How to Paint Flowers in a Still Life Oil Painting

How to Paint Flowers in Oil | Cool Tones of Red Peonies


Whether painting still lifes, figures or landscapes, Candice Bohannon’s painting process is basically the same, although each painting requires adjustment. Fresh flowers can change significantly in appearance from one day to the next, so when painting flowers, she’ll sometimes work for a 16-hour stretch, using a more direct manner than she would for nonfloral still lifes or figures. “I try to capture each flower individually,” says Bohannon, “so that if it appears completely different the next day, I’ll not have lost it.”

Read the full story in The Artist’s Magazine (June 2012).

How to Paint Flowers | Still Life Oil Painting

Spring Peonies II (oil, 15×18)


Step 1: Controlling the Light and Toning the Canvas

A track of SoLux MR-16 natural daylight floodlights, set two feet back from her easel, gives Bohannon balanced light over her painting and ambient light on her palette. With her windows blacked out, she can paint day and night without changing light conditions. She tones her canvas with paint thinned with odorless mineral spirits. For this imprimatura layer, she often uses burnt sienna because of its rich warmth, but for the peonies she chose cadmium brown for a cooler color temperature. “What was unique about the peonies was that the reds and pinks were very cool,” says Bohannon. “They have blue undertones.”

How to Paint Flowers | Still Life Oil Painting


Step 2: Broad Strokes

Working alla prima, she draws out her forms with the same thinned pigment used for toning. Keeping her strokes loose, she uses a large bristle brush for broad shapes as she establishes relationships of the larger forms. “This stage is very gestural,” says Bohannon. “A tight underdrawing would feel constricted to me.”

How to Paint Flowers | Still Life Oil Painting


Step 3: Adding Value

Once she has a satisfactory underpainting, she works thin local color into the flowers, placing at least one area of her lightest lights and darkest darks to gain a sense of her value scale. From there she’s able to cover the entire canvas with a layer of color worked into the darks, midtones and lights.

How to Paint Flowers | Still Life Oil Painting


Step 4: Refining Light and Dark

Detail comes with the slow refinement of lights and darks. She switches to a smaller brush to clean up her previous stroke placements and compositional angles. She squints to better see the values as opposed to color, thus identifying which areas to group with the lights and which to group with the darks.

How to Paint Flowers | Still Life Oil Painting


Step 5: Creating Warm Shadows

Her warm shadows are transparent and not overly defined. “Sometimes my lines can be really off, but the shadows help reform line,” says Bohannon. Her petals are sculpted in the light. Thick applications of white paint define their ruffled edges. Touches of violet punch up the cool highlights.

How to Paint Flowers | Still Life Oil Painting


Step 6: Finishing Touches

She works the illusion of texture into the wooden table. The painting’s darkest darks and highlights come last, with reflective highlights giving body to the glass. Here’s the finished painting, Spring Peonies II (oil, 15×18).

How to Paint Flowers | Still Life Oil Painting

Spring Peonies II (oil, 15×18)


Meeting the Artist:

Candice Bohannon graduated from the Laguna College of Art and Design in Laguna Beach, California, with a bachelor of fine arts degree in painting and drawing and a minor in sculpture. She’s a two-time prizewinner in annual competitions held by International Artist and, in August 2009, was the top choice of the editor of Southwest Art for “up-and-coming talent.” In the same year, Bohannon’s work Dementia was a semifinalist in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery’s Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition. Bohannon, who lives in northern California with her artist husband, Julio Reyes, continues to garner awards and shows her work throughout the country. Visit her website at

Read the full story in The Artist’s Magazine (June 2012). And, don’t miss a single issue of painting instruction and more when your subscribe!

Bonus: Wanting to paint peonies in a different medium? Try this demonstration by Karen Anne Klein for painting flowers in watercolor and colored pencil.

Beautiful Botanicals colored pencil flower drawing
Free preview

Watch a preview of the video “Beautiful Botanicals with Bente Starcke King.”




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