I begin with small "thumbnail" drawings, which I use to develop ideas and composition.
This process continues until I settle on a concept and composition, and these two elements are interdependent. For this piece, the idea that the soldier was already in his grave, disappearing into the flowers, led to certain visual solutions.
After developing the composition, I took reference photos.
This is fellow illustrator Charlie Griak!
Since antiquity, poppies have been associated with sleep and death, due to their connection to opium and morphine. During World War 1, fields were often red with flowers growing where men had died, because poppies grow well in disturbed soil, such as on fresh graves or battlefields. Image copyright Corbis.
Poppies quickly became associated with Remembrance Day. In Flanders Fields is a notable poem using the imagery of graves covered with poppies. Image copyright Corbis.
Before moving on to the finished painting, I figure out what the color scheme will be on a small scale.
Start of the painting. First I put down a light green wash, and then laid down the light colors of the soldier's clothes, gun, and painted his face and hand.
For the next stage, I painted in the shadow portions of the figure, and started to lay down some of the poppies. The poppies were painted with heavily pigmented watercolor, so that the flowers would bleed and run when a wash was painted on top of them.
Next, I painted the first section of the grass and flowers. This was painted very wetly, and I used a spray bottle to add texture to the wash.
Here is a detail of the face. It was a little nerve-wracking to paint the flowers over it, since if I messed it up I would have to redo the entire painting.
The completed wash. In this photo you can see a little bit of the reference photos – I kept them right next to the painting while I worked. I used a damp brush to lift paint out of the wash to create the barbed wire.
The last touch was painting in the barbed wire at the top.