How to draw sunflowers.
With these helpful tips and a step-by-step tutorial, you can create a sunflower drawing using vibrant colours and graceful lines.
Sunflowers: A special kind of flower.
With their cheerful colours and iconic shape, sunflowers are a wonderful bloom to practise your drawing with. Whether you sketch a lone stalk or a field full of colour, these flowers are not only beautiful, they’re also fun to draw. There’s more to sunflowers than meets the eye.
“Sunflowers have a mathematical equation in the way that their seeds are spread out. They’re actually pretty easy to draw because they’re a simple combination of just a couple shapes,” says artist and illustrator Kevin Jay Stanton. The dark part of a sunflower’s face is a Fermat’s spiral, where the seeds spiral elegantly into the middle point. While this may sound complicated, it gives you a guide for how to draw the centre of a sunflower.
“Sunflowers are also phototropic, which means they follow the movement of the sun across the sky,” explains Stanton. When the flowers are young, the face of the blooms tracks the sun from dawn to dusk. When they’re older, the flowers typically face east, to catch the morning sun. With this in mind, think about your light source before you start a drawing. Since the flower can move and rotate, that gives you plenty of angles and perspectives to practise drawing.
The anatomy of a sunflower.
“Taking the time to prepare for your drawing is just as important as the time it takes to draw,” explains illustrator Spencer Nugent. While most people know what a sunflower looks like, it’s important to take a moment to look at reference photos before you start a new drawing and think about how the different parts of the flower fit together.
- Petals: Bright yellow sunflower petals are called ray florets. Each sunflower has several layers of petals that angle out in a disc from the centre of the flower.
- Flower head: One of the trickiest parts to draw is the centre of the sunflower. It’s called a flower head or disc flower and is actually made up of lots of tiny, individual flowers called florets. These little florets bloom and mature into seeds.
- Stalk: The size and height of the sunflower stalk varies between species, but the stems are generally thick, rough and hairy. These stalks must support the heavy flower heads, so they’re often dense and strong.
- Leaves: Most sunflower leaves are broad, heart-shaped and slightly sticky to the touch. The edges are often coarsely toothed and end in a point.
A simple step-by-step drawing tutorial.
Start at the centre.
“The first thing I do is draw a circle in the middle. Don’t be too concerned about how messy the circle is at the beginning,” says Nugent. After you’ve drawn the main centre of the sunflower, add a smaller circle within it. This will help you to show the angle your sunflower is pointing.
“To me, a sunflower always starts with the centre disc and from there it’s just a matter of adding petals,” adds Stanton. Before you draw the petals, draw a larger circle around the main centre of the flower. This will act as a guide for your petals to fit inside.
Image by Spencer Nugent
Sketch in the first layer of petals.
With your guardrails in place, add petals around the centre of the sunflower. These oval-shaped petals should have a slight point at the tip and should angle out from the centre of the flower. For a more realistic drawing, make the petals vary in shape and angle and include a few with curved edges to show they’re folded or bent.
With digital tools like Adobe Fresco, you can create a more stlylised drawing if you just draw several of the petals and then copy, paste and rotate them around the rest of the flower. This will make all the petals uniform and give you a cleaner look. If you go this route, use your eraser to clean up the edges of each petal.
Add a second layer of petals.
Once you’ve gone all around the centre of the flower with the first layer, add in another. Rotate your petals so the second layer is offset from the first. With digital tools, you can use a shortcut to speed up this step. Make a copy of your first layer of petals and then enlarge and rotate it. Go back in to erase and clean up the layers to make sure everything is blended. Now, all your petals are in place.
Image by Spencer Nugent
Since the centre of a sunflower is actually made up of hundreds of smaller, tiny blooms, “sunflowers have a lot of texture where the centre blooms have started to die off,” explains Stanton. “Each of those flowers then creates a separate seed.” If you want a simple, stlylised drawing, add some crosshatching lines in concentric circles inside the centre of the sunflower. Or, you can get more precise and draw the individual sunflower seeds rotating out from the centre in a spiral. Take your time with this step and keep the spiraling layout of the seeds.
Draw the stem and leaves.
Sketch in a stem for your flower and make sure it’s not too skinny. The stalk is sturdy and thick, since it supports the weight of the flower. Sunflower stems are also rather rough and hairy, so add textured crosshatching to suggest volume and communicate light and shadow.
When the stem is in place, add in a leaf or two. Remember, the leaves are broad and pointed at the end. Check out some reference photos to understand how foreshortening will affect the shape and add in a few thin lines and crosshatches to show the veins and lines of the leaves.
Layer in color.
With the linework done, it’s time to get colourful. With digital watercolours, “go in with a soft yellow wash around the perimeter of the flower and work with your lighter colours first,” says Nugent. After your base colour is in, you can go back and do some more work with shades and highlights. Layer in darker colours of yellow to add volume and shadow to the petals and use browns and blacks to the centre in short strokes to create more texture.
Image by Spencer Nugent
Bask in the beauty of sunflowers.
Sunflowers are a source of inspiration for all. Learn how other artists on Behance have interpreted sunflowers in their own work to give yourself a boost of creativity.
- Discover how one artist went from pencil sketch to finished painting with Fresco.
- Another creator captured realistic sunflowers at different stages of growth, bloom and development.
- Take an illustrated approach to sunflowers like this artist and capture unique texture and colour in a new way.
- Consider more traditional mediums, like paint on paper, to achieve a detailed naturalist drawing or a whimsical watercolour painting.
Go further with Fresco.
Take your sunflower drawings to the next level by exploring the ins and outs of Fresco. With live brushes that work like physical oil paints or watercolours, you can subtly mix colours and create realistic textures. Or export your sunflower drawing and use it to create a pattern in Adobe Illustrator. Whatever tools you decide to use, try your hand at drawing this bright, cheerful flower today.
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