Updated: Oct 22
Why did I paint a Poppy?
I wouldn’t say that I am a flower painter, but I do love Poppies. Most of my personal process involves figurative work, but each month I create a painting for my ‘Virtual Acrylic’ painting class and the subject matter tends to be driven by what the lovely creatives who take my class are interested in. I have a private Facebook group; ‘Sheryll’s Art Club’, where everyone shares their paintings both from the class and anything they do in between. Sometimes I ask about subject matter and I listen to feedback from sessions and watch what everyone chooses to create. It’s a wonderfully supportive, positive group, full of people with varying levels of skill and experience.
Last September when the classes were in-person workshops we painted sunflowers. It was a really popular theme using reference photographs from my trip to the south of France the previous month. I wanted then to paint poppies, but didn’t want to repeat a theme. So I tucked the idea away for later. Since moving the class online in March this year we have painted a vase of lavender, a portrait of me, a peacock, water lilies, a dancer and an old pocket watch.
Poppies in October?
It seems apt to paint the poppy now and share it at the end of October just ahead of Remembrance Sunday on 8th November. Then when I thought about current restrictions and that it wasn’t going to be easy this year to buy a poppy and donate to The British Legion, it made sense to donate £1 of each person’s class fee for this month to the charity. There are usually between 20-25 people who take the class each month, so perhaps this won’t be a huge donation, but as they say ‘every poppy counts’.
An auction of the original
In a pledge to raise more funds, followed the idea to sell my original painting and donate 100% of the proceeds to The British Legion. Not having done this before I reached out to my artist community to see how this could be done. After some top tips, I created a dedicated page on my website and a form to submit a silent bid. There is an opening bid of £50 to get the ball rolling, although I would usually price a painting of this size at least £200.
Then of course imposter syndrome kicks in and putting myself out there with this idea feels too big and scary. What if the painting doesn’t sell? What if people object to the cause? Will I alienate anyone who takes my class who is not British? So I took a deep breath and floated the idea with my class in ‘Sheryll’s Art Club’ group and had an immediate positive response. I breathed a sigh of relief.
The British Legion
I also decided to research The British Legion. Who is this group that I buy poppies from and what do they stand for? These words from their website struck a note with me.
We unite across faiths, cultures and backgrounds to remember the service and sacrifice of the Armed Forces community from Britain and the Commonwealth.
In 2020 we pay tribute to the men and women of the Second World War generation, and to those of today’s, who have served and sacrificed to defend our nation. We remember the collaboration of the Commonwealth and Allied nations who stood shoulder to shoulder then to secure our freedom and the communities coming together today to protect us all.
It made me think of my grandfather who served in the RAF during the second world war. I was very close to him and proud that he had been awarded an MBE for planning transport for D Day. I thought of his wife, my nana who had served in the WRENS and of her father who fought in the first world war, who we called Poppy! Suddenly I have the confidence to talk about this project.
The more I read about what The British Legion are doing the more compelled I have felt to spread the word about this project.
The Poppy Appeal was founded to help those in need following a National crisis. In these unprecedented times The Royal British Legion is working hard to support the most vulnerable in our society, be it those who are simply overwhelmed by the challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, older veterans that we care for, or those who suffer from social isolation.
Creating the painting
Most paintings for my class take me about two days to paint, but this Poppy painting took me about two weeks. I film myself painting and chat to the camera as I go explaining what I am doing. I aim for an image which can be achieved in a morning, as many of my class join me for ‘live’ support on the last Saturday morning of the month, or paint together off screen sharing on Facebook. It’s really good for some people to have a set time to give to their painting. Some super keen students keep painting all day and others paint when it suits them.
During my painting sessions I take breaks and upload the film footage to my computer and rough edit as I go, checking that I had pressed the record button each time! Only once before have I found my camera battery was dead mid-session.
I have been a teacher almost all my life (outside mainstream education), so I usually have an idea (a learning objective) alongside painting the actual subject. This time I wanted to cover colour mixing and had decided to talk about mixing black and greys. So I steamed ahead with great enthusiasm and created a black and grey tonal under painting to which I was going to add my red poppy. After a day and a half of painting and filming I realised that it wouldn’t work. My tonal underpainting was too dark and the fairly transparent red would not work on top. It took me a couple of days to sulk, to test and then a couple more to think about it. Finally I painted over the canvas in white ready to start again.
In the second painting, which became the lesson, I focussed on mixing reds and composition. This was enough I realised to cover in one lesson. I use a simple ‘carbon transfer technique’ to help those who are less confident with their drawings skills. I also stopped at about 40 minutes into the 50 minute lesson to give viewers the option to create a clean image or to continue on and get playful with drips and splashes, which is the bit I really love. This took me about three days and then there’s the final editing.
So now the painting is finished and it’s time for me to be brave. To tell as many people as possible about the class and the idea.
How can you help?
If you are a creative person – you don’t need advanced skills, just the willingness to give it a try – you can sign up to my class which costs £12. You will need some basic materials for acrylic painting. I take you step-by-step through my process, or if you are more experienced you can do your own version, either way I encourage you to do the bits you love and ignore any bits that you don’t like doing. I want your painting to be unique.
If you love art but don’t want to paint why don’t you make a bid to buy the painting. You could then gift it to someone if you don’t have the right space for it at home.
Or you could share this blog or my website page with someone who you think would like this project.
Thank you for reading and hopefully participating,
Sheryll K Fox