In the Studio... Painting Peonies

If you follow me on Instagram, you already know what I've been up to this week (and I guess the title of this post is a bit of a giveaway, too). You can't really blame me (you saw the peonies on Monday, right?).

I began on a dark, dreary, thunderstorming day. Not the best day to be taking photographs of my process, but the peonies looked beautiful and my studio (relatively clean) was so cozy with all the lights turned on.

peonies, peony flower, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

I'm working on a new section for my website with photos of my studio and of my process (and, I hope, some videos, too, including this one). It's been on my to-do list for a while and so as I painted this week I also took some process photos with my real camera.

Do you want to step into my studio and learn about my process as I paint some peonies?

art studio, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

This year I've changed my painting process a bit. I've been doing a lot more preliminary sketches before I begin. It started when I was planning and painting the Red Flower Carpet piece and then continued as I worked on a few other pieces (including this custom painting) from photographs instead of live flowers or plants. After that I enjoyed the ritual of preparation and sketching and just kept doing it.

I start with a pencil sketch (or multiple pencil sketches) in my main sketchbook. It's a bit of a warmup and it gets me thinking about design and composition. It's also very helpful if I'm painting a flower I've never painted before because it gets me to really look, study and observe.

peonies, sketchbook, sketching, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

I use my favorite mechanical pencil and go quickly, without a lot of detail (unless I'm stumped about how to translate what I'm seeing onto paper in which case I might sketch a few smaller detail sketches as well as the larger overall view).

Next I mix my paints. I prefer to use pan paints and have slowly gathered a selection of colors from a few different brands (Windsor and Newton, Sennelier and Yarka St. Petersburg are the brands I've been using). Even with a varied palette, I always mix colors instead of using a color straight from the pan. Most colors can be mixed from your basic primaries, but I was never able to get good pinks before I bought some pink paint (Rose, Opera Rose, Quinacridone Rose and Cobalt Violet are my current colors).

watercolor, color mixing, paint palettes, pan paint, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

After I mix my paints I like to test them on paper to see how they look once they've dried. I usually make some paint swatches on scraps of watercolor paper and lately I've also been doing a few loose, preliminary color-test paintings in my watercolor sketchbook.

watercolor sketchbook, paint palette, peonies, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

I paint slowly and methodically and so this is a good exercise for me to help loosen up and be more playful. And, of course, it helps me see how the colors will interact and gives me a rough idea of how they'll work in my finished painting. This also gives the paint on my palette some time to dry. I find it's best to work with the mixed paints when they're not very wet.

When I'm happy with the paint colors, I sketch my design on the watercolor paper. (I prefer watercolor blocks because they're so convenient, no stretching required and the paper dries nice and flat).

After the sketch is finished I lighten the pencil lines with my kneaded eraser and start painting.

watercolor, peonies, painting, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

I'm glad I chose to paint the buds first. When I came up to my studio on the second morning the buds from the day before looked like this:

peony flower, pink peony, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

The opened flowers changed quite a bit from day to day, too. The pink outer petals paled. The yellow petals turned ivory. The folded deep pink petals at the very centers of the flowers expanded and lightened.

Peonies, Studio, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

I don't know what variety this is, but it is lovely and smells delicious. Mixed with the scents of orchid flowers and jasmine, they made my studio a very happy place to be this week.

As I work, I paint slowly. Petal by petal.

peonies, painting, watercolor, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Stem by stem.

peonies, painting, watercolor, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Leaf by leaf.

Anne Butera, Painting, Studio, peonies, watercolor

I don't work on a leaf or petal or stem that's touching a part that's still wet unless I'm trying to let the colors mix.

I layer the paint to build up the colors, letting each layer dry before adding the next.

peonies, painting, watercolor, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Always working with a mug of tea or coffee nearby (on the left side so I don't accidentally dip my brush in it).

I like to use tiny brushes to paint details as the final step.

peonies, painting, watercolor, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Is it finished? I'm not quite sure. I might end up tinkering with it a bit more before I declare it finished. Sometimes it's good to let a painting sit for a day or two before deciding.

I hope you enjoyed visiting my studio.

Have a lovely weekend!


  1. It's lovely and nice to learn more about your process. xo

  2. Such a clean and bright space to work! I love the thought of working in a scented studio. Our peonies are still tightly budded, so fun to see your beauties on the table AND on paper. xo

    1. Thank you, Karen. There's one lone peony plant in the back yard that never bloomed last year but has buds this spring. They're still tight, but I'm excited to see what they'll look like when they open. Yours will be lovely and are something to look forward to!

  3. Anne, your painting is gorgeous and so precisely and beautifully done. Lovely work space! Big hugs and lots of love from my heart to yours!

    1. Thank you, Aga! From my heart to yours!

  4. What a gorgeous and inspiring studio - no wonder you produce so much fine art :)

  5. I really enjoyed visiting your beautifully tidy studio Anne! The peonies are stunning - I didn't realise that peonies are scented! Watching the process of how you work is fascinating. Very calm, controlled and measured with exquisite results. The peony painting is one of your finest yet. :-)

    1. Thank you, Simone! Some peonies smell lovely. Others smell kind of bad (in my opinion) and some don't smell very much at all.

  6. I looked in my dictionary for "gracious living" and there was a picture of you . . .

    1. Hahaha! If you only knew. No, in all serious, thank you. I'm such a home body that I can't help but make my home cozy and comfortable, colorful and filled with the things I love.


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