My First Muse – Flora

For most artists, nature is one of the most common sources of inspiration. Flowers, in particular, have served as a muse to several artists. Since time in memorial, artists have told stories in their artworks through flowers, with an attempt to capture varying moods through symbolism.

Art through the ages has demonstrated that flowers speak a universal language that communicates deeper messages through their color and form. It is this language that is figuratively represented by artists in their work to depict a multitude of emotions and feelings, ranging from love, passion and desire to purity, innocence and even death.

Flowers can convey messages that words cannot, express hidden emotions, portray moods, or articulate a subtle feeling. Legendary artists from Claude Monet and Gustav Klimt to Andy Warhol and Georgia O’Keefe, have used flowers to express the surreal and the sublime, the joy and the sorrow, the beauty and the hurt.

Flowers have a played an important role throughout the history of art. They have been used by the Renaissance artist Botticelli as a subtle representation of religious symbolism and have also been the inspiration behind Matisse’s colorful masterpieces. When it comes to art, flowers do tell a unique story!

 I wanted to explore this hidden meaning of flowers as a symbol of art. As an artist, I wanted to see if  I too could tell a story of my own through blooms and maybe evoke a certain mood or emotion with the help of their colors and shapes. Since this was my very first attempt at painting flora,  I chose a fairly simple composition (or at least I thought so at that moment!), with more emphasis on color than minute detailing. As is evident in my painting, I have concentrated on the light and dark shadows and also attempted to retain the vintage effect of the painting.

My version of a painting of flowers

So there I was, all set and rearing to go with my paints and brushes! I had a picture of a pot of lovely purple blossoms in front of me (As I mentioned in my last post, this was the beginning of my learning experience, hence I used an image for reference). I was all charged up about recreating these beauties on my canvas, which was primed and ready for use. My paint tubes and palette were calling out to me and my brushes were rearing to show off their magic. I was totally smitten by the captivating beauty in front of me!

But where do I start?! So many flowers, such an elaborate background and to add to it all, a  pot and a lemon too! It’s not at all as simple as it looks…I am doomed!!

I took a deep breath and decided to tackled this challenge one step at a time. So, now I am going to share with you all some of the tools and techniques I adopted to achieve my goal….I like to call them my very own trade secrets!

  • Start by sketching out the basic silhouettes of the flowers, the vase/pot and other elements of the composition in front of you. You can use a charcoal pencil or a regular one.
  • Make sure all the elements of your composition are in proportion with respect to each other as well as the background in terms of their sizes. This will give a more realistic look to your artwork, unless you intend to take the abstract approach.
  • Look out for perspective in the composition. This is what makes objects appear smaller and closer together the further away they are from their viewer. In other words, they seem to become smaller and smaller as they more farther into the distance. This adds depth and dimension to flat images, thus making them look more real.
  • While sketching out the various objects, carefully observe their underlying basic shapes and draw out a rough outline for each one of them. These will act as guidelines for your final sketch and  you can work around them to achieve the final silhouettes more accurately.

Now, coming to the main subject of this particular composition…the flowers. How does one draw these? Well, the secret lies in their underlying shape here as well. In general they will fit into one of these basic categories – discs, bells, cones or spheres. (I was very fortunate to learn this from a fellow artist’s article when I googled for methods to paint flowers back then). But in my painting, I discovered a new one – star shaped blossoms! So, you never know what you may find!! Anyways, this is a very important aspect as that’s where the basic form of your flower lies.

Bell, Cone, Disc and Sphere shaped flowers respectively.

  • Each object in your composition, in fact each blossom for that matter will have its own highlights, shadows and reflections. So look for these details closely. One way I looked for these intricacies was by half shutting my eyes and looking at the image almost through my eye lashes. It worked like a charmed as all the highlights and shadows just popped up magically!
  • Coming to the bouquet or bunch as a whole, flowers in the back of the arrangement will have less color, focus and sharpness while the ones in the front will have color, intensity and sharpness. The focal blossoms will have the highest color intensity, sharpness and details.
  • In order to achieve a faded effect for those blooms at the back, paint them with softer edges. This involves more blending of the various shades you have used.
  • As mentioned earlier, flowers hold great symbolic power in the art world. Hence, every color or combination of color evokes a certain mood or emotion. Here’s a cheat sheet you can use as a guide to help you convey your message –

Red – Love, romance, courage, desire.

Pink – Gentleness, happiness, innocence, grace.

Blue – Peace, serenity, openness, relaxation.

White – Reverence, humility, purity, simplicity.

Yellow – Happiness, friendship, pride, joy.

Orange – Bold, passion, enthusiasm, excitement.

Purple – Royalty, dignity, tradition, success.

Hope that made it easier for you! To help you even more, here are some Dos and Don’ts  you can keep in mind while painting flowers:

DOs –

  • Select a simple arrangement if you are painting flora for the first time. Once you’ve got a hang of the basic elements of floral anatomy, you can graduate to more detailed arrangements and types of flowers.
  • Start with bigger flowers that have lesser detailing and work on getting the basic shapes, highlights and shadows right at first.
  • If you are not confident enough to paint an entire bouquet or vase of flowers, you can always do a single bloom with maybe a bud or two and a few leaves to complete the composition.

DON’Ts –

  • When sketching with your pencil or charcoal, don’t apply too much pressure and avoid drawing dark lines. These will be difficult to paint over later and will show underneath the layers of paint. They may also smudge and mess up the colors and eventually the painting.
  • The subjects of your painting should neither be too small, thereby leaving too much negative space around them, nor should they be so big that they leave no scope for a background. I personally achieve this with free hand drawing, but feel free to use a grid of squares to get this right.
  • Don’t get bugged if you are not able to figure out the underlying shape of the blossoms of your choice. Some flowers may not fit into any particular shape category I have quoted above or may be a combination of more than one shape.
  • Don’t struggle with detailing of each and every petal on those blossoms at the back…they should appear as if they are fading into the background.

I think I have covered all the tricks I had up my sleeve which helped me do justice to my floral muse. I hope the list of do’s and don’ts help you all in your explorations as much as they helped me!

Sources and Credits –

2 thoughts on “My First Muse – Flora

  1. I love flowers and wish I could capture their beauty forever.
    And yes, flowers do help to express a lot of emotions.
    Looking forward to more paintings of these beauties of nature.
    Thanks for your simple and clear way of using words to enhance the beauty of the painting.


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