How to Paint a Tulip ~ Demo
Firstly, I have drawn the tulip in white pastel on a cool grey pastel
paper. I have chosen a lightly sanded paper by Colorfix as this accepts plenty of pastel
pigment on its surface. I like to layer my pastels colours to achieve my glowing effect
and therefore a paper surface which permits this is essential.
Also, I will do a fair bit of random blending of the colour layers. This
finely sanded paper really lends itself to this without the surface becoming tired and
You can actually use plain ordinary glass paper (a fine sandpaper
available from most DIY stores) if you can't get hold of sanded pastel paper easily.
However, here are a few outlets online for you to try.
I have also put in my background first and I will continue to work on this
until a good deal of the colour and shadow areas are built up. I nearly always consider
and work on the background of a flower painting before completing the actual flower
itself and I do this for three main reasons:
You can often spoil a painting by putting in a background as an
afterthought. I learned this the hard way! It is actually an integral part of the
painting and by considering it's colour, texture and any shadows first, it forces
you to see the 'whole picture' so to speak.
Additionally, the way you pace your flower onto your background is
part of your composition. Shadows and negatives shapes between petals and leaves
etc can add to or detract from your finished work. Consider all this first and
you'll have less spoiled work.
Another reason for painting most of the background in first when
using soft pastel in particular, is that it avoids pastel dust spoiling your main
focus - the flower. If you painting in soft pastel, you'll know how pastel dust
falls across your paper as you work. If you were to add your background last,
this pastel dust would spoil your flower colours, making them less vibrant. On
the other hand, flower colours falling onto the background, actually enhances it
and adds to the harmony of the painting. They can, of course be gently blended
Observing my reference photo, I add random colours to the background to
provide surface interest. Instead of trying to locate and match up an exact colour, this
method gives a vibrant surface of mixed hues. These colours will echo the warmth of the tulip
and help to provide harmony.
I cut round the outline of the tulip, using my pastel sometime on it's
side and sometimes it's edge. Don't worry about being very accurate or 'going over the
lines'. The colours will blend away into the tulip in the next
I have now finished adding layers of pastel colour to the main background
area. I have also started blending the colours with gentle pressure and a variety of
circular movements, demonstrated in the video.
Next, I drop the shadow colours in and begin to blend them into the background
too. Initially, I put on the colour quite strong as this will be 'knocked back' with the
application of subsequent layers and blending.
The goal is to keep everything in the background quite soft and fluid so it doesn't compete for
attention with the focus of the painting; the tulip itself.
Here you can see that I have continued in this manner with the background,
including blending in the shadow areas.
In the next stage, I turn my attention to the greens. Of course, I'm dying to
get to painting the flower head - it's the main reason I love to paint flowers! I find it
pays of, though, to save the best bit until last with soft pastel. This way you can have
maximum impact with your colour by minimizing the risk of other colours falling onto your
work and muddying the result.
I like my flowers to look vibrant and glowing and this is one of my secrets in achieving that
effect. I lay in the main tones and shadow areas first on the leaves and stem. I then add some of
the highlights to begin to see the 3D form appear.
Using the edge of my pastel, I continue to work on the leaves and stem, adding
stripes of tone and highlight. The tulip leaf has veins that run the length of it's
surface and the dark and light pastel describes these. The turn of the leaves is also
indicated by applying shadow areas and highlights.
Now for the best bit! Using a pale pink pastel, I block in the tulip
head , very loosely. I then add a veil of deeper, red colour over this and blend gently with
directional stokes, using my fingertips.
I continue building up the red, adding a lovely burnt orange to it before
gently blending again. I also start to spill out the tulip colour onto the background, giving
the effect that it is glowing. Of course, it isn't really this deep but with a painting you
have the opportunity to accentuate and exaggerate whatever you like to achieve a desired
I the apply some more pale pink to the highlight areas, also adding white
selectively to the top of this, gently blending with my fingers. You can buy blending
tools for this but I find you have far more control over the behaviour of the pastel if you
simply use your fingers.
I continue to work this way, observing my reference photo and adding deep red,
oranges, yellow and cooler pinks and white. I add some yellow ochre to the underside of the
tulip, as though reflecting from the background and to the petal tips, as though catching the
Finally, I tidy up the background area, deepen the shadows and 'dance' some
white pastel across the surface to give it a freshness. I add some extra detail to the leaves
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