Adventures in Art: Remembrance (Or, In Flanders Field)

It’s been nearly a month since my easel has had some use, but last weekend, I grabbed it and my art book. While I wait for a tube of burnt sienna to come in the mail, I decided to skip ahead a couple of lessons to something that didn’t require it: a red poppy.

At first, I thought about skipping this one because it seemed unremarkable, but I’m glad I didn’t for two reasons: 1, because I had forgotten the poppy’s importance in remembering the fallen of World War I (and in some nations, other wars as well), and 2, because it was an eye-opening painting experience.

If you aren’t familiar with its connection to World War I, it all started with this poem, “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae. In parts of Europe, poppies grow on the battlefields, which inspired the poem and their significance. It’s a beautiful tribute to the brave who lost their lives.

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As for the experience of actually painting it, the goal of this lesson was working with shades. In this case, that meant adding a smidge of white or a smidge of black to red to adjust the color.

The base of the poppy started off as straight-up red with a blank spot for the center of the flower. Then came just a smidge of black for the area above the center and on the right and bottom sides of the flower.

At first, I didn’t quite get it. I kept looking at the example picture and my own, but there was a huge disconnect between the two. The area above the center just didn’t look right. So I left some of that color on the pallet before adding more black for the center, those couple of dark streaks, and the stem.

It was only once I added the center and saw that the area above it definitely wasn’t right that it started to click. It needed to extend beyond the edges of the center, like a funnel of shadow leading to the center of the flower.

Once that shape was right, the rest of the shading began to make more sense.

For the left side, there’s just the slightest hint of white added to the red to create a lighter shade. Then I started blending the different shades until I liked the final product.

Like with many things, I was happy with it when I was done, but it wasn’t until I came back a little while later that I could see it as a whole instead of a group of shades in the abstract shape of a flower.

I tried signing the bottom, but my signature is still an awful mess, so I decided to leave it alone for now. There’s a place on the back of the canvas for the name of the painting, when it was painted, and by whom, so that’s good enough for now. Maybe once I get a signature down, I’ll add it to the others. Artists out there, if you have any tips (or if a signature on the front doesn’t matter), I’d love to know.

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2 responses to “Adventures in Art: Remembrance (Or, In Flanders Field)

  • Anthony Lee Collins

    I don’t have any thoughts on the signature question (my mother was an art historian, but if she had any thoughts on that subject I don’t remember them).

    I do know that the poppies always make me think of the last episode of the British TV series Blackadder Goes Forth, set during World War I, where the show veers expertly at the very end from humor and snark and idiocy right into tragedy (and a field of poppies).

    With good writing — and good acting — you can pull off all sorts of apparently-impossible shifts in tone. (If you’re not that good, it’s best to not even try. :-) )

    • S.B. Roberts

      I’ve heard of Blackadder but haven’t gotten a chance to watch it yet. I’ll definitely have to.

      That takes some serious talent. I’m not brave enough to make those kinds of tone shifts. : )

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