In the studio on a wonderful sunny day, we decided to paint sunflowers from the garden. First, we photographed them in the sun, and then with permission, we brought a few into the studio to paint. This is a perfect subject for wet on wet painting. Want to join us?



Put on French music (or have a handsome young man whisper soft French phrases in your ear, stick a piece of chocolate in your mouth and get a glass of wine). You’re ready!

Wet on wet refers to painting on wet paper. The paper should have a slight shine…no puddles and no dry spots.

So, the first step to mix your paint in preparation. Mix medium values of Ultramarine Blue and also a green (New Gamboge + touch of Payne’s Gray). Also, mix a pile of medium value New Gamboge for the petals and medium value Burnt Sienna for the center.

Now wet your paper. Use a big brush and wet from side to side, top to bottom, being sure every bit has a shine. Then, lightly and loosely brush on the color. This is just a base coat, so don’t worry about forming individual petals or leaves. This step is just something to build on – Brush on bits of Ultramarine Blue and green (New Gamboge +Paynes Gray) over the background, then pull out a few petals shapes with New Gamboge. Don’t play! Just let the paint go where it wants to go. Have fun with this step. That’s what painting is all about, yes? We will ‘clean up’ the petals in the next step. So for now, enjoy! Be loose as a French goose.

If the paper is still shiny at this point, touch a bit of burnt sienna to the big center of the sunflower. Let this dry thoroughly.



In Step two you begin to form the petals of the sunflower with negative painting. What is negative painting? To paint negatively, you paint around the petal (paint the background darker), rather than painting the actual petal. You can even use the same two colors you already have mixed for the background, but darken them a bit by adding more pigment. Now you’re ready.

TIP: You don’t have to leave the petals as they are. The paint may have flowed out too far or in strange ways. Change them now! If they’re too big or misshapen, redraw them as you want them to be, then simply wet around that redrawn shape. This will easily change them into the shapes you like. With negative painting, you are the boss.

Here you go. After you’re sure you’re pleased with the shapes of your petals (or have changed them be penciling new petals) and have paint mixed, wet the background, carefully AROUND the petals. Look for an even shine on the paper. Then pick up background color and dab it onto the wet background, allowing the two background colors to mingle…and don’t worry! The paint will stay in the wet area, it will not go into the dry petals.

Viola! You have just formed wonderful petals shapes.

This is my demo after Step Two is completed. Note how some of the petals have edges that are lost into the background! Not everything must be defined in a painting. Leaving something to the imagination gives the viewers mind something to ponder. Not only that, painting is so much more FUN when you do not worry yourself with being perfect. PERFECTION IS PARALYSIS. Relax and enjoy painting!



Now for the final details. Just darken the center with Dark Brown (Burnt Umber + touch of Winsor Violet). Wet the entire center, being sure the paper has a slight shine, then set the brush down at the top of the center and drag the color downward, letting it lighten towards the bottom of the center. It’s ok for it to be spotty. Sunflower centers are quite bumpy!

Then separate the petals where there are two or more that touch each other. Simply place a little more color on the back one to separate them.

That’s it! Done!


Did you pretend you were in France while you painted?

Feel free to use my sunflower photo to paint your own studies.


This was a quick lesson because we were off for the afternoon! If I get the chance, will send another lesson so that you can get a taste of what we do in the studio. I hope you enjoyed this one.

Kathie xo

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