Painting a `Simple White Bouquet’ is far from simple! How do you convey the `whiteness’, the simplicity and the beauty of a flower in watercolour on a white page?! It is very easy to make white flowers look past their best and dirty.
Doris Joa says `When painting a white flower you paint the shadows and the reflections from the surrounding leaves and background. The white of the paper becomes the white of the flower.’
The watercolour paper you choose to work on is very important in Botanical Work. The highesy quality papers are made of 100% cotton fibre. These papers can handle a lot of re-working, erasing and scrubbing. Other papers are made of cellulose or wood pulp or a mixture of these with cotton fibre. Cheaper papers are not acid free and tend to yellow and deteriorate over time.
Watercolour paper is available in three different surface finishes. The surface finishes can vary depending on the manufacturer:-
HP (Hot Pressed) This has a smooth surface suitable for precise, detailed work such as Botanical Painting.
NOT (Cold Pressed) This is the most commonly used paper. It has a medium textured surface and holds colour well.
ROUGH This has a rougher texture. When a colour wash is applied, the brush can drag over the surface creating what is known as a dry brushstroke effect due to paint settling in some dips and missing others. This paper is good if you want a textured effect. It is particularly useful if you are trying to create the effect of shimmering water.
Watercolour paper is available in several weights, which refers to the weight of a ream of paper (500 sheets) of a given size. Paper weight is indicated in either pounds per ream (lb) or grams per square metre (gsm). Thinner paper, such as 190gsm (90lb) tends to buckle or cockle unless stretched. The usual weight is 300gsm (140lb) which is more versatile. I use a heavy paper 425gsm (200lb) which means I can work really wet if I want to. The heavier and better quality the paper the stronger it will be.
The sizing of watercolour paper is not totally straightforward.
Full Imperial – 76x56cm (30×22″) – a bit smaller than A1
1/2 Imperial – 56x38cm (22×15″) – a bit smaller than A2
1/4 Imperial – 38x28cm (11×15″) – a bit smaller than A3
1/8 Imperial – 28x19cm (7.5×11″) – a bit smaller than A4
Working on a big piece of paper frees me up a bit and I find it easier to paint complex flowers on 1/2 Imperial size paper.
Watercolour Paper is also available in various shades from a strong cream to pure white. I prefer to use a pure white paper for Botanical work. I particularly recommend Saunders Waterford High White Hot Pressed 425gsm (200lb) paper. I have tried painting white flowers on cream paper and find the High White colour better for white flowers.
Simple White Bouquet
I have recently painted a `Simple White Bouquet‘ as a commission and wanted to share with you the process I go through when painting a Bouquet picture.
1. Firstly I only work from good quality photographs and like to know the names of the flowers in the bouquet. I need to work from a photograph which can be printed out at A4 size without loosing any of the detail. Ideally therefore the photograph will have been taken by a professional wedding photographer rather than just an incidental snap-shot. The photograph I used for this commission was not ideal for my purposes. The bride described her bouquet as a very `simple bouquet of white roses’. To me the image seemed quite dark and the roses looked very yellow and not white. However I was able to identify the roses as white avalanche roses often used in bridal bouquets. White roses are as difficult to photograph as to paint in watercolour. Often the leaves come out very dark and indistinguishable and the white flowers can be over-exposed. I tried altering the white balance to make the flowers look cream but the roses ended up with brown edges which was not the look I wanted. I therefore purchased some new white avalanche roses from my local friendly florist so I could work from the actual flowers, as well as the photograph, to match the colour.
Before putting paint to paper it pays to carefully observe the flowers you want to paint. I like to have an actual example of the real flower in front of me as well as the reference photo. I look hard at the flower observing it’s structure and colour. Often I will make loose exploratory sketch book paintings of one of the flowers before I tackle the `real’ thing. This gives me a chance to explore the paint colours I might use. When I first observed the reference photo I wasn’t sure about the colour as I knew they were white or cream roses and not yellow.
I therefore played around with the colour on my computer and printed out a new reference photo. Working from these photos I decided that I needed a yellow which would produce a lovely cream colour. I picked Raw Sienna which does have a lovely cream hue. However this was not a good yellow for the leaves. I knew I wanted dark shiny green leaves. A Cool Blue wouldn’t work for the darker leaves as it would be too bright. However warm French Ultramarine Blue and Raw Sienna just didn’t mix together to make green – all I got was sludge, which wouldn’t do at all to depict a beautiful white bouquet! Raw Sienna and French Ultramarine are also both granulating pigments so they just don’t mix to create a smooth shiny leaf. As Raw Sienna is an earth pigment I found any shadows I painted came out brown. This wasn’t a good look as brown shadows on a white rose look mucky. I found it very helpful buying a couple of white avalanche roses to observe the colour. What I found was that this particular rose has quite a green hue particularly on the outer petals. This helped me choose a more appropriate yellow. I needed a yellow which was cool and wouldn’t make brown when mixed with an approriate blue. I chose Winsor Lemon. Having practised mixing greens (see my Blog Post) I knew Winsor Lemon and Winsor Blue (Green Shade) would create a clean slightly limey green hue for the outer petals of the roses. I could mix the Winsor Lemon with French Ultramarine to create a green for the darker leaves. Practising mixing colours at this stage is invaluable before you launch in.
