Watercolour painting of some flowers in a garden surrounded by foliage by artist John Haywood

A floral first watercolour painting

For those of you that may have been following this blog for any length of time – I do hope you’re sitting down when you read this!

After many years of painting in watercolour, I’ve finally attempted my first painting of flowers! Even as I write I can still hardly believe it. I came across the reference photo for this the other week when I was trawling through my archives. It was taken in France while on holiday back in 2011. More than that I can’t tell you. Nor can I explain the strange cosmic circumstances that led me to paint something like this!

Watercolour painting of some flowers in a garden surrounded by foliage by artist John Haywood
My first ever flower painting

Once over the shock of it all, I’m quietly pleased with how this turned out. Granted you can’t tell exactly what the flowers are or anything, but I think that there’s enough here to give you the gist of some flowers in an ornamental urn surrounded by various foliage – which has already exceeded my expectations!

In terms of how I did this (I’m going to purposefully refrain from using the phrase ‘how I accomplished this’!) I did a very light touch / vague pencil sketch. This didn’t show where each flower was going to go, only to general outline mass of the flowers, the shape of the urn (is that what it’s called – the thing that the flowers are in?) and the edges of the plinth.

I wettted the paper all over and waited for the sheen of the moisture on the papers’ surface to disappear as the paper absorbed the water. Then, while the paper was still damp, I started to drop in tiny amounts of pretty much pure, undiluted pigment for the flowers.

While the paper was still damp, I then washed in more liberally a variety of light greens pretty much everywhere else with the exception of the plinth and urn. The plinth and urn were treated in a similar fashion with a mix of raw sienna and light red. This was then left to dry completely.

Next came the darker washes, painting negatively around the plinth, the urn and around the flowers. I was mainly trying to vary my edges and use different brushstrokes to build up a hotch-potch of different textures to convey different leaves and types of foliage. Some areas of this are more successful than others and I did, on a couple of occasions, feel like I was running out of ideas but carried on nevertheless.

While some of these areas were still wet, I was able to strengthen some parts, where I wanted more contrast, and in others, to add more water, for more diffused effects.

Once dry, I just added in the shadow areas on the side of the plinth and the urn, and then added some darks in and amongst the flowers to help make the colours pop a little more.

I actually feel quite encouraged by how this turned out so, while it was my first foray into florals, it probably won’t be my final!

The jury is in

Last week I shared two different paintings of the same view, the interior of a cottage that we had the pleasure of staying in back in 2011. It was left that one of these paintings may be making it’s way to my dear friends’ parents, who own the cottage. As of last week, the jury was very firmly out. From the readers of the the blog, I think that version B was perhaps edging it.

The true acid test I suppose was from the family, from the people that know the view and the cottage most intimately. Even though this was a close call, the final verdict fell in favour of the first painting, version A.

The description that I liked from one of the family members was that painting A captures the character of the house more accurately:

Imperfect, not too refined

The verdict

I think that this was meant as a description of the house, but I think it could equally apply to pretty much all of my paintings!

I refrained from expressing my opinion last week but now that a decision has been made, here’s my tuppence ha’penny’s worth.

I really liked version A from the the minute I painted it. It was done quickly and quite intuitively. It was only at the mention of four words: ‘is it for sale?’ that I started to doubt the painting. I started to see lot’s of things that, from a primarily technical perspective, I thought I could improve on.

This lead me to version B. I do like this version too. I was able to correct some of the things that troubled me in the my first effort, such as the greater sense of light on the back wall. Overall, however, what I gained in some of the technical refinements, I also lost much of the character of the first effort.

I would have been delighted with whichever one was chosen. The main thing to me is that in the eyes of people that know the view best, version A captured the character of the view – and I think that’s such a wonderful compliment.

Thoughts on A floral first watercolour painting

32 thoughts on “A floral first watercolour painting”

  1. Pingback: Flowers in watercolour

  2. I find it interesting that I see a definite “John Haywood” style here, despite most of the comments suggesting this is rather distinct. So I looked back at your last half dozen or so posts, and I remain seeing this as a “John Haywood” – I see the same confident dry brush strokes (look at the pillar and the cottage window and the station paintings), the same subtle choice of colour and skilled use of tone (again compare the pillar, but the cottage table top in painting A and the simply brilliant “Fan Ho painting”), even though you were too critical at the time, the cafe interior shows the same confident approach. Watercolour may be a long journey John, but you’ve definitely arrived.

    1. Thanks so much for this Ray. I recall a comment that someone made many years ago on this blog – when I was still basing a lot of my work on direct copies of Wesson and Seago. It was a wonderfully supportive comment that basically just advised me to keep on painting and that, in time, I would gradually find ‘my own voice’. I’m not so sure that I could go as far as to say that I’ve arrived – but I do definitely feel that I’m more in the driver’s seat than the passenger’s seat. It’s also nice to have the history of this blog to look back and reflect on and to see the progress made so far. Thanks so much Ray.

  3. I’m not surprised that you are pleased with the result, it’s a fine painting!  

    The crisper edged left side of the urn in sunlight contrasts really well with the shadowed right side. The pillar, plinth and urn are all beautifully stated, the shadow colour absolutely spot on – how could it be better? The contrasts between wet on wet (such as the top left) and the dryer brush strokes (bottom right as an example) add much interest.  The flowers themselves work perfectly.

    I’m going to be hyper critical now, (these are really incidentals on what I consider a great painting so I feel a bit mean in saying them)…

    I think the dark on the left of the plinth should match the more interesting dark on the right – the right has more colour and depth, more pleasing to the eye.

    The yellow/green on the very far right (level with the base of the urn) and the very bottom left distract a little, perhaps tone them down a fraction?

