Paint Flower Petals: Study the Light and Edges

Heaven Sent (oil, 15-1/2×11-1/2)

Petals and leaves exhibit several different forms and movements. A few flip, some ruffle, and others curve in graceful rolls. Some artists think roses are difficult to paint, but if you break them down into individual shapes and forms, the enterprise becomes much easier. Granted, addressing the multitude of small shapes and forms found in these flowers requires some patience, but the exercise is well worth the time and effort when you see your painted roses coming to life.

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Equate petal rolls with cylinders
Rose petals roll, and these rolls are basically small cylinders. For both petal rolls and cylinders, the value transitions have a predictable gradation: The values are lightest where the light is strongest; they darken as they move away from the light, and they’re darkest where the cylinder (or roll) is farthest from the light.

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Study the light, transitions and edges
Part of the beauty of any form is the reflected light on the side opposite the lightest area. Always look for this on flowers because each petal reflects onto surrounding petals. For this reason, you can usually see some reflected light on each rose-petal roll. Some of those areas are labeled A in my photograph. Grading your values to show reflected light is a great way to separate petals, especially in the shadow areas.

Also be aware of how quickly or slowly the values transition from light to dark within a given petal. In rose petals, the transitions all occur quickly because the rolls are small. If these were long lily petals, the cylinders would be larger and the transitions more gradual. Consider the quality of the edges between the values: Are they hard or soft? Hard edges (labeled B) usually appear where a shadow is being cast or where two petals touch each other. On the other hand, all of the petal rolls in this photograph, have soft edges (labeled C).


Jane Jones is the author of Classic Still Life Painting (Watson-Guptill, 2004) and a popular workshop teacher. See more of her work and learn about her workshops and DVDs at www.janejonesartist.com.


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