Meet December's Artist of the Month, Kathy Anderson! (See Kathy's videos here.) Kathy lives her artistic life always remembering the best lesson she has learned through her long relationship with Richard Schmid, her mentor and friend: Paint from life, and let painting be a joyous adventure! A popular teacher who teaches workshops nationally and internationally. She is a Master Signature member of OPA, a Signature Member of Allied Artists, a member of Connecticut Watercolor Society and Rocky Mountain Plein Air Painters, and an Artist Member of the Salmagundi Club and the National Arts Club.
Art Notes: What does painting flowers give you as an artist?
Painting flowers has been my passion since I picked up a brush for the first time. I’m an avid gardener, having grown up surrounded by my mother’s gardens on Long Island, so it was a natural transition for me.
Flowers give me endless possibilities for my paintings — every color in the rainbow can be used; finding compatible things to combine with flowers for still lifes; plein air painting in my garden; or painting the wildflowers out West amongst the rivers, beautiful aspens, and the forests to create a wonderful landscape.
Art Notes: Could you walk us through your process? What do you need to have figured out at each stage?
Good question, as I’m about to start a 24 x 20 piece from my garden of pale yellow cosmos and blue bellflowers. First, I love the color combination of blue and yellow, so my harmony will be established from that. These are both tall flowers, so I will use a vertical canvas. I pay attention to the different shapes and sizes of the flowers — the cosmos are larger — and the leaves are different from the bellflowers, which establishes variety in the shapes.
My light is important, of course, so I’ll observe the location in the morning and evening to see which I like better. A garden is complicated, there is never the perfect composition, so I’ll do a very rough drawing to get the rhythm and design of the painting, utilizing what I want from the subject.
Art Notes: There can be a tendency to paint in every flower and every leaf. How and where do you suggest the elements of an arrangement without spelling out every detail?
I start my painting by toning my canvas with a beautiful warm, transparent wash in the brown/green family, usually Rembrandt viridian and trans oxide red or trans oxide brown. This gives me the harmony of what you see internally in the garden, which is the soil. I work on a very slick surface, so my next step is to “pull out,” by wiping with a paper towel, my value design. I’m wiping down to the white canvas for my lightest lights, not thinking flowers, but value.
I usually don’t remove paint for the leaves — I can paint them as a mass on top of the wash. If the wash comes through, that’s great for a variety in the leaf color. I’m still not thinking of individual flowers at this point but rather trying to create a puzzle that I can pull together in subsequent steps.
Art Notes: Setting up the still life: What is important to think through when setting up a still life of flowers to paint? What questions do you ask yourself?
It’s the same, basically, as outdoors — a good harmony, a variety of sizes of shapes — for example, I might not choose a geranium with another flower that would be “round” and of a similar size. I put “round“ in quotes because geraniums aren’t really round, but that’s another subject. I would probably choose something smaller that has simpler petals. I would also choose a color harmony carefully — something that contrasts well, or complements each other well. I like to have my floral still lifes seem as if they came straight from the garden and are not too formal. My goal is to have the viewer move around the painting, so utilizing stems for direction is important to me.
Art Notes: Where do you plan the colors in your piece, and how do you change colors as you work to make a better painting? Or is it as simple as painting exactly the color you see?
I try to create a flow, or rhythm, through the painting by grouping together some flowers of the same color and having pieces of that color throughout. This morning I was working on a piece, left the room, and when I came back I saw a straight diagonal with red roses that was very unpleasing. It took me a bit to figure out how to fix this — remove one, add another to break the line, something else? I finally took one out and changed it to a green bud and it broke the line. I try really hard to work these problems out in my setup — that’s the goal that sometimes goes awry.
Art Notes: There is so much going on in florals. How do you keep the eye engaged but not overwhelmed? (Is that a value issue, a color issue, or a shape issue?)
It’s definitely a value issue — you can have an area with lots of different colors with flowers mixed with leaves, and keep it simple with close values. If your values are close, it will read as one mass. You can then cut in some darks or lights to give the impression of a leaf or a flower, and you’re keeping it simple.
Art Notes: Flowers also have a lot of smaller shapes. How do you design a piece from a shape standpoint?
The most important thing you can do when observing flowers is squint! Anyone who has read Richard Schmid’sAlla Prima (and everyone should!) knows the value of squinting.
For me, my favorite paintings are simple value structures with strong lights and darks. A peony is a perfect example of how you edit what says “peony,” and not going overboard trying to paint everything you see with your eyes wide open. Choosing the right edges to highlight is also important to keep a rhythm going. I realize this is hard to explain in words — many of us need a visual example to understand, which is why the multitude of DVDs that are available are so valuable.
Art Notes: What are the biggest mistakes you see students making from a composition standpoint with florals? What ways can they improve this?
The simple answer is thinking you are painting flowers and leaves instead of shapes of values and colors, and not squinting to simplify what you are seeing. I tell students to start off with a strong block-in and good value design. Then you can go back after and add the details. Too many details in the beginning stops you from seeing your design, which is why blocking in with no color at first makes it easier to see. Every flower doesn’t have to be explained — a few will tell the viewer what they are looking at.
Learn more about how Kathy Anderson works by checking out her videos here.