The daffodil trap

This past winter I struggled to paint a little bunch of daffodils in a clear glass vase. They were on a table in my studio, set against a white wall. I probably painted six sketches of that subject — turning the vase this way and that to get a better composition — but each one was duller than the next. The whole pile ended up in the garbage. Later that day, when I had somewhat recovered from my frustration, I pulled a few of them out of the trash to have another look. The problem was that there was no contrast in any of the sketches — pale yellow shapes, pale background, spindly green stems. I suppose I could have imagined them set against a dark wall, and that would have helped somewhat, but that didn’t occur to me at the time.

I was reminded of that frustration when I set out to paint these brilliant yellow mums at the market, but today I had two things that helped me avoid the daffodil trap. First of all, the mums were in dark pots — big solid shapes of deep green that surrounded the yellow blossoms. Secondly, the whole grouping of flowers was conveniently set against a big neutral background (boxes, wooden palettes, grey wall) which also helped to make the bright colours stand out. I hope I remember this next winter during daffodil time.


35 Comments on “The daffodil trap”

  1. Rooi says:

    Shari, your flowers are so lovely I wanted to go and get some to paint.. flowers/ trees/ human faces are so organic they baffle me much.. watching you doing them seem so easy!


  2. Soni says:

    It’s good to hear about your failures but most importantly WHY they failed ; that has helped me immensely before I pick another subject

    And loving this one – ….. again


  3. Last spring I ended up in the same trap. Even if there was sort of contrast in the background I struggled with the bunch of very yellow blossoms. I couldn’t make them look interesting. I’m shure your rejected sketches were way better:-))


  4. Those mums are spectacular. I can feel how huge the bunches are and how all the flowers merge into a big mass.


  5. rosjenke says:

    Fantastic blooms. You give me heart when I read of your so called failures 😊


  6. anne farmer says:

    when I saw your title I thought of the successive years when I stuck a daffodil in front of my daughter at 4, 5, and 6 years old. I knew she drew well and it was fun (for me) to guage the change. When I approached bearing a daffodil for the fourth year, she went on strike and declares she has hated daffodils ever since.


  7. LauraLu says:

    The grouped yellow flowers look like beautiful mums, which are everywhere right now around here in Indiana. I would love to paint someday without so many pen and ink lines. Sometimes I feel like my painting is coloring book painting. Oh well, I enjoy it anyway. I love reading your posts and experiences. 💕


    • These are mums, Laura. Here’s an idea for the next time you go out painting. Leave your ink pens at home. Draw with a pencil and then use paint. Or another suggestion. Draw with a fine brush and then paint. I bet your work will really loosen up. I haven’t been using much ink lately either because I really just want to paint, and I encourage you to try it too.


  8. Chris Rusk says:

    I love what you’ve done! So beautiful.

    Getting back to your daffodils…
    I have found that interesting shadows can make a seemingly plain-looking subject really interesting. I have always been drawn to very rich colours and their corresponding complement. It seems to me, if you can control the lighting, that an interesting shadow of the daffodils on a white background, might produce a purple-ish hue that can provide a form of contrast for the yellows in your daffodil. All of the green parts then bridge the two main colours and reinforces depth.
    Just a thought, regardless, my eyes enjoy feasting on all your paintings and sketches 🙂


    • Thanks Chris, for these suggestions. I shouldn’t have tried to be so literal. Your idea of working with complements is a great one and I will remember it.

      Hope to see you at sketching one of these days.


  9. Monique says:

    I always love your loose work:)


  10. lynnbowes says:

    Now you’ve set me to digging one out of my trash. Yesterday I attempted (!!!) to paint a line of beautiful yellow aspens against a pine green mountainscape. It looked like a zigzag of yellow on a bed of dark green – awful. Think Charlie Brown’s zigzag shirt. Your description of the composition and contrasting depth of color in the daffodils and mums will push me to try again until I work it out or die trying!


    • I think that’s a great idea Lynn. I often rework something in studio that failed outdoors. Sometimes not having the subject in front of you allows you to rethink the design and composition into something much better. Even if it means trashing a few, the end result is much stronger.


  11. Peggy Bjarno says:

    You nailed it, my friend! KUDOS, and thanks for the pleasure of seeing this scene.


  12. I love how you do masses of flowers rather than each individual one. The contrast of the dark areas around the blossoms themselves really make the pots of flowers stand out. Love it!


  13. Eres increíble Shari, cómo con pocos colores y sencillo planteamiento, consigues unas acuarelas que me encantan.
    Un saludo.


    • I just had a chance to look at your blog. Your watercolours are beautiful — fresh and loose — exactly as they should be. Thanks so much for writing because now I can follow your work too.


  14. I think all my attempts at painting flowers and greenery end up being one trap or another. I will keep in mind to look for masses and use complimentary colors..


  15. Perfectly said and illustrated … I’m passing along your blog to my students.


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