The SAA 2018 Poppy Challenge

This year, being the 100th Anniversary of World War One, the SAA decided to mark the occasion by holding a Paint a Poppy Challenge. Partnered with the Royal British Legion, it is a way to say “thank you” to those courageous men and women who served and sacrificed for our country and freedom. The idea is to gather as many poppy paintings and drawings as possible together to create a unique art exhibition to be held later this year at their headquarters in Nottingham, as well as raising funds for the work the Royal British Legion does, by monetary donations from those taking part in the challenge.

The challenge was open to everyone, in any medium on any paper as long as it measured exactly 125x125mm (4.9×4.9 inches). As well as individuals, SAA art groups were able to send in group entries. Being a member of SAA Frome Valley Art, based in Winterbourne, South Gloucestershire, I decided to take part. I love a challenge, and this was undoubtedly one.

As much as I enjoy painting detail, producing a small painting is a lot harder than one imagines. First, was deciding precisely the image I wanted to create. I wanted something different from the usual poppy flower scene, one that not only reflected the simple beauty of the flower, but also the immense emotion evoked by this memorial event.  I’ve painted several poppy pictures in the past and wanted something different, one that had meaning. I thought long and hard, and unusually for me, painted many draft pictures until finally deciding on the one that for me, worked.

First,  a black background – to represent death and mourning as per the black-bordered telegrams families of those fallen often received. Also, a using a black background accentuates the flower’s vibrancy, popping it out of the image. It called for a poppy in bud to represent the young age many of our soldiers were when called up to arms during conflict, some as young as sixteen.

I wanted a poppy in full flower, representing parents and families of those left behind, and I wanted falling petals, to represent those fallen in battle, a reflection too of the millions of petals dropped in various war memorial services, in mind particularly those dropped at the Remembrance service at  Royal Albert Hall, London.

Lastly, and for me the most important part, I wanted to add falling teardrops from the adult flower: tears for a son, husband, brother, uncle, grandfather who never came home.

After many weeks, my challenge attempt resulted in “Tears for the Fallen”.

“Tears for the Fallen”

It’s doubtful I will be able to get to the exhibition although it will be available online at a later date (I’ll keep you advised).

As a mark of respect too by the Frome Valley Art group, we are aiming to hang all the walls in the room we use with pictures of poppies during November. For this, I am hoping to recreate “Tears for the Fallen” on a larger scale.

Addendum

6.11.2018. Was delighted and honoured to have this painting and its story featured on “Yesterday Uncovered” blogspot. Thank  you, Pauline Barclay.

 

Advertisements

The Warren, Folkestone

Accepting a commission is a double-edge paintbrush. There’s the thrill of someone (a complete stranger) liking your work so much they want a special piece to hang in their home, whilst on the opposite side is the worry, the fear of letting that person down, being unable to come up to their expectation. Would they like it? Is it the sort of thing they wanted? Could I have done it better or differently? …all the angst of being an artist. With most of the commissions I’ve accepted, the subject matter has been left very much open, with requests such as “I want something that has lots of pink flowers?” or “Will you paint me a woodland scene full of autumnal reds and oranges?” being the more usual approach. Thus, perhaps you can understand the challenge of painting something more specific after I was fortunate to secure a recent commission to paint a landscape from a photograph taken by a new client: a view across to Folkestone, England from an area I later found out was called the Warren.

Original supplied photograph:

As I wasn’t familiar with this part of the country, I spent many hours on the Internet and Google Earth, studying various images of the region in order to familiarise myself with the location. However, it is difficult to get any feel for a place from a photograph – one needs to see, smell and feel the atmosphere of an area in order to bring it to life and do it justice – so I was very much working in the dark. There was also the dilemma of what to include and what to leave out, bearing in mind my client’s requirements, in order to create a more pleasing landscape. In this instance, I’d decided to omit many of the telegraph poles and wires that criss-cross the foreground and the tree bottom left, along with several communication masts on jetty near the hotel (the large white building just off-centre mid distance) – the artistic licence bit. There is also the quandary of how true to life one paints from a photograph: the lighting, the time of year, etc. 

