Botanical illustration tips on painting white flowers
Painting White flowers: A problem needing a solution
I was painting a snowdrop the other day, and wrestling, as always, with the best way to paint the petals of white flowers. There are as many different approaches to this troublesome aspect of botanical illustration as there are scientific illustrators; so I thought it’d be worth considering.
Place a leaf behind the white flower
A handy trick in the first instance, especially if the flower you’re painting is startling white, is to use the leaves as a background. This can set the white off really dramatically, and means you can leave the white more or less untouched. You do have to be a little careful not to make the composition look too awkward by twisting the leaves around, but it can be really useful.
Add a pale background
Another trick also involves using backgrounds, but in this case a background wash. All the images below are from my sketchbook studies rather than from finished paintings. I tend to favour a background mix of Windsor blue, a purple, and a touch of brown. Apply it to the edge of the petals, then add water to bleed it outwards. You can use whatever colour background wash you’d like for this approach, just be sure to keep it gentle and to fade it outwards.
Colour on the white petals
Sometimes, though, you can’t evade the issue, and have to paint the white petals against a white background. A very light pencil can give a clear, neutral enclosing line to give the petals their shape. When using colour, the trick is to keep it light when you apply it. Do trials first to see what colour most closely matches the white in the shadows of the petals. It may be a greenish hue as with this oxeye daisy.
Perhaps it’ll be an ochre, as on the stem and stamens of this autumn crocus.
Some white petals help by being tinged with a colour, as with these daisies.
Painting whites: Looking at other botanical illustrators
It’s also interesting to see how other illustrators have tackled the same issues; look for background washes, use of foliage, pencil lines for petal edges, and very light use of pinks, greens and blues in the paintings of Chris Hart Davies, Helga Powell and Jo Glover.