Winter Flowers

What follows is much more of a “tutorial” than a “demo”, so I have been as detailed as I can be (without actually being at your side!). I would not call this a botanical painting myself, but maybe a halfway house to it.

If you just want to see it just as a “demo”, just skip the text!

Winter Flowers

A sheet of watercolour paper approximately 50 x 50cm
(I use cold pressed Bockingford which has a textured surface)
HB pencil
Putty rubber
Watercolour brushes with points
(I use Winsor & Newton)
Sap Green
Olive Green
Burnt Sienna
Burnt Umber
French Ultramarine Blue
Permanent Rose
Alizarin Crimson
Winsor Yellow
Designers Gouache – White

I worked out the composition carefully, firstly by making small thumbnail sketches, and then by completing a finished drawing. If you would like to follow the step by step instructions and make a similar painting, you could find this a helpful starting point. You might even take this further, by taking a scan of your pencil drawing and lightly colouring it in. I have found out the hard way that mistakes are more easily rectified nearer the start than the end!

It would have been easy in this painting to “lose” the hellebores and snowdrops against the white of the background, so I have used the leaves to accentuate them. The focal point, or central area of the painting, is framed by attention seeking red berries.

Fig.a  Working it out in pencil

1. Having decided on your composition, you can transfer it lightly onto your watercolour paper. Do this by either drawing directly, or using tracing paper and a non-greasy carbon paper made for this purpose.
2. Unlike most paintings where your first attention would be paid to the flowers (partly because they fade more quickly), it would be better to start with the foliage. This is to avoid the temptation of putting too much colour onto the flowers too soon.

Fig.b  Holly base wash

3. Fig. b. Starting with the holly, paint in centre veins with Winsor Yellow, and when dry, flood half the leaf with clean water. Into this drop a dilute amount of French Ultramarine. While damp (but not soaking wet), touch the points and edges with a tiny amount of Burnt Sienna. This should merge, but not move far.

Fig.c  Add colour to holly leaves

4. Fig. c. When the holly leaves are dry, flood each half of a leaf with Sap Green. As this dries, add more pigment to areas you would like darker. When completely dry, take a damp cotton bud or the tip of your brush and “lift” out some colour where you would like to see a shine. If you have made it too damp and the colour just remains, blot carefully with kitchen paper. This is always a delicate operation, and may need a little practice in not losing the leaf altogether…

Fig.d  Snowdrop leaves and stems

5. Fig. d. The snowdrop leaves and stems are a mixture of Sap Green and Winsor Yellow, more yellow being added to the stems. Each leaf has central vein slightly more yellow than the rest. At this stage don’t worry about more detail and secondary veins, the main thing is to be building the painting as a whole.

Fig.e  More leaves!

6. Fig.e. The hellebore leaves are young, so a fresh Olive Green with yellow veining is appropriate. Half a leaf at a time will still be a good method, and the addition of a little burnt sienna at the leaf base will help “join” them to the stems. The stems are started with a base of clean water into which Olive Green is stroked. While still damp, add very dilute Burnt Sienna, increasing the amount nearer the flower.

*TIP Don’t try to do too many leaves at once because you have spare paint on your brush. They are bound to catch you out and dry more quickly than you can cope with.

Fig. f  Stems

7. Fig.f. Begin the stems of the holly with a weak wash of Burnt Umber. When nearly dry, add more pigment in the form of cris-crossing the stems in an irregular way to indicate their woody nature.

Fig.g Focus on flowers

8. Fig.g. You can now see that the flowers are being pushed forward into the spotlight, and even the snowdrops, slightly isolated, have some visual clues to their shape where a couple deliberately cross in front of stems and leaves.

Fig.h Flowers

9. Fig.h. In this painting I have chosen a creamy pinkish variety of hellebore, they add a warmth that the conventional white ones sometimes lack in execution. (And because I love them best!)
Apply a wash of clean water and add very dilute Permanent Rose, followed by Olive Green nearer the centres. Ignore the majority of the stamens and anthers etc., these can be painted later by using gouache.

10.  Fig g,h. By using a clean damp brush, “lift” out the secondary veins in all the leaves. By dampening the line and then blotting with kitchen paper, you can achieve subtle veining. Where more positive veins are required, paint over with the yellow, trailing out towards the edge of the leaf.

*TIP Look carefully at how the veins are sited. Do they all start at the base? Are they evenly spaced along the central vein? How, and where do they “break” into tinier veins

11.  Fig.g,h. The snowdrops are very white, and it’s always a challenge avoiding the “concrete look”. Try not to use grey, instead, think of all the things that happen to white on a sunny Winter’s day. Reflections of the bright green of growth and the blue skies. So, shape the snowdrops with a little of both colours, and hopefully a more pleasing result will emerge. Very dark areas can be expressed with a tiny amount of Burnt Sienna added to the blue.

12.  Fig.h  It is best to deal with alternating berries. Otherwise they all tend to merge into one big blob. Apply a clean wash of water to a berry and drop Winsor Red into it. As it dries, add a little Alizarin Crimson around the circumference, forming a sphere. When dry, “lift” out an area of highlight, and when that’s dry, do it again firmly in a “dot ”. Remember to have all the highlights facing the same direction.

*TIP Whether painting leaves or petals, never paint across, but always follow the direction of the growth.

8. Fig.h. When the hellebore flowers are dry, lightly apply more Permanent Rose in the folds (always following a vein), some Winsor Yellow and some Olive Green. Soften the hard edges of colour with a damp brush. Repeat this again without necessarily softening, making sure there are some distinctions between the petals and the upper and lower surfaces.

9. Fig.h. With white gouache and using a fine brush, paint in all the centres of the hellebores, stamens, anthers, etc.
When this is dry, colour with Winsor Yellow, using Burnt Sienna for shadows and outlines.

Fig.i Bee

10. Fig.i.  Finally, I added a bee to my painting, because I think insects add movement. I’m also saying, “Look, this is a bright day in Winter when even the bees are about buzzing – there’s hope, there’s things happening now.”
But …….insects are optional!

This painting was originally commissioned as the NAFAS Christmas card some years ago. A step by step tutorial of it was published in the Flower Arranger Magazine.

Copyright ©Jan Harbon

Getting started…

There is a great deal to learn when you start a new website from scratch! So I shall apologise now for the shortcomings you’ll (probably) find. Give me time and I’ll get it sorted….I hope.

In the studio
In the studio

Meanwhile, to get things going, and to give me some practice in uploading and arranging things, I thought I’d put on a bit of of a demo. So here goes:

Stage 1 - pencil layout and first wash of watercolour Stage 2 Second wash and beginning detail
Stage 1.  pencil and first wash of  watercolour               Stage 2. Second wash and beginning detail
3. Adding more colour and detail plus lettering
Stage 3. Adding more colour and detail plus lettering
Stage 4. Final detail and added collage scraps
Stage 4. Final detail and added collage scraps

I later added some touches of gold here and there – but it went off to exhibition before I had a chance to photograph that. But I’ll do some more gold leafing and collage in a later blog, with some information on the process I use for that.

There, that wasn’t too bad! Famous last words………