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"Fun in the Poppy Field"

Updated: Jan 23

I paint for fun, the challenge and the enjoyment. Whilst I sell some of my finished paintings, I don't lose any sleep if they don't sell. Thankfully, those I put up for sale or the commissions I am privileged to receive have all been well received. It's more about constant improvement. If what I produce has value, which is why my paintings are not set at unaffordable prices, then that gives me the confidence to keep going.


This exercise continues my journey in learning from the masters and whist it is a watercolour it is inspired by a Monet - "The Poppy Field near Argenteuil" painted in 1847 after he had spent some time in England. This is not going to be an exact copy of the original, this is more about composition and not expecting to get it right first time. Looking back as I write this, that's the first thing that I can't stress enough. Don't expect to get it right the first time. Every artist or professional in any discipline realises quite quickly that you never stop learning, no matter how far you progress. We all want to get every painting right first time and there will be times that you will be tempted to give up and tear it up. A tip therefore - don't give up too soon. Persevere and keep learning before you do. You will be surprised, as you get better, how often you can pull a painting back or use the first attempt to refine your knowledge for the finished artwork. You will see that this exercise is no exception and I hope a worthwhile read for all those developing their watercolour skills.

My first reason for choosing this painting was to continue to improve my knowledge about composition and perspective.


What is it about the composition of this work that draws me to it and why did I use it for the study?

Reviewing the composition
The Poppy Field near Argenteuil - Claude Monet 1847

Let me state, up front, that these are my personal views. Art is very subjective, we all like different things in artworks and each piece evokes different emotions, so my comments here are to justify why I decided to produce a version in the style of Monet, whilst drawing on his technique and composition. You may have other thoughts and views. That's great I am in no way saying I'm right and you're wrong. After all some "teachers" will tell you that you should never copy a master and develop your own technique. For me that's hog wash. This is a learning process for us all so please add your comments so we can all benefit and learn.

What the are the elements that keep bringing me back to this work?

  1. Composition. The treatment of the field itself. This was one of Monet's "plein air" works, apparently, and the way he has created softness and depth is something I am going to try and include within my version.

  2. Light and dark. The sun is clearly to the left and whilst I can't say I like the way he has shown this with the tree, highlighted in yellow at its top, what this does do is draw your eye which then pulls you down the slope and into the patch of sunlight in the field in the distance. Something I want to try and replicate in some way.

  3. The distant house. Was the house really where it is shown? I don't know but I'm sure someone will more than likely enlighten me. What is interesting is the way the field path at the bottom of the slope takes you into the painting and up to the house. So the composition does its job; you are invited to take a trip through the artwork. Again something I hope to develop.

  4. The trees. Monet made them quite dominant because of the strong dark green he has used. I was always told that to create distance the trees should be in a lighter tone but the more I look at Monet's composition the more I appreciate the use of colour to counter this by the use of the poppies in the foreground.

  5. The figures and the paths. What do they add? In my view they add to the composition and act as signposts for your eye to follow. The two figures on the hillside stand at the top of a discernible path down to the field which then joins the two foreground figures. In each case you are travelling through the painting.

So less talk and more do Mark, let's get on with it.

Step 1 - Composition

What am I trying to achieve?

Well as I'm going to do this in watercolour I won't even pretend I can achieve in watercolour what Monet achieved in oil. Why am I doing it in watercolour? To be honest, I'm on holiday so dragging all my oils out to Spain plus all of the thinners etc etc wasn't appealing. I had enough trouble going through security with my watercolour pallet, but that's another story for the future. Watercolour is just more appropriate for travel, or so I thought.

Part of the MyEyeCon series this is "Fun in the Poppy Field"
End of Day 1 Image to accompany the critique

Day 1 Result & Commentary

As you will see from the image the composition is completely different and it may be difficult to see what elements from Monet I am incorporating at this stage, but please read on.

