White flowers study – painting without colour

I walk a lot those days, not much else to do now, and the weather is lovely. As a result, I made some sketches of early spring flowers. Quite a few of them are white – snowdrops, hellebores. A much more Interesting question presented itself – how to paint white flowers study? How to make such a limited palette interesting? And what background to choose for the white flowers? Can you paint without colour?

I wanted a set of unified flower studies and the background to tie them. So I had three options: none added, vignetted or something simple. Flowers are the subject, they should stand out and not be overpowered by a fancy background. With this in mind, I decided to skip it altogether. Moreover, a black backdrop seemed like an obvious choice – amplifying the white and green.

The choice of black can be seen as a controversial one – some people don’t consider it a colour. For us humans often it has so many negative connotations – fear lurking at night, cold emptiness, void. It’s also very bold and powerful against the white. This is one reason we are still so drawn to black and white photography.

Dark and unified backgrounds are inherently tricky to achieve, hence I choose black paper to work with. I could do this as I work with mixed media (acrylic and pastels in this case) so painting light on dark is possible. Acrylic paint gives amazing coverage, pastels allow to add highlights and make edges softer.

The result is a modern take on a botanical painting – cheerful and energetic with bold, clean lines. Something that would find its place in a modern farmhouse, contemporary home or in a country cottage.

In conclusion – backgrounds are important. They can make or break the painting. When I want to focus on flowers, I like to skip the background as it allows colours to pop up. It’s not always black, it can be white (or any other colour) with equally good results. Saying this, I’m not sure if I’d skip the background altogether when painting a still life – it’s something that I need to try out.

If you like it here is a link to the white flowers study on Etsy