Saturday, 14 September 2019

Painting Rich Colour, Texture and Detail: Rudbeckia

This week I painted the second in a series of four illustrations, a Rudbeckia inflorescence, a cultivar called "Summerina Brown", which has dark golden brown velvety 'petals' (ray florets). This type of colour and texture can be challenging and in order to achieve such a finish it's necessary to understand two things. Firstly, the importance of underlying and interacting colours and secondly the necessary of different watercolour techniques to maintain underlying colours and build texture. Here is a little about my process.

These flowers are incredibly obliging for the painter, they flower for months and last a long time once cut, towards the end of summer they start to yellow producing amazing autumnal colours. I began by lighting the plant to make the most of its colour, using a 5,500 k daylight lamp with a CRI (colour render index) of over 90. I wanted to bring out the full range of colours and the velvety texture, without good lighting this isn't possible, is I played with the light until I created the desired look but kept in mind the true colour of the flower at all times. I took many reference photographs in case the flower wilted, but it didn't! 

The flower: I used a few different flowers for reference, this one had a slightly gnarled centre, so I used one with a fresher looking centre. I lit the flower dramatically to bring out the golden colour and to make more of the highlights which had a contrasting violet appearance in places, these contrasting colours work to enhance each other. 
I made sketches and notes about the plant and other Rudbeckias in my garden. It's a member of Asteraceae, which have an inflorescence comprising a central disc of tiny flowers, surrounded by the petal like ray florets. In this Rudbeckia the stem is ridged and hairy, leaves are simple and hairy on both sides. I also made sketches of other Rudbeckia from the garden as seen below, but this Summerina Brown is my favourite and I loved the way the petals twist and turn, it makes a much more interesting composition than the one below, which is nice but quite stiff.

Sketchbook studies: A different Rudbeckia, gorgeous colours but not such an appealing shape.
Colour matching is the first task and I do this in good natural daylight. I identify any underlying colours, there are violets and golden yellows. and dark red/browns in the ray florets.
I begin by painting in the underlying colours in the petals, I identify rich violets mixed from Indanthrene Blue and Quinacridone Magenta and also a warmer mix of Indanthrene Blue and Permanent Carmine (mostly carmine). I also drop in a few small highlights of a lighter Manganese Blue which makes the violet pop.

Putting in the underlying colours also creates form and structure in the early stages of the painting

As a slight aside, I can't miss out the central disc structure. I plotted this by lightly drawing in the two spirals, one is clockwise and the other counterclockwise, you can probably see below that one spiral is not as steep as the other. This is actually easier than it looks if you sketch the spirals in and then paint around the little flowers, towards the centre of the disk they disappear into a furry type of appearance.  I paint the spirals in first but not as straight lines but painting around the little bumps of the flower and add a the violet wash over the top, varying the colour slightly from a blue violet to a red violet by altering the ratio of blue and red. I leave the yellow pollen areas clear of paint and add yellow later. Finally. I deepen between the flowers where necessary using creamier darker mixes, which are almost black using the same colours as the painting develops, the colours are Indanthrene Blue, Permanent Carmine and a touch of Transparent Yellow.

This is a typical composite Inflorescence. Here you can see the two spirals in the central disk, which comprises many tiny flowers, the yellow is the pollen from the open flowers at the outer edge. Flower opening is sequential and this maximises a chance of pollination over a long period. Each tiny flower can develop into a single seed if successfully pollinated. 
After painting in the underlying violet colours I start to add selective areas of the golden colour, I do this by dampening the area where I want this colour to shine through and apply by dropping a condensed creamy mix of Transparent Yellow mixed with a touch of Scarlet Lake into the brighter areas. It's important to control the intensity and spread, so dampening the area with the right amount of water is important.
I also start to add the darker reds, using a combination of 3 reds. The reds in this flower vary from cooler to warmer mixes depending on the light. The three reds used in this painting are Quinacridone Magenta (cool), Scarlet Lake (the brightest 'hot' red) and Permanent Carmine (darker warm red). I also mix very rich dark purples for the deepest shadow areas using the Carmine and Indanthrene.

