The Flower Paintings

The Flower Paintings

I experimented with flower paintings as a way of looking at colours because the colours of flowers are vibrant and vivid and need to be contrasted with a less vibrant ground to make them stand out. I thought about getting a range of thicknesses of paint into the image from the thin washy background through the thicker paint on the leaves and vase to the impasto on the flower heads themselves.

The impasto on the flower heads gives a real three dimensional feel to them and attracts the eye from the surrounding flatter colours while the thinner and duller under paint of the flower heads gives them substance.

The thin almost transparent purple ground of the wall allows the white gesso to grin through and is a perfect foil for the yellow and cream flower head whilst the green of the foliage provides a sharp contrast to the red flower heads.

I gave the tabletop which was originally yellow a red glaze to bring out the contrast between it and the foliage greens in the vase to make the vase pop out from the ground at the expense of losing the contrast between the table top and the wall.

Figure 1. Second pass, oil on canvas board 40 x 50 cm

Making paintings is a constant decision making process, the fact that you have to let the layers dry gives you time to consider the available options before making your decision. As part of my process I carry an A4 print of my work at its drying stage in the back pocket of my jeans so that I can refer to it in the quiet moments. I find this easier to deal with than a back lit phone screen, which I find too small to make rational decisions over.

I think the end result has a definite sculptural quality and if I was to do this painting again I would accentuate the sculptural feel more and perhaps arrange the flowers differently to give more air between them.

Figure 2. Flowers 1, oil on canvas board 40 x 50 cm

I photo shopped a black and white image to check on the tonal range that I had achieved with the colours because I reasoned that the tonal range had a big effect on the sculptural quality of the painting, and I was less than surprised by the result.

Figure 3. Check on tonal range digital image

I was sitting in front of a different bunch of flowers experimenting with the palette knife on small board and created this:

Figure 4. Flowers 2 oil on board 20 x 25 cm

I mixed more colour and added three extra boards so that it became this:

Figure 5. Flowers 2, 3, 4 and 5 oil on board each panel 20 x 25 cm

They do not look so bad but I prefer them hung like this:

Figure 6. Floral Symphony oil on board each panel 20 x 25 cm

It reminds me of music, the first movement slow and gentle, building up in the second movement to the great crescendo of the third movement and drifting back slowly into silence in the fourth movement.

It is probably the first time I have thought of curatorship, but it was really hard to avoid when I had what were, in effect four coloured building blocks.

The next painting in the Flower series was painted at the Norfolk Painting School, which I would thoroughly recommend, as well as teaching techniques, they teach an enormous amount of stuff about gesso and mediums that ordinarily I wouldn’t care about. Panels come ready gessoed who needs to worry about that? Well everybody really, now there are short grounds and long grounds and all types in between that effect the final look of your painting who would have thought that?

Figure 7. Sunflowers after Vincent oil on board each panel 50 x 60 cm

The exercise was not about impasto or producing a copy of Sunflowers but about direct painting and under painting and how the under painting shows through the final layers.

Copying a work by a master gives you a marvellous understanding of their use of negative space, tone, decorative pattern, composition and design. Staring at the work for five hours puts you up there with the amount of time Vincent spent looking at it as he painted it and relevant phrases start coming back to you from your textural research “I have no need of Japanese art here, I tell myself I am in Japan” (Walther 33) “There are virtually no shadows in Chinese Art nor Persian or Japanese”(Hockney and Gayford p. 63) and you are really reminded that “we only see what we look at, to look is an act of choice” ( Berger p 8)

Despite all that looking, however, I can hardly wait to go to the National Gallery and see “its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be” (Benjamin)


Berger, J. (1972) Ways of seeing. London: Penguin

Benjamin, W.(2008) The Work of Art in the age of Mechanical Reproduction. London: Penguin

Hockney, D. and Gayford, M.(2016) A History of Pictures. London: Thames and Hudson

Walther I. F. (2016) Van  Gogh. Koln: Taschen