Painting Flowers from Life, a 2-day Workshop

This past weekend, I taught a semi-private workshop that focused on the joys and challenges of painting flowers from life. I was motivated to come up with this specific workshop because when I first began to use flowers in my still-life setups I often had my flowers fade and wilt before I had finished the painting.  And after years of trying out different techniques, I am now able to keep my flowers fresh for the duration of completing most paintings.

20150322 spring-wkshop-demo

{at the beginning of a demonstration}

20150322 spring-wkshop-demo-2

{further along in the demonstration}

Since I first began painting with oils it has always been my goal to paint from life when possible. I just love the immediacy, the sense of excitement and the connection that is built from sharing the same space with my painting subjects. Over the years I have been experimenting and improving upon the ways to extend the life of cut flowers so I would have more time to paint them.

I have read many gardening and flower arranging books, taken classes on flower arranging and even occasionally attended horticultural focused lectures and seminars, all in the goal to learn more and find ways to  include the plants and flowers I love into my artwork.

Over the years, I have picked up enough knowledge and tips that I can typically keep an arrangement looking good long enough to paint from the arrangement for a full five days, sometimes even more. And as I have yet to see any of this information available for artists who are also interested in painting flowers from life, I have put together a workshop that focuses on doing just this, painting seasonal flowers from life.

It was a pleasure to have three students participate in my inaugural workshop this past weekend.  And it was such a fun time that I am now committed to offer two more workshops this year that cover this topic.

If you want to explore the joy of painting flowers from life, these two-day workshops are designed for you.

We will cover these basic topics:
1. Cutting, conditioning and arranging flowers and how to keep them fresh for the most days possible.
2. Tips on the seasonal flowers we will use during the workshop
3. How to plan your painting process
4. How to abstract complex flower shapes and block in a composition of flowers
5. And tips for completing a painting while working around the changes that are likely to occur in your flower arrangement over time.

Each workshop will focus on the seasonal flowers that are in bloom (whether available for purchase in the grocery store or harvested from my garden), and each workshop will take place in the intimate space of my home studio and harvest our flower arrangements from what is growing in my flower beds*.


Two workshops are offered in 2015

Painting Mid-Summer Flowers from Life
July 18-19, 2015, 10am to 4pm
Buy Now via Paypal $275

Painting Early Autumn Flowers from Life
September 19-20, 2015, 10am to 4pm
Buy Now via Paypal $275

Class size is limited to six participants, and some previous oil painting experience is helpful, but not necessary.

*my home studio is often visited by my dear Abyssinian kitty, Slim.


To find out more, visit the PAINTING FLOWERS from LIFE webpage.

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Created with Love, 36 x 24 inches

Created with Love

Created with Love

Created with Love, my first painting of 2015 is officially finished.

To me, a painting becomes complete when I take down its still-life setup. No longer can I take the painting back into the studio to putter and fine-tune areas, in truth I can always return to a painting and add to it and change it some, but I like working from life and if my setup comes down I hesitate going back into a painting because I do not want to lose the connection I had with its setup. I get concerned about diluting my visceral connection with the inspiration of the painting in some way.

At the end of January when I finished phase two of this painting, I brought the painting into my living room to contemplate in a different environment than my studio. And in doing so, I realized I needed to make the background behind the red amaryllis more defuse and softer. When the paint was dry to the touch, I began exploring ways to soften the background some, and to make the flower stronger.

WIP-20150121-2A created-with-love-36x24


The left image was before I began to experiment with softening the background some, and the right image was taken after my first experiment.  I liked it so much that I quickly began applying various glazes over the background, some where light in value and others were dark, I did not use the same tint mixture but shifted the tints to warm and cool depending on what seemed the best solution.  This phase went quickly.

Here are a few details of the finished painting.

