What comes first the background or the subject ? ( Hellebore)

What comes first the background or the subject ? ( Hellebore)

Hi , I am sitting in my little studio in my garden at the back of my house. The weather for the past couple of days has been dreary and light levels have been low, it doesn't really help to lift your mood. However we must do what we can.

We have a rather wobbly reindeer that my husband made several years ago, he comes out every year, often needing major surgery, either a new leg or antler. Any slight nudge sends him toppling. He seems to sum up this year rather well , a bit unsteady and feeling confused...but still standing.

I have noticed that people seem to be taking more time this year decorating their houses and trying to do what they can to spread light and hope in this difficult year. I usually invite friends around and we make wreaths , drink , eat and be merry, this year I have missed that. However I made my wreath and toasted my family and friends just the same, I think we have all come to value the little things.

For me my most valuable asset is my location, I can get straight out into the countryside, I see that glimmer of light, those glorious sunsets , it is a pleasure to walk up my lane. Soak up the views and see the colours. This photo was taken earlier this week, it was a real treat to watch the sun go down over the hedgerows.

So onto this weeks subject. I was thrilled to see the reaction to this weeks painting of a hellebore, so I have cobbled together another so you can see my process. I am often asked which to do first the background or the subject...a bit like the chicken and the egg. As with most things though there is no hard and fast rule. I this piece I did the subject first the hellebore and worked my way outwards.

So here is my preliminary sketch 

Next I used masking fluid to mask off the stamen 

Then when they were completely dry, I began work on the petals. i love the delicate colours on the flower. Subtle pinks, greens and creams. try to replicate what you can see, 

A touch of cerulean blue here and there too.. Carry on working your way around the flower.

Observe carefully were the veins on the petals go. 

Can you see as it dries I can go in with darker tones, and add shadows on the petals. the masking fluid protects my lighter colours so I can go in dark in the centre.

Now U can begin on the leaves around the flower. I can make them very dark , especially where the leaves touch the very light flower, making it seem even lighter. I am playing around with tones here.

These leaves are more loosely painted than the flower, and I can add the spots quite randomly to the petal as I know the background will cover those that spill over onto the white paper.

Now the scary part. With these sort of backgrounds...just go for it. i already know the colours I want to use so wet in wet, adding colours as I go, don't go back into it once you've painted it and keep going. All around the painting.

Now the whole page is covered. I have sprinkled a bit of salt over it so give it more texture, and used some drops of 'rubbing' alcohol, which is used in cleaning to make those spots around the hellebore, now leave it to dry.

I also removed the masking fluid at some point and painted in the stamen,.

And so this is the finished piece. It all settles down when it dries. I added some spots and splatters of white and dark green, for a bit more energy, remember to cover the flower if you do this or you can splatter that too.

I have found myself recently having more fun with backgrounds, as with all art it is a personal choice.

I hope you have fun with your paintings too, and that you find comfort and joy in these mid winter days . Turn up the fire and hunker down x





Back to blog


Hi Rachel,
I absolutely love your paintings, and your blog, I have only started to watercolour since lockdown, and just discovered your site – as we approach another lockdown, I am looking forward to following your advice and hopefully improving my own paintings. Thank you so much for sharing your expertise with us, you have a very special talent.


I recently discovered your art. Really like your blog and how you texture watercolor . This is something I am just starting to do in my watercolors . I am now following on IG and love your content. Thank you!

Al Kline

I always follow your blogs and I’m learning so much from the processes you use. I particularly love the delicacy of the flower against the dynamic background,it’s really calling to me to have go at this beautiful inspirational painting, thankyou so much for sharing with us.

Corrine Page

Leave a comment