Ann Pember: More Than Reality

Hallowed Hydrangea

Flowers have always been a favorite subject of mine for watercolors. Initially I painted them from the traditional distant view, with their container and a background to enhance the subject, but I soon realized that I was really interested in the flowers themselves. So I switched to a middle view, in which I was able to eliminate the floating appearance of traditional flower paintings by letting some of the foliage and flowers touch the edge of the paper.

As I worked with this process over time, I became so enamored with the patterns of light in the picture, rather than a straightforward description of the flowers, that I finally realized something very important: My subject was no longer flowers! I wasn?t interested in the exact image before me because the patterns had become my real subject, and interpretation had become more important than replication. Now I?m actually painting an abstraction of my emotional response to flowers under various light conditions—in other words, shapes, values and pattern for their own merit. My paintings aren?t totally abstract, but they?re moving in that direction, and this has been like stepping into a new world for me. Maybe you can have the same experience.


Often I?ll use a limited palette of just three to five colors, and rather than premixed tube colors I prefer to mix my own from the primaries. I use glazing only when the first wash isn?t deep enough because getting deep color in the initial application produces the cleanest and most beautiful color passages. Sometimes, however, for a little extra ?glow,? I?ll make a loose underpainting in a light value and then build the painting over this after it dries. I also like to create areas of transition between the foliage, the flowers and any visible background by using similar values and colors, or by merging the washes in those areas. Letting some colors of the flower mix into the surrounding green foliage is a good way to unify the painting.

As you work, get in the habit of stepping back to get a broad view of what you?ve done. It may help to look at the painting through a mirror or turn it upside down. Try to look at the subject not as a flower but as simply a design. Is it the pattern you were after, the one that attracted you to the subject in the first place? Looking deep into your subjects in this way will help you find what it is that really fascinates you—even to get a little bit abstract in your thinking—and that?s what makes each painting one of a kind.

Julie T. Chapman, of Santa Rosa, California, is a three-time top 100 artist for Arts in the Parks and has also been a finalist in The Artist?s Magazine?s Art Competition for the past three years. She?s a member of the Society of Animal Artists and her work has been commissioned both privately and commercially. She is represented by Ernest Fuller Fine Arts in Denver, Colorado, and Mountain Trails Gallery in Jackson, Wyoming, and Park City, Utah.

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