Floral Painting Tutorial- How to Oil Paint a Lily
1. Begin by exploring a composition through loosely sketching out the contour of the lily. In this sketch I used a very transparent tone consisting of raw umber mixed with a pile of what was left on my glass palette from the prior session. At the end of each painting session I scrape the remaining paint into a single mound, which usually ends up as a warm neutral (although sometimes cool, depending on the amount of green or blue used). With these thinly painted undertone sketches, I add a bit more linseed oil to allow the paint to easily flow. They are usually quite spontaneous with varied, undefined edges, which can be quickly adjusted.
Completed 10×8 in. Oil on canvas painting
2. The vague contour of the lily sketch is now carved inward and made more specific through a loosely scumbled layer of Ultramarine Blue mixed with Raw Umber. At this very early stage I begin to get a feel for the quality of the edges (i.e. soft, dissolving, hard), and overall mood of the piece. I’ve always found it easier to establish the composition and mood by framing in the subject through first indicating a value and temperature around the main form. In this piece I actually rubbed right across the brownish contour with a crumpled up paper towel and dragged the transparent tone you see within the center of the lily in order to begin adding curvature to the form. Keeping the background transparent allows for the painterly nuances to emerge. Within later stages of this piece you will see that areas of the canvas are left uncovered, which allows for the final passages of warm darks to take on a luminous quality.
3. During this third stage I painted wet into wet, ala-prima, directly into the undertone with Sap Green to indicate the temperature and begin to define the form of the stem. In many of my paintings the idea of shared value often takes center stage. Notice how the value of the green stem within the bottom, right corner is very similar to the value of the surrounding space. This allows the stem to remain more subtle and secondary to the lily that’s the main focus. If the stem were over accentuated it may detract from the main floral form.
4. Now I begin to introduce the cool shadow tones through painting directly into the wet, undertone with slightly tinted passages of Alizarin Crimson. As the paint is layered on top it gradually becomes toned down and subdued as the undertone mixes with it. Notice how these new inner shadow areas appear slightly geometric. I find that initially implying these areas with geometric, planar brushstroke shapes assists in establishing the foundation planes, which is the basis for suggesting curvature within the lily. When observing the floral form try squinting in order to simplify the light and dark patterns. In my mind’s eye I’m focusing on realizing the large, general shapes, not the details.
5. At this point I introduce the higher-key lights, and with this lily piece the light striking the pedals consists of Titanium White, Alizarin Crimson and Yellow Ochre. Oftentimes before I boldly paint in the spots of light, I’ll wipe into the canvas with a crumbled up paper towel back to the white of the canvas. I find this approach makes it much easier to keep the high-key lights clean and bright. If there’s any color underneath it’s very difficult to keep the lights looking intense, and in many instances the end result may look muddy.
6. Using a small, flat bristle brush, the lights are now modeled inward towards the darks to produce a gradation and subtly imply a few of the inner crevices and curvy shapes of the pedals. Note how the warm, light tint is also used to restate the edges of each pedal. Along the right edge of the bottom right pedal, notice how the tint of Ochre is layered overtop a bit of the background tone to achieve a very soft edge. I strive for this characteristic within many of my paintings, and view it as part of the underlying aesthetic. Obviously, hard-edge painting is not my thing.
7. At this stage a small “00” brush is used to suggest a few of the crimson striations.
8. Additional details are suggested, including the minute patterned spots and lily stamin.
9. Further details are indicated. Without strategically developing the underlying form of the lily, these final details would never work. One can spend hours on refining the details, but without a foundation these details will not make sense.