Painting Poppies, California-style
Listening to an online sermon recently, I heard a good word about our current circumstances: while we all do need to ask for safety, what we ought to pray for more is Courage. I've thought and written about courage before, so it must be a theme that I'm needing to pay attention to personally.
You want to know what takes courage for a painter? A big commission; and by big I mean size-wise, as in really large: 3 feet by 4 feet of joyously blooming California Golden Poppies. The photo reference that my client had taken was of a small copse of poppies near an old 4x4 plank of timber. I could easily see how that scene had spoken to her and I wanted to capture the happy simplicity in this painting. I studied up on the structure and silhouette of golden poppies so my rendering, however impressionistic, would be believable.
The first step in any painting is always Composition. This is a 2-part process: first, how I want the painting to make the viewer feel (what is the reason for this painting?) and second, how can I arrange the components within the painting to achieve that feeling? In this case, the photo suggested a much more intimate scene rather than an expansive landscape view, so a vertical portrait layout would express that closeness, bringing you right into that cozy setting. Photos reflect exactly what is there, but a bit of rearranging by the artist can strengthen the scene. I felt that arranging the poppies to lead the eye into, through, and around the painting would keep the viewer engaged in the setting. The contrasting structural lines of the plank against the soft edges of the flowers added interest without distracting or dividing the painting too much. Flipping the photo horizontally let me develop a "compound curve" composition, with plenty of soft angles to lead the eye.
To get started on the work, I ordered a large stretched canvas and the oil colors that would happily mix together to yield bright, glowing hues so recognizable in these flowers. I found a way to support the big canvas on my medium sized easel and began with a wash of quick drying, warm transparent oxide orange, which would allow me to do the free-hand "wipe away" where I wanted the flowers to go and would also warmly glow through subsequent layers of paint. A cool green around the perimeter followed, creating a base for the long grasses that surrounded the poppies. The wood also received a first layer of grayed-down violet, the complement of the orange-yellows all around it. After that, it was off to the races as I started developing the flowers loosely, then with more detail and depth, always keeping in mind where I wanted the focal point: over the wood plank on the right upper right side, as the brightest and most developed of the poppies. That is the area where you will find the darkest of the darks and the brightest of the blooms.
As the "S" shaped composition developed, I also worked the outer areas of grasses, shadows, and the more distant blooms on the far side of the wood plank, keeping those edges and shapes softly indistinct. That helped to create depth and kept the sweet-spot (focal point) the "star of the show". I added more flowers on the outer areas of the composition lines to keep it random and interesting, as well as roughing up the wood and adding some cooler greens among the flowers. Here is the original reference photo and below is the finished painting, as well as two photos of it hanging: one on my wall during the drying process and one on my client's wall where she can be reminded of sunshine and beauty every day! Many thanks to her for commissioning me to recreate such a delightful image in oil paint!
Thank you for reading my blog! Stay safe AND courageous!
Hello! My name is Wendy and I am passionate about oil painting! Whether in the studio or out in Mother Nature, I get lost in the experience of capturing on canvas the moment and the feel of what I am painting. I pour my love and energy into every single piece of artwork and I hope it shows! This blog is a place where I can use words to talk about art, painting, life, faith, things that make me laugh, and things that inspire. I love every response, so don't be shy about leaving a comment...