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Channeling Georgia O’Keeffe: What did she see in flowers?

Understanding Georgia O’Keeffe’s vision through her work

Georgia O’Keeffe was celebrated for her unique, close-up paintings of flowers. Her abstract yet clear depictions of flowers elicit the eccentric vision that she possessed. O’Keeffe’s work includes collections of flower paintings, Mexico City landscapes, and skyscrapers of New York City where she eventually settled.

As we discussed in our last blog post, an artist’s vision is central to their work. Georgia O’Keeffe’s maximized focus on flowers and each of their features is exemplary. But there is a crucial question that an artist must ask before getting inspiration: What does the artist see?

Starting from Georgia O’Keeffe’s flowers

Georgia O’Keeffe’s flowers appear in many different shapes, contours, and colors that come from her distinctive palette. The idea may begin with picking a flower and paying attention to it. The various parts of a flower make up the entirety of O’Keeffe’s frame. Petals, leaves, sepals, stigmas, anthers, and ovaries of a flower emerge vividly. These features are visible in almost all of her flower paintings, such as Hibiscus with Plumeria (1939).

Georgia O’Keeffe, Hibiscus with Plumeria (1939). Courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, © 2018 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

What does O’Keeffe’s palette look like?

Georgia O’Keeffe works with a variety of color palettes in each artwork. Some works are hued calmly, whereas others have powerful contrasts of color within them. But her palette presents sharp focus on mood that can be created with colors. In other words, the colors that are painted on the canvas determine what feeling will be exhibited.

Across her artworks, colors come to rise in their different hues and tones. From muted pink to fuchsia, or sky blue to a deep ocean blue give space to the different possibilities of a mood that can be created with color.

Reviving Georgia O’Keeffe’s flowers in the 21st century

To revive an artist’s style is to hold their brush while looking with their eyes; thinking with their mind and feeling with their soul. That is a goal that may take a lifetime to achieve. However, channeling O’Keeffe’s art style can inspire you to start looking at flowers differently and in turn, painting them differently.

It starts with a strong vision, continues with laying out a color palette, and ends with an artwork that is touched by O’Keeffe’s legacy. Below is my take on Georgia O’Keeffe’s irreplaceable flowers.

Layers, Watercolor on paper, 5×7, 2020

The process of painting this piece began with an idea of a flower. Sometimes real flowers or objects can be too distracting, with details that are hard to ignore. That is when imagination comes into play.

To revive O’Keeffe’s inclusion of significant details, I focused on a simple flower with it’s petals and leaves, but then diverted my attention to a colorful background, which is present in many of O’Keeffe’s paintings. Vignetted background and edges and emphasized petals are key features of most of her flower paintings.

Yet to bring in some elements of modern abstract art, an artist can make most of the white paper beneath the colors. Such technique is most helpful when using watercolors. Even though O’Keeffe believed in defined images, defining shapes and lines can depict an abstract painting with less to tell about the painting itself.

So take a look around you. Enlarge objects with details you can concentrate on, with a canvas similar to O’Keeffe’s. Select the colors that match the mood you want to create in your art. Remember to be free as you do all this, because that is what Georgia O’Keeffe would want you to do.

Explore Georgia O’Keeffe’s collection of flower paintings

Discovering elements of an artist’s style through their work is the greatest way to get inspiration. Find more of O’Keeffe’s flower paintings here.

Gift of the Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation

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