White Flowers, White Vase: What background?

April 28, 2020

It doesn’t sound as though this week will be the best for sketching and painting outside so bring some flowers inside.

This week’s challenge may be painted in any medium but if possible I would like you to select white flowers and a white or very pale vase or jug.  I have no sample painting but have explored with a camera one of the most important decisions in still life painting, the background.   The background tone and colour will help create the mood the artist wishes to convey, and photography is one way to record different backdrops for the same set up, especially if time is limited and decisions must be made and a painting done before the plants wilt!  The reward is that you can efficiently choose a backdrop, get the painting accomplished and have a record of possibilities as a reference for future work.

1. Start by setting up the vase of flowers with a white backdrop and table covering. Click!

Try to photograph the same view of the flowers each time so that you can compare like with like.  As you can see I added a bloom after the first photo so the images are not totally consistent but good enough for you to get the drift.  At the end of your exploration you may of course wish to change things before you start painting.  There is always something that needs a tweak!

2. Change the white for a mid toned background. Click!

3. See what introducing a small white cloth will do. Click!

4. Then find some richly coloured cloths, one of them with some patterns that include dark and vibrant colours like the patterned blouse. Click!

5. Try adding the same small white cloth under the vase again. Click!

6. Lastly Try a different view point. Click!

There are no rules, just play with the cloths till you find a set up you wish to paint and go for it.

My personal preference for the lilacs is the simplicity of the white backdrop, but that is today, on another occasion I may feel in the mood for something patterned and jolly.  As always think about the tonal contrasts in the painting as well as the colour.  I think that is why I am so drawn to enjoy painting the white set up.

For interesting table coverings and textures in subtle colours do look at still life paintings by Jacqueline Rizvi and Charlotte Halliday.  For some of the most beautiful paintings of lilacs reference Edouard Manet and if you are excited by colour, shape and pattern, look at flower still lives by Henri Matisse.

If you enjoy this challenge, try another floral still life exploration with brightly coloured flowers and investigate harmonious (analogous) and discordant (complementary) colour combinations.

Have fun !

Your Paintings

Mock Orange Blossom: acrylic

Vivienne has made an exciting composition with tone, using light against darker areas effectively. The curve of the table, shape of the jug and diagonal with the two tiles in subtle blues at the upper right, gives this painting a strong abstract framework.

White Lilac: pastel

Heather has very skillfully suggested the lilacs without drawing every tiny flower.

White Flowers White Vase: watercolour

A delightfully fresh watercolour from Angela


White Lilac; on black paper

Ann has given us a delightful pattern of flowers and leaves on a dramatic black ground.


White Lilac: ink and watercolour


Red flowers, Turquoise Jug: pastel

Ruth has made a bold statement with colour.  She has picked up the turquoise colour of the jug both in the tile and in the background behind the white backdrop, and in front of the tiled stand. This gives the whole painting a unity and at the same time our focus remains on the flowers and their dominating red. The white backdrop provides a great foil to the red flowers in tone and colour. The warm terracotta tile provides a complementary colour to the turquoise and links back to the warm reds of the flowers. This painting is all about shape and colour.

From the photo of the set up below you can see that the turqoise in the background and nearest part of the foreground has been invented and works brilliantly.

Set up for Red Flowers Turquoise Jug


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