Floral Watercolor Still Life – and why we paint what we paint

Cocoon Plant with Roses 12×7 Floral Watercolor (sold)

Surfing the internet¬†entices surreptitious visits¬†to other artists’ studios. The subject of each artists’ work varies; we’ve all seen magnificently executed art featuring everything from a bucket of fish heads to an artfully arranged pile of tangled nude figures. Why an artist choses to paint or draw a particular subject is their secret, but I presume (I know, that’s a dangerous practice) that what we find enticing to render in the studio¬†has something to do with our personal histories.

Margery in the flower shop

This is my grandmother Margery and one of her dogs¬†(I think this was Gigi, or maybe Buttons, but it was before my time). My maternal grandparents were from England and Canada, and they met when they were teenage immigr√©s¬†working¬†in a Connecticut textile factory. Margery loved flowers, so they saved enough to buy a little flower shop in town, and that transition from factory to flower shop launched a deeper love affair with plants, gardening and flowers. Their affinity, in turn, swayed¬†most of my family to take up gardening; some of them reluctantly, and late in life, but there’s dirt under nails and rose-thorn scratches on the arms¬†of everyone I’m related to from this branch on my family tree.

Painting flowers, again. (2005)
The first time my husband met Al & Margery; see that photo album they’re sharing with us? Family photos? Nope. It’s close ups of the day lilies they cultivated in the garden. My husband is such a good sport. ????

It may be very old fashioned to paint flowers, since it’s been done &¬†done for centuries, but I *really* like flowers. They remind me of Margery and Al, and their orchid shed, and their hundreds of varieties of day lilies, and their wildly profuse¬†Schlumbergera. They are both gone now, but I think of them every time one of the plants they gave me sprouts a new shoot, or looks at me and shimmers¬†in an enticingly paintable way.

  • Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures. ~Henry Ward Beecher

Have you¬†painted subjects that are tucked into your personal history, like Frida Kahlo, or Vincent Van Gogh or Andrew Wyeth? It may be over done to paint birds, or florals, but if that’s what draws you into the studio and compels you to¬†pick up a brush or a pencil, I think it’s wise to go with¬†those fleeting urges. Painting exclusively what you think your patrons¬†will buy¬†is fine too, but that art can have a contrived feeling;¬†sometimes,¬†our intensions peek¬†through the mark making. The adage “paint what you love” is old advise, and any memorable saying cited from art history’s¬†wise, old experience¬†is worth pondering as a¬†credible observation. ¬†So, what do you paint, and why? Are your subjects steeped in nostalgia? Do you prefer political commentary, or word-art, or faces, or mariner scenes? What speaks to you? Leave a comment and let us hear from you.


Art Quote
We say, correctly, that every child has a right to food and shelter, to education, to medical treatment, and so on. We must understand that every child has a right to the experience of culture. We must fully understand that without stories and poems and pictures and music, children will starve.
~Philip Pullman

20 thoughts on “Floral Watercolor Still Life – and why we paint what we paint”

  1. Hi, Belinda! I concur with the other commenters; what a lovely post! I actually “found” you several weeks ago when decided to get back into linocuts (introduced by your fabulous videos!) and then discovered that you are a watercolorist as well, like me! My favorite subjects are flowers, too, and still lifes composed of family mementos…and of course, animals (especially cats)!
    So nice to *meet* you!

    1. Hi Anne, Thanks for the nice note and welcome! I hope you post your linocut experiments so we can see (eye brow wag). I love the name of your blog, and I can so relate to the “fur in the paint” (and everywhere else). It’s nice to meet you too!

  2. Even in college when I was painting urban scenes and people, animals were always somewhere in them….now they are front and center! I have loved animals since I can remember. Growing up I filled my bedroom full of hamsters, hermit crabs and fish…and that didn’t include all the family pets we had! My heart just opens wide when I pet my cats or play with my dog or go on safari to Africa…that’s one of many reasons I love to draw them! Capturing their soul and essence in my work is hugely gratifying!!

    1. Hi Kathansen9 – Good for you to paint what’s near and dear to you. I believe it makes a difference when we paint if the subject is close, familiar and well-loved. It shows in the brush strokes. And lucky for you (if you sell your work), there has always been a demand for animals in art, so double stars for you!

