8 Steps to Your First Rose Painting
Artists who want to grow their flower-painting skills can learn a lot from painting what Katie G. Whipple calls “floral portraits” — studies of single blooms, painted from life, petal by petal.
With this approach, you slow down! You observe the beautiful nuances of a particular flower, truly seeing it as an individual work of nature. The complexities of an entire bouquet do not concern you. This is the way to approach learning how to paint a rose or any other flower.
As a result, you learn more about floral anatomy, light effects and color than you ever have before. And your floral portrait is lovely standalone artwork. A thing of beauty that can adorn your home, given in love as a gift, or sold easily at your next community art fair or online.
It can also stay in the studio as a study for more complex floral paintings when certain flowers aren’t in season. So many uses for one simple painting. So explore Whipple’s eight steps for how to paint a rose. The rewards are numerous! Enjoy!
Another medium that lets the petals of a rose shine is pastel. Learn alongside Margaret Evans as she guides you through three easy flower demos in her latest Flowers in Pastel video download.
How to Paint a Rose
For demonstration: Blick Premier
For most paintings: wood panel
with two coats of rabbit-skin
glue and two coats of Natural
Pigments lead oil ground
WN=Winsor & Newton
RGH Cremnitz white with cold-pressed linseed oil
MH genuine Naples yellow light
WN yellow ochre light
WN cadmium yellow
MH cadmium orange
Zecchi genuine vermilion
MH alizarin claret
WN terra rosa
MH raw sienna
MH burnt umber
WN raw umber
MH green umber
WN permanent mauve
OH violet grey
Natural Pigments ultramarine
WN terre verte
MH permanent sap green
OH golden green
WN ivory black
Rosemary & Co Masters Choice filberts
Robert Simmons Signet bristle filberts
For this flower portrait I chose a single white rose, which I placed in a small water-filled vase to keep the bloom fresh. I’m not concerned, however, about painting the vase.
I decided to paint this portrait from a viewpoint above the rose, looking down at the petals from a slight angle. Each time I set up a flower, I try to pick the viewpoint that I find most inspiring and that shows off the personality of the particular bloom.
Using a stiff hog-bristle brush, I toned my surface with a thin wash of Cremnitz white, violet grey, yellow ochre and raw umber mixed with mineral spirits.
I then wiped the excess paint and mineral spirits off the panel with a paper towel, leaving behind a light neutral wash. This prevented the tone from contaminating my next layer — the underpainting.
I began painting the rose! The underpainting is my first pass of color. I consider this the most important stage of my painting process. It sets the drawing, value and color guidelines I’ll use to paint all those delicate, complicated petals.
The paint consistency is transparent and thin but not wet or runny. It’s important to use mineral spirits—not medium—to keep the paint thin at this stage. Using too much oil (medium) too soon violates the fat-over-lean rule.
This is a close-up of the underpainting in step 3. I began my underpainting with the highest chromatic undertones in the flower — as if I’m peeling back the light edges of the petals and painting what’s underneath.
I laid down color that’s a little more chromatic than might seem comfortable in these early stages because I knew the color would become less intense as I added details and layers. I was careful not to go too light, blowing out my top value range, or too dark, overdoing the contrasts.
This stage may look loose and fast, but I took my time to get it right, correcting colors and values. Moving slowly also allowed me to get the drawing right — comparing height to width and high points to low points, and checking angles of the petals and massed shapes. At this stage I strive to consider the flower as a whole rather than think of individual petals.
Next I began my second and final pass. Starting with the center light-facing petals, I built up texture with impasto brushstrokes. This creates an illusion of dimensionality, pulling the light petal shapes forward and allowing the washy underpainting to recede. It also expands the value range to the upper register of the lights by physically picking up more light with thicker paint.
Keeping the center light in value and warm in temperature conveys that lovely glowing quality inherent in many-petaled flowers.
I like to paint petals from the inside out; this clear beginning keeps me from being overwhelmed. As I work around the flower, I ask, “Is this petal closer to or farther from the light source?” This helps me control value and color-temperature relationships.
I worked in natural north light — a cool light creating warm shadows. To simulate this effect, I used warm yellow and umbers in the shadows (mostly from the underpainting) and cool white mixtures for light-facing petals.
I continued to paint each petal, sculpting the light-facing petal edges with thick brushstrokes and refining the shadows with thin passes of paint that let the underpainting show through.
After every petal was laid in, I went back over the flower, harmonizing and correcting, making sure it felt like a solid form. I added detailed nuances (like the browned guard petal) that round out the character and personality of the flower, making it a true portrait.
I also blocked in the shape of the leaves with a thin layer of burnt umber. This dark red provides a complementary undertone.
With the rose completed, I moved on to the leaves and background. The leaves are more stable than the bloom and can be tackled at a late stage without much fear of their moving or changing.
The most important thing when painting natural-looking greens — especially when you’re using tubed greens — is to add red to your mixtures. For rose leaves I add alizarin claret and/or permanent mauve.
The last thing I paint is the background, keeping in mind what will most complement the flower and create an interesting design. In this case, I kept a simple, neutral gray with subtle color temperature and value shifts.
About the Artist
KATIE G. WHIPPLE graduated from the core program at the Grand Central Atelier (GCA) in New York City in 2013, where she studied academic painting. That same year she was awarded second place in the GCA Figure Drawing Competition. She also won the 2013–14 Institute of Classical Architecture & Art Alma Schapiro Prize, a fellowship for studying at the American Academy in Rome. It was in Italy that Katie, inspired by ancient Roman wall paintings and Italian fruit trees, began to explore botanical subject matter. She now teaches part-time at GCA and in workshops around the country.