How to Paint Poppies

poppies image by Tomasz Plawski from

Things You'll Need

  • Paint (preferred medium)
  • Palette
  • Pencil
  • Paintbrushes (small and large)
  • 2 jars
  • Newspaper
  • Reference photograph
  • Canvas

Poppies are vibrant flowers with distinct black centers and papery petals. They are a member of the Papaver family of flowers. Poppies grow in a wide variety of colors, including red and orange, and generally have four to six large petals and a dark center of pollen. Artists paint flowers such as poppies using many different paint media, but it can take a significant amount of practice to achieve the desired result. It is helpful to use a picture for reference and to take note of the color tones in the flowers you are re-creating.

Choose both a well-lit reference picture with good examples of light and shade, and the medium of paint you wish to work with. Lay the newspaper down to protect your workspace.

Sketch or trace the poppies from your reference picture onto your canvas. If you are sketching them freehand, remember that poppy flowers curve up into a wide cup shape.

Cover the petals with a thin, light wash of color. Choose this color based on the color of the flowers you are re-creating. This forms the base of the poppies, onto which you can add different colors and small details. If using watercolors, this light wash can be created with the addition of ample water.

Select the additional colors for your painting. Choose these based upon the shades of light and dark in your reference picture, and using both warm and cool shades will help to add depth. For example, poppies with a base wash of light blue can be augmented with shades of violet, lilac and even pink.

Observing the colors of the poppies in your picture, begin adding layers of your chosen paint colors. Reflect the areas where the light hits the poppies with lighter colors, and areas of the poppies that are shaded with darker colors. Because the petals are slightly crinkled, they will have many small grooves that can be indicated with thin lines of darker shades.

Continue to adjust the colors of the poppies based upon your reference picture. As a general rule, the color of flowers will grow lighter toward the outer edge of the petals where they are thinnest. This could be reflected by a gradual, thin layer of pink on top of a redder base, for example. Working the brush from both the outside edge inwards, and the center outwards, will help to suggest form.

Input the fine details. Add soft lines in a dark variation of your base color, working from the center to the outside edge, to give the poppies depth. Paint the center of the poppies in the appropriate color, and add a dark shade of your base color around the center to suggest depth.

Fill in the stems with a few shades of green. Make sweeping strokes with a thin paintbrush, using a darker green toward the top of the stems where the petals will likely be casting a shadow. As you did with the poppy petals, reflect areas of light and shade with lighter and darker colors. Study the distinctive serrated leaves of the poppy and render them with various shades of a grayish green.

Fill in any desired background. Allow the painting to dry and, if desired, go back to add any additional details or colors to the poppies.


  • Use a combination of mediums, such as watercolors with acrylics or pastels, to create different effects. If using watercolor paints, a paintbrush with clean water on it can be used to remove pigment and reflect areas of light.


  • Protect your clothing while painting to avoid stains.