Wednesday, January 18, 2012

California Poppy Study (Master Study)

Several years ago, when I just started painting in watercolor, I was rummaging through the collections of local libraries for instructional books, I came across one by artist Kathy Dunham. I studies the book and did some of the projects in it with quite embarrassing results, which I came across again when cleaning up my studio this morning. After giving it some thought, I decided to try them again, starting with the California poppy showing below:

California Sun Shine (Master Study),  
Watercolor on Arches 140# Cold Press Paper , 12"h x 9"w, 2012#6

I was quite happy with the result this time, and thought that I've learned some very valuable things by doing it again:
  • This is a painting with large area of saturated color, which commands attention. A background with complementary color helps to focus the attention, but it is of vital importance that the background is not of equal color intensity. In this case, the muted blue-green works with the bright orange flower;
  • When the subject of a painting is a single flower with few pedals, relatively simple shapes and not too many details of folds and shadows, the main struggle is to capture and maintain viewer interest across large area of the painting without specific details through subtle change of color, value and surface texture. Large, smooth, single-colored area would easily bore the viewer's eye and I struggled to avoid that in doing this painting;
  • When a watercolor painting is relatively high-keyed but without true white areas, the sense of brilliance of the painting is easily lost. Leaving the stamens as very high-key yellow close to white may be a solution for this particular painting, but when I lift the stamens out of the dark red pedal color, I lost my chance. Maybe next time?...
Doing studies of a master artist's painting or project from instructional books/DVDs can be very helpful in pulling me out of my comfort zone and and forcing me to face subjects that I would subconsciously avoid because I secretly feel there are some problems I could encounter trying to paint them, and I may not have a clue how to solve these problems  -- in design, in execution, and in everything else. But  when I take the plunge, I always feel that I have grown a bit as a painter afterwards...


  1. Beautiful depths of red, and an interesting analysis of the painting.

  2. I agree with your idea to create more contrast in the middle of the flower as my eye wants to wander to the lightest value in the top left corner. Makes me want to paint some flowers now after seeing this! I have a beautiful photo of orange/yellow poppies I have always wanted to paint! But...I must stay focused right now on my horses! : ) Love your work!


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