Sunflower Acrylic Painting Tutorial For Beginners

In this acrylic sunflower painting tutorial, you will learn the essential skills needed to paint and beautiful floral. You will start from the very beginning as you discover the importance of positive and negative space drawings, quick thumbnail sketching, designs and ultimately finish with a step-by-step flower masterpiece.

In this article we will cover the following topics;

  • Video demonstration
  • Overview and materials
  • Get the right inspiration image
  • Positive & Negative Space
  • Thumbnail Sketching
  • Finalizing the composition & create value study
  • Color mock-up
  • Explore color & brushwork 
  • Explore Subject
  • Step-by-step tutorial

As you can see, we have plenty of info to cover, so let’s get started.

How to painting sunflowers with acrylics

Painting sunflowers, or any subject, happens long before paint hits the paper. Actually, if you do it right, the painting is done before you break out the good brushes. It’s all in the preparation! Many beginners, and experienced artists, rush it.

In an attempt to paint finished art that ‘wows’ the IG feed, they usually only focus on the end game. Now you can certainly succeed once in a while here,. but you are leaving so much creativity on the table. That’s a rookie mindset and usually equals mediocrity.

Thankfully, I have a much better plan for you today. I’m not saying you MUST do this every single painting, but if you make it a habit to do often, your work will dramatically improve.

Acrylic sunflower painting
– Acrylic sunflower painting, by Robert Joyner

Materials need to get started

If you have questions about the exact materials we use, check out these articles.

  • paint paper, or watercolor paper; 3 – 4 pieces of 140lb. cold press, or Bristol; 9″x12″
  • acrylic paints, ultramarine blue, titanium white, lemon yellow, hansa yellow, Cadmium red, alizarin crimson, burnt sienna 
  • brushes, small round, medium round & large flat
  • drawing paper; several sheets of printer paper
  • pencil; 2B will do
Sunflowers photo
– Inspiration image

It starts with the right inspiration

You need something that’s going to motivate you. Pick a sunflower image that is interesting and has good light and shadow. If your ideas are less than spectacular, then your desire to paint it will usually show in the finished art.

Create positive and negative space studies

Create positive and negative space studies

This is essential in understanding the edges of your subject. It will also help you discover abstract qualities as well.

  • Using a sheet of standard printer paper (8.5 x 11), or anything similar, create two rectangles as demonstrated in the video.
  • Use one rectangle for positive shape study and the other for negative shape study.
  • You don’t need to capture every single angle and nuance. But you do want to capture the overall characteristics of the subject.
  • Have a look at the main shape and see if you want to enhance, or change, any areas to create a more interesting shape.
  • Envision the background as one solid color and don’t get caught up in the details.
  • Only focus on main subject, and every thing else is negative space.
Composition study ideas

Explore thumbnail composition studies

Always spend a few minutes creating quick composition studies. These studies will help you envision how you want your subject to appear in the picture plane. Once you have decided on how your subject will look it’s time to go to the next step.

Composition and value sunflower study

Finalize the composition & create a value study

On the left-hand side you see the final design idea. This is derived from the preliminary steps. From here I can take the next step which is to create a quick value sketch.

What is a value study? A proper value study is a great way to prepare for a new painting, and helps ensure that you will get the result you want when you paint your final painting. A value study is a sketch using only one color. Usually it will be much smaller than the final painting, and done far more quickly. It will help you identify your darkest darks, lightest lights and everything in-between.

Some Additional Tips – It’s okay to not stick to the photograph. More often than not I change my art according to what I feel will look best for my painting. So, if you think changing the light source will help, then do it. If you want to crop your subject so that it intersects the edges of the picture plane, then do it. You are the artist so take some time and use your vision to see if any changes will enhance your work. If you feel the photo is fine that’s okay, too.

Explore brushwork and color
– Explore brushwork
Tint & shade color swatches
– Explore color

Explore brushwork & color

  • This will help you learn and discover good color combinations that you would have never considered.
  • It’s important to not copy every color in the photo reference, but to focus more on how to make the sunflower more interesting.
  • This is also where your artistic voice and style are born. If this is something you desire, then do it often!
  • Exploring your subject will help you add personality and take some risks that you wouldn’t ordinarily take.
  • The goal here is to avoid painting the entire object and only focus on bits and pieces. 
  • Sample different size brushes (large brushes work best), loose brushwork, negative space painting and whatever else comes to mind.
  • Exploring is where ideas happen since this is less intimidating.
  • To paint expressively is all about taking risks.
  • This is time you take them!!!

Note: When you are finished with these studies be sure to keep them. Actually hang them up around your painting area so that you can view them. I find these expressive studies teach me a lot about painting and are a constant reminder to take risks.

Mock-up study for sunflowers

Create a color mock-up

It’s important at this stage that will bring drawing and color together. You will choose a palette and complete a quick color study that prepares you for the final painting.

Step-by-step sunflower tutorial

It’s time to make a final painting based on your mockup and previous studies. Now is not the time to panic, or tighten up. You want to approach it with confidence and if you have paid your dues the painting will come together nicely.

Keep these ideas in mind as you move forward;

  • Even though this is a finished painting, try to limit your time to 45 to 60 minutes. 
  • Work in layers and allow 15 minutes for each one. This will help you become too fussy.
  • If you become too rigid switch to a very large brush; works every time.
Painting blue background

Step #1

Paint the background whatever color you decided to use. Keep in mind this isn’t the finished layer. You will go back over this many times, so don’t make it perfect, only ballpark it!

Painting the design

Step #2

Add the contour drawing either using a pencil, or paintbrush. No need for details, keep it edges and big shapes only.

Painting blue table top

Step #3

Start blocking-in the major shapes with local hues. Again, doesn’t need to be perfect. You will do additional layers later on. You are only trying to ‘block-in’, so that you can compare colors and shapes before refining.

Painting sunflowers

Step #4

Start laying in the sunflowers with a mid-tone. You will add lighter and darker values later on.

Painting second layer

Step #5

Start painting the next layer now that the block-in is complete. Step back from the painting once in a while to decide what it needs. This is a good way to paint more decisively, and not in circles.

Adding details

Step #6

Finish it off with some accent colors and short, choppy strokes. Try adding a few pops of saturated colors in the shadows to keep the areas from becoming too flat, or boring.

How to learn more

Check our courses using the button below. We have plenty to discover, and I’m sure they will help you develop a system that works!

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed the acrylic sunflower tutorial. It’s a journey in the making just to get there, but if you follow the system it will reward you in a very profound way.

Please comment below if you have thoughts and, or questions.

Leave a Comment