Have you always wanted to draw and paint a rose?
I love to look at old botanical illustrations and chintz fabrics of cabbage roses. They are quite enchanting, in part, due to the use of dramatic light and shadow. Check out Pierre Joseph Redoute to see the most beautiful and famous botanical paintings of roses. And look at these Contemporary Botanical Art Rose paintings to see what talented artists are doing today.
Here is an instructional video about how to draw a rose from our online course, The Practice of Botanical Drawing.
Where to Start
Understanding the Structure and Botany of Roses
Before you begin to draw a rose, it helps to understand a bit about the structure and botany of this romantic plant. Approach drawing the rose as a lifelong pursuit toward capturing the rose’s elegance; it is something that you can practice over and over again. One of the most delightful benefits of drawing a rose is smelling the sweet aroma.
The Rose Family (Rosaceae) contains over 2,500 species, including rose, apple, blackberry, and raspberry. Identifying characteristics of this family are: flowers have numerous stamens and often at least 5 separate petals (note that cultivated roses today have many more petals). With this in mind, consider highlighting the features of this family in your drawing by showing the many stamens inside a rose, for example.
It is important to understand the rose structure and how lighting will help make your drawing descriptive and appear three-dimensional. I love to capture the petals that are rolling, and I use a strong light source which helps create this illusion of a dramatic-looking rose.
To begin, I consider the overall form of a rose and the way petals hug the form, and then how they peel away in shapes that can be rendered as cylinders. I pay close attention to the details of overlapping petals and make sure to describe this in the beginning of my drawing.
Roses with many tightly-packed petals can be challenging to draw. Often there are so many petals that drawing this subject can be dizzying. To start, focus on the overall shape of the whole flower. Set up your subject to give a good view of a rose blossom with lots of contrasting dark areas of shadow versus areas highlighted by light source. The shiny leaves have a curvy surface also, creating contrasting lights and shadows.
Collect several roses so that some of them can be deconstructed for close examination of the various parts.
Here are the steps I use to draw and paint a rose:
Step 1: Practice a petal
Start with a petal or a few petals of varying sizes from the inside and outside of the flower. Match the color and overall shape and draw the irregular edges. Practice painting and drawing a petal and then you will be ready to try an entire rose!
Step 2: Concept drawings of roses
Create concept drawings for tonal variation with correct light source to get the overall feel. Do a few loose concept sketches to check light source and choose a view.
Get ready to spend several hours or even days on a drawing. Since a rose can keep opening as you work, putting your rose in the refrigerator can help preserve it.
Step 3: Measure your rose accurately
Measure an entire rose flower and outline it using graphite pencil.
Step 4: Render a grisaille layer for toning first
Do a layer of toning emphasizing the overlapping petals. If your flower is a pale color, start with light toning to keep your colors fresh.
Step 5: Apply watercolor layer
Apply a layer of watercolor to color the flower, leaving the highlights as the white of the paper.
Step 6: Layer colored pencils
Continue to layer color, and remember to maintain strong contrast on the light and dark areas. Add details and sharpen.
To create pleasing contrast around a pale flower, emphasize the dark, shiny, serrated leaves. Notice how the petals appear to be rolling and that there is an overall cup shape to the flower.
If you find yourself getting frustrated and impatient, it can help to take breaks. Remember to ‘smell the roses’ as you draw and study!