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Final Part of the Course 

The Final Painting: PART 1 

There are two parts to this final painting, the first is your preparation and the second is the completion on the painting on vellum and is a step-by-step.

You will need to submit work at various stages for approval, so be sure to read the instructions carefully. 


At this point in the course you have tried a variety of different subjects which are all relatively small subjects and it is now time to paint a more complex subject using a live plant. 

By this I mean a full painting showing multiple aspects of the plant, such as flowers, buds, leaves stems an any other parts deemed relevant to show off the key features of the plant, this could include a seed-pod, fruit or bulb for example. I have provided some examples of mine as guidance.  I do not want to see flowers without leaves or dead plant material other than as part of a larger composition. 

This will take some time to plan and execute, it is not the type of work that should be completed in a week! but may take a month or more to complete. 


The images shown vary in complexity, the simplest being the honeysuckle, the foxglove is the more complex with multiple overlapping parts. There is also a cyclamen, which shows the corm and plant and it grows with many overlapping leaves as is also the case with the primula. If you click on these images you can see a magnified view, which should be helpful with seeing details. 

Identify a suitable plant and gather reference material 

The first stage of completing such an illustration is to identify a plant that is suitable, do not choose a plant or cutting that will easily wilt and die, a subject in the soil can be helpful as can having multiple plants. 

Planning and painting on vellum will take time so you will also need to take many photographic images too, you will need to light the subject well and take detailed photographs of all parts   as well as the whole plant. I help to use a grey card backdrop behind the plant when photographing it and a lamp positioned upper front left or right, usually lit from the opposite side to the hand you uses, i.e. right handed individuals light from the upper front left, and the opposite for left handed. Having good reference material is very important as work on vellum tends to be a slow process.

EXERCISE 1. When you have identified your plant of choice you should email me for approval along with two or three images of the plant 

Make sketches of plant parts and colour studies 

You will now need to research your plant and this can be done in the form of a study page or sketchbook study.  

The idea here is to familiarise yourself with the plant first, to understand the structure and how all of the parts fit together You will also need to work out the colours and approach to painting, although this may need adjustment for painting on vellum. It may be helpful to dissect your flower and this is something you could also include on the painting. This study is not expected to be your composition although it could be similar if you felt it worked well or completely different.

 Below you will see a typical study in a sketchbook of a Cyclamen coum plant. it includes various parts of the plant, colour notes, dissection, corm, roots and seedpod. Not all of the parts were included in the final painting but it was useful in understanding the plant.

EXERCISE 2. When you have completed your study, you should email it to me for advice. 

Sketchbook Cyclamen.jpg
Cyclamen coum_edited.png

Full plant illustration of Cyclamen coum

A simple composition but showing various aspects of the plant  Honeysuckle 

Full plant illustration Primula vulgaris


Upon completion of the plant study you should begin work on your composition, this can take time so don't rush into it without considering the arrangement carefully. The priorities are:


1. To make and accurate representation of the plant and its growth habit

2. to make an aesthetically pleasing arrangement on the page

You should use a combination of the live plant and photographs but be careful not to rely on photographs too much as they can show some distortion.

Bein by making rough sketches of the plant, thumbnail sketches make also be useful, these are small studies using basic shapes and are made in quick succession


Once you begin to formulate a composition idea, it will probably need some adjustments and reworking, such as slight repositioning of leaves and flowers or overlapping parts. The representation of the plant must remain accurate but it does not have to appear exactly as it looks in from of you. For example in the foxglove painting, the plant is tall and so a cut stem is used and positioned behind the flower stem, obviously this is a manipulation of the plant but it is still accurate, stem cuts are a common method for positioning a tall plant on the page to make best use of space. 

In the purple Pulsatilla painting there are also many overlaps, the initial layout sketch is shown , and it can help to draw out each part on tracing paper and to play around with the arrangement before deciding on the composition. 


if painting a plant with numerous leaves and flowers you may have to cut out some of the clutter seen in the actual plant. 

Below is a photograph of a cyclamen,lit from the left hand side. 

Looking at the whole plant it is quite cluttered and would benefit from having a few less blooms. The number of flowers is variable, so this does not affect the accuracy. 

A very rough sketch is made of the whole plant but you can see that in the drawing some of the flowers have been crossed out and then in the second drawing further rearrangement has been made. It is likely that several rearrangements will be made before deciding on the final arrangement. Other considerations that need to be made are

1. Use odd numbers of blooms rather than even as this creates more interest

2. Avoid touching parts, this means that parts should either miss each other or clearly pass in front or behind

3. Avoid parallel lines with stems and consider alignments carefully 

4. consider the negative space in a composition, that is the space around the subject and don't cramp the subject. 

EXERCISE 3. Submit your composition draft by email for approval


Rough composition_edited.png
Editing the composition.jpg

PART 2 The Painting on Vellum

Now that you have your composition approved, you can draw it out in detail, ready for transferring to vellum but before transferring you will need to choose your vellum. 

Choosing and preparing the vellum 

You should select vellum that is suitable for the subject, dark vellum doesn't suit some colours, such as certain violets or pinks, and those colours are better suited to paler vellum, such as kelmscott or paler manuscript. 

Does the vellum need mounting 

You may also wan to consider whether the vellum needs mounting before you paint on it.

Vellum only needs mounting onto a flat surface if it is large or very thin and likely to cockle, in which case it can be glued to a surface. 

William Cowleys offer mounted vellum but it is very costly, so you may wish to mount you own vellum. 

I have added a video that I made for a class on how to mount vellum should you wish to try it. You will need to allow some time for it to dry properly, around one week to prepare mounted vellum.

If your vellum is heavy enough in weight to stay flat there is no need to mount it.

More to follow


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