How to Draw Flowers

Tulips in a Square Vase by Susan Van Campen, 2006, watercolor painting, 23 x 30.
Tulips in a Square Vase by Susan Van Campen, 2006, watercolor painting, 23 x 30.

Taking a sketchbook out into nature to create a flower drawing can be as helpful as any studio session. Studying the organic forms of a flower as they occur in nature allows artists to sharpen their skills with gesture, color, and light and shadow. And, arguably, the shape and “design” of a flower or budding plant can challenge the artist just as the figure does because both are complex and take a sharp eye to discern their proportions and structure.

Transporting a cut flower indoors and arranging it in a vase is always a good way to learn how to draw flowers, too, because it pushes artists to arrange strong compositions and figure out a focal point or center of interest for a still life arrangement or floral painting.

There is no one way to draw flowers. Artists take this pursuit in many different directions—from creating impressionistic works that emphasize color and gesture to more naturalistic pieces that emphasize the appearance and details of the specific flower itself.

Because flower drawings and floral paintings often are most often experiments in line and color, artists will work with graphite, pen and ink, pastel, or watercolor when delving into this genre, but truly there is no medium that is off-limits to this subject matter. It is up to the artist to decide how best he or she can create a rose drawing, for example, and to be true to their own vision.


How to Draw Flowers with a Naturalistic Likeness

Bouquet by Susan Van Campen, June 2006, watercolor painting ,42 x 29½.
Bouquet by Susan Van Campen, June 2006, watercolor painting, 42 x 29½.

Flower drawing for Susan Van Campen is not a matter of arranging an aesthetically pleasing setup or conceiving the most striking composition. It is instead about drawing the life of a flower—the naturalistic details that give each its own likeness. “My aim is not to create a pretty picture,” the artist emphasizes. “Rather, I am trying to capture the character of the flower—almost as if I’m painting a portrait.”

Van Campen employs the versatile, direct medium of watercolor—and has come to love the process. “In oil painting, each brushstroke counts,” the artist explains. “But, with watercolor, great things can often happen without the artist expending too much effort. In the beginning, when I was first learning watercolor, it was difficult to adjust to the medium, but the more I worked with it, the more I realized the water actually does a lot of the work. It’s one of those things you can’t teach—just like anything else in life, the more you do it, the better you become at it.”

Van Campen always creates her flower drawing art from life—sometimes sitting on the ground in her garden directly from the subject, while other times she’ll cut a bunch of branches and bring them inside, setting them up on white surfaces and in front of white walls.

Once inside, Van Campen arranges her setup to bring the most clarity and focus to the subject. “I work on a large white counter with a plain wall behind it,” she describes. “Everything is cleared away so I can concentrate only on the fruit, flowers, and vases that I want to draw or paint.” The artist always stands when she works indoors, keeping her paper on the counter and her paints on the chair next to her. She uses Winsor & Newton watercolors and Arches 300-lb cold-pressed paper and notes the dramatic turn her work took when she changed the quality of her materials. “When I first started painting in watercolor, I used cheap brushes and paper,” Van Campen admits. “When I switched to a higher-quality paper, I was astonished at how much my work improved—the water and the pigment hit the paper in a completely different way.”

In addition to the quality of her paper, Van Campen counts preserving the white of her background as greatly adding to the freshness and spontaneity of her work. “For me, it’s important to have that white background spacing the flowers,” she says. “It’s like painting a portrait—I wouldn’t want a lot going on in the background distracting from the face of the person. The same is true when drawing or painting flowers—having a white background and surface simplifies everything for me and the viewer. There’s no clutter, and the focus is on only the characteristic details of the flower.”

Once satisfied with her arrangement, Van Campen begins composing, starting by drawing only the vases or bowls. “I never sketch the flowers, just the containers holding them,” the artist explains. “In a sense, I am drawing flowers all along—only I’m drawing with my paintbrush. I don’t work with a dry brush at all, nor do I work in washes. I am very direct with the paint and am basically just playing with puddles of water throughout the process—a puddle here for the shape of a flower, a puddle there for a stem or leaf—and, as I add the pigment to the puddle, I watch how it’s going to react. At any given moment, I may have four or five wet areas of paint, so I have to be aware of what’s going on around the paper. Because I have been doing this for so long, I know how the water is going to treat the pigment, and I use that knowledge to describe the shape of what I’m painting.”

