Delicate Strength is one of the newest full-length art training videos found in the Master Oil Painting Membership. At just over four hours long it quickly became one of the members favorite lessons in the library, so I thought a blog breaking down the process into seven steps would be fun and useful.
Please keep in mind that this could have been 700 steps! I chose these specific ones to give you an overview of the major decisions I faced – such as changing the design, choosing shadow colors in the roses, and how much detail to add or leave out.
The Reference Photo and Painting #1
I discovered these roses outside the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC. The Smithsonian has fabulous flowers all around the museum grounds.
The first time I used this photo for a painting was about 10 years ago. I really liked the painting when it was finished, and considering how quickly it sold so did my collectors.
That was done before I started filming my paintings to share with our community. I thought it would be a valuable lesson for our members to have access to so I painted another version.
Making copies of previous paintings, or using an image twice, is something I rarely do (like, maybe 5 or 6 times in 30 years). Most of the revisits were because a collector saw the previous painting and commissioned me to do another. On those occasions, I generally change something so they don’t look exactly alike.
That was what I did this time as well.
Since I had a beautiful 11×16 22kt gold frame from Masterworks Frames, the first thing I did was change the image’s proportions to match. Photoshop is a fantastic tool for rearranging and experimenting.
Then I reversed the image.
You probably noticed in the reference photo that the roses behind the main large flower are all in a straight line. How does that happen in real life?
Using the Lasso and copy/paste tools in Photoshop I changed the positions of a couple of roses. After tweaking the color a bit I called it good so I could get started painting – doing what I really love! I knew there were design problems still, but I figured I would work it out later in the painting.
Here is the finished version of the new white roses painting:
Now for the seven steps I chose to share when painting these roses.
7 Steps to Painting Delicate White Roses
Rather than start with a single color to tone the panel, I decided to work the background shadow values around the approximate shapes of the flowers.
Since there was so much green in the reference image, I chose transparent oxide red as an underlayer. The reddish tones are a wonderful complement for the green leaves.
Notice that I wasn’t worried about drawing everything out first to get the exact shape of the roses. I prefer to lay-in large brush strokes and color shapes and then carve into the shapes to form the flowers.
When I start with detailed drawings, I end up with lifeless plants because I am too focused on painting within the lines. If I draw it out too carefully, I seem to focus on the ‘things’ in the image, rather than the positive and negative shapes, and the edges become harder and less natural.
Also, if I concentrate on basic shapes then it’s easy to move things around if I don’t like the initial composition I’m not as invested.
You can see a cut up credit card in the photo. I love texture in paintings and experimented a bit with a few tools to rough up the background paint. Even in the beginning stages, I will play a lot with brush strokes and texture since those background effects will often show through in the completed painting.
The flower shapes were left blank on purpose. With the white of the panel, we can get a more translucent quality in the colors because light bounces off the white and brightens the colors a bit. Now, I realize that much of the panel is going to be covered by opaque paint, but some of it will not and that is where the thinner layers of paint benefit from the white underneath.
At this stage, I try to establish the light and dark values in the roses right off while keeping the center colors clean and bright.
I also begin with a middle-value layer that I can later add highlights to. That will help me capture subtle transitions in the petals’ values from shadows to highlights. I do the same thing with the leaves, only I use much darker middle values than I did for the roses.
The spots of reddish-brown background color were left intentionally to create the feeling of distance in the painting and to take advantage of the wonderful red/green harmony.
Next, I began to capture the structure of the rose more clearly with deeper shadows in the center. Once the highlights are added, I will have a wonderful range of values throughout the petals without needing to paint lots of small strokes of color everywhere.
The better I simplify my color strokes, the more natural the rose seems to appear. When I get fussy with too many detailed strokes it seems to make the flower feel forced or contrived. It takes a lot of effort to get my brushstrokes to look effortless. The main thing I worked on in step three was adding leaves and stems.
