Wednesday, July 29, 2009

How to Paint a Magnolia Spray

Summers are always a very busy time for artists. It's when things really come alive in the art community. Art fairs start happening, galleries are all a buzz, art walks get under way and studios open their doors for tours. And that's exactly what I've been up to. Since I started attending atelier with Tenaya Sims six months ago, I've barely had time to paint let alone put together a lesson. And then when summer came along, well, the first paragraph says it all.

Thanks to Facebook, I've recently been connecting with old friends and one of my teenage buddies just commissioned a small painting from me. So I thought that I might as well kick off a lesson while I painted. This time I remembered to set my timer so I could take photos at regular intervals.

OK - here's the set up. My friend just wanted a spray of Magnolias without the attendant vase. Schucks! I really love painting vases, but alas, it was not to be. So the vase in the lower left hand corner will not be included in the painting. For the sake of expediency, I'll not be capitalizing the names of the paints. Now remember, the photo is for the sake of this blog. I NEVER PAINT FROM PHOTOS FOR FLOWERS! I emphasize this because it's something I'm adamant about. In fact, I almost never use photos except for the occasional landscape and then only because my bad and aching back doesn't allow for a lot of plein air junkets anymore.

I started with a sketch of the spray on a gessoed panel and then fixed it with spray fixative. Krylon spray will do for this. I followed up with a tone of raw umber - my preferred tone for floral underpaintings. Then I lifted out the lights trying to pay attention to where the shadows fell. I didn't worry too much about the stems as I paint them in last and can find them by just looking at the setup.Next I laid in a background of raw umber mixed with some cadmium yellow light, naples yellow and a tad of titanium white.

As always, I started laying in the shadow shapes keeping everything soft and not too sharp. The shadows were at this point a simple mix of ivory black, cadmium yellow and white - maybe a touch of ultramarine blue. The blue is sometimes a nice touch but not always necessary as ivory black is actually quite blue in tone. As a matter of fact, many of the masters used it before lapis blue became widely available. It's a credit to them that they managed, through a solid understanding of color theory, to make it look so blue.

The reddish tones were added by the judicious use of a little Pouzzouli Red (more about this color later). The yellow tones by the addition of a mixture of yellow ochre and white.

Of course the lights came next. Cool offsets warm and vice versa. I also used some of the background color to tie in the flowers with their background so they looked airy and not pasted on. Relative to the lights, the shadows are slightly cool. Thus the use of naples yellow and titanium white to make a warm white mixture is the trick here in making the lights pop. But here's another interesting and conflicting point - just to confuse you. Had I mixed a very small amount of ultramarine blue in with the white instead, it would have worked well also. That's because the cadmium in the shadows would have played off against the cool blue. Still, I like the way naples yellow brightens whites and I save a cool white for when I really want to throw a zinger in.

At this point I wasn't laying the paint on too thick. I wanted to keep my edges soft and add the globs of paint that would give sharper edges to the blooms after I decided where they were necessary. Things look relatively flat at this point, but hold on to your paint brushes. Things will start to improve shortly.

Here I've started to paint in the smaller flowers and buds. You can see that I've also started to add some thicker paint. Notice that I do this on the petals that are coming forward in the flowers. In order to push the ones in the back ground back, you paint those petals flatter and thinner. Thick accents thin just as warm accents cool.

Here's a closeup of the flowers.

Now on to the leaves. I generally don't carry a green on my palette but for for magnolias it's helpful to use a little thalo green. Now this is a very cool green because of a blue tint. Thalo is also a chemical color - not a natural pigment color. As a result, it has a very strong tinting strength and should never be used straight from the tube or in large amounts. I toned the thalo green with alizarin crimson which darkened it without warming it too much. Alazarin has blue in it and is a cool red. The use of cadmium red would have made the mixture too brownish (green/blue and red/orange cancel each other out). This cool mixture helped immensely when I got to the back side of some of the leaves which were a warm orangey color. Again, the play of cool against warm makes these leaves stand out.

The highlights or lighter passages on the blue/green leaves were done with a lightened background mixture.

For the orangey/brownish or golden leaves, I used a mixture of yellow ochre and touches of either naples hellow for the lighter parts or burnt umber for the darker shadows. As always, I laid in the shadows first!

Here's a closeup of the leaves.

Lastly, before I put in the stems, I punched things up a bit. The central flower was lacking color, so I warmed up the blossom by laying in touches of warm reddish tones. The color I uses is Pozzuoli Red from Rublev. It's a natural pigment but very close to burnt sienna, except it's opaque rather than transparent as is burnt sienna. However, burnt sienna should work equally as well. A bit more yellow ochre in a few places and some pinkish tones from a mixture of cadmium red light and white, and the color was right.

But I still wasn't finished. At this point, I sharpened some of the edges, deepened some of the shadows and thickened some of the lights. Then I added the center of the bloom with stamen.

The finishing touches came with the stems. These were executed with mixtures of alizarin crimson and Pouzzouli Red for the darks and touches of the leaf mixtures for highlights and some additional darks.

Here's the final piece. Hope you like it....hope my friend likes it.

"Magnolia Spray", 11" x 14", Oil on Panel



Hi Susan:
As sure as the flower develops from the stem,your brush creates this lesson into a beautiful Blossom.
Thank you for this lesson,you receive an "A+".
Happy Brushing,

Grace | labor posters said...

Thanks for the tutorials. This Mongolia is pretty! I'll try to paint one very soon.

Metal Wall Art said...

Even though you guide us from doing this painting, it won't become as lovely as the way you did it. Anyway, thanks for sharing this post.