Project 2 – Exercise 2: Still life with flowers

Looking at flower painting makes me somehow nervous. What I know is either expansive detailed flower pieces or Emil Nolde like watercolour paintings. I tend to dislike both for whatever reasons. The first one maybe because of the incredibility detailed work that I would have to out in, the latter maybe because of the – for me – ‘nice’ but not deep enough appeal.

To broaden my perspective I researched more works that I felt attracted to. I am not sure whether it is good to exclude at an early stage works that I don’t like.

Final paintings:

Painting A:

Acrylic on cotton canvas with partly glossy medium (40 x 50 cm)

Stefan513593 - Project 2 - Exercise 2 - A

Stefan513593 – Project 2 – Exercise 2 – A

Painting B:

Acrylic on cotton canvas (50 x 40 cm)

Stefan513593 - Project 2 - Exercise 2 - B

Stefan513593 – Project 2 – Exercise 2 – B

Contextual research:

Gerhard Richter (b. 1932):

-‘Flowers‘ 1994 Oil on canvas (51 x 71 cm)
[online image] Available from:  [accessed 18 May 2016]

-‘Flowers‘ 1977 Oil on canvas (40 x 50 cm)

[online image] Available from: [accessed 18 May 2016]

=> blurred images of flowers in a photorealistic way. Perception of out-of-focus (using reference photos?). I find in those works that the blur supports ambiguity and triggers more questions in the viewer’s mind.

Michael Borremans (b. 1963):

– ‘Dragon Plant’, 2003, Oil on canvas (31 x 49 cm)

[online image] Available from: [accessed 18 May 2016]

=> close up view in limited palette with a casted shadow in bold brushstrokes contrasting with the hyperrealistic painting of the plant.

Kotscha Reist (b. 1963):

  • Souvenir 2‘ Oil on canvas (60 x 50 cm), and
  • Flowers‘, Oil on canvas (60 x 50 cm)
    [online image] Available from: [accessed 18 May 2016]

=> expressive brushstrokes with a coloured vibrating background in limited palette. ‘Souvenir 2’ its nearly a monochrome painting with some blur on the plant. At times his painting remind me of Giorgio Morandi’s bottle still lifes.

Pascal Danz (1961 – 2015):

[online image] Available from:  [accessed 18 May 2016]

Danz says about his works : « Je voudrais mettre en contraste le fragmentaire avec l’entier, l’abondance avec la vacuité. L’espace vide doit devenir une image comme l’image devient une absence, un vide. La proximité physique des images avec simultanément leur ravissement (visuel) devraient, comme la mémoire, indiquer la disparition à l’intérieur et l’extérieur de ce qui a été. C’est là que ce vide béant ouvre cet espace pour que les idées surviennent. »
(“I would like to contrast the fragmentary with the long shot, abundance with the void. The empty space should in the same way become an image just as the image becomes an absence / emptiness. The physical closeness to the images as well as simultaneously their (visual) rapture should, like memory, indicate the fading in and out of what has been. It is where the void gapes open that space for ideas arises.”)

I find this quote quite intriguing with respect to positive and negative space, what is what, ambiguous in its meaning and quite close to some traditional still life themes (vanitas, abundance, rhapography as I discovered during my still life research (Schaffeld, 2016). This quote alongside the questions Danz raised “How can I visualise void or loss or give it a space?”. (Danz, 2014)

We have in our garden wonderful poppies and I tended to take those as my subject. I was sure that I didn’t want to make a painting like Emil Nolde. Also I didn’t want a very close up view like Georgia O’Keeffe. I wanted to keep my mind open, did another research on my flower subject ‘poppies‘ at Bridgeman Education Online and placed alongside my following researched works pictures in the wall for aspiration.

From my research on still life I noticed that Poppy stands for ‘Death and mourning‘ in traditional allegorical sense. I do not rely on this meaning here, but I found that my poppies taken out of their natural growing environment into my ‘artificial’ studio they quickly faded, lost their leaves and their color. In this sense I can relate easily to the traditional meaning of it. I felt at times quite sorry for them. I worked with a set up with black background and playing with mirrors for creating more sense of depth or reflections. I just continued to be engaged with the still life, getting close to the poppies and the time lapse effect of deterioration.

Other works that build on the idea of void and reflection that inspired me in the context of flower painting and this exercise:

  • Aidan McNeill, ‘Australia, India, Japan, New Zealand, North and South America to GB‘, 2010, (click here) for the interplay of small bright color areas and black
  • David Hominal  ‘Through the Window‘, 2010 (click here) for the blurred nocturnal perspective in combination with a glossy surface.

For the idea of illusion and various levels of degrees of reality and thresholds according to Pliny:

  • Juan Sánchez Cotán ‘Quince Cabbage and Cucumber‘, 1602 (click here)


My overall intention for my paintings are:

  • Vanitas theme
  • Void and emptiness to support the reduced beauty of the poppies.
  • Conveying a sense of stage illusion and different level of reality (see Pliny)
  • Juxtaposition of contrasting elements (bright colour for beauty an denatured colour for deterioration).
  • Emphasising refection and effect of mirrors in a subtle way (compared to the traditional depiction of allegories in the 17th century)


Preparatory Sketchbook work

Exploring ideas and possible compositions:

Stefan513593 - Project 2 - Exercise 2 - Sketchbook 1

Stefan513593 – Project 2 – Exercise 2 – Sketchbook 1


Experimenting with ink, acrylic, brush, tissue etc.

Stefan513593 - Project 2 - Exercise 2 - Sketchbook 2

Stefan513593 – Project 2 – Exercise 2 – Sketchbook 2

Exploring luminosity and comparing ink (really intense and bright color as I found out in some previous experiments, quite POP art) and acrylic (gives a more subtle approach through transparent layers).

