Leaves, stems and flowers: tips for garden sketchers

I spent the afternoon sketching in my garden today. All kinds of things are blooming out there in the heat, and instead of painting a full page, I filled a spread with small sketches. Here are a few tips that might help if you are thinking of trying this:

  • Remember to incorporate leaves and stems along with the flowers
  • Look at the shape of each leaf, and how it comes off the stem of the plant. Every plant is different.
  • Mass small flowers into one shape.
  • Let some parts of the sketch escape from each frame.
  • Use different size frames on the page, keeping some horizontal, some vertical and some square.
  • Draw the blooms from different angles like the white daisies, below. Look at the flowers from above as well as below. Look at the unopened buds and add some of those in.
  • Use complementary colours
  • Vary your greens by using different blues in your foliage mixes. In the white hosta flower above, I used Cerulean Blue instead of Ultramarine or Prussian.
  • Use contrast: big and small frames, big and small blooms, light and dark washes.
  • Don’t treat this like a botanical study (unless of course you want to). Just have fun, keep the washes fresh and capture the essence of each flower.

39 Comments on “Leaves, stems and flowers: tips for garden sketchers”

  1. Donna says:

    Thanks for all the tips. Very easy to overdo flowers. I need to get outside!!!


  2. DiniAlice says:

    Thanks for the great tips! I love my garden and I love painting the flowers as well as the veggies!


  3. bmweeks says:

    Great post Shari! Thank you.


  4. Perfect timing! I’m about to grab my sketch stuff and head back out to the garden. Great tips. And I love the idea of little individual flower “portraits.”
    Another tip: add the little shadow of the bloom on the stem (like in the daisy sketch you did). When I first noticed this and added the shadow, it really added depth to the bloom.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Denise says:

    This post was a “bouquet” of helpful tips! Thank you!


  6. David says:

    Thank you, very useful advice and lovely sketches.


  7. Bart van Kempen says:

    Thank you. I was just having my morning coffee in the garden and thinking of painting some of my flowers before reading this. Great tips.


  8. Nice Flowers, I have a beautiful Hydrangea in front of my house. It blooms for several weeks every summer. I did a watercolour painting of my Hosta’s yesterday, and used a red pencil. It was really neat how the pencil showed through the thin paint washes.


  9. miatagrrl says:

    I often get overwhelmed in large gardens by all the masses of greens and even flowers. I love these tips and your montages of small “framed” floral portraits — I’m going to try these next time I’m sketching in a garden. Thank you!


  10. Judy Sopher says:

    Perfect timing as our flowers are in full bloom right now. Will definitely try the small sketches. Flowers are difficult for me.This really helps.Thanks.


  11. monique says:

    Thank you! I struggle:)


  12. Janice Veal says:

    What fun!


  13. Good Evening dear friend Shari,

    All your paintings and tutorials are extremely wonderful and appreciated.
    I admire your open heart in teaching the art.
    All the best and good luck.
    Lord bless you coupled with my blessings.


  14. joantav says:

    What a great way to do a page of flower sketches! Great tips too.


  15. Linda Levar says:

    Hi Shari,
    Love these, love your loose style…question: do you do the background first? Do you add to the background in the end? Does it even matter?


    • I think that was a good question Linda. I actually did do the background first. Then the berries, then the leaves, and then the shadows on the cloth. I think it matters to me because I like to think about the process first. Glad you like them!


    • Linda, when I replied to this I thought you were asking about my strawberry sketch. In these I actually paint the flowers first and then the backgrounds. In this case, it also matters because I am very careful about the shapes of the flowers so I paint them first and then match the background colour to that.


      • Linda Levar says:

        Thanks for the clarification Shari, I thought that’s what you did and I thought it was about emphasizing the flowers. Appreciate your sharing your methods.


  16. Laurie Householder says:

    Thank you for this post. It was very helpful and interesting.


  17. Welldone Shari! Your tips are awesome for sketching flowers. We often use more colors for shading, which is a big mistake. Can you guide me on what colors fit well in contrast?
    The concept of opened and unopened buds is very interesting. Artists mostly sketch one type of flower either bloom or bud. Now I will apply all these tips in sketching my garden as well.

    Hopefully, You will keep on writing more on such topics. I love to hear more from you.


    • Thanks so much Patrick. You are right about the colours being very subtle for the shading on flowers.
      I don’t have specific tips I can give you right now but it’s the start of gardening season so hopefully if you follow the blog you’ll see lots of stuff coming up in the next few months. I love sketching flowers and I will certainly be starting soon.


  18. webdesignerchris says:

    Nice job with the sketches. going to let my friend know about this too. Jodi @ tonniesflorist.com she loves this stuff too.


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