To start make a light pencil pressure line drawing of the major shapes, which are the heads of the flowers and mark in lightly the horizon line. Do not mark in any of the abstract shapes of the sky: if you do you will see the pencil marks you have made at the end of the painting process. I general impress the shapes in a sky with a worn out biro, which I did in this painting.
Palette for sky: blues (light and dark), yellows, flesh tint, purple. Have the washes ready, test out on a swatch first. Tools for sky: tissue twist, hake brush, large round headed brush, medium size round headed brush. Procedure: wet the paper with your hake brush down to the horizon line. Let that soak in, takes about three minutes, if you put your paper under any light source you will see this happening and as the sheen goes off the paper you know the water is soaking into the paper. Rewet the paper and let that soak in until the sheen is still evident but losing its glow. The reason you are wetting the paper twice is because you may be spending more than three minutes working on this sky: you need the paper damp throughout the process as you want diffused edges in this sky, no hard lines. I worked on this in two stages. I let the paint dry completely and once I had completed 70% of the foreground I revisited the sky to make it bolder. As I worked in the red palette I found the sky sinking into insignificance, although that is not a Bad Thing but I believe as the horizon line is close to midway that the top half had to have as much power as the area below the horizon line. I used basically the same techniques but used a much stronger wash, almost a mix of Prussian blue, and I introduced purple to balance the contrast between the blues and the yellows. The Good Thing is that when yellow dries you can glaze over with blue, the colours will not transform into turn green unless you make that happen i.e. by overworking the colour. So, not many brushstrokes to apply any blue over dry yellow.
Use a large round headed brush to apply the first wash of blue, and use the tissue twist (by dragging it softly over the wash with diagonal lines) to suggest movement and light in the sky. Use your stronger blue nearer the top of the paper. I find flesh tint a very useful colour for skies, where the cloud is mainly white but towards the lower part it has some shadow. Use a medium sized round headed brush (circular brushstroke) to paint in the flesh tint. Once cleaned, use the large round headed brush to paint in some yellows. Be bold with your brushstrokes: you have to suggest movement in any sky and you can always give the impression of movements with large bold brush marks.
One question I was asked in class was: “Can I paint the flowers before the sky?” This is possible but is it practical? With any subject you are working on whether from a photograph (which this was) or a sketch or live, you have to “work out” the easiest approach. Otherwise what is a pleasure becomes a chore. My advice was: start with the sky, and there are a few reasons for this guidance.
As the lower part of the sky is predominantly yellow this is very practical as the flower heads can start off with a wash of yellow.
Palette for flowers: yellow, cadmium red, brilliant red, crimson red. Stems: purple and browns. When working with the colour red you have to make sure that the colour does not look flat, therefore you need a palette of reds, check out your colour wheel for the analogous yellows/oranges/reds/purple. Poppies have that wonderful transparent quality when the flower finally unwraps and also darker areas where the petals are still unfolded. Work from yellow through to your darkest red and also you will need some purples for the shadows.
The stems can also be underpainted with yellow and then use a rigger brush, with an upward sweep brushstroke to paint in the stems.
The trickiest part of this composition: the spaces between the flowers and stems and how to “fill them in”. This is where a rigger brush really comes in useful because of its unique shape. I underpainted the area with a light wash of green, let that dry and then used the rigger brush to paint in a variety of colours including: light/medium/dark green, dark blue (e.g. Prussian), purple. The red blooms have to dominate this landscape, even the ones in the midground and background so make them stand out size wise: you do not want them fading with the colours around them. This part of the composition took the longest to complete, two hours minimum.
The last task for this painting: use a fan brush and a mix of zinc white with a little purple and on the stems in the foreground add the hairs that you see on these wonderful flowers stems. Makes them look even more transparent, which is one of their wonderful qualities.