2. After making careful observations of the bouquet the next step is to make a light, careful drawing of the roses. I have found that with complex flowers it is easier to paint on a larger scale. My paper is 1/2 Imperial Size and I always stretch it onto a large board. I use an HB pencil and make sure I don’t press too hard indenting the paper. The rose is quite a challenging subject with multiple petals arranged in a spiral pattern so it is important to produce an accurate drawing to start with.
3. The next step is to make a start on the painting. I started by painting the leaves. Adding colour to the leaves first helps locate the white flowers on the page and makes it easier to see the outline and overall shape of each rose. The brushes I use are Pro Arte Renaissance Sable. These brushes have generous filaments set in a gold plated ferrule fitted to a handsome green handle. I like this series of brushes. Your brush is a key tool when painting water colour flowers. My favourite brushes hold plenty of paint, retain their spring, and have a good point for fine detail. Even my largest size 14 sable brush has a good point for fine detail. I used a size 14 brush for the bigger leaves and a size 7 for the smaller leaves. Where the leaves were in shadow I mixed a green with the Winsor Lemon and French Ultramarine. At the top of the painting I added Winsor Blue into the mix as I wanted these leaves to be brighter. I made sure I didn’t paint over the pencil lines and just painted a pale wash of colour on the leaves. I allowed this paint to dry and then rubbed out my pencil lines surrounding the leaves.
4. I then added another layer of paint to the leaves. It is vitally important in flower painting that you keep your colours clean. Make sure you change your water regularly. Muddy water results in a muddy dull painting. When colour mixing I use a combination of two colours as a rule. I may add a third to tone down a colour. However colours lose their vibrancy and become muddy if you mix up too many pigments. I regularly rinse and dry my palette so other colours aren’t picked up on my brush.
At this stage I put another layer of mixed green paint on the leaves. I have added my bright.cool mix of Winsor Lemon and Winsor Blue on the top leaves as these leaves are clear and not in shadow. At the bottom I have added a warmer, darker green mix of Winsor Lemon and French Ultramarine. Where the leaves are clearly in shadow I have painted another layer of Permanent Rose on top to dull down the green and make it darker. The edges of the shadow layer were softened with a damp clean brush as I didn’t want a hard edge.
5. I then started to work on the white flowers. On observation the outer petals had a distinctive soft lime green hue. I painted a `blush’ of green mixed with the Winsor Lemon and Winsor Blue (Green Shade) taking care that the blue didn’t overpower the yellow in the mix. I was after a green yellow. I took care not to paint over my pencil marks. I added another glaze to the leaves darkening up the shadows. When dry I erased the pencil lines around the outer petals.
6. Now I began to add more detail to the rose petals. I used my pale lime mixture on the outer petals and made the flower more yellow and peachy towards the centre with a mixture of Winsor Lemon and Permanent Rose. I was careful to keep the paint clean and make sure it didn’t look brown. Each petal had a graded wash becoming lighter by gradually adding water. I had my soft clean damp brush to hand to soften the edges on each petal.
7. I continued to glaze the leaves making them darker where necessary. There was much more French Ultramarine on the bottom leaves in shadow and more brighter Winsor Blue at the top. Where I wanted the leaves to be duller i added a dash of Permanent Rose to the mix. The outer rose petals were defined with more pale lime green and blue shadows. I used more Lemon in the centres of the flowers. I kept erasing my pencil lines to make sure they were not visible in the finished painting.I made sure the rose didn’t have much brown in the shadows. I made sure of this by either mixing the Winsor Lemon with Permanent Rose or by mixing the Lemon with one of the blues but never mixed all three colours together. I was also careful to leave some white page as I wanted the roses to sing out as being white in colour. With this type of painting it pays to build up the colour gradually otherwise the finished result can look heavy handed.
8. It is always good to pick out one flower as the focal point in a painting. I therefore tried to define the rose at the front more than the others. I tried to paint this rose the brightest and give it more definition.The other flowers have less detail and softer edges to give the impression of depth. Also the leaves at the top are deliberately more yellow to show they are catching the light. In hindsight the darkest rose leaves are too dark.
9. I washed out some of the colour on the darker leaves with a damp brush to give a softer effect. I also added a little more definition to the centre of each flower.
So here we have it my `Simple White Bouquet’. Watch out for this card in my Bridal Boutique soon!
My next project is a vibrant red bouquet which will be a completely different challenge!