Roses are the most popular flowers in the world, so it’s not surprising that they are often found in art as well. However, learning how to draw a rose can be complicated and intimidating for two reasons: first, a rose’s shape continually changes as it blooms making it difficult for the artist to answer the most basic question, "What shape is it?" Second, it's a soft and delicate object; communicating that requires considerable skill and sensitivity.
There are many ways to draw a rose and many angles to choose from. In the video above I unpack some ideas to make drawing roses a little less daunting – and take a look at the list of tips below which outline the key techniques.
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01. Draw draw draw!
Begin by sketching the subject from different angles and reference pictures. This will give you a good sense of whatever it is you’re drawing and help you look for new insight. Your 100th drawing should always be better than your first one. Drawing something over and over again is necessary for drawing with power and authority.
Also, by drawing something repeatedly, you will become more confident of the subject, which will allow you to take chances. So draw with abandon and don’t worry about how good those initial sketches are. Draw to learn; each drawing is leading you closer to the perfect rose.
02. Successful thinking leads to successful drawing
Successful drawing is more about logical thinking than having a trick up your sleeve. Start by observing your subject and asking the most basic question: "What is the shape of this thing I’m drawing?" Is it round? Square? Roses are complicated shape-wise because their unfolding petals distract us from its basic shape.
The obvious fact is that a rose is an unfolding bud, so it’s egg-shaped: wider at the bottom and narrower at the top. So start by drawing the egg-shaped bud and then add in all the petals unfolding and opening around it. Make sense? Now that's an example of great thinking surpassing simply drawing what you see.
03. Good reference, good silhouettes
Not all reference is created equal. Sometimes rose pictures that you find might not be helpful to your drawing because they look wilted and not heroic, or be strangely shaped and not very rose-like. Make sure the photo you choose to draw from has a shape that can be instantly recognised as a rose.
Once you get drawing, you can turn your rose into a silhouette to see its overall shape and discern if it effectively communicates a rose. If you’re working from good reference, checking the silhouette will keep you on track.
If your drawing has good form, that means it has a three-dimensional quality to it that makes it look real and believable. The best way to render (i.e. draw) form is to make sure that you think about what part of the rose you're drawing so that your hand movements follow the same curves of the petal or the roundness of the stem. Making round movements around a round object clarifies form; if something is round, use circular strokes to give the illusion of curvature.
You might wonder what 'story' has to do with a rose. EVERYTHING! Whereas an amateur artist might draw a stiff stem and leaves (boring), an experienced artist will see the stem and leaves as a chance to tell a story because that’s what will connect them with the viewer emotionally.
You can turn the mundane into something magical through exaggeration. Even though the differences between the two roses (above) are slight, the one on the right is much more interesting than the one on the left. Just by adding a few exaggerated bends in the stem, tilting the bloom, and injecting a little wonder into the leaves, my drawing goes from stiff to lively.