The first step was to grid the photograph in order to transfer the image to an 60 x 40 cm (A2) box canvas, choosing a 10 x 6 grid. I find this easiest when including a lot of detail, particularly buildings. Using a soft pencil, I marked the canvas at its edges, then drew in the vertical grid. The ruler was not long enough to cover the width of the canvas so I resorted to using the edge of another same-sized canvas to draw along. The second horizontal line down was well placed as this provided the perfect horizon line approximately one-third the depth of the painting. This exercise was repeated on A4 canvas paper to help when deciding on the palette of each part, testing colours, and as a reminder of what goes where.

Photograph with grid:

ArtTutor GridPic 2

Once happy with the sketch, I erased the grid lines, with the exception of the horizon line, which  I masked off to provide a level edge to paint to. In the original photograph, the clouds are not well defined, being a wishy-washy one colour blue across the complete width. To give more life and depth to the sky, I painted in various banks of clouds sweeping in, without drawing too much attention to them. Although not clear in the supplied photograph, on the horizon to the right is Dungeoness Power Station. My client had requested specifically that this was to be included, so I painted in this, slightly larger than real life to make it more visible, before carefully removing the masking tape once the paint was completely dry. Another strip of tape was then place above the horizon line in order to paint in the sea – the English Channel.

When this was dry and the tape removed, I determined on the vanishing point in the picture and drew in perspective lines with a white pastel pencil. Using these lines I then roughly sketched in the buildings and the jetty. Because the scene has various directions for the eye to travel along – horizon, mid distance and downward to the camp site in the bottom left-hand corner – these lines proved invaluable in getting the right view right. Using a pastel pencil also means any part can be readily rubbed out, repositioned and redrawn; far better than using a lead pencil which can smudge and often shows through any paint, particularly white. (Please note that the horizon in the photos appears curved – this is due to an effect created by my camera. Rest assured the picture doesn’t depict the Earth’s curvature, it is level. Also, the colours depicted in these photos do not give true justice to the actual painting – again a fault with the camera and my probable lack of photographic prowess!)

100_7021

The picture was slowly built up, layer by layer, building by building, although not being a slave to the photograph and not including every single house or tree in mid distance.100_7022Slowly, each level was created, adding in the jetty and quay, before underpainting the green on the cliff top, along with the contours and outlines of the foreground. During this process,the top and bottom and side edges of the canvas were also painted, wrapping the scene around so that the canvas could be hung with or without a frame, depending on the owners’ preference.

Almost there

Next, the two martello towers, the lighthouse, the green with its parking area, cars and clubhouse, the trees and shrubbery down to the sea, the promenade and breakwater, and finally the campsite with its building, camper vans, fence, people and lampposts were added. Again, these were first drawn in using a pastel pencil until I was fully happy with their placements and size in relation to the surroundings before painting in, complete with shadows.

The hardest part of any painting is knowing when to stop, when to stop fiddling, as one wrong stroke, one extra line can ruin the whole thing so before I reached that point, the painting was signed. Done!

The final painting: The Warren, Folkestone

2015-04-07 15.57.46

Duly finished the work was delivered to two very happy clients, who welcomed me into their lovely home, and discussed over coffee where they were going to hang the canvas, and where I also learned the background to their wanting this painting and what it meant for them.

Whilst in Kent, I was also privileged to be given a guided tour around Folkestone, observing and learning about many of the buildings within the painting, and also taken up to the Warren, to the view point where the original photograph had been taken from, to experience for myself the whole panorama. Breathtaking, despite being a dull, blustery and drizzly October afternoon. up on the cliff top at the Warren, but I like to think I had captured the area well in my work, and I like to think my clients feel the same. Thank you Dave and Marion for the opportunity, and to Anne and Alan for being my host and for introducing me to two new friends of Kit Domino Art.

NOTE: All photographs and images have been used with kind permission from my client.