I spotted these gorgeous oriental poppies growing wild near my home in Mas de Blais, Briançon. Their petals were a riot of yellow, orange, scarlet and crimson in the bright morning sunlight. The grey stone wall and delicate dandelions provided a good foil to the poppies’ vivacious colouring.
I immediately thought of Georgia O’Keefe’s wonderful painting “Oriental Poppies” where the luscious reds and the sensuous brushwork create a wonderful homage to nature’s beauty. O’Keefe’s artwork has influenced me greatly at various times in my artistic career and I have often hoped to make a similar painting of large poppies. I used my phone camera to quickly capture various close-up and not so close-up views of the flowers. Three reasons: the heat, the quickly changing sunlight and the fact that these wildflowers were growing just by the roadside, on the land of a often grumpy neighbour who might not have been sympathetic to my quest!
I printed out the photos at A4 size so that I could easily trace the outlines of the poppies on to Daler Bockingford 90 lb (190 gsm) watercolour paper. I wanted the composition to be cropped in a daring fashion so that only parts of the smaller poppies that were positioned top and bottom of the image were included. This particular paper worked really well as I added layers of Permanent Lemon Yellow, Permanent Red Light and Madder Lake Deep (crimson) to the poppies, allowing each layer to dry before adding the next. I used the Talens ‘Van Gogh” range of “fine quality” tube watercolours, a good investment for any artist.
I chose a small brush and tones of grey and violet for the centre of the poppies and the “dead heads”. The dandelions required very careful observational drawing as some were more “complete” than others. Delicate tones of Payne’s Grey, with a little yellow added, defined their features. There was quite a lot of confusing detail in the bright green leaves so I tried to simplify some areas so that they didn’t distract from the main focus, those incredible red poppies!
The painting was scanned by Photo Francou and we have printed some very attractive postcards and greetings cards from the design. Meanwhile I started work on a “companion painting”, imaginatively titled ‘Poppies and Dandelions II’.
The original watercolour ‘Poppies and Dandelions I’ is available to buy. The painting is presented in an off-white (blanc-cassé) mount with a textured white wood frame. Price : 150€