Sitting in my favorite spot near the window with my coffee, coloring Love One Another, an illustration recently released as a digital download for Power Poppy.
Hey there, friends! It’s your botanical buddy Marcy here to share my very first Inspire Me Monday column. When I see the imaginative ideas shared on the Power Poppy blog by our beloved contributors, it really gets me in the mood to MAKE. It is also a little intimidating! These folks are REALLY GOOD. Thankfully, they are also really encouraging, helpful, and generous with their time and talents, and want all of us to feel like we can conquer any project we set our minds to.
Today I’m sharing tips that I’ve picked up through years of being an illustrator, gardener, and soaker-upper of the visual richness around us. My goal is to help you to enhance your coloring skills. So let’s get started!
When preparing to color a botanical image, facing a tray outfitted with a rainbow of watercolors, a caddy overflowing with Copics, the mind whirls. Where, O where to begin with the color scheme? And when faced with an image that has multiple flowers, this can send our fearless crafter into a tailspin – there are sooooo many choices! How to decide which colors work well together?
I encourage you to think like a florist. Arranging flowers is merely being an artist with plants — finding compatible colors, textures, and forms to create a pleasing composition. It’s the same thing when you are coloring a bouquet. So let‘s look for beautiful combinations of flowers that someone else has already made into an awesome display - and make it our own. Seek out photos of actual bouquets (and gardens!) where someone has done the work of creating a cool color scheme. It not only saves you time and brain cells, there may be very subtle shifts in color that you’ll notice work beautifully together, things that may not have occurred to you when just sitting down at your craft table, trying to draw on your memory.
|A bouquet I nabbed at Pike Place Market in Seattle this spring — the scent was as delicious as the hues.|
The bouquet above, of tulips, daffodils, and viburnum, is just the kind of arrangement that can provide a gorgeous jumping off point. Notice how the coral-pink of the tulips is picked up in the pale rosy buds of the viburnum. The whitish/ivory tips of the tulip petals (with a tinge of light green!) echo the viburnum flowers and buds, and the petals of the daffodils. Even the inner petals of the daffodils have a flush of coral-orange, which you could adjust to be the same color as the tulips in your artwork. All presented on a lush layer of green leaves, which you could use for a background color with your paints/markers or with cardstock and paper.
Note: Thiis isn’t the photo I used for reference to create today’s artwork... I was inspired by the colors of the iris photos I found and tried to think like a gardener... “What tulips would I plant next to those irises if this were a garden?”
2. Use reference photos of plants
Due to my background as a botanical illustrator, I aspire to achieve a somewhat realistic look with a painterly vibe. I am not really one to make daffodils hot pink or shade my leaves orange. Now, this isn't to say that I don’t admire the whimsical coloring of folks who take things into another realm, because I totally do! But if you’re hoping to “up” the realism in your coloring, nothing beats looking at the actual subject matter. Use reference photos — there are about 10 gazillion of them on the internet just waiting for you to find the perfect one to inspire your coloring. Google images is your friend! Just type into the search window: “Purple Bearded Irises” (or the specific color/plant of your choice) and hit the “images” tab to start exploring.
For the piece I’m sharing today coloring Love One Another, I needed lots of photos of irises. My favorite source for fabulous, unique hybrids is Schreiner’s Iris Gardens in Oregon. After getting lost in the beauty of their offerings, I finally settled for a purple/blue/white theme with yellow/orange accents.
|Image source: Schreiner’s Iris Gardens|
While coloring, I have my iPad screen with this photo staring right at me the entire time I’m coloring. (You could also print out the inspiration image.) I then look, look, look, and look some more at the inspiration photo. I am one who starts with the lightest areas of color, and I work my way to deeper tones through layers of color (I learned this from Mr. Dean, my 10th grade art teacher, who we all loved. Thanks, Mr. Dean!).
I look to find the lightest areas and lay down that color with my tiny watercolor brush. Notice how I have followed some of the lines of the original drawing with my yellow. I’m sort of adapting the style of the iris in the photo to the iris that was actually drawn, so it is not exact. A light wash of yellow all around the petals is a nice foundation. Some tiny areas along the edge are left white, to allow for highlight.
