How to Paint Bluebonnets

How to paint bluebonnets is the the focus here in part 4 of my oil painting demo series of posts on painting a Texas bluebonnet landscape.

First, I want to show the completed painting. This will give you an idea of where the painting is going. Click on the image for a larger view.

bluebonnet oil painting by William "Byron" Hagerman

I set the stage for the bluebonnets by putting in the grasses working from back to front. I darken the values as I come forward.

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Next I work to cover the rest of the canvas. I’m not focusing heavily on details at this point, just getting my under-painting done. For some of the textures of the grasses I like to use an old jagged edged bristle fan brush.

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After the paint dries I then move on to massing in the bluebonnets with a dark value of blue based off of Ultramarine. I departed somewhat in my traditional mixture by adding Indanthrene Blue by Winsor & Newton into the mix. Since bluebonnets lean towards blue violet I also add in some Dioxine Purple or add Permanent Rose or Alizarin for variety.

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I continue with my dark mix for the bluebonnets, working out a pattern that leads the eye back into the painting.

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After this layer dries I start adding lighter values for the bluebonnets working from the back to front.

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Here’s a detail of the bluebonnets.

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Another up close view of the painted bluebonnets.

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Once I finished all the bluebonnets I proceeded to other areas of the painting that needed the finish work such as the big tree, rocks, and cactus and a little bit of cutting back into the bluebonnets here and there with the grass color. I wanted to make sure they didn’t look as though they were floating and make the pattern more pleasing and believable.

The following are up close sections so you can see more of the finished detail. As you can see I’ve kept tight detail to a minimum. However, due to the size of the painting it looks more detailed than it really is. I first finish the pattern of the foliage with light dark and middle values. Then I add tree limbs. When dry I negative shape paint the sky holes, chiseling out the forms of limbs and further modifying the shape of the tree.

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Another patch of completed bluebonnets and surrounding vegetation and rocks.

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Detail of the middle ground cactus.

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Here’s the cactus in the foreground. Here you can see some individual bluebonnets scattered around although not haphazardly. I’m keeping my design in mind. These bluebonnets are a supportive role to the larger masses. Again on the topic of how to paint bluebonnets, notice how the bluebonnets have a dark value, followed by a lighter value and finally a white cap on top. It gives the flowers depth. Also some of the cactus stickers are hinted at. However, in the above image I have not added them except for a few catching the light. Why? They’re further away and your eye would not pick up that kind of detail. Plus the amount of detail has to be in proportion to the rest of the details in the painting. In other words, if your painting is more impressionistic would it make sense to add a bunch of tight detail on an object and leave the rest loosely painted. This might work on a close up view and keeping a background simple, but remember to keep your overall painting in mind and don’t get caught up in rendering details and loose focus on the whole. Every section has to relate to the other.

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Below is a detail section of rocks. Remember a rock is a shape. It has sides and how the rock is positioned in relation to the light you will have different values. If only two sides are visible you will have a a light and shadow area. The same is true if you can see three sides, but you will have three values at a minimum. Light, mid value and shadow.  Don’t put your sunlight colors in areas that are to be in shadow or put shadow colors in areas that are in the light. Colors in the light are warmer, those in shadow are cooler, but sometimes they can appear somewhat warmer due to a warm reflected light bouncing off other warm colored rocks in sunshine. You learn to paint rocks by studying them. No good substitute for observing them and paying attention to how the light describes their form.

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Here’s the detail area of the tree on the left and a view of the distant hills and lower sky. In painting the tree the sequence is establish the foliage first, them indicate limb structure and finally paint in the negative shapes on the sides of the limbs and other sky holes keeping in mind what’s in behind the tree. Often you will have to paint those values a little darker since they can appear to be stuck on top of the tree instead of being behind it. You can also modify the sky hole a little by overlapping it with some tree foliage.

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And finally here’s another close up view of the clouds in the right hand corner area. Again like any other shape a cloud has form to it and as such is subject to having light and shadow sides. Best way to learn to paint clouds is by actually studying them.

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I hope that these series of posts will benefit you in your own painting.  Have fun learning!

 

 

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20 thoughts on “How to Paint Bluebonnets

  1. Jolene

    What a beautiful painting! You gave some excellent advice on how to paint bluebonnets. I am anxious to try them again. I basically use your method except I believe I add too much detail to them. Thank you for sharing your technique.

