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  • Writer's pictureHazel Manley

Poppies - Remembrance or something more?

Updated: Nov 6, 2021

This week has been spent assembling a short book for Easter! (I know this is ridiculously early, especially as I usually refuse to do anything about Christmas until December, but I need to have everything ready for pre-ordering in January.) Not painting and working on a laptop that seems to be on a go-slow has been frustrating, but in front of my work space is the poppy picture I painted recently and its cheery red petals make me smile.

The poppy was adopted by the British Legion in 1921 and since then, millions of paper poppies have been sold to raise money to support members of the armed forces and their families who have been affected by wars.

Perhaps, because of this, some people associate poppies with conflict, but that is only a tiny part of their story. For hundreds of years poppy based remedies were dished out for almost every ailment you could imagine, were used in lipsticks and even for reducing wrinkles! Today, poppy derived chemicals are being tested for the possibility of being able to prevent skin cancer.

There are many varieties of poppy cultivated in gardens around the world, but the bright red field poppy is actually considered a weed! It's beautiful, scarlet petals are tissue paper thin and last only a day or so. The plant dies at the end of the season, but by then, each flower has produced tens of thousands of tiny seeds so light that around 3,000 of them weigh no more than a gram.

The thing that really fascinates me about poppies is their resilience. The seeds can lie dormant below the surface of the soil for decades, perhaps even a century. Long enough for people to have forgotten that once poppies grew and bloomed in a place. Then, when the soil is disturbed, the seeds brought to the surface will germinate and because poppies will grow in poor, rubble strewn soils, they can appear in the most unpromising surroundings.

This, of course takes us back to their association with battlefields. Former farmlands, destroyed by battles raging backwards and forwards leaving nothing green or beautiful, were transformed by appearance of poppies, because the churning of the soil brought seeds to the surface which germinated and thrived amidst the rubble and destruction. This was noticed by John McCrae as he buried one of his closest friends, and brought to the attention of the public when his poem 'In Flanders Fields' was published in Punch Magazine.

This century the use of herbicides on farmland and roadside verges threatened the future of this beautiful flower, but in recent years, there have been various projects to plant and protect it, both in the countryside and towns, so once again we can enjoy the sight of this apparently delicate plant thriving in places other plants cannot.

The triumph of radiant beauty over destruction, the long quiet wait of the seeds in the dark soil, and the ability to flourish in difficult circumstances make this plant something special. Poppies are more than a symbol of remembrance; they are a symbol of something we all need - hope.

Featured painting: Poppy for Remembrance

Poppy for Remembrance was painted in Sennelier oil pastels on acid free linen textured paper. I usually take my own reference photos, but wanted to finish this in time to offer digital copies of it for people to use on their social media for Remembrance Day and the flowering season had passed, so I based it on a royalty free photo by Susanne Jutzeler from Pexels.

I absolutely love working macro - taking a small subject, getting in close, exploring the details I would otherwise miss and then enlarging it so that its beauty dominates the space.

I had spent 2 - 3 hours working on it, when I decided I didn't like the composition & so started again from scratch! After many hours of adding and blending colours, I find I love the way the light catches the petals filling them with splashes of fiery oranges and bright pinks which contrast with the cooler greens of the stem.

Despite having to start over, I really enjoyed working on this painting and am still enjoying the finished piece as I work at my desk. I will miss it, when it sells which may be why I'm being a bit slow about adding it to the gallery on my website!

Update: I have finally got around to putting this in my website shop! If you're quick, you may be able to grab it!

I loved it so much, I have also made it available on a beautiful outsized scarf, also available in my shop.


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