The Wilting Peonies

'Peonies'. Oil on linen, 8" x 12"

‘Peonies’. Oil on linen, 10″ x 12″

Here’s a slightly larger painting than the ones I have been working on recently. I also took more time over this one, and built up the layers over 3 sessions. The first layer was fairly thin, and very broad – covering the canvas and identifying the ‘big shapes’. The next 2 sessions were all about refining and adding more detail.

I can’t pretend that very much thought went into the subject. Given the non-starter of a summer that we’ve been experiencing this year (not that last year or the year before was up to much either), I’ve been buying flowers to add cheer to the house. Stocks, peonies and alliums are amongst my favourites. As these peonies started to wilt, I took them over to the studio to paint. Adding a frisson of drama to the proceedings was the feeling that all of the petals could drop at any moment (yes folks, that’s how exciting my life is). Fundamentally though, I find flower painting a tremendous challenge, and that was my true motivation.

I’m mindful of not getting dependent on sight-size as a technique, so I didn’t set the easel up with that method in mind. I used comparative measurement instead, and chose an angle where I was slightly looking down on the subject. I want to be able to play with picture planes, and I think sight-size used exclusively can restrict that a little.

Anyway, where I did make things difficult for myself, was in lazily deciding to sit down to paint. This meant that I didn’t periodically walk away from the painting to view it from a distance, and neither did I rest my eyes with frequent enough breaks. Both of these things are important to gain perspective of the work, identify errors, and keep brushwork broad and not slavish.

Once I realised the bad habits I had fallen into, I was mindful of putting them right. Initially I overworked the jar, not observing lost edges enough, and getting too literal in picking out each detail and reflection. I wiped this whole area out and squinted down much more to get a more natural, and sensitive representation of what was before me. Tonal relationships are obviously important, but the quality of edges – sharp, soft, lost – is absolutely key to the success or otherwise of a representational painting.