How to Paint a Garden

Poppies in the garden. Lisa Marder

After tending to your garden it's time to wash off your hands, get out your paint supplies, and do some painting. As did Claude Monet, who created, cared for, and painted his gardens in Giverny, France for forty-three years, you can find endless inspiration in the garden. 

Read Monet's Flower Gardens at Giverny to find out about the source of Monet's inspiration and the subject of many of his famous paintings.

Here are some tips for painting the garden:

Change your point of view. Within steps you can change your point of view dramatically. You can work from afar, capturing the beauty of the whole garden, or get in close, isolating just a few flowers within the frame, or even closer, capturing just one flower that fills the whole painting surface, as did the painter Georgia O'Keeffe.

When composing your painting consider the Rule of Thirds and the Rule of Odds. Diagram out your image and isolate the major shapes. Find the five or seven major shapes. Think of the flowers not as individual blossoms but as masses of shape. If your composition looks too still because there are an even number of flowers or masses of flowers or shapes within it, change your point of view. Or, feel free to deviate from what you actually see and add or eliminate a flower or mass of flowers. You do not have to be absolutely faithful to the garden.

Although inspired by it, the focus in painting is not as much on your subject, but on the painting itself, the two-dimensional surface on which you're creating the illusion of your subject - and you, the artist, have ultimate control.

Look all around you. Look down, get low and look up, look in front of and behind you.

A low point of view - as in a garden snail's view - will aggrandize the flowers, giving them more significance, whereas a higher point of view, which is a more normal one,  will put the garden more in context.

Use a viewfinder or take your camera out to get some different shots of the garden. Read the article, Painting From Photographs.

Use stone walls, rocks, and other garden features to help provide structure and contrast to the painting. Review the principles of design

Try some Notan studies, diagramming the garden using only black and white to determine the backbone of the painting and create a sense of balance.

Do some studies in black and white and values in between to create the illusion of form, depth, and space. Read .

Pay attention to the light. Where is it coming from? What time of day is it. The Golden Hours, that time just after sunrise and just before sunset, are when most photographers like to shoot as the shadows are long and there is a beautiful golden orange cast on everything. If the garden doesn't inspire you at some time, wait for the light to change. It will, and it may suddenly open up brand new possibilities for painting.

Simplify the details. You do not have to capture every leaf and vein.

Use a large flat brush to quickly lay in the masses and the values. Read more about brushes here.

Capture the complexity of the color relationships. Think about how you use cool and warm colors to  help define space. Read more about color in the article Understanding Color. Also look at the article How to Paint Landscape Greens. 

Use your palette or painting knife for adding depth and texture to the surface of the painting, making it a tactile experience. See this video demonstration on using a painting knife.

Try to capture the living quality of the garden. This is not a flower still life. Beneath the surface of the plants there is movement, growth, life processes. The breeze blows, bees hover, insects fly in and out, birds sing, hummingbirds flit from flower to flower. Try to imbue your painting with that sense of life and movement.

 It helps to paint loosely and freely, without too much detail. Try painting quickly, doing several small paintings, no more than 8 x 10 inches, in a short amount of time - i.e., a half hour for each.

Try painting the garden in a series. This will help to capture the garden's living quality. Consider different times of day, or different types of weather. An overcast day can be a lovely day to paint the garden. Read Painting the Landscape in Series.

Look hard, breathe deep, experience the garden and  let the painting become an extension of yourself as well as of the garden.