How to Paint Sunflowers: Painting with Different Shades of Yellow Color

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How to paint sunflowers reference image of a field with yellow sunflowers

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Trying your hand at how to paint sunflowers is a wonderful opportunity to dive into a great painting subject!

Van Gogh with the many sunflower paintings he created throughout his life, shows us how beautiful they can be. With their intriguing shapes and petal forms and of course their various shades of yellow colors.

Mixing different shades of yellow, can sometimes be a little tricky to get the right shade you’re trying for… That is often because yellow is a lighter color in value, and therefore other colors can easily overpower it in the color mixing process.

However, there are a few helpful tricks for mixing different shades of yellow color. That I will show you in this sunflower painting tutorial, with the help of color charts below!

How to Start Your Sunflower Painting

The first step to start your sunflower painting, is to create a painting sketch. This does not need to be an exact sketch. You are just capturing the general architecture of what you will be painting. Grab a small amount of a neutral color with your paint brush and dilute it with a little turpenoid. Then start to sketch out the sunflower with your brush, using the neutral color.

How to paint sunflowers, starting with a sunflower sketch on an otherwise blank canvas
First sketch out your sunflower to get a general sense for your composition

Mixing Your First Three Spots of Color

Now we are ready to start adding color! It is best to focus on the first three spots of color right from the start, as you work on how to paint sunflowers. So that you create a strong sense of light to work off of right from the beginning.

To do this you need to find an intersection of light and dark values on your subject. In my piece, I found this area where a sunflower petal meets the dark brown of the center. So first I start by adding a light color value…

Starting with a light yellow color value

As seen in the image below, I start by first laying down a light yellow color for the petal.

A light yellow color on a canvas, the beginning of a sunflower painting
Starting how to paint sunflowers with a light yellow color value

Adding a medium value next to the light value

A medium value next to a light value creates shading right off the bat

Next, I mix a darker yellow color that acts as the shadow area on the left side of the petal. On the last row of the chart below you can see the mixture needed for the darker yellow color. First I mix yellow with an adequate amount of purple to make the color darker in value. After this the yellow will most likely become a little green. To counter this, I mix a small amount of red with the greenish yellow color. Since red is the complementary color of green it will help to lessen the green that is present in the color – it will make it more of a dark golden yellow.

Color Chart: First three colors

Sunflower painting color chart
Color Mixing Chart showing how to mix a light, medium and dark value

As seen in the chart above the light yellow color has a small amount of purple mixed in with it. That is because this lighter yellow color doesn’t need to be nearly as muted and dark as the other yellow color. Though both colors do have some white mixed into them. The lighter yellow color just has more white mixed into it than the darker yellow color.

Starting with three clear color values helps to create a sense of light right off the bat

Using a dark value for the third color spot

The third and final color spot we mix up is the dark brown that is next to our light yellow color. To mix the color I grab some burnt umber and mix in purple and veronese green. Burnt umber on its own is much too saturated and warm, so the other colors mixed in help to make it cooler without making it look bluish in color.

How to Mix Dark Shades of Yellow

An artist's hand holding paint brush, showing how to paint sunflowers by adding medium yellow color value

After painting my first three color spots I mix up an even darker yellow color that is placed next to my first flower petal. I mix this color by adding purple with yellow and then mix in some more alizarin crimson to make the color less green. (As demonstrated on the bottom line of the chart below) However, since I need the color to be even darker in value, I mix in a small amount of pthalo green as well as some more alizarin crimson to mute that green color. Then a small amount of white is added to the mix. The result is a warm dark yellow color – thanks to the extra alizarin crimson mixed in!

Shades of yellow color mixing chart diagram, showing the names of multiple colors to mix
Shades of yellow color chart – how to mix color values

For the dark color that is just above the previous color I took a slightly different approach. This dark yellow is much cooler in temperature and therefore used blue as well as a little bit of orange to mute the blue.

Creating Soft Edges in Your Sunflower Painting

Transitions are important when working on how to paint sunflowers. It is good to start thinking about edges while you’re painting, right from the beginning. That way you keep yourself in the habit of creating soft and hard edges throughout the process of your painting.

As you can see in the image below I use my palette knife to create a soft edge between the dark brown center of the sunflower and the petals that are in the back. Having this soft edge helps to make the flower have more spatial depth since soft edges recede back in space.

How to paint sunflowers by creating edges using a palette knife
Using a palette knife to create soft edges while painting sunflowers

How to Paint Leaves of the Sunflower

Once I have an adequate amount of petals started for my sunflower painting. I start to incorporate some of the green leaves around the sunflower.

