Gardens can be quite complex and overwhelming. The key to interpreting the subject successfully is to simplify.

For the purpose of this demonstration the focus on these stunning poppies growing in an herbaceous border.

Demonstration: Poppies, Marle Place

Step one
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Poppies 1











Working on pre-stretched paper, lightly sketch the three poppy heads and stems with a 2B pencil.

Start by looking at the geometric form of a flower head:

  • Poppies fit into a bowl shape.
  • Leaves have a distinctive profile with a serrated edge.

Step two

Poppy 2











Begin painting the flower heads.

Starting in the centre of the pink poppy, apply a pale mix of new gamboge and cobalt blue on a dry base, using the No. 8 brush.

Add a little more blue to the mix and apply it while still wet. This will give more depth.

Using the No. 10 brush, wet the base of the entire surrounding flower head and drop in a small amount of dilute new gamboge to add warmth and depth to the pink that follows.

Add dilute permanent rose, working the brush from the centre outwards and from the outer edge inwards to suggest subtle form.

The sun is catching the petals on the left side and bleaching them so use a clean, damp brush to lift the colour gently to reveal white paper.

Continue to work th e other two petals in the same way. In the orange flower head, use a stronger wash of new gamboge to begin and combine it with scarlet lake for the second wash.

Step three

Poppy 3











To establish a balance of tones, start work on the background.

Prepare four pools of colour: aureolin yellow, new gamboge, cobalt blue and a mix of new gamboge and cobalt blue.

Using the No. 10 brush, carefully wet around each flower head then continue to wet the entire paper with the No. 16 round or mop.

Apply aureolin yellow in soft patches, then new gamboge in the area above the main pink poppy to suggest diffused yellow flower heads, followed by patches of neat cobalt blue and, finally, a mix of the blue and yellow.

As the paper is damp, suggest movement and texture in the background by dabbing your brush or applying the paint using a sweeping movement.

Leave to dry thoroughly.

Step four

Poppy 4










When dry, return to the flower heads.

Working each petal individually and alternately, wet them with clean water and apply a stronger wash of colour. Work from the centre outwards, drawing your brush to a finer point.

Use permanent rose and quinacridone magenta on the pink flower. To create a cooler, deeper shadow, add a tiny amount of green to the permanent rose.

On the orange flower, use scarlet lake combined with new gamboge.

Dropping in a touch of permanent rose on top of the previous mix while wet can add to the vibrant colour effect.

Step five

Poppy 5











The centre of the pink poppy requires more depth to emphasise the cup shape so rewet the petals and add stronger tones of pink.

Using the No. 8 brush, draw soft lines from the centre of the petals outwards to suggest their crumpled tissue paper effect.

When dry, use the No. 4 brush to add finer details.

Repeat this on the orange petals, adding a touch of blue to the mix for the details.

Working wet on dry, add still more depth and shaping to the green centre.

Finally, add the richly-coloured anthers using a mix of indigo and permanent rose with a tiny touch of new gamboge.

Step six

Poppy 6











For the stems, mix a pool of new gamboge and cobalt blue and apply a sweeping brushstroke of colour on dry paper with the No. 8 brush.

Towards the top of the stems, add a stronger mix of green, followed by a touch of the flower head colour. Using your smallest brush, flick out tiny brushstrokes to suggest the hairs.

Continue with the leaves, combining negative painting with a positive technique.

Initially work on the positive leaves, applying a base of cobalt blue mixed with new gamboge to a dry base.

While this wash is still wet, drop in neat dilute cobalt blue and a stronger mix of green. A touch of pink can be added to the green to give more body.

The leaf on the left-hand side catches the sunlight so the light base wash should shine through.

Diffuse the positive section of the leaf and complete it by adding negative painting around the profile of the tip.

Other leaves can be suggested in the same way.

The finished painting

Poppy Final

Poppies, Marle Place, watercolour, 15x11in. (38x28cm)
To complete, add a suggestion of veins using a stronger mix of the colours used in the previous stage.

Use the lifting-out technique to paint more watercolour poppies