Painting Iris – and a new Painting Tutorial Just for You!

painting by Flora Doehler

“I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers.”  –  Claude Monet

I just came back from a painting journey to Brier Island. The ocean and meadows were fabulous to experience.. and to paint. Still I couldn’t wait to come home to enjoy the rest of the iris and lupin season. Continue reading

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Acrylic Painting Tutorial – Iris

Right now, I’m headed outside to paint iris and lupins. Here is a repost of a blog I made in 2010 about painting at this time of year. I will try today to express the emotional connection I feel for iris as I did in this painting.

irispainting2010There were gorgeous, large bearded irises in my grandmother’s garden over 50 years ago. My mother transplanted some to her garden and eventually I had them in my garden. They moved ½ way across the continent with us when we came to Nova Scotia and are blooming like never before.

Bearded Iris from my grandmother.

I know my mom and my grandmother would have loved the yellow variety that I’ve added to the ancestral iris. And I know they would have loved the wild purple, pink and white lupins that grow like weeds here and especially at our place.

Lupins ring our land and the colour is often deep purple.

I want to show you how I painted and drew these flowers using fluid acrylics over a base of wet matt medium and I’ve made a tutorial for you about this. Enjoy!

I paint from life and in early June, the lupins and iris are in bloom here in Nova Scotia. I brought some into the studio and placed them in wine bottles so that I could have good close-up examples of the lupin in the distance.  Although I prefer to paint on location, at this time of year the black flies are biting, so I paint inside.

There are lupins growing in the distance.

I started this painting applying watered-down acrylic on a primed canvas. I wanted to achieve a soft, wet in wet watercolour effect.

When that dried, I applied a thick coating of matt medium over the entire canvas and then painted into it with my fluid acrylic paints. I keep them in sealed plastic containers in a muffin tin. That way they are always ready to use.

I try to limit my palette to five colours or fewer because it creates a better colour harmony in the painting. I paint with nylon brushes and I also use a rubber-tipped scraper to draw shapes into the painting.

I dip the scraper into my paint and draw with it much like dipping a pen into ink. I like the calligraphy effects that I can get by pushing the paint away and creating a line and a texture.

If the medium gets too tacky, I moisten it with a spray of water. The water also makes the paint run which adds an interesting softening effect to the work.

Golden fluid acrylics are transparent and have a high level of pigment.

As long as the medium is moist, the painting can be worked on and the scraping will reveal the colours underneath.

I love iris and I deliberately choose purple and yellow because they are complementary colours and they make the painting vibrate.

Although I have an easel, I painted this on the floor because otherwise the entire painting would drip and run if I placed it upright. That’s because I have a coating of wet matt medium on the canvas and that is the tip or secret that I am sharing with you.

Painting on the floor.

I came across this quite by accident and now I almost always paint with acrylic this way. For one, it delays the drying period, which I like; but the biggest advantage is that I can create all kinds of textures and linear marks in the painting by pushing away the colour with a scraping tool and revealing the layer of colour or canvas underneath.

I bought a gorgeous yellow iris at a plant sale this spring and I wanted to make it the focal point in this painting. Unfortunately, by the time I painted this, it had finished blooming, but I used my huge purple bearded iris as reference. That’s the beauty of being the painter. You can change the colours of anything in your painting to suit your mood!

Airing out the painting. (sold)

Check list for this painting:

Golden fluid acrylics

Rubber tipped scraper

Matt medium

Spray water bottle

Ancestral flowers

Painting detail. The purple bearded Ontario iris transforms into a yellow Nova Scotian flower.

Could This be my Favorite Painting?

You like what you like. There is no scientific formula that tells us why a person is drawn to a piece of art. But when I finished painting this cyclamen while a snowstorm raged outside the studio, I liked it so much that it became my favorite — almost replacing the previous two favorites. 🙂

Cyclamen Acrylic Painting ©Flora Doehler, 2014 10" x 10" $250
Cyclamen
Acrylic Painting ©Flora Doehler, 2014
10″ x 10″
$250

I like the contrast, the composition, the texture and the colours.

But more importantly, the real fun is in making the painting because there is a mystery in the process.  I make the decisions about colour and method and technique, but as soon as I pick up the brush, the painting takes on a life of its own and evolves and shows me where to go next. Every painting is like solving a puzzle and it is embarking on an adventure.

It helped this week that snow swirled out the studio window while crows dug into the compost for any scraps they could find , (including eggshells). It made the studio time even sweeter with soothing music and coffee and a crackling wood stove.

crows in the snow

How I approached this painting

I started by flooding the canvas with gel medium. It’s like spreading a clear custard. While the medium is still wet, I brushed in the shapes of the cyclamen flowers with white acrylic paint.

cyclamen1

Then I got out my Liquitex inks that are intensely pigmented and transparent. I squirted out the ink into strategic areas of the wet canvas and gently brushed it into the gel.

cyclamen2

Next, I drew the flowers and various other marks and lines on the canvas with my rubber tipped colour-shaper.

cyclamen3

You can see that the gel is still wet which is a great advantage to me because it will display the brush strokes and textures.

cyclamen5

I added some texture by ‘lifting’ some of the ink with bubble wrap and a scraper.

cyclamen6

I continued adding detail. I let the painting dry.

