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How to Paint Sunflowers: A Watercolor Guide

28 Aug 2021
This is a post previously published on an old (and now unpublished) blog. As I was recording sunflower painting tutorials on YouTube, I wanted to re-share it here for those who learn from written-out guides.

See below for links to all of the Sunflower video tutorials I've created as well as the Sunflower stationery, stickers, and prints in the Etsy shop.

If tulips are my favorite flower to paint in the spring, sunflowers are my favorite flower to paint in the summer.

Sunflowers are fabulous to paint for artists of all levels, whether you are starting out with the first time, re-engaging with paint after a hiatus or have been painting for some time.
In this post, I'll share a few tips to paint these graceful, sturdy flowers.
Of course, practice is the best teacher of all.
A Few Fun Facts About Sunflowers
• Their scientific name is Asteraceae and there are about 70 different species.
• Most sunflower species are native to Central and Northern American except for three species originating in South America.
• Sunflowers grow to heights of five to ten feet. The size of the flower depends on the variety, it can be from several inches to a foot across.
• No matter where the sun is in the sky, the sunflowers seek out the sun and turn their "faces" to face the sun.
• The French word for sunflower, 'tournesol,' means to turn with the sun.
Tips to Set Up Your Sunflower Paintings for Success
Start with a simple sketch.
Have a fresh sunflower nearby for reference, but if you don't have a sunflower handy, a picture will do just fine. There are several pictures on Pinterest or a Google search.

Note the diameter of the middle of the sunflower in comparison to the length of the petals. I will use this as my guide for the size reference of both petals and the interior of the flower. Most of the interiors are quite large (though there are some that are smaller). This is what I refer to as a distinguishing feature of sunflowers.
If we get the key distinguishing characteristics correct when we sketch out our flower, we – or anyone else looking at our art – won't have a problem identifying it as a sunflower.

A few other distinguishing characteristics of the flowers is their thick stalk. It's thick and straight, no curves and bends. The leaves also have a distinguishable shape. Notice how wide they are at their middles and even towards the stalk. Many of the leaves have ridges around the perimeter.
Tips for Sketching Sunflowers
• The petals are long and skinny at both the connecting points near the bulb as well as their outermost part.

• The stalk is fairly thick and ridged.

• Many sunflowers have the green, pointy bracts coming off the flower are called phyllaries. Those add to the distinguishable characteristics of the flower.

• After the basic outline of the sunflower is done, I'll leave the rest of the detail for the painting. No need to sketch in the sunflower seeds or other details.
How to Paint Sunflowers with Watercolor
The good news is you do not need many materials! A few colors, one or two paintbrushes, a piece of watercolor paper, and clean water and you are all set.

You can paint a beautiful array of sunflowers with only a few colors. The basic colors for painting sunflowers include:

• Yellow
• Brown
• Green
• Maybe an orange or a red

I have a few different yellows that I love using including yellow ochre, lemon yellow and cadmium yellow as seen in this YouTube video. But if you only have one yellow, you can create several vibrant sunflower-esque shades by mixing a little bit of brown into the yellow or the orange or red into the yellow.

Try mixing a bit of the brown and red (or orange) in with the yellow to get a deeper and complementary shade of yellow.

If you look online or start noticing different types of sunflowers in the store, the variety of colors will start to pop. Some sunflowers are sunny yellow with dark middles and other sunflowers have lighter middles and the most vibrant orange leaves. So much variety! I could paint sunflowers for days.

I've included a link to the video I put on YouTube showing one way to paint a sunflower. The most important thing is to let the paint dry a bit in the middle of the bulb to create the look of all the seeds. Otherwise, it turns into a bit of a muddy mess. We don't want it to look like a solid color like we might see on the "face" of a pansy. We want to create a stippled look of lots and lots of seeds, which is what the interior of the sunflower is made up of.

Round tip brushes are my preferred size brush for sunflowers. The narrow tip allows me to create details on the step and ends of the petal, as well as create the appearance of hundreds of sunflower seeds in the sunflower face.
This is just one way to paint sunflowers. There are all sorts of styles and ways to create them. Watercolor creates one "look" while using different mediums such as acrylic, colored pencils, pastels, etc. will create a different look.
How Sunflowers Inspire Us
There are a lot of hard and harsh things in the world. We know – at least logically - that what we focus on and embrace in our lives and heart, is what kind of people we turn out to be. I am not ignorant of the sadness and wrong in the world, but I choose not to let these things consume my focus, sour my attitude, and poison my perspective. It's helpful that I've had others be an example for me in this life.

My great-grandmother, "Grammy," was one of those beloved people who taught me with her own example of living. She lived until almost her 90th year and had a soft spot for all the great-grandchildren. My brothers and I got to know her (and all her dogs) well.

We all loved Grammy, but it was my mom who had an especially special relationship with Grammy. Grammy used to refer to my mom as her "Sunflower Girl." Grammy wrote my mom letters on yellow legal pad paper and would address these letters to her "Sunflower Girl" which always made me smile. I think my mom brightened up Grammy's day with her visits.

We all need sunflowers in our lives, whether the real flower or people who have a sunflower personality to bring life and cheer.

On days that I am tempted to pucker my face in a frown and jump in with the cynics, these optimistic flowers remind me to keep searching for and turning towards the Son. It's when I do this that my outlook and actions become brighter, no matter what is going on around me. If you'd like to add some more sunflowers to your life, you can check out the stationery, stickers, and sunflower prints in my online shop!

I hope you are cheered through painting these happy, sturdy, summer flowers!
The Newest Sunflower Video: Click below to watch Melissa's first "Vlog" featuring a week of buying, prepping, and painting sunflowers!
Summer 2020 - How to Paint Sunflowers in Less than 30 Minutes (Click image to go to YouTube video)
California, United States
The Creative Season © 2021

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