Is there anything better than when someone’s love for art pours through the very screen at which you’re looking? Friends, let me tell you that Stephanie Birdsall’s passion for painting flowers is evident not only through the beautiful still life paintings you see below, but also through the way she describes certain moments of clarity in her experience. Even if the flower isn’t what drives your art, I’m sure you’ll learn some great points about how to look at your subject in a new light. ~Cherie
Seeing Past the Flower and Into the Painting by Stephanie Birdsall
So many times we find ourselves painting flowers and wondering why the painting doesn’t hold together in the end. Maybe it feels like it looks piecemeal or clumsy or perhaps it’s difficult to arrange the still life or compose the painting. I’ve spent years falling in love with my subjects and not being able to achieve in a painting what I saw in front of me. The change happened for me when I stopped seeing flowers as “flowers” and stopped trying to copy what I saw. I found that once I had transitioned into examining shapes and colors–pieces that fit together like a puzzle–my paintings changed.
My beginning was actually my “love of leaves.” Initially, as I started painting flowers, I would fall in love with a specific rose or pansy face. I would be completely focused on the flower as the subject matter. But it didn’t take me long to realize that it had to be more than just the specific flower; the support system, the leaves and branches were equally important. I started going to nurseries and buying potted flowers rather than individual blooms or small bouquets. I simply had to find a way to deal with all the leaves! I made it my goal to learn to paint leaves and made that a priority in my next paintings. It was daunting to set up a still life with a predominance of leaves, rather than the blossoms. So many darks! So much green! So many lines! How do I paint a stem? In the end I scraped or wiped off a lot of paintings.
The breakthrough came when I began to ask myself analytical questions about how to paint flowers. By answering these questions, I could start to see the whole painting more clearly. For example:
• What are the shapes?
• What color are they?
• How many different colors exist within the greens?
• What are the value differences within the color?
• Where is the light falling?
Through careful observation I could begin to see differently and ask more advanced questions like, Where did I lose an edge? Where was an obvious edge?
Tip for Painting Flowers: Start With the Shapes
I didn’t want to paint every leaf individually. I noticed that even on the same potted pansy, every leaf was different, so I compared their shapes. It became clear to me that leaves are generally not symmetric. In looking for shapes I began to see the darks, or shadows, between the leaves. I noticed how they changed when they overlapped each other or how they rested against each other. Painting flowers became about simply painting shapes. I asked myself, What shape are the darks? What shape are the lights?
Then it became about the greens. There are so many greens. How are they different? Does one have more blue in it? Does the one next to it have more yellow? Is the light falling on it giving it a blue tint? The leave were shapes, and the shapes were pieces of color. How many colors existed in the shapes? I began to see the direction that the stems grew in not as a line but as pathway to lead my eye through the painting. I stopped seeing leaves, stems and buds as “things,” but rather as shapes and pieces of color.
Then I turned my attention to the flowers.
How did one petal differ from the next? Was it a different color? I looked for how many different colors I could find within the shape of a petal or a blossom. I noticed how a color change could turn a shape. I looked into the colors and asked myself, what it was made of? And what color did I need to add to it to make it what I actually saw?
Still life setups began to appear as masses of shapes and color. I simply didn’t see them as flowers anymore. In doing so I felt an amazingly freeing and challenging painting experience. The pieces started to fit together more easily and it enabled me to discover more about what I was painting and enjoy it. It was as if I was looking into my painting and beyond it. My paintings reflected this added depth–an extra perception of sorts.
And now, I absolutely love painting flowers! I’m still awed and excited by their beauty and even more so now that I have a different understanding of them.
Something magical happened when I stopped seeing them as “flowers.” I now see them as glorious, beautiful shapes and colors and can’t wait to paint them! ~Stephanie