'Although I am not exclusively a painter of floral still lifes, they are a constantly recurring theme in my work, both as a painter and printmaker,' says Rosalind Forster.

'Sometimes the image comes from a chance encounter in my home but more often now my subjects are careful arrangements of flowers and favourite objects such as lace or cloth, and jugs. As a passionate gardener I always have flowers in my rooms. The simple motif of a jug of flowers for me is a strong motivation to ‘make a picture’. The act of placing flowers in a jug is the first stage and when placed in a particular light source the composition is on the way.

'Light plays a dramatic role and I enjoy the challenge of interpreting the light falling on different surfaces, such as petals and leaves, and the complexity and patterns in fabrics, particularly lace.'

Lilies of the Valley, Tulips and Bluebells, 19¼” x 13¾”

The painting above was a private commission. The only requirements were lily of the valley and some lace.

Tulips and bluebells growing at the same time in my Derbyshire garden were added to give the right colour balance to create a sunny but cool springtime feel.

Placing flowers in a window sill gives a lovely light source particularly where white flowers are used and backlighting picks up the detail in the lace curtains.

Preliminary work

Starting a new painting begins with a slightly ‘anxious’ hour of arranging and composing the still life, placing the chosen objects in the light source, maybe a window sill or outside where there is an interesting formation of shadows.

I frame the composition using a cardboard viewfinder.

I always like things to break out of the border and create strong lines within the composition.

Spring Flowers, Spetses, 20½” x 15¾”

Greece has an enormous variety of wild flowers and spring is a magical time when everywhere is carpeted with them. Of course once placed in my window sill there was a painting waiting to be done. I did ‘cheat’ a little with the background for the painting above – I do not have a sea view and this was added later from a friend’s house.

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When I am happy with the arrangement I take a series of photographs.

I find this necessary to fix the light effects as of course they will change and a painting can take several days to complete.

This is more necessary in Greece (where I live for part of the year) where the light is more dramatic and the hot climate means flowers will fade and wilt more quickly.

The photographs play an important role in the final painting as my technique is painstaking and controlled, building up layer upon layer of colour washes.

Some people have concerns about working from photographs and although I would never work from someone else’s image, photographing my subject is an integral part of my process.

A photo is an invaluable aid for quickly capturing a particular effect I have seen. I combine this information with observational drawing from the subject. I never rely on the colour of photographic prints. Each artist has their own palette which comes into play when painting and forms part of their artistic signature.


I draw my still-life subject lightly but accurately with an HB pencil. This can later be rubbed out with a soft rubber if the lines become intrusive in pale areas.

The paper I use is not a conventional watercolour paper – BFK Rives 210 gsm (100lb). I use it for printmaking and when I first started painting it was what I had to hand.

I have grown to love the effects it can produce. It is soft and very absorbent and able to take many layers of colour. I often use as many as ten layers in the deeper tonal areas and this builds up to a rich velvety texture.

This may not suit other artists, particularly if their working methods are looser or less controlled, but it works for me.

My paper supplier was amazed when I showed him examples of my painting on this paper.

Paper is very much a matter of personal taste and you need to find the one that suits your working methods best.

Want to try BFK Rives paper?


Painting technique

Oleanders, Grapes and Figs, 21¾” x 15¾”

The painting above is very much a Greek composition.

Blue is such a dominant colour there and this lovely old chenille cloth a favourite as it glows in the sunshine.

I particularly liked the rhythm created by the folds of the cloth and the reflections in the vase.

I arranged the still life on some steps in the garden and was able to work mainly from the subject on this painting.

The shadows were fixed at a very early stage in the work.

Building the tones

Once the drawing is complete I work from the subject matter and the photographs.

My method is very much linked to my work as a printmaker.

Palest tones are painted first, shadows established in place and white areas left as bare paper. I never use body or opaque colours.

Once this has been worked all over I begin to build up separate areas.

Flowers and foliage must be dealt with first as they will not last. I never put down the full tones of colour in one go, preferring to place layer upon layer, leaving behind the paler tones. Lovely colour mixes can also occur by this method and a richness and texture develop not usually associated with watercolour techniques.

The painting slowly develops with each application. The rhythm of the composition appears as the tones become deeper. At some stage of the painting it looks rather like a tapestry with worked up areas set against unfinished parts.

I use quite small brushes, Nos 1 to 3, even on quite large paintings as I am often painting up to the edges of other colours. I paint wet-on-wet where I want colours or tones to blend. Otherwise I wait for each layer to dry before applying the next one.

Still life, Spetses, 12½” x 20½”

The still life painting above is one of series of eight still lifes commissioned for P&O’s ship Oriana. was given colour references for the ship’s furnishings and décor and chose flowers, fruit and objects from my home and garden in Greece to match these, placing them in dramatic light effects. The elongated format was a requirement of the commission.

If the painting has a dark background this is usually left till the last stages as I can then judge the necessary depth of colour required to set off the finished areas.

I find it useful to live with the work for a few days, often just sitting looking and assessing and perhaps making final adjustments in some areas. Then it can be mounted and framed.

The Lupin Garden, Chatsworth, 19 “x 14¼”

More recently I have started painting gardens and this one at Chatsworth has been a long-time favourite place.

I have often sketched there but wanted to do a finished painting. I was fortunate to visit at a time when they were all fully out and perfect and the weather was fine. So often they get flattened by rain.

I spent two days drawing up the picture there and taking photographs and making colour references.

The painting itself took a considerable number of days due to the complexity and abundance of flowers and foliage and the detail I wanted to capture and this was done in my studio.

This article was originally published in the October 1999 issue of The Artist

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