  3. Janet Catmull

    For me it’s marine scenes, mostly Cornish. Whoever would have thought? Not me! But once I started painting boats and Cornish harbors, I couldn’t stop.

    1. Hi Janet – Yes, Ive seen your amazmo Cornish mariner scenes, and they are so clearly places you’ve visited and enjoyed, because you lay that joy into your pigments. Isn’t it funny how one trip and a few sketches can launch us on an entirely different map back in the studio. Maybe creative segues sprouted from new experiences keep the delight of the discovery alive a little longer. I hope you post more of your Cornish scenes on facebook, because everyone who saw them enjoyed them. ????

  4. What a timely blog post for me! Thank you! I have been stuck for months, haven’t painted at all. When I think about painting my only thoughts are “I don’t know what to paint.” However, just reading this article I realize that I have been obsessing about a topic for several weeks now, urban highway landscapes. This is what I need to be painting – doh! Thank you again! And I love your blog. ūüôā

    1. Hi Susan, Thanks so much for writing and high five with a hip-bump on your new urban highway landscape painting series! You probably already know these folks, but just in case, have a look at the work of John Salminen, Jennifer McChristian, Karin Jurick and Iain Stewart for an extra dose of inspiration! Paint on!

  5. What do I like to paint? My younger daughter tells me I have to stop painting people and faces and pumpkins and apples. That I should look in the catalogues and paint sellable art. Not the “stuff” I paint, “though it’s nice Mom, no one is going to buy it”!

    Truth is I really do need to sell but I am seduced by my emotions…..when I feel my heart pound and sense that excited feeling, my camera come out and I snap. She is right though, for the most part those paintings are still hanging in my studio. Bunny’s, babies, children at play. The ones I have sold were painted with the sellable goal in mind and the excitement never happened. I must say when I was handsomely paid for those paintings I did get a different kind of excitement.

    I have been in a quandary for months now…I was accepted into the Johnson and Johnson Headquarters Gallery last year for a 2017 show and I still have not decided what to paint. It’s so important to me to find a focus…..but it just won’t come. Months and months pass and it really is time for me to get down and dirty but I am blank. So do you have and sage advise ……..please.

    1. Hi Dorothy, I haven’t got a sage advice toolbox, but my opinion on your art is that it’s lovingly rendered and beautiful. It’s clear that you adore the subjects you’re painting, and I think that’s so important. Paint things that make you want to paint some more. And if the subject is unusual to the mainstream art market, then perhaps you can set a little time aside each week to market your work to the customers that are looking for it. Analyze where your customers hang out, and market to them where they are. I’m certain that there are collectors who adore and maybe even need images of children at play and dogs and bunnies. But keep painting because your work is wonderful.

  6. Belinda, I’ve been reading and enjoying your posts and videos for a few weeks now. I appreciate that your content is well-informed, very clear and interesting. It’s obvious that you are serious about your work as an artist. I wanted to comment on this post about painting flowers since botanicals are my main subject (along with other growing things and natural phenomenon). Flowers are universal symbols of beauty and their forms and colors almost ask to be painted, so it’s not surprising artists have been doing so for a very long time! Thank you for this lovely article about your very personal connection to flowers and gardening.

    1. Hi Laura, Thanks so much for stopping by. I agree with you that flowers are universal symbols of beauty, and I think that’s exactly why they’ve been used as subjects in art over and over and over again. It’s all been done before. Despite the plethora of them in art history, and the saturation of the subject in the art market, we artists still like them, so we paint images of them, and that’s a good thing, I think. Paint what you love, right? I high five you on that. ????

  7. I paint cacti. Interspersed with a landscape or still life, I can’t seem to pull away from the fascination of the humble cactus. Living all of my life in the desert southwest, rocks and canyons and cacti are familiar to me. Hopefully, someday they will release me and I can move on, but for now I am “stuck” on cacti. (Sorry about the pun… okay, I’m really not)

    1. Alice, Maybe you’re being “stuck” ???? on cacti is for the rest of us; everyone who forgets to notice how lovely and varied they are, until one of your beautiful paintings wakes us up to take notice again. My vote is that you keep ’em coming!

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