20150226-001a created-with-love-detail

20150226-001b created-with-love-detail copy

20150226-001c created-with-love-detail


Okay, the biggest thing I learned about this painting is that I love diving into the details…

Framed Painting
{36″ x 24″ – oil on linen}

Work in Progress – Created with Love: Phase 1
Work in Progress – Created with Love: Phase 2

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Work in Progress – Created with Love: Phase 2

In the first phase of completing this painting, I focused on the amaryllis bloom.  As soon as I got to a certain point, I was ready to tackle the quilt in its entirety.

WIP-20150115-1 created-with-love-36x24
{first day working on the quilt background}

I knew this would take A LOT of time and effort, however I LOVE painting drapery and fiddling with the minutia of shifts in value found in painting cloth.

My decision to tackle the quilt in a somewhat organized manner, working in adjacent areas most of the time was helpful in making sure that the overall continuity of the colors and values would read as a whole, even thought it took almost 9 long painting sessions to get the first layer of the quilt completed down.

WIP-20150115-2 created-with-love-36x24
{moving forward with one section at a time}

WIP-20150115-3 created-with-love-36x24
{At the end of a session}

After working for two long days on the quilt, I needed some immediate gratification in the last hour of my painting session, so I moved down to the lay-in the antique suitcase I got from Steve’s grandmother.

WIP-20150122-1 created-with-love-36x24

{moving a bit further along}

By the end of this session, I had figured out about how long it would take to complete one of the four sides that make up each double wedding ring, and was able to estimate how much time I would need to cover the entire canvas.

 This type of hyper-intensive attention to detail also takes a lot of mental energy.  And the best way to remain fresh over a long day of painting is to plan on only focusing on one area at a time, and when your brain starts to turn to mush and you no longer care if you are getting it right.  This is the time when you take a break.  Deep work is mentally fatiguing and to stay on top of your game, means listening to yourself.

The type of breaks I like best to take when I want to mentally refuel my mind is to get on the yoga mat and complete a series of stretches.  I think this type of break is the best for resting and recharging, for me it usually takes anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes of resting my eyes and stretching to be ready to start again.

WIP-20150129-1 created-with-love-36x24

{Almost all covered}

WIP-20150131-1 created-with-love-36x24

{first pass of the quilt completed}

At the end of this painting session, the canvas was finally covered and I could begin to plan how to further refine the painting and make it read a bit better.  For this painting I used a lead white with a walnut oil binder, so it was taking a while for my white layers to completely dry, which, was fine with me because I needed some time to map out the next and hopefully final stage.


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Work in Progress – Created with Love: Phase 1

This year it is my goal to work on a few large and more complex compositions and I thought you may enjoy reading about my process. So today I want to share with you a still-life I began in early January 2015, this post discusses the first phase – focusing on painting the amaryllis flower from life.
WIP-20150131 created-with-love-36x24

{Created with Love – 36 x 24 inches – almost finished}

This past December when I was finishing up my double wedding-ring quilt, I began thinking about how fun it would be to paint this quilt in a still-life painting. Then I began pondering what to pair it with… knowing that it would have to be something strong to counteract the bright colors and complexity of the quilt. As I was thinking about possible compositions, one of my large “red dragon” amaryllis bulbs came into bloom, and all was settled. I knew I could begin the painting I was pondering right away.

As an artist, I prefer to paint from life and in natural light. This being said, in the winter months I must rely on winter blooming flowers, which typically involves forcing a variety of bulbs inside. My favorite winter blooming bulb is the amaryllis, a tropical bulb that prospers in our warm interiors.

When painting flowers, painting from life is my preference because I feel my work captures the gesture and essence of the flowers I am working on. I try to stay away from relying too much on photo references, I think it is because photographs are one more filter away from my own personal relationship I have with the flowers. Being an avid gardener and that I typically am nurturing and growing the specific flowers I am painting, it is like I have a deeply felt relationship with them, and I want the flowers to be there while I am painting and trying to convey what I am feeling in paint.

Because of this desire to paint from life and knowing a flower only has so long before it begins to fade, I have to plan the sequencing of how to paint every given floral still-life composition. Typically I begin every painting with a drawing painted in with burnt umber, then I begin to immediately paint the areas with the most limited lifetime, in this painting it was the amaryllis flower.