    Reply
    1. William Post author

      There’s nothing wrong with adding detail to your bluebonnets, but I suggest doing so for those only closest to you in the foreground. Plus, the amount of detail in them should also be similar to the amount of detail you put in the rest of the painting. Think of it this way. You have foreground, middle ground and background. Each plane of distance should have their own degree of finish with diminishing details as the different elements in your paintings recede into the distance. Thanks for stopping by and commenting Jolene.

      Reply
  2. Anita McDonald

    Terrific paintings. I have tried bluebonnet painting, but mine end up as blue blobs without definition . You give excellent instructions. I will keep trying to produce an identifiable blue bonnet patch.

    Reply
    1. William Post author

      Thank you Anita. I hope my instructions will help with your next bluebonnet painting. Keep practicing!

      Reply
    1. William Post author

      I’m glad you were able to learn a lot with this demo and that I was able to provide the info clearly. Thanks for letting me know Robin.

      Reply
  3. bob Gorski

    Thank you so much. comments on color and technique helps me a lot. Trying to get better at my hobby of oil painting, and really do need to find sites/blogs like this to learn from your experience.

    Reply
  4. Jolene Kelm

    You do beautiful work. I haven’t painted since my husband died in 2013, but have a commission for a German Shepherd dog in a field of bluebonnets. I have painted bluebonnets before basically using your technique, but needed a little inspiration before I start this painting. It worked! I am inspired! Please keep the tutorials and emails coming…very inspiring to see such talent.

    Reply
  5. Johnnie Griffin

    Your information is so clear and precise. Very helpful. I had painted for many years and stopped about 5 years ago because of arthritis in my hands (and other places). I am 78 now and the desire to paint has become too much and just this week I’ve picked up my brushes , and living in the middle of bluebonnet country, am painting again. I chose one of Salinas’ paintings to use as a guide (I have many photos and will get them all out soon). But now that I’ve blocked in, I’ve gotten very nervous about the bluebonnets. You have provided me with the encouragement to go on.

    I will be visiting your web site many times in the future.

    Reply
    1. William Post author

      Johnnie, I’m so glad you decided to pick up your paint brushes again. I’m sorry that you have to deal with arthritis in your hands. Possibly to make it less stressful, you might want to try holding your brush differently.
      In this photo of my own hand, I’m holding the brush in a somewhat loose fashion.

      Holding an artist paint brush
      If I were actually painting I would be making my strokes more by moving my arm rather than my hand. Holding a brush and making strokes as if you were using a pen or pencil will likely cause more discomfort. Hope this tip helps. Salinas…good inspiration to follow for Texas landscapes, not to mention you living in the heart of it! I’m envious. Ha!

      Reply
  6. Linda McCord

    Byron, I really love your paintings. I have tried to paint the blue bonnets, but just can’t seem to get them right. Do you paint each indivigule blue bonnet or do you block them in. I have tried both ways, to no avail.
    Thanks again for a beautiful painting. Linda McCord-San Antonio, Tx

    Reply
    1. William Post author

      Linda, I mass the bluebonnets in, but doing so with individual strokes for the bluebonnets using a round brush appropriate for the size of the painting I’m doing. I don’t want the bluebonnets to look to thin or too fat. They should not look like blue sticks. A filbert brush could also work. Using the filbert on it’s side makes a brush stroke similar to a round. However, I might use a flat brush to lay in distant bluebonnets, because all you see at that distance are the tops. As I work forward the vertical stroke of the flowers increase. I start out as the demo showed with a dark blue violet mix often with Ultramarine deep and Permanent Rose or Permanent Alizarin Crimson and a touch of white for the initial block in of the bluebonnets. I follow that with a lighter mix that I place on top of the bluebonnets but only painting the stroke about half way down followed by a much lighter application using mostly white for the bluebonnet caps. Often I wait for the final application of the lightest touches on the flowers, because it tends to get too wet to accomplish what I want. Hope this helps.

      Reply
  7. From Martha B

    I like so very much. Every piece of your art is so very beautiful and interesting. Thank you so very much for sharing. You and your loved ones have a blessed week and always It was so good to talk with you on the phone some time ago. Thank you for all that you have posted. Take care and God bless you and yours.

    Reply

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