Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Peony Painting Frenzy

Each summer for the entire month of June, I drop everything to create paintings of my favorite flower, the peony.  I'm not sure how it became such an obsession of mine. I suppose it started when I chose them for my wedding. But over the years they have become more than just a memory from that big day. To me, flowers--and peonies especially--represent life's transience. This is not a new idea. Artists have used flowers in vanitas scenes for centuries. At some point each of us has to face our own impermanence, but perhaps for artists, painting flowers can lessen the blow, because they are such a joy to look at. In their prime, peonies take center stage with their dinner-plate sized blooms and intensity of color, but their season is so short, and they leave us wanting more. They remind me that my moment on earth is a short blip in the timeline of eternity, and I must bloom as brilliantly as I can before my little life is extinguished.

So I enter what I call my "peony painting frenzy", and start many new paintings over the course of the short season. Sometimes I'm persistent enough to finish one; other times I start and abandon them as the flowers die, moving on to something new. Sometimes, as you'll see below in the case of "White, Pink and Coral Peonies", I let the painting evolve over the course of several weeks, using numerous flowers from different angles to create the composition I am going for.

When we moved this spring, I took my coral sunset peony with me. I had planted it in a large pot several years ago, knowing I would want to transplant it eventually when we bought a house. It's still in the pot, and gave me two blooms this year in spite of being trampled by snow and hail. I bought more bouquets of white and pink peonies from the grocery store than I care to admit... but I also made sure to incorporate the coral peony into as many of my pieces as possible. Some of them are still in progress - I'm sharing some detail shots below.

Above: the coral sunset peony. I can't wait to plant more. This flower is incredible - it keeps evolving in shape and color as it blooms, making for countless painting opportunities!

Above: Studies from a single coral sunset peony. The weather in June was crazy this year--so many clouds and thunderstorms! I was trying to work from natural light but the flower began to close up as it got darker and darker out...

Above: a work in progress employing my coral peonies, and some columbine and wild roses from my backyard.

Below: a timelapse of the start of one of my florals. You can see the blooms opening up throughout the course of the painting. 

Above: a work in progress next to the finished piece from the timelapse video.

Below: Here is "White, Pink and Coral Peonies," 12x24", oil on linen -- and some progress shots of it in my studio (which is itself still a work in progress!). This painting was completed after several weeks of work. I added and subtracted blooms, or moved them as I saw fit for the composition. My goal was to have it read almost like a piece of sheet music. It should flow from one side of the painting to the other. I was thrilled to include the fading coral peony into this piece... the translucency of those petals was mesmerizing! 

"White, Pink and Coral Peonies" - 12x24" - oil on linen (available)

More finished paintings coming soon. Also, I've been getting a lot of messages from artists asking that I create a floral painting tutorial. Email me at if this is something you'd be interested in seeing!  Meanwhile, here are a few of the colors I used to nail those corals and pinks:

- Quinacridone magenta
Brilliant pink
- Indian yellow
- Cadmium scarlet
- Cadmium orange

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