July’s Painting Project: White Daisies

This month’s project features one of my favourite flowers, white daisies. A challenge to use this reference photo with a small colour range (white, green, yellow) and a lot of repeated shapes (the circles of the flowers and lines of the stems) to compose and create a painting. Remember, a reference photo is a starting point, not the finish point. See where it takes you, in any medium you choose.


  • Simply the composition: There’s a lot happening in this reference photo, so start by thinking about what you would leave out and narrow down what you might include in a composition. Doing thumbnails would be time well spent, tiny drawings with the basics of a composition. (I would crop off the right-hand half and a sliver off the bottom of the photo, a composition with an area top left where there aren’t daisies to give breathing space.)
  • Focus on shape: Daisies have a very distinctive shape, the central splash of yellow with slivers of white dancing around. Growing as they are in the reference photo, we see them from all sorts of angles as well as some older flowers where the petals are drooping. A second level of shape is the wiggles of the stems.
  • White: The ‘white’ of the petals isn’t the same across the whole flower. Think “interesting whites” not “tube white”. Add a bit of blue or purple to areas in shadow, and yellow to areas catching the light. If you use the same blue(s) and yellow(s) to paint the greenery, you’ll have a colour harmony in your painting.
  • Shadows: If you’re using acrylics or oils, think about painting from dark to light, put the shadow areas in first and add opaque colour on top, rather than trying to add shadows afterwards. Or let the painting dry so you can add the darks by glazing.
  • Sky: That little sparkle of sky in the top lefthand corner, maybe continue that across the top of the composition to give an extra colour and relieve all that green.
  • Think in layers: Create a list of layers you could have, mediums and colours and mark making. It’s a bit like a recipe, all the decisions made before you start, leaving you to focus the painting.
  • Do blocks: Taking inspiration from April’s projects and create a composition with little blocks of daisies (as I did with my Dozen Daisies).
  • Supersize: Take a detail and make it fill a composition, a “supersized” or giant daisy or three. Like the Edinburgh-artist Lucy Jones has done here and here.

This is what my list of layers might look like, using mixed media on paper (as I did in my Concertina Daisies):

  • Pencil to mark the initial composition, especially the position of the flowers. This could be lightly done so it doesn’t show, or used as the first layer of line.
  • Line drawing of the flowers and stems, using acrylic ink (because once it’s dry, it won’t lift).
  • Yellow ink or watercolour onto centres of flowers, and a little random yellow onto the areas of greenery (to create colour variation once I start painting the stems more deliberately).
  • A darkish watercolour green applied with stems in mind to give a linear feel to it, but not too carefully.
  • Another watercolour green,similarly applied, to give variation.
  • While I wait for the greens to dry, do another layer on the flowers with a light blue ink for “shadow petals”, knowing these will have a layer of white over the blue to ‘subdue’ it.
  • Another layer on the stems and foliage, a brighter more yellow green that’s and more opaque too so it pulls forward. Applied with a little more precision to tighten up shapes and give definition to stems.
  • Add some light blue ‘sky’ colour along the top, encouraging it to drip and run down. I’d first try with watercolour, but if it’s too lost then I might repeat the layer with a slightly opaque acrylic (adding white to any blue, then making it fairly watery).
  • Use white to define the petals. This could be a drawn line with acrylic ink or using a flat brush (which if you twist it as you pull it gives a nice ‘petal’). Watch out for it being too uniform a white — having bits that are still wet that you hit and mix on the paper, or having stray bits of colour on your palette can help. Or mix a bit of ‘interesting’ white and use this first before ‘clean white’ as the top layer.
  • Reinforce the yellows of the flowers.
  • Check if the darks need to be reinfored.
  • Leave it overnight, look again with fresh eyes, and decide if anything else needs doing.

If you’d like to have your painting included in the project gallery, simply email it to me (and for any of the other projects, whenever you might do them). If you’d like help whilst working on your painting and feedback on the finished painting, this is available to project patrons. Have fun!

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