Painting Project: Neptune’s Gold

This painting project is about using strong shapes and varied mark-making to build up an abstract inspired by nature. Specifically the shapes of a plant called Eryngium ‘Neptune’s Gold’, which is a type of sea holly with blue flowers, blue stems, and spikey golden-yellow leaves. The thistle-like flowers are clusters of tiny flowers packed together, surrounded by a wide ruffle, a bit like those a head in one of those huge lace collars in a Rembrandt portrait.

YOU WILL NEED:

  • A large sheet of watercolour paper (I suggest A3 in size)
  • A second piece of paper (or use the ‘wrong side’ of an old painting) for collage
  • Any fast-drying paint (acrylics, ink, watercolours, gouache)
  • A light-coloured opaque paint or ink or gel pen
  • A graphite pencil or coloured pencils
  • A rigger brush or round brush with a good point
  • Scissors and glue for collage

WHAT TO DO:

  • Doing some colour mixing to work out a ‘recipe’ for the blues and yellows as in Neptune’s Gold (more photos below) could be time well spent. Make a note of what you’ve used and colour swatches so you’ll be able to replicate it.


  • STEP 1: This project is going to be worked from dark to light rather than trying to add a background colour to complex shapes at a later stage. Cover the whole sheet of watercolour paper with a darkish colour. Don’t stress about getting a flat uniform colour; variation which will ultimately suggest things. As there’s yellow and blue in the flower, I’d mix a purple (yellow being the complementary colour to purple, and blue being analogous (sitting next to it on the colour wheel). Go fairly dark with the purple, maybe adding a second layer.

  • STEP 2: Take a closer look at the shapes at the top of this plants. Count how many leaves extend out in the ‘collar’ and how many pointy bits there are on each. On the sheet of paper to be used for collage, draw this shape with graphite or a coloured pencil (suggest yellow or a light blue). Trust yourself and do it freehand rather than tracing the photo; there’s variation in nature after all!

  • STEP 3: Brush some clean water onto the shape of the flower to dampen the area. I like using a flat brush for doing this because you can get the shape wet quickly. Add a little yellow onto the tips of each leaf (not too much, you don’t want it to spread all the way to the centre). Load up a brush with blue and touch this into the centre of each shape, letting it spread out along the leaves. Again, not too much as you don’t want it to mix with the yellow to make green. (Alternatively, let the yellow dry, then gently brush some clean water over the shape again, and then drop in the blue.) Work quickly and decisively.

  • STEP 4: Cut out the flower shapes with scissors along the lines you drew in step three. I suggest at least five. Place them on the sheet with the dark colour background and decide on a composition. Don’t glue them on just yet.

  • STEP 5: Using opaque colour, draw or brush similar shapes to form a layer of marks and colour that will be visible beneath the collage elements. (The ‘lower’ leaves and flowers in the plant.) I think it could be fun to use gold and/or silver for this.

  • STEP 6: Stick down the flower shapes from step 2. (If you’re using watercolour and a PVA white glue, be careful not to get glue on the front of the shapes as watercolour doesn’t like sticking on top of glue. Acrylics will do so happily.)

  • STEP 7: Add a whole lot of dots to the centre of each for the flowers. I would do this with a rigger brush or sharp-pointed brush, or splattering a bit of paint.

  • STEP 8: Consider whether you need to enhance the connection of the collage elements to the background, for instance by using some opaque paint on these that goes over the edges a little.

If you’d like help and/or feedback on your painting, this is available to my project subscribers via Patreon. Have fun, and remember to send me a photo of your painting by the end of the month for inclusion in the project gallery for us all to enjoy.

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