One of the questions I’m asked the most often by my students is, “How can I achieve more realistic flowers with colour dusting?”
They realise that one of the secrets to creating beautiful sugar flowers lies in having the ability to colour their flowers correctly, adding depth & dimension to their flowers through the medium of colour.
Normally I’m not a fan of preaching a particular “correct technique”, especially when it comes to doing something creative or artistic because I believe that rules are often made to be broken. That’s why I always let my students decide on the colour of the flowers that they create during the class, rather than making everyone follow one colour scheme or palette, even if it makes the teaching more challenging for me, because I believe it is so important for my students to have fun with colour & explore their own originality.
However, I’ve also realised that there are certain principles that hold true when it comes to colour dusting, so I’ve decided to share them in this post.
1. Apply colour by brushing / stroking from the inner or outer edge towards the middle of the petal
This is the first thing that I tell anyone who is a beginner to colouring sugar flowers. I know that in our excitement, it’s very common for us to immediately start by dabbing our brush right into the middle of the petals to apply colour. However, this approach doesn’t work at all, because we are actually creating splotches of colour in the middle of our petals, which results in our flowers looking unevenly coloured - and we don’t want that! We want beautifully graduated petals, not splotchy petals. So unless you have a very steady hand or have had lots of practice with colouring / shading flower petals, I always suggest that you learn this basic technique first.
Step 1 - By directing your brush strokes starting from the outer edge & moving towards the middle of the petal, you will ensure that most of the colour is deposited on the edge of the petal. The edge of your petal is where a lot of interesting details reside (e.g. any curls, waves, frills or veins that you had created when you stretched & texturised the petal), so when you apply more colour to the petal edges, you are highlighting all these precious details.
Step 2 - When you stroke your brush from the innermost edge / base of the petal towards the middle, you are adding more depth to your flower. If you study the colour & shading variations of flowers carefully, you will realise that the darkest parts of many flowers radiate from the middle, usually because the innermost part of the flower is the deepest part & hence the shadow is the strongest there.
Correct technique (left side) vs wrong technique technique (right side). The petal on the left looks smooth & blended, whereas the one on the left looks splotchy.
It’s true that there are so many variations of flower colours so you will find some flowers that have lighter colours in the middle & on the edges. I consider the colouring techniques for these types of flowers to be more advanced, so I suggest that you only move on to these types of flowers only after you are familiar with the basic technique discussed here.
2. Apply your colours in layers
There are a couple of things that we need to bear in mind with regards to applying colour in layers.
Firstly, it is better to have a light hand when applying colour. If you find that you want more colour after the initial dusting, you can just add more colour or mix a darker colour to your liking. If you apply too much colour, it is usually more difficult to remove any colour that is already on your petal. You can try dusting on white colour dust or cornstarch to dilute or lighten any colour that's too dark, but it's often not possible to remove the colour completely or get it as light as you intended.
Secondly, it is generally true that the more layers of colour we apply to our sugar flower, the more realistic & beautiful it will become. So a sugar flower that has 4-5 different layers of colour will usually look better than a sugar flower that only has 2 layers of colour, simply because the flower has more dimensions, details & depth of colour added to it.
3. Have some understanding of colour theory & how to mix colours
Colour theory can be quite a complex topic, but it is important to have at least a basic understanding if you want to become a competent colourist. In this case, knowledge is definitely power - armed with the knowledge about colour theory, you can technically mix any colour under the sun, as long as you have the three primary colours.
Primary Colours - The primary colours (red, blue & yellow) are called as such because it is not possible for you to mix these colours by yourself & you must buy them. The primary colours are situated equidistant apart on the colour wheel (see diagram below).
Secondary Colours - Whenever you mix two primary colours together, you will get a secondary colour (e.g. purple, green & orange). The secondary colours are situated in between the primary colours that they are created from, so for example in the diagram below, orange (a secondary colour) is situated right in the middle between red & yellow, which are the two primary colours that created it.
Source: Lorraine Watry Studio
Tertiary Colours - Similarly, secondary colours are situated in between the primary colours & secondary colours that created them. There are various names for the tertiary colours, but for simplicity we can refer to them as red-violet, red-orange, blue-green, blue-violet, and so on.