Notice that I only add detail to specific leaves. Most of them are created with a stroke or two of the brush. If I add too many details to too many leaves it ends up like I described above – it feels unnatural.
The way I develop leaves is by thinking of my light source. Then I know where to put highlights and where to add shadows.
I also use the leaves to guide the viewer around the painting. I can put a bright leaf anywhere I think it will help the painting.
Here is where I finally realized the line of four roses in the back was not working well. They were all about the same size, and having them in a straight line was distracting.
The sad thing is, I knew the design was flawed when I had it in Photoshop, and yet I forgot and just seemed to go into autopilot or something. Fortunately, oil paint is entirely forgiving, and I was able to scrape off one with a palette knife and begin relocating and rearranging.
Warm and cool should be every artist’s mantra. There’s something magical about placing warm and cool colors next to one another – they vibrate. That’s why I use a mix of warmer yellow and orange leaves next to cooler bluish leaves or add a highlight of cooler blue to a warm yellow/green leaf. Adding a red highlight or accent can really liven up green leaves as well.
The main thing I focused on in step four was filling out the main rose with bright warm highlights.
To capture those highlights I made sure I had plenty of paint on my brush so I could place each one on in one stroke (with some minor adjustments once the stroke is finished). The Rosemary Masters Series 279 Long Flats are my go-to for graceful fluid strokes.
This is where I encompassed the development up some of the other roses.
I really liked the color in the rose we see from the back, but I couldn’t seem to escape them lining up – better than my kids on a homeschool field trip! I put the rose at the top to help break away from the straight lines but soon decided one of them had to go.
The thought of leaving the brilliant salmon colored rose and getting rid of one of the others in the lineup occurred to me, but it was too centered right above the main rose and that seemed awkward as well.
Here and there a new leaf was added around the roses and in spaces that seemed too empty.
That purple leaf on the right was meant to be a complement to all the yellow and orange throughout the flowers. Some might say it might be too much lavender, but I like the variety, so I kept it on the purple side rather than ‘greening’ it up.
I also like the tie-in it makes to the lavender sky shapes and the lavender colors in the flower petals.
Removing the salmon colored rose improved the composition (although, I did leave a spot of that wonderful salmon color).
Filling in the space with ambiguous leaf shapes was enough to add something for the viewer to see without pulling attention away from the main rose.
The big struggle I ran into was the larger rose on the upper left. Early on I thought I had it – then I added a couple more touches and tweaks and voila – I lost it. That one rose took me almost as long to finish as the rest of the painting combined (and I’m still not sure about it).
That’s the nature of painting flowers – when they work they are an artist’s dream subject – when they don’t they can make us curl up in the fetal position mumbling incoherently and questioning our career choice (not really, but it sometimes feels that way).
Adding finishing touches like the orange highlight on the edge of the lower left brighter leaf. Small hints of strong color like that can really bring vitality and life to a painting.
Did you notice that the sky brush strokes were left untouched? That’s why even the very beginning background work should be thought through carefully, making the strokes interesting and full of vigor.
The background color on the right started to feel a bit too thin – not really contributing anything fun to the overall painting. So, I added some thicker paint and texture to it. Not too thick – I didn’t want it to draw attention away from the main attraction – but enough to add some more pizazz to the painting.
Finally, the nightmare rose feels better. It is partly cut off by the edge of the painting because I wanted a rose here and there to travel off the picture plane to enhance the illusion of continuance. That way, rather than a portrait of a defined group of roses, it allows the viewer to imagine they are surrounded by flowers because they don’t know exactly how many there might be.
Roses continue to fascinate me – I feel compelled to paint them! They are such a demanding subject that they consistently keep my brain and my imagination engaged.
Plus, they are just plain fun because there are so many layers of color and contrast within their translucent petals.
If you would like to view the full 4-hour tutorial video you can learn more about The Master Oil Painting Membership here:
What do you find especially challenging about painting roses? What excites you most and drives you to paint certain subjects like roses do for me?