From the Flags, Fifth Avenue by Childe Hassam, to Jasper Johns famous flag painting, the American flag has been painted by many artists. Flags are interesting to paint, they are drapery studies with patterning that can be depicted either in great detail, or loosely with the emphasis on gesture, the same as any other subject.
In the studies above, I used watercolor to create the barest essence of the flag as it hangs extended from a building. This is a view I often come across when painting urban or town landscapes, I prefer to have just the suggestion of the pattern and use the pattern to support the gesture. I start by painting the shadows as if it were a completely white flag, I then add in the blue field, I don’t worry about the stars because most of the time when a flag is in a painting it is far in the distance and you don’t actually see them. A hint of white shapes on a flag that is in the foreground is enough to get the point across. For the stripes, I make sure they follow the contours of the folds that I blocked in on the white cloth. The stripes that are in shadow are a darker shade of red, the white ones have some neutral tone on them to suggest the shadows. The most important thing to me is to get the weight of the drapery as it hangs, this comes from loose, gestural strokes that move in the direction the fabric is moving. They must be placed loosely and deliberately, and then left alone. This approach works for flags of any origin, and of course any sort of drapery.
Enjoy your Memorial Day weekend! Paint some flags while you watch the parade.