P1390381

The following day I added some gentle blue tones to the flowers to give them more dimension.

Cyclamen Acrylic Painting ©Flora Doehler, 2014 10" x 10" $250
Cyclamen
Acrylic Painting ©Flora Doehler, 2014
10″ x 10″
$250

This painting is for sale. Please contact me if you would like to purchase it. flora.doehler@gmail.com

Painting Wild Asters

This last month my morning walk through the village and lanes is dotted with clumps of asters growing in the ditches. They are shades of lilac, purple and a few rare deep fuchsia blooms.With their happy yellow centers, they seem to burst out all over our field beyond the studio. I don’t remember seeing as many of them other years and I’m not sure what was different about our weather this year to encourage them.

Asters have been with us for thousands of years.
Asters have been with us for thousands of years.

I picked a big bouquet of these wild flowers and brought them into the studio to paint.

This vase was made for these asters.
This vase was made for these asters.

I started with a rough sketch of the flowers using a thick acrylic marker.

Some yellow will peek through my finished painting.
Some yellow will peek through my finished painting.

I am intrigued with the effects of clear acrylic mediums and paint on canvas. Some painters like to mix acrylic paint or inks into medium to create a transparency. I like to cover my canvas with medium and then paint into the wet surface and I usually use a thin matt medium to do this. But often that medium dries too fast. So, I’ve been using gel medium more and more which is thicker and takes longer to dry.It also lets the paint lie on top of the gel…but you must gently drag the paint brush across the canvas and try to just touch the surface once! Go in with confidence!

Drawing into the wet gel medium and paint with a rubber tipped tool.
Drawing into the wet gel medium and paint with a rubber tipped tool.

The thick gel has the added bonus of showing every brushstoke which is apparent in this painting.

painting detail
painting detail

Next, I painted in a yellow background. I liked the colour harmony of the yellow with the blues and violets.

Yellow background added
Almost finished.

At this point I felt that I needed to ground the painting so I added a subtle horizon line and slightly darkened the space underneath the line.

I haven’t used this much white paint for a very long time, and I like the results. It really illustrates the airiness and delicate nature of the wild asters that I’ve been enjoying for weeks.

Acrylic painting by Flora Doehler, 2013 The china plate at the top is from my sister in England. The one on the bottom was left behind in this house when we bought it. I treasure them both and don't they go well with this painting.
Acrylic painting by Flora Doehler, 2013
The china plate at the top is a gift from my sister, Ellen, in England. The one on the bottom was left behind in this house when we bought it. I treasure them both and don’t they look perfect with this painting!

For now, this painting is available at my studio. Let me know if you are interested in purchasing it. I ship worldwide.

Wild Asters Painting by Flora Doehler 2013 18" x 24" $750
Wild Asters
Painting by Flora Doehler
2013
18″ x 24″
$750

Update June 30, 2014
I decided the painting needed more depth so I applied a thin coat of transparent acrylic ink to parts of the painting to give it some depth and definition.

DSCN3318

Evolution of a Painting

Painting in the studio.
Starting a painting.

I like to paint from life, which means painting on location or with the thing that’s being painted actually present.  Painting from photos just isn’t nearly as satisfying for me because I can’t get as close to my subject as I would like to. You see, not only do I like what happens when paint goes on a surface – the explosion of color and movement of the brush over the canvas or paper and the mixing of colors, I very much enjoy looking at my subject and really, meditating on it.

This Peony is stunning and so is the shadow. The scent is also out-of-this-world!
This Peony is stunning and so is the shadow. The scent is also out-of-this-world!

If I’m outside I can listen to the sounds around me of birds singing or the sound of the wind rustling leaves or grasses blowing in the wind.  I enjoy the smell of the air and the fragrances of the earth and plants.

These 12 tall hollyhocks were so inspiring and called out to be painted.
These 12′ tall hollyhocks were so inspiring and called out to be painted.

I like to watch shadows flit across a field when clouds move across the sun. I enjoy the many shades of green in the landscape. Painting becomes a truly sensual experience.

The painting is 3 feet high and was started on location and finished in the studio.
The painting is 3 feet high and was started on location and finished in the studio.

If I can’t go outside because of cold weather or rain, I can still set up a still life and paint indoors. In that case I am often examining flowers close-up and checking out the petals and the shapes of the blooms. When I lived in the city it was possible to buy fresh flowers, even in the winter, for a very low price.  Unfortunately, that is no longer the case for me here in Bear River.  Fresh flowers are very expensive and the choices are quite limited.

