Georgia O’Keeffe : Poppies

Overview Artist Biography Planning Ahead Materials & Setup Class Discussion Project Directions Reflections Downloads & Resources Docent Forum

Overview

1950, oil on canvas, 36 in. x 30 in. Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, WI, USA Milwaukee Art Museum, Purchase, Gift of Mrs. Harry Lynde Bradley, [M1977.133] Photography by Matthew Marston © 2007 Georgia O’Keefe Museum/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, NY, USA

In this lesson, students will:

  • Analyze O’Keeffe’s Poppies and the way she enlarged and simplified forms in nature;
  • Identify the use of color, shape, line, texture, value, and form in the painting and in real flowers and shells;
  • Discuss the way tints and shades create the illusion of form;
  • Describe the way contrasting colors add emphasis and show radial symmetry;
  • Sketch enlarged or exaggerated flowers or shells;
  • Draw and color a flower or shell, blending oil pastels to create new colors and to change values to show form;
  • Paint contrasting backgrounds in complementary colors using watercolors.

Lesson Teaching Notes

A document of summary pages on the lesson’s Key Concepts, Vocabulary, Discussion Questions, Artist Points, and Project Directions.

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Materials and Setup

Materials List
  • sketchbooks
  • 12×12 white paper
  • drawing pencils
  • oil pastels
  • white oil pastels
  • watercolors
  • watercolor brushes
  • water containers
  • erasers
  • paper towels and sponges
  • newspaper

Pictures of Flowers
Pictures of Shells

Setup Directions
  • Cover work surfaces with newspaper.
  • Set out sketchbooks, drawing pencils, erasers, and pictures of flowers and shells.
  • Set out 12×12 white paper, oil pastels, and white oil pastels.
  • Have ready watercolors, brushes, and water containers.
  • Set out paper towels and sponges for wiping up spills and cleaning fingers.
Variations
  • Draw and paint other natural objects, such as insects, pine cones, or leaves.
  • Use magnifying glasses to observe flowers, shells, bugs, or other natural objects.
  • Sprinkle salt on the wet watercolor for a grainy effect.
  • Do this lesson during teacher appreciation week, when students bring in flowers for the teacher.
  • To simplify project for younger students: Draw and color flowers and other natural objects on 6×6 or 4×4 paper.
  • To extend project for older students: Use watercolors to paint the flowers. Add details with oil pastels when the paint is dry.

Photos of Setup

Class Discussion

What makes these flowers seem alive?
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Style - Realism

The flowers seem fresh and fragile in this realistic painting of a poppy, even though they were painted over 50 years ago. O’Keeffe simplified and enlarged the shapes to make us pause and notice the tiny details. The petals curve and cup, the petals of the corolla reach their jagged edges out, and the stamen wave around the central receptacle.

A still life shows objects that can’t move themselves. These poppies make a still life, yet they appear full of life. Through realism and exaggeration, O’Keeffe makes the still life lively.

How many hues, or colors, did O'Keeffe use to paint these poppies?
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Color - Hue/Analogous/Tints/Shades/Complement/ROY G BIV

O’Keeffe used mostly just three hues: red, white, and blue. She mixed red and blue to make violet, or purple, and she added black and white to get different values.

O’Keeffe used analogous colors, or closely related hues of light and dark pink, coral, red, violet, and purple, to paint the flowers. The analogous colors are a mixture for the red and blue with white added to lighten them.

Where white has been added to create the lighter tints, the petals appear to curve forward. The hearts of the flowers include tints and shades of violet and red. Violet, a mixture of red and blue, dominates the composition. The basic red also has yellow added in the petals, and blue added in the centers of the flowers.

Shades are created by adding black to the hue. Shades make darker areas that visually recede, or appear farther away.

The blue background contrasts with the reddish details of the white flowers. The green of the leaves is a complementary color that contrast and add variety to the colors.

The colors of the rainbow are on the color wheel.

What do you notice about the huge, painted flowers that you don't see in small flowers?
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Design - Scale/Patterns

The large scale of the flowers surprises us, as O’Keeffe hoped it would. By enlarging and exaggerating the tiny details of small flowers, O’Keeffe makes us notice them. Individual stamen curve around the receptacle. Dark values turn to light on the petals, and hidden colors emerge.

These flowers’ five rays reflect a common pattern of nature. The corolla, or inner blossom has only four petals and O’Keeffe uses the empty space to overlap the two flowers. More than a hundred curving stamen wave from the zigzag receptacle like sea anemones.

The concentric inner circles form a radial symmetry, with all parts radiating out from the center. The petals, corolla, stamen, and receptacle form symmetrical patterns radiating from a center point.

How do the repeated patterns show symmetry?
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Design - Radial symmetry

The concentric inner circles form a radial symmetry, with all parts radiating out from the center. The petals, corolla, stamen, and receptacle form symmetrical patterns radiating from a center point.