Source: from an article by Allison Malafronte, 2008


Learn How to Draw Flowers–Their Decay and Regeneration

“I think that the reason people love drawing is because it’s so basic,” says Joan Wadleigh Curran matter-of-factly. “It’s how we first learn to interpret our world in a visual manner.” For Curran, drawing is both a foundational skill and a means of translating images and concepts that inspire her. The artist works in a range of media, including charcoal, oil, and gouache, preferring one over another at various times depending on the source of her inspiration.

Regardless of how her work is labeled, the artist’s focus is always clear: The symbiotic, and at times antagonistic, relationship between people and the landscape. “For a while I was interested in the subject of gardens,” she says, “because it was a perfect example of man controlling and altering nature. In a lot of ways a garden shows as much about the creator as anything else.”

Curran has always enjoyed painting the natural world, but upon moving to Philadelphia, she found herself attracted to another facet of her environment. While out one day gathering photographic references, she came upon a tree that was in the process of being pruned and felt compelled to record how to draw a tree like this in the condition she found it. “It had become gnarled from the pruning,” she recalls. “That’s when I became interested in the relationship between man and nature, especially natural organisms living in an urban context.”

At the Edge by Joan Wadleigh Curran, charcoal flower drawing on paper, 50 x 38, 2009.
At the Edge by Joan Wadleigh Curran, charcoal flower drawing on paper, 50 x 38, 2009.

With this in mind, Curran’s exploration led her to subjects that are rarely noticed by passersby—the weeds, branches, and roots that break through pavement and fencing in order to survive. The resulting charcoal plant-life sketches and flower drawings are intimate and detailed while also being representational. No doubt the black-and-white image connotes a sense of reportage, but through her use of the white of the paper and dynamic composition, these objects become elevated.

Vegetation, normally the bane of every gardener or landscaper, is given the attention of a fine flower drawing illustration. “I’ve always been interested in the singularity of objects and their power,” the artist says, “and because I’m extracting the object from the landscape once I’m back in my studio, I tend to think of it as isolated. But I take this approach because doing so allows me to really analyze and decode what about the image turned me on in the first place.

“I build up the image slowly through hatching,” she says, noting that it may take her two weeks or longer to complete a drawing. “I’ll use some smudging and erasure to get the lights I want. I like to have the full range of values so that I can really convey a sense of drama.” She works on Stonehenge paper because its vellum surface can withstand repeated erasure without fuzzing.
Source: from an article by Naomi Ekperigin, 2012


Tips on How to Draw a Rose, How to Draw Flowers, and More

Red and White Roses by Stephanie Birdsall, pastel floral drawing, 16 x 22.
Red and White Roses by Stephanie Birdsall, pastel floral drawing, 16 x 22.

Working from nature can give an artist a greater sense of texture, delicate gradations of light and shadow, gesture and movement, and color. But what is most helpful about learning how to draw flowers is that this subject matter can most often be sketched and drawn according to your own comfort and pace. Knowing that, and with the tips below, you’ll be well on your way toward making the most out of every moment you spend with pencil in hand.

Take down bits of information. Going out to a nearby park or meadow and taking note of different pieces of visual information is a great way to warm up for a flower drawing sketch session. These jottings can stay as they are in your sketchbook or become the basis of a more finished drawing later on.

How to draw a rose. A rose drawing is iconic, but sometimes challenging to create. The trick is in the gesture of each stroke. Drag your implement–charcoal, for example–in one gesture that captures the shape and position of the petals of the flower. It may take more than one try, but working to create the flower’s bud with less strokes will make it look more realistic, believe it or not.

Start with an outline. Outlining the bold shapes of a leaf or flower is a great way to start a flower drawing or floral painting because it gives you a sense of how the forms create a pattern or visual rhythm. You can also begin to see the flower as a whole as opposed to its many parts, which can be helpful when trying to create strong cohesion in a flower drawing.



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Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.