Beauty in Bloom

Flowers are a universally popular artistic subject, and what’s the first flower most people think of? Symbol of beauty, true love and elegant design—the rose is the floral queen of the canvas for beginners and accomplished professionals alike. Some of us, however, may think that the most important aspect of a rose is its color, but even good color can’t hide a poor drawing. So here are a few simple approaches to make your drawings fundamentally correct. The basic principles for drawing roses aren’t complicated and, best of all, they’re not exclusive to roses, so mastering these skills should give all your florals a boost.

The first key to drawing realistic roses is to remember that the best model by far is the real thing. Drawing from observation gives you the keenest knowledge of a rose’s structure and, very important, its mass. Although flowers are delicate objects, it’s their mass that determines their weight and balance, and a good sense of these will help you see the rose in all three dimensions. But here’s a caveat: The “real thing” doesn’t always have to be real. Try using a synthetic (silk) flower as a model—they’re abundant and durable. Thus they’re a good substitute when real roses are unavailable, much in the same way that casts have long been used for drawing the human form.

The Shape
To draw a rose, begin with the idea that it’s essentially a sphere. Visualize its shape like a baseball or an orange, and the petals wrap around the sphere from the bottom like your hand would wrap around these other objects. If you have a rose that hasn’t fully bloomed yet, peel back a few petals to see for yourself.

Also, note that this spherical shape is composed of clearly defined and roughly equal segments, and the shape of each overlapping segment is formed mostly from the accumulation of those beneath it. Roughly equal, however, does not mean identical. Because no two roses are exactly alike, one of the best tactics for making your roses realistic is to vary their edges and value patterns. Again, if you have a real rose at your disposal it’s useful to do a little examination: Pull off a few petals and flatten them out. Note their intricate veining, how thin they are (a crucial quality to portray in your drawings), how subtly their edges curve, and where they naturally bow back out of the flat position. Seeing the petal in its entirety—even though no petal of an intact rose will realistically be seen this way—gives you the kind of knowledge that translates directly into drawing authenticity.

State of Growth
Roses are short-lived organisms that pass through progressive stages of life, so it’s good to portray them in different stages of growth—even within the same bouquet—to add a realistic touch. As much as we’d like it to be the case, not all roses are in full bloom. Early roses have a firm teardrop shape, and roses at their peak are roughly round, as noted before. Then, as they wilt with age, the petals essentially lose their strength and the shape of the flower appears to succumb to gravity, taking on a flatter shape.

Stems and leaves are also good places to show age. A rose’s stem is like a section of tubing, smooth and consistent and most often gently curving, some with thorns and some without. As wilting occurs, the stem, like the petals, loses its firmness, and it typically bends at a point just below the leaves as it no longer can support the flower. The leaves curl and darken in a fashion similar to the petals.

Planes and Perspective
One of the most effective methods for making an object appear convincingly three dimensional is to view it as a group of intersecting planes. A person’s nose, for example, consists roughly of four planes—one for each side, one for the bridge and one for the nostril openings. Observing these various planes and blending them together gives you a solid foundation for drawing almost anything, and roses are no exception, even though their spherical shape may appear resistant to this theory. They’re just a bit more complex.

You can begin a rose with the easily spotted plane that forms the top of the bud. Then imagine the surfaces that receive the most direct light as another plane—or, more precisely, as a series of receding parallel planes providing depth. A third plane (or series of planes), facing away from the light source, is formed by the darkest surfaces of the rose. And yet another series can be formed simply as planes that establish a middle ground between the light and dark areas. All the intersecting planes can be joined in the figure by rounding out the edges and mixing the values until you have the smooth transitions you’re looking for.

When drawing a rose, remember the basic rule of perspective that images nearer to the viewer are typically drawn larger, warmer and darker than those in the distance, which are generally cooler and lighter. This rule may be applicable even within a single flower if it occupies a large portion of your picture frame. Also, most roses when viewed from above have a circular outline, but when seen from an angle or from the side the circular outline is topped with a rough ellipse.

Finally, it’s worth repeating that the most valuable exercise for drawing roses is to carefully observe fresh flowers themselves, for the old cliche is true that the more you look, the more you’ll see. Go to a nursery with a sketchbook and colored pencils and draw as much as possible. Learn the common and Latin names of flowers and identify their parts. Take in all the sensations you can, and you’ll be on your way to drawing roses so convincing they’ll virtually come to life.

A graduate of Principia College, Illinois, Carolyn Lord lives in Livermore, California. Her work is represented by Stary-Sheets Fine Art Galleries in Laguna Beach, California; Nancy Dodds Gallery in Carmel, California; Thompson Gallery in Livermore, California and Bingham Gallery in Salt Lake City.

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