How does O'Keeffe show the edges, or contours, of each petal?
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Line - Contour

The contours, or outlines of the petals are defined with color. Their curving sides overlap, and their dark contours contrast with the lighter petal below it. The upper petal edges contrast with the corolla in the top flower. The outer contours contrast with a blue background. Colors separate the flower parts from each other.

What makes the petals appear to curve?
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Space - 3-D/2-D/Viewpoint

Tints and shades give form to petal shapes, giving the flowers a 3-D, rounded appearance. The white tints on the petals of the top flower appear to project, or pop out toward us. The darker shades near the center appear to recede, giving the flower a cup-like curve.

The background looks like a 2-D, flat surface, in contrast to the flowers.

We see the flowers in this painting from a bird’s-eye or bee’s-eye view, as if we were insects hovering over them. Their bowl-like curves attract small creatures.

What different textures do the flowers have?
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Texture - Rough/Smooth

The rough texture of the flowers’ centers is shown by the varied shades of violet. Tiny, individual brushstrokes in slightly different hues show texture.

The smooth texture of the petals is shown by color variations applied using smooth brushstrokes and gradual variations of the tints.

Download Discussion Questions
Download Key Concepts

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Project Directions

Oil Pastel Flowers and Shells

Directions

Warm up and Brainstorm

  • Note: This lesson relies on students looking at real flowers and shells or at close-up pictures. Be sure students have a photo of a flower to work from.
  • Talk about examples of radial symmetry, such the designs seen in a kaleidoscope. Name other examples of radial symmetry as seen in nature.
  • Observe some flowers and shells and notice the tiny details. Walk around a vase of flowers or look at an individual flower and describe how the flower looks from different viewpoints. Notice the many petals of the flowers.
  • Talk about how color varies according to the light source. Notice the subtle variations in color in the petals or surface of the shell. Discuss possible color combinations using analogous colors, such as light pink, pink, and red.
  • Discuss reasons or purposes artists create artwork such as to express opinions about a person, event, or idea; share feelings or emotions; tell a story; or record a moment in time. What other reasons are there? Ask students why they make art. List goals for this project and ways to acknowledge each student’s purpose and meaning through their artwork.
  • Ask students to compare and contrast their reflections about the project before they begin the lesson and what they know or how they feel at the end of the lesson.

Project Directions

  1. Sketch a realistic flower or shell. Use Pictures of Flowers and Shells as guide.
  2. Enlarge the sketch of the flower or shell on large paper using oil pastels, using sketch as guide. Make large enough to go off the paper on at least two sides.
  3. Color the contour of the flower or shell with 3 analogous colors.
  4. Draw petals radiating from center of flower using tip of oil pastel, or lines radiating from center of shell. Draw only main shape of overlapping petals.
  5. Color flower or shell. Choose 3 analogous colors or 3 shades of the same color. White will be added later as a tint. Color in main areas of petals with oil pastel. Color heavily to make shiny. Blend other shades of same color or analogous colors into the petals. Blend well so transition is subtle.
  6. Add shading where petals recede, around edges or where petals overlap, starting at center and using radial symmetry. On shells, add shading where there are crevices or other receding areas. Blend darker color into main color of flower or shell to emphasize form.
  7. Add tints with white pastel to show highlights where petals/shell project.
  8. Add details with contrasting colors. Use contrasting color in flower center. Add stamens to flower or patterns to shell.
  9. Add texture with sgraffito.
  10. Paint watercolor background using contrasting color. Keep background color light rather than intense. Be sure to mix enough color for entire background.
Tips
  • Get leftover cooking calendars in January to build a permanent collection of flowers and shells.
  • Soften colors with white oil pastels. Blend to smooth transitions from darker to lighter colors.
Variations
  • Draw and paint other natural objects, such as insects, pine cones, or leaves.
  • Use magnifying glasses to observe flowers, shells, bugs, or other natural objects.
  • Sprinkle salt on the wet watercolor for a grainy effect.
  • Do this lesson during teacher appreciation week, when students bring in flowers for the teacher.
  • To simplify project for younger students: Draw and color flowers and other natural objects on 6×6 or 4×4 paper.
  • To extend project for older students: Use watercolors to paint the flowers. Add details with oil pastels when the paint is dry.

Video


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Student Gallery

Reflections

  • Identify where tints and shades of a hue appear to recede or come forward.
  • Look for techniques used to create texture on the flowers and shells.
  • Find examples of enlarged details.
  • Find contour lines that create realistic form.
  • Look for watercolor backgrounds in complementary colors that contrast with flower or shell color.
  • Look for flowers or shells that use contrasting colors to emphasize an area.
  • Find examples of radial symmetry.

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