Drawing flowers in one of my all time favorite subjects. It doesn’t matter what type of flower it is, or whether I create them in color or black and white. Drawing flowers simply makes me happy! Because I’m also a photographer, the studio is filled with reference photos I’ve taken over the years. My favorite pastime, when not in the studio, is visiting botanical gardens so I can take more photos. An artist can never have enough. Many of my students share the same passion, so I allow them to use my photos. Every class I teach has at least one or two students creating beautiful floral masterpieces!
So what makes a good floral drawing? Composition, and how the subject is placed on the page, and contrast are essential for creating depth and realism. But when it comes to flowers in particular, I personally believe that the single most important element is the ability of the artist to create realistic looking edges.
Flowers are made up of many, many edges, due to the overlapping surfaces created by the petals and the leaves. It’s important that the edges of all these surfaces look believable. When teaching, I find that students often struggle with this, for their edges often turn into outlines. The realism is lost due to this. It can be very frustrating.
Here is a helpful hint that may make drawing flowers easier for you
We all know that the preliminary sketch you create is made up of lines. (I call this an accurate line drawing.) It’s the foundation of your piece on which you build your rendering. But, each of those lines needs to be turned into an edge, so it doesn’t look outlined like a cartoon. To do this, remember what a line really is: merely a separation of two different surfaces. The line you drew is telling you that these surfaces are either touching or overlapping. To make the line you drew turn into an edge, there’s a pretty simple solution:
First, analyze your reference and look for the five elements of shading. This will tell you where the light source is and the cast shadows are.
Second, identify in your reference which surfaces are dark and which are light. Now look at the darkness of the line you drew in your sketch. Which surface does the darkness of that line belong to? Is it part of a shadow below the surface? If so, you must blend out the darkness of that line into that area. Is the surface you’re drawing darker than the background? Then blend the darkness of the line into that surface.
As you work, analyze all of the edges in your photo reference, and ask yourself: Is it light over dark or is it dark over light? Then, blend the darkness of your drawn line into whichever surface it belongs. Make sure it fades out gradually and completely. Voila! It’s an edge, not an outline!
Studying your edges is critical, especially since they can change. Don’t let them fool you. The edge of a single flower petal may appear light against dark in one area, and then switch suddenly to dark over light. Don’t try to draw edges without close observation, or you may miss some very important tonal changes.
I know this may sound difficult, but practice, practice and practice some more. Soon it’ll become second nature to analyze every line drawn. Study my examples here, and look for the beauty of edges in these florals. I think you’ll find that drawing flowers will make you happy too!