Exercise: Still life with flowers


Wild roses in a jug, with lemons (acrylics)

I chose small, vibrantly coloured roses from the garden with a simple arrangement of petals, a bit like wild briar roses. The colours were orange with yellow, pink with yellow and a very bright pink. I decided to team them up with some lemons to reflect the yellow  and popped them into a small white jug which in my painting is tinged with pink. I was trying to work with a Matisse like colour palette and a kind of fleshy pink is used in many of his paintings and it appears to act as a balance to the more vibrant colours.

I set out to paint a simple, uncomplicated still life and let the colour do the talking. This is definitely easier said than done and  to my mind, this painting has a catalogue of faults. I worked and reworked the background and table top colours (and also cropped a little) but at no stage did I feel truly satisfied. I photographed each stage so it is interesting to look back at the sequence.

Stage 1

Stage 1 – simple blocks of colour

Stage 2

Stage 2 – detail – background

Stage 3

Stage 3 – too fussy

Stage 4

Stage 4 background


Stage 5 background

Stage 6

Stage 6 sanded

Final with wash of white

Final with wash of white

8-lemons-cropI feel this painting was at its best in stage one with the colour just blocked in. Once again I am guilty of having overworked my painting, particularly the flowers. On a more positive note, I have a liking for the lemons so perhaps I could crop these out and hang them as a mini painting on my wall as a reminder to keep things simple!

Final painting – what works

  • I’m reasonably happy with the uplifting colour palette which has some echoes of Matisse albeit without the subtlety.
  • Breaking up the blocks of background colour by sanding to create texture and then adding a translucent wash of white with a little lemon here and there helped to add interest. The multiple layers of background colour turned to advantage when sanding as it enabled the colour under to peep through.
  • The final close crop seems to have improved the overall composition. The jug  was placed a little too far to the right and cropping so that the top of the flowers is closer to the top edge seems to create a better overall balance.

What doesn’t work so well?

  • The vase of flowers was actually quite small so the lemons appear over large and this was exaggerated  further by the fact that the lemon at the back was larger than the one in front.
  • The flowers were difficult to arrange in a pleasing way and the arrangement was a bit flat at the top. I added some leaves to compensate but in the end cropped most of these out. Next time I paint flowers I will arrange just one well behaved flower … and then of course I’ll have to think about what to do with the rest of the canvas!
  • The end result is a bit too sweet and chocolate boxy for my liking… maybe I should weeds and thistles!
  • I should have done more preliminary work to explore composition, light and shade and colour… it might have resolved many of the issues that I stumbled over, particularly in terms of background colour and composition.

Preliminary work


Sketchbook – watercolour


Sketch – drawing pen

There were some complex shadows of the jug’s handle but I decided these were too fussy and kept the shadow very simple.


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