Reimagining the Garden – Painting with Ink

Usually, I paint from life. It is a thrill to study the subject in all its aliveness and life energy. But this time as I was looking for a scrap of drawing paper, I pulled open a drawer and my eyes landed on a sweet little crayon and watercolour sketch that I’d made a few years ago of Bee Balm in July.

I really liked the composition of it – that off-centred bloom and the undefined green in the background.

But can I translate it into an ink painting?

Yes and no. Continue reading

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. 🙂

Acrylic Painting ©Flora Doehler, 2014
10″ x 10″

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.

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

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

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.

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

I continued adding detail. I let the painting dry.


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
Acrylic Painting ©Flora Doehler, 2014
10″ x 10″

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
18″ x 24″

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.