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When is a Peony not a Peony?


Earlier last week on Instagram I posted this photograph which will be our photo reference for the next watercolour project. When I photographed these beautiful flowers at the National Trust property Chartwell (home to Sir Winston Churchill), I didn’t think to look for a plant label, I just thought ‘what beautiful Peonies, look at those fantastic cast shadows ~ what a great subject for a watercolour tutorial!’


When I started filming this project, I still had no idea what variety of Peony I was painting ~ so forgive my ignorance! It was only when I started writing the worksheet that I thought to clarify the variety. So, not being a gardener, I asked if any of my fellow instagrammers could identify this variety of Peony. To my surprise, the actual gardener at Chartwell (and probably the one responsible for planting them in the first place) responded to my request! The mystery was quickly solved ~ it turns out that it’s not a Peony at all but a variety of Poppy called ‘Romneya Coulteri’ ~ also known as the California Tree Poppy! Every day is a school day! So if you hear me refer to the flower as a Peony in the videos, insert the word Poppy instead!


And if you, like me, you can't help but think of fried eggs, then you’re in good company as it would seem that it is also referred to as the ‘Fried Egg’ plant/flower!


So, now we know what type of flower we are painting you might be thinking to yourself, ‘how on earth are we going to paint a white subject onto white paper without you letting me use the white paint in my palette’ (or not in your palette if you’re one of my class members as I always suggest taking the white out and making space for another more useful colour). Well in short, we will not be painting the brightest whites, our whitest areas will remain the white of the paper ~ instead we will paint the shadows.


If you take a look around your room right now and look at an object that is white ~ what do you see? If it is pure white it will appear completely flat, but if it has shadows, areas of light and dark, the shape will appear three dimensional. This is true of our white flower too. So

this will be our task ~ to look for the shadows and recreate their different values ~ all you need to do is look.



In this tutorial we are going to work using two different styles. To begin we will work quite carefully and with detail to create the large yellow centre which is crammed full of stamens. Be warned! This part of the project might test your patience as I will encourage you to work carefully, paying close attention to the photograph so you can achieve a high level of accuracy. This is why I have marked this tutorial as a 3 for difficulty and a 3 for length of time. I don’t think the actual painting is a level 3 for difficulty it’s the amount of patience you need to really observe the flower that you might find a challenge!




Once the detailed centre is complete, we will work a little more loosely. I will show you how to build up the cast shadows, using vibrant colour, yet still considering the values (light and darks).



We will continue to add vibrant shadows to the petals too and create the papery texture of the petals at the same time by applying cling film. If you’ve not tried this technique it is absolutely magical as the results are always unpredictable but so satisfying.


To finish you can add any colour background of your choice ~ but the darker the better, as this will provide the strongest amount of contrast in the painting and will really make those whites sparkle!




This one is just for subscribers ~ but remember for less than £10 a month (annual subscription) you will get access not only to this tutorial but over 60 more! Each one comes with a photo resource, outline drawing, step-by-step worksheet and full length videos so you can paint along with me!



If you would like to find out a little bit more about this project, take a look at the short video below.



I hope you are really going to enjoy this project as despite it being a white subject, it's actually very colourful!


Don't forget to post your paintings on the forum ~ I would love to see them! And if you want to know what is coming next follow me on Instagram @traceybengeyfieldart


Happy Painting!

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