinky- peach had dried as I didn’t want the pink rose petals to turn to mud. This is very important with flowers. You don’t want the petals of a flower to look too brown or they will look past their best.
I continued to build up colour by overlaying glazes. Glazing is a technique where one thin wash of colour is applied over another. Transparent colours work best as the white surface of the watercolour paper shines through and the colours stay fresh. Before overlaying any more glazes I rubbed out my pencil marks depicting the Sweet Avalanche roses. These were no longer needed and I didn’t want the pencil lines to show on the finished painting.
The next stage involved painting the pink Memory Lane Roses. Which red pigments did I decide to use?
Memory Lane Roses have a vibrant pink edge, but are dusky pink/lavender at the centre. This prompted me to consider how `vintage style, dusky roses’ can be conveyed in watercolour. What does dusky mean?! Does it mean pale and pastel coloured? I think it means unsaturated with a hint of grey. Some of the blooms look tinged with beige. Does this make them look slightly antique in style, because they are tinged with beige? It was a dilemma. Whenever I have painted a pale flower with beige hues it has looked gone over, if not dead! I decided to convey the effect of vintage roses with very pale washes of a pinky lavender colour with a hint of blue or Payne’s Grey to dull the colour down. This would contrast nicely with the sugar plum pink of the Sweet Avalanche Roses and wouldn’t go too brown.
I experimented with mixing pinks and lilacs and attempting to convey `dusky’ and `vintage’ but not murky in my sketchbook. I found that the brighter pink edge worked well with a mix of Quinacridone Magenta and Opera Rose. Permanent Carmine was good too although more orange red. For the dusky lavender pink I rejected Winsor Violet as too cold and blue. Holbein Bright Violet and Winsor Cobalt Violet worked well mixed with various amounts of French Ultramarine and a touch of Paynes Grey. Cobalt Violet and Rose Dore gave a more dusky peachy pink effect. I concluded from my sketchbook that there are different ways of mixing paints to achieve similar hues.
I found my sketchbook exercises invaluable in the next stage of my painting . For the dusky lilac Memory Lane Roses I used a mix of Quinacridone Magenta and Opera Rose for the bright pink edges. On closer observation I found the edges had a vivid orange hue so added a bit of Schminke Translucent Orange. Where I wanted the rose petals to be slightly beige I added some Olive Green to the mix. I enjoyed playing around mixing Cobalt Violet with Olive Green and a tiny amount of Payne’s Grey to create a dusky lavender. I also did the same exercise with Quinacridone Magenta. I know from experience that the Memory Lane Roses in the photos are more pink than they should be. These blooms have more of a lilac hue at the centre. I also wanted to make sure these roses contrasted with the more candy pink roses.
I painted the lightest areas first and then added the dark tones. The next stage I worked on the mid tones. I then found the contrast of the outer petals with the brightest pink hues a bit much, but I knew that would settle down when I came back and re-worked the other roses.
The next stage was to look at the third rose `Amnesia.‘
Amnesia is another antique looking lilac rose with accents of beige and green. If I wasn’t careful I was likely to make this rose look very muddy with her accents of beige! I’d been there before with white roses. It is hard to make sure flowers with a beige hue look fresh and not gone over!
I started by using my trusty sketchbook to experiment with mixing colours again. I was wanting to find a different lilac hue to the Memory Lane Rose. I found it really useful to print out part of the image and stick it in my sketchbook. I was then able to experiment with mixing paints to find the exact hue I needed.
I experimented with 2 purple hues for the centre of the flowers – Holbein Bright Violet and Winsor and Newton Cobalt Violet. The Holbein is very vivid and needed to be toned down. I found that adding Rose Dore, Raw Sienna or Olive Green in varying amounts gave me a more muted slightly pinker hue. Cobalt Violet is an equally bright hue but softer and not such a bully! It granulates which means you have to mix it a lot to stop it separating from other hues. I found it mixed well with Raw Sienna and Olive Green too. The Holbein worked best in the shadow area mixed with Payne’s Grey to make a really deep shadow colour. I noticed the outer petals of the rose were much more creamy beige with a slight green tinge. I used more of the Raw Sienna and Olive Green for these petals.
Whilst I was mixing greens for the rose I kept in mind the hues I would need for the green snow berries and the leaves. Some of the berries were an earthy beige green. The Olive Green and Raw Sienna were good as they are earth colours. However some of the other berries were a much brighter and clean green. For this mix I used Winsor Lemon and French Ultramarine. The leaves required a bluer green which contrasted with the earthy Olive Green already used. I found Cerulean Blue was a good blue to use with the Raw Sienna. The fresher stems needed the brighter mix of Winsor Lemon and French Ultramarine. I played around with colours on the white berries. The berries seemed to be made up of various colours reflected off the flowers – I spotted lilac, pink, beige,green and grey.
Most of my painting had some colour on it at this stage. Now it was time to go back to the beginning and add more tone to the flowers I started with. Looking at my painting as a whole it was now obvious the pink Sweet Avalanche Roses and the Purple Veronica needed a lot more work.
At last the whole bouquet was coming together! I thought my purple veronica flowers were slightly psychedelic. They were also looking quite dark in places, but they were in reality so I trusted my observational skills and went with the colours I could see! I was amazed at the number of subtle hues in the white snowberries. I spotted pink, purple, beige, green. grey etc etc. I also discovered Davy’s Grey as a pigment. It is much softer and delicate than Paynes Grey and worked well where I wanted a bit of soft shadow, but didn’t want to lose the prettiness of the flowers.
Finally the painting was finished! This was a massive project which took hours and hours of work. However the bride was so pleased with her painting which made it worth every minute of my time. I chose to mount the finished painting with a purple border to bring out the purple in the painting. Amy had also had accents of purple in her wedding colour scheme. I hope you enjoyed seeing the process I go through to create a bespoke bouquet watercolour.