Adding the bright colours, yellows and reds.
At this stage, I begin to build the petal colour and texture. Using transparent yellow, scarlet lake and Permanent Carmine in different ratios of mixes, I continue to build colour by what I refer to as 'selective application' wetting/dampening small areas with clean water  and dropping in colour. In fact I seldom add a wash of any one colour all over any subject and use this selective approach all of the the time, its more like a 'patchwork' painting.

building up the petal veins with soft veins 

As I build colour less and less water is used, ironically water can be the enemy of the watercolour botanical artist, too much in a flower like this will spread and dilute colour, it can also flatten the intensity of the colour and smother the underlying colours that we want to preserve,  making them dirty (not to mention the problem of ragged and hard edges) - too little water makes unsightly thick paint, so I find dampening the the most useful approach.
There are deep ridges and soft veins in the ray florets/ 'petals' and I dampen the area and paint these using a fairly thick mix of paint onto a pre dampened area so that lines are soft. To define edges I wet the outer edge where the hard line is needed and drop creamy paint at the edge and soften inwards. I use dry (damp brush is probably a better description) on a slightly dampened surface to create the velvety surface texture.  There is much selective layering and building of colour, some needs to be overlaid and other areas preserved - at this stage I find that I have to be brave and keep going! adding small amounts of reds, violets and brown using these techniques but still using the same colours by dampening and dry approach interchangeably to control the colour. At this stage I must keep a close eye on the light and shade in the flower to see the bumps and crevices in the 'petals' and elsewhere. I try not to make assumptions and keep looking at the subject for clues.  I find consistent lighting from a lamp and squinting helps me to see the lights and darks yet I always use a magnifier to see and paint the detail.

Bring up to this stage using the red/brown mixes for the colour building. I use dry on damp and dry on dry depending on the desired outcome, dry on damp is great for those soft veins. A wetter surface is needed for creating a sharp edges and dry on dry can create more texture.

I add the stem and this looks almost finished but I continue to add more colour as the actual flower is richer. Definition is still needed in the center and edges.  
 I add the green stem and a single leaf, for this mix I use underlying blue on the light side of the stem (Manganese Blue) and underlying violet at the shade areas (Manganese Blue and Quinacridone Magenta) these subtle colours are hardly visible but do make a difference. I use a mix of Indanthrene blue, transparent yellow and a touch of quinacridone magenta for the green mix (yes the same colours as used elsewhere) I paint in the darker ridges and than add a yellow biased green mix first, followed by a richer darker green (more blue and red in the mix) - using the same colours in the flower and the greens creates more 'unity in a painting. I never find the need to use ready made greens, some greens contain black and other pigments that flatten the colour especially when mixed. Don't get me wrong some ready mixed greens are probably ok but I never find the need for them.
Finally, I add the fine hairs at the edge that are on the white paper using a mix of manganese blue, quinacridone magenta and transparent yellow to mix a grey, where the pale hairs are on the green, I use some white gouache and add a small amount of the same colour. I also paint a small shadow line under some of the hairs using a violet mix. At this point I put the panting away for a day and then review.

Rudbeckia watercolour size 28 x 18 cm The finished painting, slightly deeper colour  added all over.

Paints, Windsor & Newton artist quality: 
Reds: Quinacridone Magenta, Scarlet Lake and Permanent Carmine
Yellows: Transparent Yellow 
Blues: Manganese Blue and Indanthrene Blue 

Winsor and Newton series 7 Miniature size 4 and 2 

Saunders Waterford  140lb (300gsm) HP  High white 

I've been using this paper for all my tutorials and paintings over the last few months and find that it's pretty robust. so for the moment will stick with it.  I seldom need a heavier paper as I don't use much water, I only use heavier paper if working on large paintings, such a a full imperial sheet size. 


  1. Lovely. Thank you for sharing.
    Kathy Crocker

  2. Lovely! Your posts are so thoroughly demonstrated! Beautiful results, too.

  3. A beautiful painting, Dianne. Very dramatic! Thanks so much for sharing the colour combinations along with information on the damp vs wet paper. You do wonderful descriptions of the steps in your painting process.