Composition and Flower Drawing

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These are not just little tips and techniques, but a full course of learning how to see, think, and draw like an artist.

When you study flower drawing and composition, it can very instructive to take a look at some of the great floral paintings of art history.  You will see that one of the first variables is the number of flowers famous artists put in their compositions.  Monet and Renoir, for example, seemed to like working with numerous blooms in a single composition.  Painters like Cezanne, Manet (see right) and Pissaro, on the other hand, preferred just a few flowers for their still lifes. 

Yet some of the most successful floral compositions of all are those that pay careful attention to the values.  In other words, the flowers are arranged so that the lightest ones are in a cluster, with that cluster either facing the viewer or the source of light.

Another way of looking at the floral arrangement when you do flower drawing Is to think of the entire set-up – flowers, leaves and vase or bowl – as a single object subject to light and shadow.  In so doing, you will see that we can generalize the lights and darks into a highlight (the lightest part), a middle tone (between light and dark) and shadow (the darkest part). 

Thinking in these terms will help you better compose your arrangement. Having trouble seeing what I’m talking about?  Then squint as you step back to take a look at your composition.  That will flatten out the colors to make it easier for you to see what is light and dark.

That’s not all you should be taking into account. Try to take a look at the empty space – or “negative space” - around your arrangement.  If you were to picture that empty space as jigsaw puzzle pieces you could hold in your hand, would they have interesting shapes?  Or is it hard to to imagine jigsaw puzzle pieces at all, because the edges in your arrangement are fuzzy or poorly defined?  

This is one of the reasons a picture of even a single flower can be striking – if its shape is clear and interesting, it lends power to the composition.  So if you are there with a single bloom in your hand, be sure to position it carefully so you can’t have just a symmetrical round shape, for example, but something more interesting.  Position a few leaves around it to add to the interest, making sure that the negative space around them is clear and bold.

If you’re having trouble seeing the negative space as you work on your flower drawing, another way to attack the problem is to check how symmetrically you have positioned the flowers.  Great floral painters like Brueghel the Elder would have symmetrically composed flowers arranged almost mathematically – and then break the monotony with one or two blooms  off on their own to lend a more natural air. 

Classic Floral Compositions

Still wondering how to stick the flowers in a vase so you can work on your flower drawing?  Then take a look below at some of the classic forms to look for when composing with flowers, that I have tried to render clearly in my drawings for you.

Horizontal floral composition.  Using a relatively low dish, use sprays of flowers to establish the lines of your arrangement (1).  Put the flowers that will be your focal point in the middle, so that they or a bit of greenery spill over the edge of the dish, and taper them out along the horizontal lines of the sprays (2). Leave room to put in the smaller "filler" flowers and leaves to fill in around the focal flowers (3).

Vertical floral composition.  Cut flowers and foliage to be three or four times the height of a rather vertical vase (1).  Place the focal flowers low, in the circle of the open vase (2).  Complete the floral arrangement's shape with filler flowers (3).

Triangular floral composition.  Use sprays to define the vertical and horizontal of your composition, using the smaller flowers and smaller-leaved foliage (1).  Make sure that the height is greater than the width. Then put the focal flowers in the center of the triangle and towards the bottom to give weight to the composition (2). Then put in your filler flowers and foliage to create the triangular form (3).

Crescent floral composition. Use curved sprays of flowers or foliage to define the curve of the crescent, balancing it attractively on the bowl (1).  Have the focal flowers pretty low in the bowl so the composition looks balanced and stable (2).  Complete with the filler flowers and foliage (3), but have a few nice little wisps of flowers to soften the form a little.

Minimalist arrangement. Using a low bowl, place the vertical and the horizontal sprays to establish the lines (1).  Place the focal flowers very low, to give weight and stability to the composition (2).  Complete with the filler flowers (3).

You're getting the idea, I'm sure.  Whether you are arranging a simple circular shape or something as exotic as a "Hogarth curve" (an "S" shape) for your flower drawing, it is always the same procedure:  step one, place the sprays that establish the lines; step two, place the focal flowers centrally and place them low in compositions that look, visually, as though they are in need of balance; and step three, complete with filler flowers.

Go from "Composition and Flower Drawing" to "How Flowers Are Put Together"

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