Next, I’ve gone in with a little bit richer yellow-orange to dab, dab, dab into the ruffly crevices. This helps create some contrast. Just dab this color onto the places in the petals where I have indicated shading in the original drawing.
For the uppermost iris petals (referred to as “standards”), I’ve painted with the very lightest smidgen of paint onto the shadow areas. I used a washy bit of yellow with some washy aqua, just to hint at the subtle shadows.
I also tackled the yellow “beards” – the fuzzy caterpillar-looking things that jut out from the base of the petals. After studying my reference photo, I give each of the three beards a light wash of yellow, leaving a few tiny areas white. I notice that the innermost area of the beard is orange, and as it recedes, it is almost rusty. I add a little purple and green to the orange-yellow on my brush to get a dulled out, deep color to tuck into the crevices of the petals. Later I’ll go back and add more beard detail with colored pencils.
For the purple areas, I’ve used light washes of blue and purple, sometimes I’ll pick up a little magenta and mix it in, always adding more water and sometimes blotting the brush on a separate paper, keeping the paint very diluted and building up with minute strokes. At times I’ll pick up more paint on the brush and let it do what it wants on the paper. I’m continually looking at the reference photo. How does the purple coloration interact with the yellow? It is almost feathered. So I am doing tiny, tiny strokes to work the colors into one another.
I draw veins freehand along with painting directly on top of the veins in the original drawing, depending on the look I’m going for. The reference photo iris has lots of venation, and I am trying to capture that in my flower. I’ve left plenty of highlight areas so that the petals appear to undulate.
Notice that the veins in the reference photo do not stay purple the entire length of the vein. Near the base of the petal, they are more yellow-orange-brownish, as the yellow and purple in the petal merge. I have tried to get that color mixed with my watercolors (done by mixing yellow into purple on my palette).
|I use Winsor Newton watercolors and gouache, save for this little lavender lump in the foreground, which was a gift of Daniel Smith squeezed directly onto my palette by my friend Lori Gardener Woods.|
3. Choose a variety of varieties
Here‘s perhaps the most fun tip of all, coming from a person who loves uniqueness and mixing up lots of patterns. You do not have to color all of the flowers the same way. Of course you CAN if you want to, and it will be beautiful. But remember that you are free to color these babies however the heck you want. I decided to let the yellow/purple/white iris at the top of the illustration hold its own, and to try to capture the spirit of this striking variety for the second iris in my piece:
|Image source: Schreiner‘s Iris Gardens|
Try squinting as you look at the photo above. It’s kind of amazing how the shadow and highlight areas become more prominent, isn’t it?
Notice how the petals are composed of layers of washy color. I’ve gone over and over the same area with light layers of varying shades of blue, purple, and magenta, achieving depth and intensity with my watercolors. In some areas of extreme shadow, I’ve gone ahead and used the paint color at full strength. And sometimes I’ll add dark brown to really go deep.
This is all before I brought out my new Prismacolor colored pencils to get more definition and zing. Oh mercy me!
So, how to handle the three tulips in Love One Another? I tried to think like a gardener on this one. I loved the white standards on the iris at top, and the highlights on the petals of the bottom iris led me to want to leave something white in each tulip, rather than to color them all the way in.
I remembered seeing Rembrandt tulips while touring the Tulip Time festival in Skagit Valley, Washington with my friend Sharyn this spring, and decided to do some Googling....
Basically with these tulips, I’ve taken total creative license, looking at my reference photo and then creating my own tulip hybrids from the purple, blue, and magenta tones that show up in the two irises. I’ve even brought in some yellow, splashed inside and outside the petals, to pick up on the vibrant iris beards.
To make everything more complicated, I got out my colored pencils, and using quick tiny strokes, I added feathery detail to each iris, tulip, leaf, stem, and insect.
I gave the background a washy background composed of pale warm yellow with tinges of green and brown, and then went through the entire thing with similar shades of colored pencils, using cross-hatch lines to add interest and movement.
Finally, I shaded the lettering, Love One Another using the same blues, purples, and magentas as the flowers.
The finished product...
I hope my tips have been helpful for you, and open your eyes and mind to ways you might enhance your own work. Thank you so much for spending time with me today!