Complementary Colours - Complementary colours are colours that are on the opposite sides of the colour wheel. For example, blue + orange, red + green, purple + yellow are examples of complementary colour pairs. One useful thing to remember about complementary colours is that when they are mixed together, they create neutral colours such as black/grey, brown/beige & white.
Brands - Different brands use different levels of pigment in their colours, so it is common to find that a colour from a particular brand is different or less pigmented when compared to a similar colour from another brand. For example, I find that Wilton's Red Red colour is more pigmented that the similar colour from Americolor. Therefore the final resulting vibrancy, hue & saturation of any colour that you are trying to mix is very much affected by the levels of pigment that are present in your primary or base colours.
There are so many aspects of colour theory which can either be fascinating, or too technical to some of you. I have tried to summarise the points that I think that beginner colourists will find the most useful.
4. The 3-Step Method
As mentioned above, it is generally preferable to apply more layers with a light hand, instead of less layers with a heavy hand. If I have less time however, there are 3 steps at a minimum that I always use to colour all my floral sugar art:
Step 1 - Apply colour on the outer edges of all the petals (on both sides).
The technique here is the same as the one we discussed in Point 1 above, where colour is dusted on the petal edges, stroking from the outside edge towards the middle. I usually apply colour all around the petals in a colour that’s slightly darker than the petal. Always remember to apply colour on both sides of the petal & check that you haven’t missed any spots.
For this step, use a flat brush with slightly bushy & soft bristles that won’t damage your petals. The width of the flat brush ensures that you are covering more area as you brush the petal edges.
The size of the brush will depend on the size of your petals, so for example if you’re colouring a small or medium-sized petal, use a brush that is around 1cm wide & scale up if you find you need a bigger brush.
Step 2 - Apply colour on the center part of the flower
Use a brush that has a more pointed or tapered shape, and very gently dab a darker shade right into the center of the flower. I always do this step when colouring flowers such as roses, as it immediately gives more depth to the flower.
Step 3 - Finish off by studying the colour of your flower overall & adding highlights where needed
The final step I do is to dab highlights around the flower in a couple of contrasting colours such as a different tone from the flower, green or even brown or burgundy. I often apply these highlights in the parts of the flower that have more texture, veining or even tears to make these details stand out. This step finishes off the flower by making it look more realistic & multi-dimensional.
Take the time to study the look of your flower at this stage. Referring to pictures of flowers or live flowers
5. Use the right brush
At the very least, I recommend for all beginners to have these two brushes:
1. A small / medium flat brush (around 1cm wide) with very soft bristles that will not damage or break any petals. This brush will be used to apply colour along any petal edges using the technique described in Tip 1 & Tip 4 (Step 1) above. I like to use a flat brush that has a bit of volume / fluffiness, as it creates a softer look than a very flat brush.
2. A small tapered brush (that has a brush head about 1.5cm long) to dab colour & add depth to the center of the flower, as described in Tip 4 (Step 2) above. Again, I like to use a brush that is slightly fluffy for this.
If you’re open to getting more brushes than just two, these are some other brush types that I find very useful:
3. Flat bristle brushes in a couple of bigger sizes, so that you can apply colour layers faster if you’re working with larger petals or leaves.
4. A very large & fluffy brush that looks similar to a makeup blusher brush. This brush is useful for dusting a very light (but still visible) all-over layer of colour to a large flower. The bristles don’t damage any delicate petals, and you can also hit lot of petal edges with a light dusting of colour in one go.
5. A very small pointed brush, in as small a size as you can find. This brush is useful for painting in small details like the tips of stamens, strokes of colour in petals, and so on.
6. A medium sized fluffy brush with very soft bristles, for brushing off excess colour dust.
You don’t need an excessive number of brushes to be able to do a good job colouring your sugar flowers. However, it is useful to have 1-2 multiples of the same brush (especially the flat fluffy bristle brushes), as you’ll be using them the most often & it’s handy to have one brush for one colour as you work.
So that’s it! These are my top tips for colouring sugar flowers. I hope that you find them helpful in some way. Many of my students say that this is one of the most enjoyable & addictive parts of making sugar flowers & I couldn’t agree more.
If you have any questions, leave a comment below or drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy colouring!