Yesterday you saw my sad, over-grown dahlia. I didn’t show you the rather droopy rose I’d drawn the previous day. I stopped short of ruining it entirely, but it was at about this point that my “art funk” began settling in around me.
Yes, it’s supposed to be a rose, but I wasn’t very happy with it, other than the background, I did like the green and gold touches I added with watercolor. The drawing itself was done with oil pastels. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I’ve used oil pastels in the past, but it’s not a medium I’m really familiar with.
I’ve been thinking a lot about flowers. Our mailbox has recently been filled with gardening catalogs, and I’ve loved looking at the illustrations of all the beautiful annuals, perennials, ground covers, and ornamental trees available. Now that my husband has retired, he’s spending more time on projects around the house, and that includes re-doing all the landscaping. If our weather would ever warm up, maybe we could make a real start on it! We had a heavy freeze here again last night. So, for now, all I can do is look at gardening catalogs.
Of course, I can also try drawing and painting flowers, right? Maybe you remember the drawing project I did a few weeks ago where I drew the same vase of tulips using various media. That was a fun project, and that’s when I first got my oil pastels out again. Earlier, I’d done a vase of hyacinth in watercolor, as well as a few sunflowers, also in watercolor.
I do like drawing flowers, not with botanical accuracy, but in a looser, more stylized way. Not that I’ve ever been very good at it. I do want to think that I’m getting better. You wouldn’t know it though from the looks of my sad, overgrown dahlia or my droopy, misshapen rose.
Along with all those gardening and nursery plant catalogs, my interest in drawing florals has been sparked by artist Joy Ting. She was one of the presenters during the recent Sketchbook Revival 2022 program. Her video tutorial — Mixed Media Floral Studies — is still available online, but only through April 18, so if you’d like to see it, do it soon, before it’s gone.
Joy also offers a lot of classes and workshops through her website, as well as through Creative Bug. She is the instructor for Color Play: A Daily Practice Using Oil Pastels and Colored Pencils. The subject for the class is — wait for it — FLOWERS!
So, between my own interest in learning to draw flowers, Joy’s Sketchbook Revival workshop, and the Creative Bug class, I’ve been drawing, painting, and doodling flowers everywhere. I’ve learned one very important thing from Joy’s teaching — you don’t have to be a botanical artist to create lovely floral studies.
Botanical art is beautiful, and if you have the time, talent, and patience for it — and if that’s what you want to do — I say “go for it.” I learned quickly that I’ll never be a botanical artist and I wouldn’t want to be. I don’t want to fuss over every little detail of a leaf, a stamen, or a petal. I just want the ability to successfully draw or paint a vase of flowers, or a field of flowers, or maybe a single bloom. Flowers are beautiful; flowers are colorful. Who doesn’t love flowers?
But drawing an elaborate bouquet of blooms can be an overwhelming challenge, especially for artists like me who are still developing basic skills. I recall sitting at art club meetings, staring at a gorgeous bouquet — the subject for our still life drawing — and not having the slightest idea of where or how to even begin. I felt that same way when I looked at our Sketchbook Revival reference photo for Joy Ting’s demonstration.
“I can’t draw that!” No way. Thankfully, I didn’t have to draw this bouquet — not all of it, any way. Joy showed us how to take a reference like this and break it down into a more “do-able” format. If you were to divide this photo into four sections, for example, you can use any one of those sections to create a beautiful floral study.
Earlier that week, I’d played around with making a few watercolor backgrounds for loose watercolor paintings. I grabbed one for this project and happily sketched only one section of this bouquet.
Maybe it would have been better on a plain white background, and maybe my color choices could have been better, but as far as the overall drawing process — done with an ink pen — I like the arrangement of these flowers.
Since then, I’ve gone on to create a number of other floral studies. I’m not good with using oil pastels, but I am learning more about them. I think my techniques are starting to improve a bit.
I really did like this very quick “contour sketch” — mostly because I love the color palette I used.
Another fun little tip from Joy Ting is making your own floral bouquet even when you don’t have fresh flowers. Simply cut them from magazines or catalogs. You can then arrange and re-arrange them however you like!
That little tip was the inspiration for these two floral studies. The assignment was to use a toned background, so these were done on a yellow-beige paper. The initial drawings were made with colored pencils, and oil pastels were then used to provide color details.
One additional study I’ve done is this one:
This one looks especially messy, I know. Oil pastels, you see, can get a bit messy indeed. Little “flakes” or “shavings” gather at the edges as you work with them, and those bits of pigment can leave marks. That’s what happened to this page. Those little pigment marks were there on the page even before I began this quick study.
And one more, this one done in oil pastels on black construction paper, with a few added “doodle marks” in the background.
While doing these various drawings, I found myself quite interested in learning how to really use oil pastels. I remember when I first tried them back in early 2016. I searched online for information then, but at the time there didn’t seem to be much helpful advice. This is one reason why I set my oil pastels aside. Now, I’d like to learn how to use them properly, and this time around, I am finding more about them. Tomorrow I’ll be sharing some of that information.
Another thing I’ve learned from these floral studies is how important it is to have the right materials. There are two parts to that, I think.
First, plain and simple, yes, we’ll get better results with better quality materials. I’ve clung to my “inexpensive” materials for a long time, and I still think those lower-quality art supplies do have a place in the studio. More and more, though, I’m seeing for myself that there really is a difference when we work with better-quality materials.
Second, regardless of quality, there are some materials we like better than others. For whatever reason, we prefer one brand over another, or one size, or one style. We feel comfortable when we work with “our” preferred materials, and as a result, I think we turn out better artwork.
Both of these considerations have come into play as I’ve made these various floral studies. At first, I was drawing with very inexpensive colored pencils from a children’s set. Yes, yes, of course I have “artist-quality” colored pencils. That’s what got me started on this art journey in the first place! But both my Prismacolor Premiers and my Polychromos were put away on a shelf in the supply closet. While doing these little daily floral exercises it was easier to just reach for the “kiddie pencils” I keep out for the grandsons.
Now, however, I’m using the Polychromos. They are oil-based colored pencils, and I felt those would work well with oil pastels. And for the oil pastels, I have two sets. One is the Cray-Pas Expressionist set by Sakura, and one is a set by Daler-Rowney. It is their “Simply” brand set. These are not expensive, high-quality oil pastels, and yet — for some reason — I prefer them over the Expressionist.
There are other oil pastel brands out there, and now that I’m beginning to learn to use them, I want to check them out. As with any other type of art material, there are variations — not all oil pastel sticks are created equal. They range from very inexpensive student grade to very pricey artist-quality sticks. With oil pastels, the biggest differences seem to be size and consistency. Some oil pastel sticks are small and slender. I think that’s why I like those Daler-Rowney sticks so well. They fit my small hands, so it’s easier for me to use them. Others are thicker and chunkier. Some have a “creamier” consistency which is good if you’ll be doing a lot of blending. Those with a harder consistency are better for line drawing and hard edges.
Now, as I work on more floral studies, I’ll be working, too, on improving my oil pastel techniques. I’ll probably also be doing more “loose watercolor” florals, and I might even try painting a bouquet with oil. I’ve played around with a few little “practice paintings” in the past, but nothing too fancy. I’m wondering if I might even be able to do a few floral studies with my new “finger painting” methods.
Spring is definitely a good time for flowers and that makes it a very good time for artists, too. Of course, there will be those droopy roses and sad-looking dahlias, but nature is never perfect, and neither is my drawing!