Nicola Porter Blog

The SAA Paint a Poppy Challenge

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This has been another interesting week for me – I’ve been experimenting again!

I wanted enter some work into this years SAA Paint a Poppy Challenge and at the same time I wanted to try out a new paper that I’ve read great things about, so I thought I would combine the two.

The Challenge:

The SAA (Society for All Artists) has joined forces with the Royal British Legion to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI and are gathering together an exhibition of as many poppy paintings and drawings as possible.

This cause is an important one to me, as I’m sure it is to many many people. So, if you would like to know more about it, check out this website – Maybe even take part or make a donation if you feel you can.

The paintings:

I decided to paint the same poppy in the two mediums that I use the most. Pastel pencils and coloured pencils. I needed a good reference photo seeing as there are no poppies in bloom right now that I could photograph myself. The one I used was from Pixabay by Peter Dargatz.

The paper is Mi-Teintes Touch by Canson, it’s designed for pastels (although I’ve read that it is great for coloured pencil too) and has a coloured, sanded surface. To me it looks and feels slightly leathery. It is so very different from the smoother cotton papers that I am used to and I’m definitely still on a learning curve with it.

With pastels it layers and blends beautifully but I found it necessary to use a fixative a few times along the way, otherwise the pigment was just sitting on the surface and came off with a light touch. Because I will be posting this piece to the SAA without the protection of a frame there was no way I could send it without the fixative. 

That leads to another slight problem; fixative tends to darken the colours, I generally find this is the case anyway and compensate by lightening my values a little as I work. I’m not sure if it was the paper, the fixative or my choice of colour or maybe just the way I work but this time the difference is really very noticeable.

Pastel poppy before Fixative:


Pastel Poppy after Fixative:



I’m in two minds about the paper with coloured pencil too, but this time I know the problem lies with me and my methods – it’s just a matter finding the best way to work with it. I tried several different blending methods: powder blender, solvent and blending by pencil alone and I think I’ve learned when its best to use each method. Here’s the final piece:


I had to use fixative here too, but this time it seemed to brighten the piece. unfortunately I forgot to take a photo before spraying.

A note about the photographs:

I’m really struggling at the moment to get decent photos and scans of my work. They are just not doing the work justice, the detail and level of contrast is just not right and hours of fiddling with different settings isn’t getting me anywhere. I’m finding it very frustrating and have lost patience with it for now.


This is a slightly better photo (taken on my phone) but the coloured pencil poppy is still washed out. :-( 

I did video myself completing these poppies and I’m going to experiment some more with my limited voice recording equipment to see if I can do a decent voice-over on the video. I can’t promise anything at the moment and I might have to go out to buy a new microphone. Haha even writing about it has made me feel a little nervous -  I really don’t like how I sound when my voice is played back, but I guess I’ll just have to try and get over that :-)

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