    Okay, having written those two things, I feel to be rather a heel and I’m needlessly nit picking!  I know what “Alotofveg” means by the “feel of a Singer Sargent”, but rather I think this has more a reconizable “John Haywood” about it (despite it being your first flower painting)!

    1. Hi Ray and thanks so much for your comments. What I particularly appreciated was that felt it was recognisable as a ‘John Haywood’. Although I’m not naturally drawn to painting flowers, I’ve seen many of the painters that I admire most paint them beautifully and I particularly like many of John Yardley’s flower paintings. When painting this scene, I tried as consciously as I could to paint it my way, not as someone else might approach it – so your comment is especially pleasing (though I also can’t deny being flattered about being mentioned in the same sentence as Singer Sargent!)

  4. Wow, John, that floral is really good. Hope you are COMPLETELY happy with it. No curate’s egg nonsense! As the feel of a Singer Sargent about it. I kid you not, andd bugger the nay sayers!

    1. My apologies (whenever anyone adds a comment, I get to read and approve it before it goes live – it’s a way of me keeping down the spam comments from appearing but does sometime mean that it looks as if the comment has loaded). I’m responding to this comment as well as your first purely because I’m totally flatttered by the Singer Sargent reference! I don’t try to emulate his style but I love his work! Thanks so much!

    1. Thanks so much for this – I am pleased with it but I’m also slightly bowled over by the reaction to it! Can tell that I need to find more ways to get excited about flowers! They’re not exactly my ‘go to’ source of painting material!

  5. Great post, John. I never realized you didn’t paint florals until this post. But then I remembered that I had never seen a floral painting from you. But, it’s great! I cannot imagine trying to paint flowers. But, I hope to see more florals from you.

    The cottage studies are both really nice. Now, not knowing what that cottage looks like, I gravitated to B. Why? For me the perspective seemed more natural just looking at the lines as the scene went toward the window. But, both are wonderful.

    Anyway, thanks for the great post. Hopefully I will catch your next post soon. Hope you are staying safe, and sane. That is getting harder for me. 😉

    1. Hi Tim and thanks for you comments – I really appreciate them. I’m not naturally attracted to painting flowers but I can see that I need to open my eyes to them a little more!

      Sorry to hear that staying safe and sane is getting harder for you. It’s challenging to find any sense of normality when the world feels like it’s been turned upside down and inside out. Hope that you’re able to hold onto something good and strong to help keep you anchored! All the best Tim, take care.

      1. Thanks John! I am very lucky because my work has been mostly unaffected by the pandemic. And the blog is an excellent outlet. I imagine your painting is equally therapeutic.

        I think the hardest part is just a lack of travel and personal interaction. As you probably know, the virus situation here in the US is shall we say politely, pretty horrible. Combining that with our messed up leadership at the top of the US government, and well things are not too inspiring.

        I know I would have a better outlook if I could get out and about more – hiking, camping, etc. But I don’t feel safe doing any traveling outside of a short day trip. The trails here are super crowded as the greater Salt Lake metro area is pretty densely populated. We are just trying to make the most of what we can do.

        No, I shouldn’t complain; we are all in the same boat. Thanks for sharing your work. It always makes me smile. All the best to you and your family.

    1. Hi Susan and thanks so much for this, I’m so pleased you like them. I’ll need to develop my ‘eye for flowers’ as I think this was the only reference photo of them in my entire collection!

  6. In a pub. Close family and srangers all from
    Bloggers ‘round the world…this one from
    the Pacific Northwest…Oregon for
    positive identification. Glasses raised! Toasts
    are made…Well done! Well done! Well done!

    Another round, Barkeep, if you please!!!


  7. A tad too much pillar for me but great to see the flowers with sunlight on them (rather than behind them). Great background greens and darks, too. A brave leap into the light. (I might not have recognised it as one of yours, though!)

    1. Hi Rob and thanks for this – glad that you liked seeing something lit rather my usual silhouettes! (Though I daresay I’ll be returning to business as usual pretty quickly!)

    1. Hi Brian and thanks for this. It certainly felt like a change as I was painting it. Hopefully it will go some way to lessening the aversion I’ve had to flowers so far!

  8. John, if only you could see/feel the thrill and excitement I felt seeing this ‘new John’ upon seeing your Urn, yes, urn, filled with flowers in lavender, my favorite color! II felt as if you painted it just for ME! You finally HEARD me! It’s beautiful, John, I love it! One feels the soul in it, the emotion, the je ne said pas that makes a painting special. You got the feel of the flowers just right; never think it’s important that each flower be iddentified. It’s how they make you feel. I love the way you did the background especially, making the color of the flowers and lightness of the stand glow! More than well done!

    1. Hi Margery – I’m almost tempted to print off and frame your comments! So pleased that you like this one. I can’t promise a whole change of direction or approach, but maybe it’s some way towards adding another string to the bow!

  9. Oh fantastic John…love it. I did of course think I’d come to the wrong blog when I saw gorgeous colours pop out (please don’t take that wrong), but it’s not the style I’ve become accustomed to!
    I do wonder if this isn’t painted on a rough surface and might look even more ‘lively’ on a Not surface…just a thought.
    Anyhow am very happy to see this!
    More please!
    Best wishes,

    1. Hi Carole and thanks so much for this! You might be right about it perhaps looking better on a Not surface – I hadn’t really considered this, mainly because I don’t have any – I’ve become so accustomed to painting on rough that I rarely consider the alternatives! As for more please – I will try, but I must admit, I don’t really have any references of my own for flowers, I’m in completely new territory here!
      Many thanks Carol, best wishes

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