Sunflower Painting, an Exercise in Yellow


Painting yellow can be somewhat challenging because it is such a bright, vibrant colour it can be difficult to get the darks without losing the vibrancy. So, for this exercise, I am trying to achieve a vibrant sunflower painting without losing the depth.

I have abandoned my usual limited palette and instead laid out all the yellows I have available. In the photo the tube colours are the second row down and from left to right: Titanium white, Naples Yellow Hue, Windsor Lemon, Windsor Yellow, Yellow Ochre and Burnt Sienna. On the LHS going down: Raw umber and Ultramarine. Using a palette knife I premixed my colours. Above the yellows I added Naples Yellow to lighten them. Below the yellows I added burnt sienna to darken them and to these I added UM and Raw umber to produce my darks and greens.

I made a quick charcoal outline drawing. I later regretted this as the charcoal dirtied the yellows when painted over. I don't usually suffer from this problem when working on prepared boards. I think it was this practice paper was too slick to hold the charcoal. Next time I will use light pencil on this paper.

I painted in the petals, I used mainly the first and second rows of mixes. I found the mixes with Naples yellow and yellow ochre of no use, when I wanted to lighten I used white. I tried to use thickly applied strokes to describe the petals. Although I loosely followed the flower I wasn’t overly concerned about an exact copy. I loosely sketched in some leaves and the stem. When I came to put in the background I decided on a low saturation purple. With it being a complement of yellow it should make the yellow appear more vibrant. Unfortunately I had no colours available on my palette to make a purple so I added some Magenta which I mixed with some of my existing mixes to grey it down.

What I learnt from this sketch: Windsor Lemon and Windsor Yellow darkened with Burnt Sienna and lightened with a dash of white kept my yellows vivid but allowed me to give some depth. Don't use charcoal on practice paper. It was a useful exercise and I will bring this experience forward into some studio paintings.