Work in Progress - Created with Love

{first day: end of burnt umber block-in}

By beginning with a burnt umber drawing, I make sure that I can get the scene onto the canvas as I want, establishing an accuracy in proportion and scale. I always try to get the drawing as correct as possible, even knowing that once I begin to paint the under-drawing is going to be obliterated. I view this phase as a very important step because I feel like it helps me engage a level of muscle memory and mental connectedness I want to have with my compositions.

After the under-drawing is finished, I will take a small break (15-30 minutes) to get away from the painting, so when I return I will have fresh eyes and will be able to identify any errors in the original burnt umber drawing. If all is well, I dive into painting the most important and ephemeral subjects.

WIP-20150108-2 created-with-love-36x24

{first day: at the end of the painting session}

I began painting the amaryllis flower right away.  Blocking in color masses, keeping the shapes large and descriptive of the total structure of each flower.  When I paint flowers I am also trying to gage how long each flower will keep fresh and bright.  I knew from watching how the flower opened that the flowers on my right were the ones that would fade the quickest.  So they were the first ones tackled.  Leaving the two flowers on the left to be partially laid in.

WIP-20150108-2a created-with-love-36x24

{first day: end of painting session}

Because when painting you make decisions based on the adjacent areas, I also began laying in the values for the neighboring background areas.

WIP-20150109-1 created-with-love-36x24 copy

{second day: a few hours into the painting session}

Upon returning to this painting the next morning I realized I needed to spend some more time laying in the adjacent background areas.  So I began to tackle more of the double wedding-ring pattern and the white areas.

WIP-20150109-2 created-with-love-36x24

{second day: near the end of the day}

After the adjacent areas were laid in, I went back into the amaryllis flower and began refining.  I also took out the back of one of the flowers that had wilted overnight.  Sometimes I will keep a wilted flower in my painting even after it has ceased to exist, however with this painting I realized the void left by that one flower, now wilted, made for a more dynamic shape of the overall flowerhead.

WIP-20150109-2a created-with-love-36x24

{second day: end of painting session}

WIP-20150110-1 created-with-love-36x24

{third day: a few hours into the painting session}

On the morning of third painting session, I realized that this would be my last day to work with the amaryllis flower before it totally wilted.  So I worked almost exclusively on it.

WIP-20150110-2 created-with-love-36x24

{third day: end of painting session, detail of the flowers}

As the end of the day drew near, I had just about finished with painting the amaryllis, so I began to focus on painting the quilt.  I still stayed close to the areas of the amaryllis because I knew that I would need to use this area to key to as I worked on the quilt when the flower would not be there to help me judge for correct color and value.

For me, painting is the experience of slowing down and absorbing what I see, and by painting objects that have a fleeting life, such as a flower, I feel like I am making their beauty more permanent, something to be admired for a long time to come.

Thank you for stopping by and I will be back with another post that describes the next phase of this painting.


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First Daffodils of Spring, 14 x 18 inches

First Daffodils of Spring

First Daffodils of Spring

The first spring that we lived in our home I was delighted to discover some daffodils blooming under and around a large oak in our yard. And in the subsequent years I have added more and more patches of daffodils, all in anticipation for the first daffodils to emerge from the ground.

As spring starts to show in the world, I become full of hope and excitement. Every morning I will go out and scout the areas where I know some bulbs were planted, just to see what may have emerged in the previous 24 hours. Sometimes counting the number of flower buds in anticipation of floral abundance and what I may bring inside to paint!

This painting was completed last spring, just as the world was warming up. I was motivated to capture every sparkling detail and shimmer of the cool spring light that was filtering into the studio. I was fascinated with the bright yellows and translucency of the petals, and how notes of glowing color could be found when I would slow down and observe the flowers carefully.

Framed Painting: SOLD
{14″ x 18″ – oil on linen}

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