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.

Painting the Historic Gardens in Annapolis Royal

In the Begonia Garden by Flora Doehler, 2010. 8″ x 8″

This past weekend I joined over 70 artists to Paint the Town’ in Annapolis Royal. This annual fundraiser for the local Arts Council is a great opportunity for artists to show and sell their work and for collectors to watch artists at work and to buy art at reasonable prices.

The Annapolis Region Community Arts Council (ARCAC) has sponsored the event for years and the weekend runs like a well-oiled machine. Artists arrive from all over Nova Scotia…over 7o painters this year. The artists set up all over town.
Plein Air Painting kit
If you are curious about the contents of my painting kit, click on the photo and read the notes at Flickr.
Volunteer ‘runners’ circulate and pick up the finished pieces in pizza boxes and take them back to the gallery at the Legion where they hang for sale all day with a ‘gallery’ price determined by the artist. At 5 o’clock the unsold work is auctioned by silent auction. The Arts Council gets 50% of the amount and thousands of dollars are raised this way every year.


The Artist entry fee is $12.


I was thrilled to be able to set up my paints at the Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens. This park is an oasis of flower garden beds organized around the centuries of the town.
The first morning I scouted around the park with its ancient trees.
I set up in a great spot with dappled light under towering trees. The begonias were a riot of colour and were nicely contrasted by blue salvia flowers. I pulled out all my gear and promptly dropped my piece of German Plum Cake upside-down on the grass. Not to be discouraged, I brushed it off and enjoyed it with my coffee while I studied the flowers and thought about my painterly approach to them. Meanwhile birds hopped around and sang and it was wonderful to be there.


Surrounded by happy flowers.

Wonderful until I realized that I’d forgotten to bring containers for my paint water!! I finished my treat and headed for the recyling bin where I found plastic juice containers! My sharp knife soon transformed them into water jars and it was smooth sailing after that.

Here are the works I painted in the Begonia garden on Saturday. (Click on the images to enlarge them.)
The next day, Sunday,  I spent the early morning in the Victorian Garden while there was still some shade to work in.
The colours were vivid and the zinnias were taller than me. At one point a butterfly was brought out and released to much fanfare.


This was my largest painting. I used up all my matt medium on it.

My Sunday problem was that I ran out of matt medium! It’s an essential part of my kit because I use it to get the scratching-in effect in my paintings. I searched out other artists in the park and was given some by artist Shannon Bell and when that ran out, a bottle of the stuff from Louise Baker, an artist with a love of colour who lives in Halifax. Thank you Louise and Shannon!!!

Here are the paintings I did in the Victorian Garden until the sun drove me away. (Click on the images to enlarge them.)

After the heat of the flowers and the sun, I decided to seek out a cool, shady, quiet spot. I found this at the Lily pad pond.
The mosquitos thought it was a pretty nice spot too, in spite of my liberal spraying of citronella. In fact a couple wandered by while I was painting and asked me if I could tell them which flower was giving off that scent. I told them that I was the flower and we had a good laugh over that.


The challenge here was to edit the elements down to make sense of the scene in a painting.

They were visiting from Montreal and I told them about the silent auction. They later lost out on the bids for 2 of my pieces, but found their way to our studio the next day where they bought 2 paintings that I had been working on in my garden. Here is one of them:

Nicotiana in garden chez moi.


It was truly wonderful to connect with some of the people who bought my works. Over half of the purchasers and bidders had watched me paint in the park. They connected with my interpretation and they also connected with the setting. I think it was nice for them to see the process (well, not the dropped plum cake part). Oh, did I mention that all 12 paintings and sketches that I did over the weekend sold? It’s three days later and I’m still flying high about it.
These were my paintings at the lily pond. (Click on the images to enlarge).
At the end of the day I sketched the scene for myself with marker and brush on damp paper. A charming woman from New York walked by to admire it. She thought it would make a gorgeous wallpaper. I told her that it was my souvenir of the weekend and she suggested that I offer it at the silent auction so that she could bid on it.
Well I did and it sold for $50. Here it is for you to see:


The Pond sketch on 9″ x 12″ watercolour paper. ( The paper is actually white)
Acrylic paint brushed into damp paper.

It was an exciting weekend on many levels – wonderful to meet painters, wonderful to have such a positive response to my work, wonderful to create in such an inspiring setting. And, wonderful to earn some money too which was just as well because our house water situation was failing while I painted.

See you next year at Paint the Town!

photo courtesy of Trish Fry, Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens.