Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Sunflowers and Agapanthus

I should maybe have entitled this post....'Never Again'.... Having enjoyed painting the Sunflower head in the previous post, I was attracted to a bunch of flowers in my local supermarket that consisted of 3 Sunflowers and 3 Agapanthus sprays. They looked simply stunning and I had never considered putting these two flowers together. I paid no real attention to the fact that the Sunflowers were not, in fact, the usual large shaggy daisy like flowers with giant brown centres, but were Chrysanthimum type heads, with masses of petals quite closely packed. A bit of research has suggested that they are Helianthus Annuus, 'Teddybear' but I cannot be really sure.

Anyway, on getting them home, I put them in a vase, and packed them around with bubble wrap and masking tape in an attempt to get them to stay in some sort of useful arrangement.


Even at this stage I did wonder if it was an exercise too far.  I have painted Agapanthus lots of times, so felt ok with them, but I had no idea how to paint the Sunflowers without it becoming a stiff and somewhat false rendition.
Determined to try, having paid for the flowers, I did a quite detailed drawing (for me) of the arrangement, altering the position of the Agapanthus slightly.

I truly did not know how to tackle the Sunflowers, but I remember, when I first started painting flowers seriously, I bought a book by Jan Kunz in which I remember her describing how to paint a multi-petaled flower. I thought it might be a good idea to have a look at her way of tackling the subject

                                           From 'Painting Watercolour Florals That Glow
                                                 By Jan Kunz  ( ISBN 0-289-80110-9)

I hope Jan does not mind me reproducing this painting to share it with you. In the book she described , in another chapter how to separate the petals. It is a bit too controlled and tight for me, but it did give me some ideas about trying to get the right effect, so thank you Jan.

With no more excuses not to get started, I began by painting a pale yellow wash in the centre of the page over the pencil lines of the Sunflowers, and then added the  Agapanthus flowers on the left of the picture.

I gradually built up washes over the sunflower, making each wash slightly darker or stronger as I tried to identify some of the individual petals to give the dense effect I was after. I also added stems of Sunflowers at this stage, but they had to be washed out later as I had got them completely wrong.

I masked out the stems of the Agapanthus buds using masking fluid ( I prefer the Pebeo Drawing Gum as It is slightly blue in colour so is visible on the paper), and as I did not want the gum to stay on the paper too long, which can make it difficult to remove, I dealt with the top left hand background as soon as the gum was dry. I then really enjoyed painting the underside and petals of the lower flower head. At this stage, however, I began to get a bit anxious that the arrangement of the three Sunflowers could have been a bit better. The two lower ones were going to end up on the same horizontal plane, something I had not noticed in the initial drawing.

Too late to alter this, I finished the painting, creating Sunflower petals by dropping colour into the flowers,both whilst the under layers were still wet, and sometimes only semi wet. I included white acylic gouache to reclaim the highlights, and then I finished the background, altering the stems to  make them match the flower positions. I could only do this because I was able to add quite dark washes into the background.

In the photo on screen the stems seem a bit bright, but in the painting they seem ok, but I will live with it in the studio for a while and see if they need a bit of toning down.


  1. On my monitor it looks just fine! I love the energy of this painting, as always thanks for sharing your process.

  2. Thanks Laura. Always happy to describe my process. Glad it is of interest.

  3. Thanks Peter. Actually I quite like the next to last image with the flowers tailing off into white. I think it might have had more impact if I had followed that course of action.Good luck with the move!