I first mix my own green with blue and yellow before muting it with a little bit of alizarin crimson. I then mix in some pthalo green to darken it – but would again need to mix in some alizarin crimson to mute the color since pthalo green is very strong. Finally, I also mix in a small amount of white. You can see this mixture in the last line of the color chart below.

How to paint sunflowers (with different colors) mixing colors chart

Mixing Warm Shades of Yellow Color

In the color chart diagram above, you can see a very warm, darker yellow color on the upper right hand side. To capture this color I mixed yellow with purple but also incorporated blue to darken it further. In order to make it a warmer yellow though, I mixed in some cadmium orange (which helps to mute the blue) as well as some alizarin crimson!

How to use color temperature in your painting

The darker yellow color at the top is a little bit cooler in temperature. This is because I do not mix in any warm colors such as alizarin crimson or orange. It simply has yellow mixed with blue and a little bit of white. When mixing such a color just be careful that it does not look too green. Whenever it does adding some red will resolve the issue.

Artist painting sunflower petal shade of yellow color

How to Paint Sunflowers with Strong Shadow Shapes

Sunflowers are composed of strong shapes and therefore it is important to pay close attention to all of the shadow shapes found in a sunflower.

Partially painted yellow sunflower

I build the painting based on light and dark shadow shapes. Notice in the image above that the petals of the sunflower are all made up of these light and dark value shapes. The same is true for the green leaves that are at the base of the flower. Looking at and observing a subject in an abstract way, seeing it in terms of its value shapes. Makes for a much more compelling painting, rather than seeing a subject as “just an object”.

How to Mix and Use Supporting Colors

A yellow sunflower painting wouldn’t be very interesting without the supporting colors that surround it. This is why we have a background and foreground area. It is important when learning how to paint sunflowers, for these areas to be just as part of the painting as the sunflower itself. You would never want the subject to look or feel like a paper cutout.

Painting the sunflower’s background with shades of blue

First of all the blue background changes slightly at different points in the painting. It is important to not just paint a background a single color as this would not look natural. However, for the upper left part of the painting I mixed up the blue color there with a simple mixture of ultramarine blue and cadmium orange with a small amount of white.

How to paint sunflowers color chart diagram, showing background and foreground colors to mix
Color mixing chart guide, showing how to mix background, foreground and additional colors within your sunflower painting

Mixing Colors for the vase of the sunflower

The glass vase that the sunflower is sitting in also serves as a supporting color for the painting. It is a greenish bluish color – though much lighter than the background. To mix up the color I used blue, cadmium orange, a small amount of purple, veronese green and white.

Completing Your Sunflower Painting

How to paint sunflowers, completed painting of a yellow sunflower sitting in a clear vase with a blue background
How to paint sunflowers in completion

For the final stage of the painting I paint in the areas where the white of the canvas were still showing through. I also go over edges that might need to be softer or harder.

Another great tip, is to take a step back from your painting as you near completion. This will allow you to get a clearer perspective of your painting, and see if you’re missing any large areas of light and dark values.

There you have it! Let me know in the comments below about what you find most interesting and/or most challenging about painting sunflowers or even flowers in general.

Materials used in this tutorial

Additional flower painting and drawing resources for you to try:

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Elisabeth Larson Koehler creator of art studio life

Hi! I am Elisabeth

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    6 thoughts on “How to Paint Sunflowers: Painting with Different Shades of Yellow Color”

    1. Thankyou Elsabeth for sharing the color mix for yellow.
      its amazing the contrast of the yellow highlights the sunflower flower beautifully.

      God Bless !

    2. Hi Elisabeth. Enjoyed this and will follow more. I find the mixing of all those different colors just to have a yellow very confusing and would rather just buy a color closer to what I want and add white or black or brown to lighten or darken it. I’m not sure I can handle all of this! I’ll try

      1. So happy to hear that you enjoyed the article Judy – thank you for sharing! Yes, it can seem a little confusing with the different colors. But once you understand how color works then it makes sense! You can get much richer and complex colors as a result.

    3. Really good tutorial!! I liked the fact that you told us what colors to mix.
      but I was confused as to the blue you used and did not refer to in your
      materials list. Where did you use the Provence Violet Blush?

      1. Glad to hear the article was helpful Judee! Thank you for sharing that 🙂 Apologies about that – forgot to add the blue to the materials list! Will remedy that 🙂 I used the provence violet bluish when I used purple as it is a lighter purple color.

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