Sunflowers #4, oil painting on panel, 8x8"

Sunflowers #4, oil painting on panel, 8×8″

It seems like I’ve been struggling with painting sunflowers forever but with each attempt I understand them a little better. I’m very stubborn and will continue trying until the sunflowers and I are really good friends.

I lit the flowers above with very warm light which made the olive-green backdrop cloth look gold and kind of bleached out the color of the flowers. The pictures in this post are in the reverse order I made them, with the last first.

Sunflower #3, ink & watercolor, 5x8"

Sunflower #3, ink & watercolor, 5×8″

I did the sketch above after having such difficulty with the two below, trying to better understand the shapes of the flowers and their structure.

Sunflowers in Vase (#2), Oil painting on canvas, 16x12"

Sunflowers in Vase (#2), Oil painting on canvas, 16×12″

After working for hours on the vase in the painting above I looked at it in the mirror to check the symmetry and couldn’t stop laughing. It was completely off kilter, slanted to one side as if it had melted. It’s just amazing how our eyes and brain work together to correct things and fool us. I had to completely start the vase over to get it close to right. I experimented with using a dark background and tried to paint duller, darker colors for flowers not in the light but vibrant color kept sneaking back in. After days of repainting I called it done so I could move on.

Sunflower #1, Oil painting on panel, 10x8"

Sunflower #1, Oil painting on panel, 10×8″

The first problem with the one above was my drawing. Instead of taking the time to carefully draw these sunflowers I jumped into painting, combining a few specifics with some generic version of flowers. All the pointy, sharp shapes and droopy flowers are a good visual representation of my struggle, frustration, and ultimately, disappointment with this painting.

I completed these pieces at the end of last year and had to give up when I couldn’t find any more sunflowers. Soon sunflowers will be available and I can start painting them again.

I have a feeling it’s going to go better this time around. I am studying nature drawing with John Muir Laws at his Bay Area Nature Journal Club. This month’s session was all about drawing flowers and I learned all sorts of cool stuff. More about that another time.

Flower Art, Ink and watercolor wash, Oil Painting, Painting, Sketchbook Pages, Still Life
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Join the conversation! 22 Comments

    • Thank you very much! I enjoy your charming artwork and kitty photos and really appreciate your taking the time to comment and leave likes so often. Jana

  1. I really like the ink & watercolour ones, but then I’m biased to that medium:)

    • It’s funny but when I was looking for paintings of sunflowers online to try to see how other artists have handled them, the only ones I really liked were watercolor. Some things just want to be painted in watercolor, not oils, and generally I think flowers are one of those things! Jana

  2. I think you have mastered sunflowers, these paintings are wonderful:)

    • You are so kind! Thank you. I haven’t, really, but I will, someday because sunflowers are still calling to me. I hopped over to visit your blog and really enjoyed seeing your sketches from Cambridge. Charming work and what a gorgeous place. I only know of it from a British TV detective series I’ve watched that’s based there. Jana

  3. Thank you for sharing your struggles. The outcome is fabulous!

    • Thank you so much! You’re so nice to leave such a kind comment–a bit of a reward for my struggles. I’m enjoying your wonderful sketches and paintings and getting to see a bit of your part of the country. Jana

  4. I think you are definitely getting the hang of this!

  5. What an interesting post. So great to see how you changed your approach with each painting. I keep scrolling up and down to view each painting, not sure if I like one more then the other as they are so different and show a different aspect of the flower. Thanks for sharing these are really lovely paintings and show a great range of techniques. Karen

    • Thanks Karen, It’s funny that I didn’t really think of them as different styles/approaches but several people commented on that and now I see that it’s true. They are such unique flowers with the big centers and rough gray-greenery so guess I kept trying different ways of seeing and understanding them. Maybe I’ll find the way they want to be painted and it will be different still. Anyway, thanks for taking time to comment and for your kind words! I hopped over to see your work and wow!!!! I love it. Your hydrangeas are amazing. I look forward to spending more time on your blog and seeing more of your work. I really like it! Jana

  6. I like them all and it really doesn’t matter that the one is off-kilter — I see it as on-kilter. I love all these manifestations of sunflowers. It’s exciting to see an artist use different mediums and I have to say I’m glad you’re still trying to “master” them. We get to see all these different views of a wondrous flower by an artist with a great eye. I liked the color notes. I’m terrible at color so it’s always good to hear why a color does or doesn’t work for you. Thanks for sharing. It’s flower season!

    • You are so kind. I really appreciate your thoughtful comments. I’m glad that my notes about the process are helpful since sometimes it takes forever for me to get around to posting things because of the time I know it will take to think them through and write them. I enjoyed hopping over to your blog and looking at some of your work, old (amazing textile art) and new. Jana

  7. You have been industrious and persistent and they are certainly hard to capture as they just aint the prettiest of flowers anyway, though they look great in a garden in front of a wall rather than in a vase.

    • Oh Wendy, you always say the most brilliant things. Maybe the sunflowers are what makes the painting unattractive, not me!:) [?] Jana

      • I didn’t mean to be harsh, but they are such show-offs it might be that you take of in imagination by having some ladybugs or ants crawling on them to keep them disciplined a bit.

  8. So, I showed your sunflower paintings to my art group yesterday and everyone was very complimentary. They could not believe how multi-talented you are and that you can work so well in more than one medium. I keep popping through the pictures to see the one I like the best. And, I couldn’t choose, because I like them all. I am also very partial to sunflowers. I often buy them to display as cut flowers in my house. Lovely work!

    • Thank you so much! It’s so fun to know that I got to (virtually) be there with your group and experience their warm regard. I love sunflowers too. There is something very special about them for me; perhaps a childhood memory now forgotten (so then I guess it’s not a memory, is it) but I definitely have more exploring to do with them. I spotted the first ones for sale yesterday and now I’m thinking about planting some tall ones for fun (and for subject matter). Thanks again! Jana

  9. I think you’re being hard on yourself. I look and see beautiful sunflower paintings. You should too. Although there’s nothing wrong with continuing to perfect your work. If I could paint half as well as you do, I would be thrilled.

    • Thank you so much Carol. I know I am hard on myself but it’s just so frustrating when I have a picture in your mind of what I want and what I get isn’t that. I guess I need to learn to appreciate that it’s OK just being what it is. Jana

  10. Hello Jana!
    My name is Roxy Rodriguez, I am a photographer in California, Orange County area! I am absolutely in LOVE with your water color sketch of the sunflowers. I would love to use it as “logo” photo on my website and blog! I understand that a lot goes into gaining permission to do so. Email me Thank you for your time! ❤ Roxy

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