Stefan513593 - Project 2 - Exercise 2 - Sketchbook 3

Stefan513593 – Project 2 – Exercise 2 – Sketchbook 3

I decided to go for acrylic. More investigation of my ideas building on vanitas, emptiness, mirror reflection:

Stefan513593 - Project 2 - Exercise 2 - Sketchbook 4

Stefan513593 – Project 2 – Exercise 2 – Sketchbook 4

Eventually came towards tonal value studies and color assessments.

Stefan513593 - Project 2 - Exercise 2 - tone and color

Stefan513593 – Project 2 – Exercise 2 – tone and color

More  further sketchbook experiments not mentioned in this post: click here 

As a more elaborated study of my ideas and intention I worked quite quickly with Conté crayons. I did not have a full colour palette but rather a limited range of a few. From Part 1 (click here) I liked the ease and flow to work with dry pastels or Conté crayons on a good support – I chose a black PastelCard paper for his strong tooth. It feels quite close to drawing though. I chose intentionally a blue color for the right side to check juxtaposed colours. Also checking the way of conveying a sense of mirror reflection.

Stefan513593 - Project 2 - Exercise 2 - Study in Oil pastels

Stefan513593 – Project 2 – Exercise 2 – Study in Oil pastels

At the end of this study I was surprised on how quickly and how effective I can work with limited colour palette.

Finally I decided to work on two paintings.

A) to depict the contrast of real pops in bright high key colors and the mirror reflection in denatured and low key colors.

B) to focus on a close up view into the mirror with some blur and clearly seeing two layers. First the glass surface and behind (or in front?) the reflection of the poppies.

Work in progress for painting A (on sized, non-primed cotton – 40 x 50cm)

I decided to work in layers as I learned from my assignment 1 and working multiple steps:

  1. Rough outline of contours
  2. Tonal background (black, middle grey and white)
  3. Blocking in local colours
  4. Refining poppies especially in front of the mirror with bolder brush strokes conveying believable form and tone
  5. Layer of glossy medium (with a bit of black) on the mirror areas to push back the color and form for the reflections.

The final image is on the top of this post

Stefan513593 - Project 2 - Exercise 2 - Work in progress - A

Stefan513593 – Project 2 – Exercise 2 – Work in progress – A


Work in progress for painting B (on sized, non-primed cotton – 50 x 40cm)

Here I applied a similar step-by-step approach as for painting A:

  1. Rough outline of contours
  2. Tonal background (black, middle grey and white)
  3. Blocking in local colours and using palette knife for the background ‘frame’ for illusion of reflected wall texture.
  4. Layering with a very diluted white wash over the entire image to convey a sense of the glass.
  5. Adding scratch marks (form the mirror) for further illusion of mirror and visual depth.

The final image is on the top of this post

Stefan513593 - Project 2 - Exercise 2 - Work in progress - B

Stefan513593 – Project 2 – Exercise 2 – Work in progress – B


After completing both paintings and with some distance after a few days I reflect more on my decisions taken and how successful they were:

  • My planning and working methods:
    I do think that it works quite well as the layering approach in transparent washes for reflections alongside brush strokes for ‘real’ objects (poppies and towel)
  • My choice of format/scale:
    I wasn’t so sure at the beginning wether to make the paintings very small so that one had to look very close or to make them at large scale like Giorgia O’Keefe. I decided to go for the chosen scale as I felt this is safe play for middle scale and a good scale for viewing the work in normal distance.
  • Composition:
    I decided for a bit off balance compositions and cut off objects and the void and emptiness at the center point at eye level. I do think that this rather ambiguous approach does support my overall ideas and intention (see above),
  • Colour interest and use of tonal contrast:
    Simple colours and contrasting elements of low and high key,, juxtaposition of bright and grey colours. During the process of the painting I felt the challenge to get reflected colours right. Especially as my subjective impression and naked eye did adjust to the the various levels of reality (in front of mirror, reflection) quite differently than a camera I felt at times quit frustrated with taken reference pictures, thus I enjoyed much more painting from life. Although the poppies actually faded quickly and I had to find new ones
  • Time spent:
    This was truly a very intense and time absorbing exercise. I may have gone for over the top. It took me couple of days from initial preparation of the scene, experimenting with paint, preparatory sketchbook works, studies and doing the actual painting. Nevertheless I really enjoyed my engagement and my achievements.


  • This was a fascinating exercise and I lost my initial concern about flower painting. I do think that I found a different approach to it, subtle, ambiguous and perhaps also not that ‘nice’ 😉
  • Key elements for success: taking my time, exploring space and different approaches, and reducing complexity to the simplest terms. Less is more I felt quite valid in this work.
  • I feel that my study in pastels are conveying through its loose approach a more mystic perception. It is an easy way of layering and modulating even with my fingers tone and colour.

Next time:

  • I do think that I need to investigate further color assessment in low key situations.
  • Investigation more loose painting approach to depict in simple terms forms and tone. Standing back in further distance does matter a lot and it helps to evaluate the success of one stroke. Working to close on the surface in such areas is risky as I tend to get lost in detail, trying to be accurate what really is not important when looking at it from distance. This is really what I want to improve and will look at it in the next exercise.



  2 comments for “Project 2 – Exercise 2: Still life with flowers

  1. July 4, 2016 at 8:08 am

    Stefan, these are lovely, I particularly like the study in oil pastels. You have Achieved a real softness with the oil pastel….not the easiest medium.

    • Stefan
      July 6, 2016 at 9:05 am

      Alison – thank you 🙂 pastels are indeed not easy and to tame. But it allows me to be very close with my hand to the surface and feeling the touch. I even work at times with my fingers on the surface. An intimate tactile sensation .

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