Many Decisions

Today some of my former students returned for a"brush up skills" morning class. I was happy to talk and demo any subject they chose but it was left to me to frame the morning session.
I bought a few stems of sunflowers over the weekend knowing they would be a fantastic subject.
They provided the opportunity to reinforce mixing greens, finding shades of yellow, use a variety of texture and colour for those fabulous interesting centres sunflowers have.
The session was all about creating a work that required each choosing their own composition, either painting what they saw in the vase( though I encouraged them to think beyond what they saw), choose some blooms, use the reference photos and the real flowers as their starting point but think beyond what they saw and I wanted to emphasise how important it was to make all the important decisions about your painting before you you apply that first brush stroke on that clean piece of paper.

1.Colour selection first by mixing swatches. Many students only had two yellows, two blues and burnt sienna so I showed them how much variety they could still achieve for their yellows and greens

2.Think of your composition, will it be portrait, landscape or square forma. What shall I use from what I am seeing.

3. Use a yellow watercolour pencil if doing any drawing. This is good when painting yellow as graphite does not cover with yellow paint or it makes yellow murky. Not such a problem for tough sunflowers but would not be good for delicate blooms.

4. Paint the painting as a whole not concentrate on one area too much but build up colour around the whole painting.

The most asked question in any class I have given is do I paint the subject or the background first?
It is best to work back and forth between the subject and the background but I must admit I sometimes do work the background a fair bit before starting on the subject.
If I know I can paint a subject easily but I am making the background up I will do the background first and if I like it I will paint the subject. If you paint the subject first and its beautiful but you don't know what to do with the rest of the painting there is a fright factor of what if I ruin it?.
After many paintings you find what works best for you and with experience you do whatever feels right that day.

I did not have time during class to paint a new work beside the demo studies but I took a sunflower work from a year or so back and  tweaked it.
There is still more decision making after the paint is dry and that is whether to keep it as is or to crop for a stronger work either because of a part you don't like or to change up the dynamics.

Reference material and colour studies

Sun Tough
Original size 56cm x 43cm

Cropped Version 1

Cropped Version 2


  1. Dear Lorraine - wonderful the way you shared your thought process before painting. I agree with you about painting the background sometimes first. Always a difficult decision for me. Your sunflowers are lovely.

  2. Lorraine, so right about the decisions we always have in a painting...before and after starting. You're inspiring me to buy some sunflowers!

  3. Many thanks for your energy and inspiration Lorraine!!

  4. Lorraine, one of my favorite flowers to paint. And yours are beautiful...
    Sunflowers are such a happy , bright flower and I was lucky enough to see a commercial field of them being grown a few weeks ago near Panama City, FL

  5. Love the sunflowers! Very eye-catching.


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