Ode to peonies

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t’s peony season here on the west coast of Canada! These gorgeous, fragrant flowers decorated the reception tables at our June wedding in Saskatchewan back in 1981, so my love affair with them is lasting. They are also an irresistible magnet for my camera and paintbrush.

I was excited to see a peony in bloom in the back garden of our current property when we first saw it back in June of 2007. That magenta peony bloomed beautifully for a few years and then mysteriously stopped blooming, eventually shriveling away to nothing. I blame the encroaching roots of trees that line the walkway behind us and the gloomy shade their branches cast over the garden.

Since then I’ve had to get my fix of peony beauty elsewhere. One local garden where the peonies bloom in profusion is Sendall Gardens in Langley. We visited on Sunday and I was not disappointed. We went shortly after a rain shower and the blooms were heavy with raindrops making them all the lovelier.

One of my favorite peony poems is by Jane Kenyon.

Peonies at Dusk

White peonies blooming along the porch
send out light
while the rest of the yard grows dim.

Outrageous flowers as big as human
heads! They’re staggered
by their own luxuriance: I had
to prop them up with stakes and twine.

The moist air intensifies their scent,
and the moon moves around the barn
to find out what it’s coming from.

In the darkening June evening
I draw a blossom near, and bending close
search it as a woman searches
a loved one’s face.

  • Jane Kenyon

From Constance: Poems © Graywolf Press, 1993.

Peonies are quite a challenge to draw and paint. They have a multitude of petals with curved and pointy shapes that make for a complex drawing. I’ve tried a few over the years with varying success.

My first try …

My first try at painting peonies in June of 2017—a bush of them.

From instructions in a book…

This one was drawn and painted with instructions from Jenna Rainey’s book Everyday Watercolor Flowers.

Lately I’ve attempted a few on my own. Here are several from my sketchbook.

The peony painting I’m happiest with is a 7×7 inch watercolor, “Blushing Peony,” currently available for purchase in my Etsy and Pacific Arts Market shops.

I’m now working on a set of three watercolor cards featuring peonies. Two finished, one to go.

Many local artists do a fabulous job of painting peonies. Check out these:

Bev Robertson (Vancouver Island)

Kathleen Niebuhr (Delta B.C.)

If peonies bloom in June where you live, go outside and enjoy them while they last!

The Watercolor Flower Artist’s Bible – Review

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The Watercolor Flower Artist’s Bible: An Essential Reference for the Practicing Artist by Claire Waite Brown

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


My newest art book is the gorgeous Watercolor Flower Artist’s Bible: An Essential Reference for the Practicing Artist, edited by Claire Waite Brown.

This is quite a comprehensive volume. It starts out with a section on watercolor supplies and explains the most common techniques watercolorists use. Several tutorials encourage practice with these, e.g. “Combining wet-in-wet and wet-on-dry,” “Using Masking Fluid” and more.

An analysis of flower shapes follows. Here the text explains the look and structure of the various flower shapes (like bell, trumpet, cup and bowl, etc.—eight in all), delving into how they appear foreshortened and reflect light from different angles. Of course a real flower example is used in each case. (For example, in the trumpet section, a Daffodil is the example).

A Directory of Flowers section follows that. In this part you find a picture of each flower and a link to the instructions on how to paint.

You can also find flowers by color in the colored garden section that follows the directory (“The Red Garden,” “The Pink Garden,” “The Yellow Garden,” etc.) that ends with “Berries and Leaves.” Each garden color chapter is introduced with watercolor paintings by accomplished artists. These are followed by details of specific flowers in the color family and include color swatches of the particular flower’s blooms and instructions on how to draw and paint one example.

To help you even further in finding the flower you want to attempt, you can go to the comprehensive Index at the back, where each flower is listed (alphabetically) and linked (in the Kindle edition) to its page in the book.

This book is chock-full of information and tips. However, my favorite aspect of it so far is the artists’ paintings that begin each colored garden and are sprinkled in other spots throughout. Talk about eye candy and inspiration to improve!

I purchased the Kindle edition of the book, which I read on my iPad. It’s easy to use propped on my desk during painting sessions with no need to fight stubborn book binding. Also I can enlarge the images to my heart’s content.

I’m sure this book will be one of my most used painting references in the months ahead.






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A Lent Conversation – Week 2

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This is the second instalment of a Lenten conversation between Laurel Archer, my poet friend, and me providing some art. This week I sent Laurel a painting as a prompt. She responded with a poem.

The Hellebore plant was new to me when I moved to the coast (we didn’t have it in Saskatchewan, at least not when I lived there). This beautiful perennial blooms here in early to late spring with blooms that customarily face downward. It’s a plant that, even in bloom, looks penitent. Perhaps that’s why it was given its common name “Lenten Rose.”

I’m delighted with Laurel’s poetic response that reflects her experience with this lovely spring flower and takes us deeper.

Painting: “Lenten Rose” – © 2021 by Violet Nesdoly, Watercolour on 140 lb. cold press watercolour paper, 9×12 inches

Poem: “Promises” – © 2021 by Laurel Archer

Everyday Watercolor Flowers – review

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Everyday Watercolor Flowers – A modern guide to painting blooms, leaves and stems by Jenna Rainey © 2019.


One of my favourite art teachers, particularly of watercolor, is Jenna Rainey. A couple of years ago, her book Everyday Watercolor introduced me to the wonderful medium of watercolor (reviewed here). Her newest book Everyday Watercolor Flowers came out in 2019 and my Kindle edition is well used.

The book begins with an extensive introductory section on watercolor basics including materials, colors, color mixing, hue, and value. In this section Rainey also gives a brief explanation of flower anatomy, leaf types and shapes, and demonstrates brush strokes that make those shapes.

The main chapters describe flower painting projects and are organized by flower shapes (star, circle, bell, bowl, trumpet, and combination) with four projects in each.  That’s 24 projects plus a section on combining flowers into wreaths and borders…so lots to paint here. The projects in each category come in two types: loose and realistic (botanical). In the star-shaped chapter, for example, the cherry blossoms and anemone tutorials describe painting these flowers in a loose style (with little or no pencil drawing to guide the painting), while the clematis and orchid are painted more realistically (begin with a pencil drawing and adhere closely to the details of the plant and flower).

Loose Cherry Blossom flowers from the Star-shaped flower chapter.

The book is beautiful! Rainey’s skill with paint and brush shines through each illustration. The instructions are clear, easy to follow, and interspersed with pictures of the project’s steps. Though the text does feel wordy at times (it would be easier to follow if it were in point form), its tone is encouraging and laced with tips and hacks. If you’ve ever visited Rainey’s YouTube channel you’ll recognize her voice, which comes through here in her writing.

I think beginners and intermediate watercolorists would enjoy these projects. If you’re looking for a book that is designed to help you gain skill in analyzing flowers by shape and has projects that are both loose and realistic, Everyday Watercolor Flowers is a great choice.

Some projects from this book that I’ve done: loose Sunflower, realistic Clematis, loose Dahlia, realistic Ranunculus.