When I first started using watercolour I was all too ready to blast on and try and get the job done in a day. I think its a hang over from my work days where I had an ethos of "why put off until tomorrow what you can do today"? Now, with more time and three years of painting and thinking, "I rushed that", I have learned to take a little more time to review and critique. I'm also very blessed to have one of the sternest art critics living with me, my wife.

So, question to you the reader. Is the composition correct and does it work based on my commentary below?

Compositional elements I have included so far are:-

Depth & Trees Going against my inclination to use lighter tones for the background trees I know I am going to struggle to give depth. Has it worked? Only time will tell. The sky has a very light treatment of Cobalt Blue with the darker elements a mix of Cobalt Blue and Rose Madder, again in an attempt to add distance to the composition.

Unlike Monet my light is coming from the right. I have added two children and made them very prominent to create the depth I need as well as countering the darker treatment of the trees in the background. Lots of work to do on the fields and poppies next.

Note the use of masking fluid which at the appropriate time I will remove but the next challenge will be about getting the fields and grass to have depth and softness. Perhaps some lifting out and much more work on the foreground grass.

The distant poppies are, at the moment not working. I'm hoping that as the foreground develops this will integrate better. I might need to lighten this whole area slightly.

Day2 Start of the Day

So my art critic has not been kind over night. "That looks like its an orange wall" were her words. "It's not finished" I replied desperate to maintain some credibility. She was correct though to be honest, it did need some work. The first change had to be the shape; it really did look like a wall :-). The first modification this morning therefore was to make the field of poppies look like a field. The curve of the land needs to become a curve, not a "wiggly wall" (that's a Geordie term for "its a bag of hammers"). I've now added the finishing touches to some of the trees, but more of them to come. I will be filling the whole field with less distinct ones once these are dry. The masking fluid has now been removed ready for the more detailed poppies to be added. The distant hills have had a few washes added to create texture and depth, the final washes will be added tomorrow (Day 3)

Poppy Field modified, masking fluid removed awaiting the final washes
Day 2 "Fun in the Poppy Field" Progression from Day1

End of Day 2

Before finishing for today I've set myself a job list for Day 3 below.

Day 2 "Fun in the Poppyfield" Detailing and Refinement
  1. Starting at the top, fill the field with more trees

  2. Add a final darker wash to the mid ground fields

  3. Add a track from the gate up to the edge of the poppy field

  4. Add more detail to the distant poppies (tiny red dots)

  5. Start on the two figures if time allows.

  6. Repair the slight damage front bottom right caused by scratching too hard to create the grass strands !! Careless but at least you know its the original !!

Day 3

Now you remember what I said in my opening comments. By the end of Day 3 I was ready to stop and throw it in the bin. After further review however we changed our mind. Well my art critic did :-) "Boy number 1 just doesn't work with his arms like that" and reluctantly I had to agree with her.

Lifting Out

There are many people who will tell you that altering a watercolour is almost impossible. Well it can be done with care as you will see.


What did this exercise prove?

That it's always useful to produce a couple of versions of a painting before you can sometimes master the composition. You will notice looking back at the images how the painting took shape.

This was very much a composition

which blends a photo I had seen on the web, which I now cannot find, merged with the elements from Monet's great work.

In the end I didn't like the composition and produced a second version learning from my experimentation.

Lessons Learned.

It took me several attempts to get the poppy field to look like a field rather than a red wall. After several attempts I realised whatever `I did it was unrecoverable. In addition there was nothing in the composition that brought the eye back into centre of the picture. Cardinal sin. Don't lead the eye out of the picture. It's important to balance the work in some way.

So I painted it again and here it is below. I would love to read your thoughts and what you have learned from my attempt.

Is it saleable? Absolutely not, Did I learn something from the exercise? Definitely. Composition, composition, composition...

I decided that the two figures didn't work. The work didn't suit an oblong treatment either so I have croped it. In my view the composition works better but I will be interested to receive your views and comments.


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