Composing the Sweetest Dream


Poppies were the idea for this painting in a little girl’s room. She’s a lovely little girl, and it’s a pretty little nursery, so I knew I wasn’t going to do the red poppy of eternal sleep, the purple poppy of the Middle East, or any sort of wild poppy field growing in the valleys of the mountains of the West. With a little research I found poppies grown as garden ornamentals. These poppies carry the symbolism of luxury, imagination, beauty, success, and sweet dreams.

With the correct species chosen, and the size of the canvas decided upon I began sketching. Even though this was a garden flower, I was not going to crowd the composition. I would artfully arrange the blooms, buds, and stalks instead. Think garden meets bouquet. I would then contrast this delicate arrangement with a stencil of spray paint for the background. The stencil would be creamy with a touch of sparkle, but still unpredictable as it would be born of aerosol.

After I transferred the sketch to the canvas I introduced the first layer of paint. The colors are quite far from how I imagine the end result. I do this to give the artwork its maximum potential for beautification. Since it is so bold I can also see the weight and energy each shape is going to carry. At this step I was able to identify objects in the image I didn’t appreciate and remove them.

With confidence in my layout I was ready to construct my masking tape-stencil. I cover the canvas in the tape and use a hobby knife to carve it away in the places (however small) where I want spray paint.

With the background applied to the painting it was time to stop being so carefree. This is the chunk of the process where I start to make the reasonable decisions of a professional artist. The blue of the leaf silhouette would slowly grow to a foreground of greenery and a background of shadow-like vegetation.

Now the mistakes, and mid-project changes, have been corrected. (If you’ve been scrutinizing each of the photos in this series you can notice where these mistakes and changes were.) While I was defining the stalks and leaves I was also thinking about the flowers and their petals. They are the true stars of this show. There is an infinite range of color in this life. With this understanding I sought a color for the flowers that would be a blend of pink, peach, orange, fuchsia, and yellow. (Yellow was a surprise to me, as I had initially used it assuming I was going to cover it up.) I wanted all these colors to mix perfectly so that none would completely blend into another; and also to have a subtle interplay so that not one stands out too loudly either.

When you are approaching a finished product, deciding when you are done can be a bit precarious. When I was younger I would cut a painting off too soon. Now that I have been painting for 20 years I know to continue. Putting in extra time, and having patience, satisfies not only me, but the work as well. I enjoy digging deeper within myself to realize more lines, shading, and highlight colors I can add to the composition to make the image come alive. What I did here, for myself and my client, was find a combination of beauty, nature, and a playful youth for this portrait of poppies to fit its home.

Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed this insight into my process. I hope you can reflect and possibly apply my words to your own life and profession. How much do you think before you do something? How much do you analyze your actions while you’re in mid-project?

Now take a deep breath and relax. I hope you are feeling good and creative, because you are.