This has been the summer of the blue poppies. The reason began ten years ago. When I moved to SF from Boston, I tossed several canavases in my dumpster, including a large painting of some himalayan blue poppies. A friend saw a photo of that painting this year and told me she wanted to buy it. I told her I'd paint the blue poppies again, but they wouldn't look the same as the old painting. The blue poppies were a real joy to revisit, and already there are four paintings with blue poppies. I have also learned a great deal about blue pigments and the additional colors and mediums that help the blues stay active. Blue has a real tendency to sink into the canvas. This is due to the color itself as well as the physical properties of many of the blue pigments: pthalos, ultramarines, cobalts and even ceruleans and indanthrone blue. The blue pigments are enticing, but they do not work on their own. It is amazing how many additional colors I add to these blues: mostly yellows, greens, violets and reds. These colors are either mixed with a blue, or they are adjacent to a blue (either next to, or on top of, or underneath the blue). White is also very important. In many instances white or other very light colors have to be applied underneath a transparent blue. This means letting the white dry first and imagining what the blue will look like three days later when I can actually paint it over the white. Stand oil and linseed oil can also be helpful in very modest amounts for layering.
The Himalayan blue poppy is the national flower of Bhutan. I like to imagine botanists climbing in Nepal and Tibet a century ago and coming upon the blue poppies. The meconopsis are among the truest blues one can find. However, they are notoriously difficult to cultivate. I found some at Annie's Annuals in Richmond a few years ago and planted them in a wooded area of my garden. They only lasted for a year. Apparently I shouldn't have let them blossom. They become more robust if you cut the stalk the first year before there are blossoms. This is like being patient while my white paint dries so I can apply the transparent blues... One of the most dazzling displays of blue poppies in the U.S. can be found at the Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden near Seattle.