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How to paint poppies in watercolour using the lifting-out technique with David Webb

Posted on Fri 03 Aug 2018

Try this first

I always use a brush for lifting out and the size you need for this technique depends on the size of the area you want to lift out. In my experience it is best to use the largest brush that you can. I prefer a nylon flat brush for this purpose. Although you can use other shaped brushes, such as Rounds, the flat has a particular advantage: you can use the whole brush to lift large areas or you can use it edge-on to create a thin line. Try for yourself.

1. Paint an area of colour. For this illustration I used vermilion.

2. Give it a moment to settle and then, with a damp brush, press down and drag out the area that you wish to lift.

3. The marks here show the variety of marks that can be achieved with a flat.

Demonstration: Poppies


Prop your board up at an angle of 20 degrees to the horizontal.

You will need:


  • Bockingford NOT 200lb (425gsm) Watercolour paper (19x28cm) taped around all four edges to a board


  • One large Round
  • One small Round
  • One nylon flat brush, around ¾in. (2cm) wide


  • Cobalt blue
  • Vermilion
  • Raw sienna
  • Indian yellow


  • Pencil 3B to 5B
  • Mixing palette with large wells
  • Board
  • Masking tape
  • Water
  • Kitchen towel

Step 1

Carefully draw the outline of the flower.

Step 2

In your mixing wells, make separate dilutions of all the four colours listed above, as shown. Note how fluid the colour is.

Step 3

1. Wet the surface of the paper with your largest brush. Dip your brush into the Indian yellow and begin brushing in the background colour from the top left.

2. Now quickly rinse the brush in water, dry it off on kitchen towel then pick up cobalt blue and work this into the still-wet Indian yellow. You can see how this creates wonderfully soft colour changes.

3. In the lower right, add raw sienna. Don’t worry if the colours drift into the area of the flower, as this is where we use the lifting-out technique.

Step 4

For all the steps in this demonstration, I used the flat brush only for lifting out.

1. Before the background colour dries, use a slightly damp flat brush to lift out any colour that may have spread into the main flower area.

2. Lift out some colour from the upper areas of the buds, as these parts of the flowers are catching the light.

3. Allow the green background wash to dry.

Step 5

1. With the Round brush, pick up vermilion and paint the narrow band of red colour that is visible in the left-hand flower bud.

2. For the larger open flower, begin at the top with vermilion. Wash out and dry your brush then add Indian yellow, working wet-in-wet into the vermilion to create warmer areas of colour.

Step 6

Once the wash on the flower is complete, use the flat brush to lift out the lighter areas of the petals. This helps to create the delicate, papery appearance of the flower. Allow to dry.

Step 7

Now paint the green parts of the poppy, such as the buds, stems and leaves. Using Indian yellow, cobalt blue and raw sienna, mix the colours on the paper to obtain a variety of greens. It might be best to try out a few mixes on scrap paper first, before you apply the colours to the painting.

Step 8

Make a strong mix of cobalt blue with a little vermilion to create the dark colour for the centre of the flower. Paint this area then, with the flat brush, lift out a few lights.

Step 9

Paint the darker parts of the buds, stems and leaves, using stronger mixes of Indian yellow, cobalt blue and raw sienna. It’s important to leave a few areas of the previous wash untouched to represent the lighter, sunnier parts of the plant.

Step 10

This illustration shows the completed green areas. Note how dark the shadow is on the stem just under the flower. This helps to project the poppy forward from the rest of the plant.

Step 11

Paint a second wash of red on the open flower. You can see that these brushstrokes help to describe the papery feel of the poppy so it’s important to leave enough of the previous wash untouched to achieve this effect.

Step 12

With a stronger mix of cobalt blue and vermilion, paint the darks on the centre of the flower.

The finished painting

Poppies, watercolour on Bockingford NOT 200lb (425gsm) watercolour paper, (19x28cm)

David Webb

Find out about David’s work, workshops and demonstrations by visiting www.david

This demonstration is taken from the September 2018 issue of Leisure Painter and is part of the tenth in a series of 13 articles on watercolour basics and beyond by David

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How to paint poppies in watercolour using the lifting-out technique with David Webb


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