Hiding in the



This painting tutorial was put together for a group of accounting students who said, “I couldn’t possibly paint like that”.  Not only did they paint, the results were amazing and they were thrilled with themselves.

by Joy Skinner

Here is a copy of the line drawing that I used for my painting.  You should be able to get a copy if you right click on on it and save it to your files.  I always start out with a drawing similar to this, drawn relatively simply, so it is easy to erase and redo if I change my mind after I’ve had a chance to see whether the composition is going to work or not.

Planning is a very important step in the design process …
so lets talk about this painting before we begin.

The flowers in my painting were drawn from a photo of an iris that I took.  I’ve changed the composition of the photo to be what I would consider to be a better composition for several reasons.  When you have only 2 objects in a painting, they tend to fight for attention.  I didn’t want this, but I didn’t really want to add a 3rd iris, so I placed them so they were touching each other.  This also helps to give direction for the viewer … gives the viewer’s eyes a path to follow.

The stamen areas were painted using Windsor yellow and cadmium orange pigment.  These areas can be darkened in color or intensified later if necessary.  I started by outlining the lower left iris and veins using thioindigo violet.  The paint was applied quite thickly and I don’t totally outline everything.  I used ultramarine violet to outline the very center stamen area of the flower.  Allow the paint to dry completely before moving on to the next step.  We apply the paint thickly because we are going to brush clear water over top of it and we want the paint to run, giving us soft edges, without losing form.  We want to leave the veins looking like veins.

It’s a good idea to start a floral painting with a study of the flower that we’re painting—in this case the iris.  If you look closely at pictures of irises below, you will see that the color seems to almost explode from the middle of the flower (the stamen area).  The key to having petals that actually look like iris petals is going to be replicating how the color flows within the veins on the petals.

Using clear water, wet your brush and first in the shadowed areas, run your wet brush gently over the outlines and the veins—moving your brush in the direction of the veins.  Clean water is very important here as introducing another color, even if just through the water we’re using, would have a tendency to produce mud.  Your brush should be wet enough that it allows the paint to bleed, but we don’t want puddles.  Take care not to overwork this as you want the light areas of your painting to remain light.


While this is drying, outline and paint the veins of the top right flower, using a fairly thick combination, of thioindigo violet and ultramarine violet for the front petal, and ultramarine violet for the rest.  We don’t want the two flowers looking the same as this might become boring to look at so by painting the upper right iris a darker color, it will recede into the background more than the lower one, allowing for some interest.

Allow this to dry completely before continuing.

Using CLEAN water, run your brush over the shadowed areas and the veins of the upper iris in the same manner that you did for the first flower.  Remember to move your brush in the direction of the veins and don’t overwork it.  With Prussian blue pigment, I used the same method to outline some of the main leaves and veins in some of the leaves.  This time, instead of using clear water in which to make the veins bleed, load your brush with a thin windsor yellow pigment.  The colors will run together—Prussian blue and Windsor yellow makes a very rich green color.  You should paint the rest of the leaves (the ones that will appear as if they are in the background) using Windsor yellow.  You will glaze over top of these later.  Do not outline or paint the veins of the background leaves.

Now it’s time to paint the background.  It is important in a painting that we pay attention to values.  You want your painting to remain interesting to the viewer and in order to achieve that we need to be conscience of having a healthy mix of both dark and light values. 

On some of the closest leaves, glaze using a full brush of Prussian blue.  Do one leaf at a time and paint a strip down the centre of the leaf, following the vein.  Paint in the shadowed areas where the flowers or leaves overlap.  While this is still wet, use a full brush of cadnium yellow and carefully drop the color (nudge your brush) so that it runs into the blue.

Prussian blue and cadnium yellow pigments mix beautifully but you only want them to run into each other (soft edges).  You want the dark areas to remain dark.  You can lightly glaze over top of any areas of your flowers or leaves that you feel need to be a darker value.  I often have many layers of glazes when painting things like leaves in order to get the depth that I am looking for.  Just take care that you let each glaze dry before applying the next.

Let your paint dry and then using Antwerp blue, fill in the background areas.  While painting the background, paint completely over top of those background leaves you filled in using just yellow.

I try to follow 3 rules of composition when painting close up flowers:

1. If there is more than 1 flower in your painting, have them touching so that the objects in the painting flow from one area of the painting to the other.  If the objects are apart from each other (as in the original photo) the viewer’s eyes tend to get stuck on one object or the other and often they would leave the painting altogether before they are really done looking at it.  

2. It is important not to place the center of interest directly in the middle of your painting.  Think of your blank sheet of paper as having 9 separate areas and avoid placing the focal point in the middle.  We refer to the graph on the right as depicting the “rule of 9’s”  because it is cutting the paper into 9 sections.  If we place the center of interest somewhere along the lines that are drawn, we end up with a much more interesting painting

3. Run the flowers, or leaves, off your paper.  When we look at things in nature they don’t abruptly end, so we shouldn’t do that in our painting either.

Rule of 9’s

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial.  Although I use this technique the most with florals, there are many different applications for this bleeding vein technique.  It can be used when painting wood to get a nice wood grain.  I also use it when I’m painting buildings with wood siding.  You can also  bleed only one side of the board if its in a corner to make it look like one side is shadowed.

Good luck and Happy Painting !!