Painting Demonstration 1
I always begin a painting with a loose wash all over the painting. I could see hints of blue sky through the trees. Since blue is a perfect foil for a yellow sunflower, I started with cobalt teal, cobalt blue and pthalo green (mixed with azo yellow).
In a beginning wash like this, let your brush dance! Leave lots of whites and don't hit areas with paint more than twice.
Painting Demonstration 2
I continue this wash by dashing around more paint. Since I want the sunflower to move in and out of the background I add some yellow around the petals.
I love painting sunflower buds. They're so much like artichokes (same family)! Very structural, interesting shapes.
Painting Demonstration 3
I'm still working on the same wash, moving around the painting. I add a bit of quin gold to start working in the shadows. Remember you need lots of whites for the bright sunlight effect.
Artist's TipsWhen painting a light yellow flower against a dark blue background, take time for the washes to dry. Otherwise you'll be painting a green flower!
Painting Demonstration 4
Still in the same wash, I add some rich ultramarine blue to pop out the highlights. Now it's time to let it dry completely!
Painting Demonstration 5
Now that the painting has dried I can add a few layers to give the background depth. I start adding some bright orange yellows with cadmium yellow and cadmium red. I don't want too much of the chalky opaqueness of cadmium but a little brightens up the painting.
Painting Demonstration 6
Now I'm painting the petals, just letting the watercolor bleed together with the oranges and yellows. I want to leave lots of highlights still for the bright sunlight on the stamens. A little bit of detail goes a long way in a loose painting. Be careful not to overdo the detail!
Painting Demonstration 7
A few more details and the painting will be finished! I add some shadows to the flower buds and the sunflower, rounding the shapes. Some darks to bring out a few areas brighten the sunflower petals and leaves.
This sunflower watercolor painting is bright and happy, just like the flower! Keeping the contrast dancing around the painting rather than just at the center of interest made the flower full of movement.
I hope this tutorial inspires you to go paint in your own garden or nearby park. Don't feel bad about doing sketches and doing the serious painting inside if conditions aren't comfortable for painting outside. The important part of plein air is to really notice the world around you but if all you're noticing is that it's hot as blazes outside, you're not going to do your best painting!
Be happy, go paint a sunflower!
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