Step-by-step oil painting process for Gardenia

Gardenia with Chardin Oil Painting Demo

Why a gardenia on old art books?

I hope you enjoy this step-by-step oil painting of a Gardenia. This gardenia was growing in our yard just outside of our studio. We love the delicate beauty of gardenia’s and the aroma is intoxicating. The books are from a collection of artist biographies given to me by my grandfather. They are now well over a hundred years old. I have several paintings of various fruit sitting on some of these books. This time I was compelled to place a beautiful flower on them for this painting. Placing the gardenia on these books made me feel closer to my grandfather and the great artists who have inspired me. Especially the one about Chardin, one of my favorite still-life painters.

A quick look at my process

This time-lapse video shows my process of painting Gardenia with Chardin in 6:44 minutes. The total painting time was about 24 hours. Below the video are still images and a brief explanation of my process. Enjoy.

STEP 1: The setup

Gardenia petals have a bold  nature matched by an intoxicating exotic aroma. Soft whites contrasted with deep greens add to their commanding presence. This one was growing in our yard. I planned to paint a still life with it on a small stack of antique art books. But, wanting to flower last, and couldn’t bring myself to cut it, so I took this photo.

These books are just a few from my collection of antique art books given to me by my grandfather. I’ve used them many times in my paintings. I love their texture and color. What I like most of all is the feeling of connection with my grandfather and the old masters the books are about.

I  set up the books on a table to this photo as the first step toward making a composited photo to be used as my reference for the painting.

The composite. In photoshop I flipped the image of the flower and silhouetted the leaves. With  a few other modifications, I was able to “place it” on the books. One of my passions is studying how light acts, so adding convincing shadows was pretty easy. The shadows added a creating the illusion of the flower resting on the books. During the drawing stage, along with several minor alterations, I change the cropping of the composition and switch the book titles to make Cardin’s name prominent.

STEP 2: Drawing on canvas

Oil Painting Demo Gardenia with Chardin


Time to explore

Drawing freehand directly on the canvas with a 3B pencil helps me explore and refine the composition. I also get better acquainted with the elements and their relationship to each other. I pay close attention to the rhythm, placement, and orientation of the gardenia petals. Spray fix is applied to hold the drawing in place.

STEP 3: Blocking in

Oil Painting Demo Gardenia with Chardin

Focus on the large dark shapes

Various mixtures of alizarin crimson with ultramarine blue along with a touch of burnt umber are scrubbed in to create a darl background. The left side of the background is predominantly crimson and ultramarine. The right side is warmer with the addition of burnt umber. I scrub in the books and table with burnt umber indicating shades with thicker strokes of burnt umber.

STEP 4: Blocking-in the leaves

Oil Painting Demo Gardenia with Chardin

Moving on to refine the shapes and edges. it feels good to establish a finished area of the painting early on.

STEP 5: Lettering the books

Oil Painting Demo Gardenia with Chardin

Blocking in the books and book titles are before work on the flower petals begins.

STEP 6: Blocking-in the flower petals

Oil Painting Demo Gardenia with Chardin

Working from the background forward, I block the gardenia petals. Titanium white is the base color. Very light touches of Indian Yellow and Ultramarine Blue are added throughout. My goal is to add extreme subtle variety to the white, mimicking how warm diffused sunlight and the cooler white tones from the sky model the form of the petals. The overall effect is creamy and soft.

STEP 7: Refining the flower petals

Smoothing out the surfaces, refining the lighting, and balancing the colors bring us to the final touches for the flowers. A thin line is added to the edges of the leaves to define their thinness. A light blue glaze is added to the leaf on the right to suggest the reflection of the blue sky.

STEP 8: Finishing touches – books, table and petals

The final touches are added to the shadows and reflective tabletop. The last strokes are warm gray-white highlights to the books to bring out the texture to contrast with the smooth glow of the gardenia.

STEP 9: Finished – Gardenia with Chardin

Gardenia with Chardin

Gardenia with Chardin
9×12 inches | oil on canvas panel

Available online or in-person through Lily Pad West Gallery

Lily Pad West Gallery
215 N Broadway
Milwaukee, WI 53202

414 509-5756

These books have a treasured place in my studio.

Alla Prima II Everything I Know about Painting and More by Richard Schmid
Alla Prima, this book offers to the artist and art lover alike the wisdom and technical savvy which comes from a classical education and a lifetime of painting and teaching. Writing as an acknowledged master, Richard gracefully leads his reader through the subtleties of painting theory and technique with refreshing directness and unmatched technical authority. With an emphasis on painting from life, he writes with warm humor about the joys and trials of being an artist. He brings to life the romance of Bravura painting and examines the mysteries of color in fascinating detail.

Lessons in Classical Painting: Essential Techniques from Inside the Atelier by Juliette Aristides
Lessons in Classical Painting presents aspiring artists with the fundamental skills and tools needed to master painting in the atelier style. With more than 25 years of experience in ateliers and as an art instructor, Aristides pairs personal examples and insights with theory, assignments and demonstrations for readers, discussions of technical issues, and inspirational quotes.

The Art of Still Life by Todd M. Casey
The Art of Still Life offers a comprehensive, contemporary approach to the subject that instructs artists on the foundation basics and advanced techniques they need for successful drawing and painting. In addition to Casey’s stunning paintings, the work of over fifty past and present masters is included, so that the book is both a hardworking how-to manual and a visual treasure trove of some of the finest still life art throughout history and today.


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2 thoughts on “Step-by-step oil painting process for Gardenia

  1. Michael Lynn Adams says:

    Thank you so much for your comment, Jeanette. I’m happy that my video helped with your painting. Good luck with your gladiolus. I’ve never painted them. Perhaps I will someday.

  2. Jeannette Kister says:

    I was thrilled and in awe watching you paint the Gardena on books. Gardena is my favorite flower for it’s beauty and fragrance. I learned a lot from watching you about shading.. I have been trying to paint white gladiolus but never could get the shading right. Now I know what I did wrong Thank you. God Bless you.

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