Last summer I had a flower subscription with Cheryl Stone of Bear River Blooms.  Every week Cheryl would deliver a fabulous bouquet to the studio complete with vase. Cheryl grows the flowers herself and will cut for you a totally custom-made bouquet.

Flowers by Bear River Blooms
Flowers by Bear River Blooms

Cheryl would call me in advance to find out what my colour choices were and ask what type of flower I preferred. Talk about being pampered! I wasn’t able to paint all the beautiful bouquets she delivered but I did take photos and now I am printing some of them out to use as inspiration for my new paintings.  It’s certainly not like working from the original bouquet but because I staged the photos in the first place with a painterly composition in mind, it’s the next best thing.

This photo of mine has inspired me to paint.
This was one of my favorite bouquets last summer.

 I love peonies, in part, because they remind me of my dear mother and my grandmother – two wonderful, clever and witty women who passed on their love of flowers and of gardening to me. What I also like about this photo are the colours. The contrast of the lime green in the lupines with the dark pink of the peony are very appealing. Red and green are complementary colors which I like to use in my paintings.  I decided to use that pale lime green as the ground or the background for the canvas.

Here is a video of my first approach to painting this bouquet. It morphed quite a bit until I felt OK with the results.

When I work on a new painting, I do so as long as it gives me pleasure.  If I start feeling like I don’t know where to go next or I feel a sense of frustration, I stop.  It is possible to look at the same piece of work on different days and feel different levels of satisfaction with it.  Sometimes the only way to know the next step with a painting is to put it away and to work on something else.

This week I returned to the painting and was so excited about working on it, that I thought of different ways to express “peony” and started 2 more paintings!

I’m very happy with the painting. I like the textures and the colours and the feel of it. However, the real thrill was in the making of it and now that it’s over, I can’t wait to move on to the next.

Last Summer. 30 x 36, acrylic.
Last Summer”. 30″ x 36″, acrylic (sold)

This painting, inspired by Cheryl’s flowers has inspired more paintings from me. And inspired is a wonderful state to be in.

Painting detail.
Painting detail.

Inspiration. Where does it come from?

Creative inspiration.

Where does it come from and where does it go to? Like all eternal questions the answers vary from person to person and the reasons are complex.

There are several ‘givens’ for me. My feelings have to kick in. I have to feel an inkling of an inner joy or excitement about looking at the object that I want to paint. I like to be well-rested so that I can focus on the task at hand. I feel especially inspired by nature, by colour, by visual things around me. Sometimes I am amazed by the sight of a flower grouping or a landscape or a cloud formation or even a colour and I want to stop everything and pull out the paints. I like to play music that accompanies my mood and my approach to the canvas.
Cloud in Bear River East
Sometimes a life event will trigger the painting. My painting Exuberance that sold recently at the Flight of Fancy in Bear River may look like a flower painting, but it was really a celebration of a breakthrough in my painting style.


After painting exclusively with watercolours for years, I had discovered fluid acrylics and found them to be a logical extension of wet-in-wet watercolours. Fluid acrylics have both the translucency and brilliance of watercolours with the advantage of the flexibility of acrylic. I was so excited about this and I think that energy came through in the painting.

Recently I’ve been getting my inspiration from beautiful Bear River Blooms on Sissaboo Road. This flower growing farm is worked by the caring hands of Cheryl Stone. Her bouquets are loaded with blooms, they are fresh, cheerful, colourful and the ones I’ve been getting from her have a country-cottage feel to them. How could I not be inspired

I drew inspiration from a bouquet to develop my current painting.

For me, the painting process starts out as an exercise in getting to know the subject matter. I focus on the object so intensely that I don’t want to talk to anyone or to be interrupted. (My wonderful studio-mate and life-mate Larry is very respectful of this).

Next, I choose the colours that I will use. My objective is to narrow it down to 3 to 6 colours. It’s a tough discipline, but it means there will be more harmony in the painting.

I changed the colours of the blooms as I was in an “orange” mood. 

The flowers emerge out of darkness and for me, this painting is about the joy I feel in finally being set up in a fabulous studio and having the chance to play with colour.
Into the Light  (sold)

It is interesting to me how much more I get out of the flowers knowing they were lovingly grown by someone I know. If you get a chance to go to the Annapolis Farmer’s Market, stop by Cheryl’s booth and buy some old-fashioned blooms that last forever.

Some of the music I listened to was Jane Ira Blooms’ Chasing Pollack. It’s quite jazzy and loose. You can sample it here.

I also listened to the Peat Bog Fairies and you can hear them in the background of this little video of me painting. They live on the Isle of Skye in Scotland, an extremely inspiring place if there ever was one!

The pasty looking gunk on the canvas is matt medium. It allows me to move the paint by scratching it and scraping it. It also dries clear. You can also see which colours I used for this piece.