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Irises with Esther Yun - October 13, 2007

Irises are one of the most recognized and beloved flowers for both gardeners and artists. Ornate and delicate, they pose a challenge for anyone hoping to capture them in a painting. Esther Yun, however, showed us how this seemingly impossible task can be done.

Thinking about painting

Esther made simple strokes with a purple-blue colour she had mixed. Each petal involved pressing and then lifting to create the fragile edge.

First flower

After creating a flower, Esther moved to another on the same plant.

Another flower

Getting the spatial arrangement of the flowers is the hard part, as Esther Yun explained to workshop attendees.

Discussing flowers

Esther persisted with her second set of petals.

Continuing drawing petals

The second flower emerged slightly higher than the first.

Second flower

Esther paused to lighten the tone of the petals with more white paint.

Lighter paint

A third flower was started using the lighter paint.

Third flower

The upward trend of flowers continued with this third set of petals.

Stepping back and reviewing

Esther paused again to explain the composition to the workshop attendees.

Mixing white paint

Again, Esther added some white paint to lighten to tone of the petals.

Lightening paint in brush

The lighter paint let Esther add some of the inner parts of the petals like the stamens.

Continuing with lighter paint

Sometimes lightening also means adding more water.

Adding more water

And then mixing again.

Mixing paint again

Esther would occasionally test her strokes and colour on a practice piece of paper.

Testing tone and stroke

As the workshop progressed, Esther answered questions about brushes, paper, composition.

Esther then discussed completing the painting with the other parts of the iris.

Discuss design

The stem was added to one flower.

Adding a stem

Then another stem was added.

Adding a second stem

A third stem completed the stems.

Third stem

Esther then paused to consider adding more blades at the base of the plant.

Preparing for other blades

These blades were made with a larger brush in a single stroke.

Lower blades

Sumi-e ink darkened these additional blades.

Adding sumi-e ink

Esther sometimes used her hand to decide where to place the next element in the painting, in this case another flower.

More dark blades with sumi-e

Then Esther added another stem to this additional flower.

Discussing outline method

Esther sketched the outline of a white flower and considered adding a butterfly to the composition.

Outline of flower added

The butterfly added, Esther searched for a pale yellow paint for another butterfly.


This second butterfly was added to the top of a flower.

Butterfly on flower

Esther then focused on the white flowers with some yellow added to the calyx.

White flower

Two white flowers were created.

Second white flower

The completed work was a vivid though balanced composition of colours and elements.

Completed painting

Esther also brought some paintings, which demonstrated her expressive style.

Flower and bird painting

We left the workshop with some helpful tips and guidance when painting irises of any delicate flower.