Tutorial: How to paint a California poppy

California poppy flowers are super delicate and light up a garden border in summer. They emerge as flower buds with a little cone-shape hat covering them – when they’re ready, you can pick the hat off to reveal the flower.

how to paint a california poppy flower

Supplies you will need

  • Watercolour paper
  • Watercolour paints
  • Brushes, preferably small
  • Water jars
  • Paper towels or cloth


  • Sap Green
  • Cadmium Orange
  • Cadmium Red

I love a vibrant orange for these, with a touch of red for shadows. You want bold, bright watercolour paints.

Painting a California poppy – step by step

  1. Start with your top petal. Mix up a mid orange and create an upside-down teardrop shape, with a jagged edge at the bottom and a wide top. Add a small amount of red paint to the bottom tip and allow to blend upwards.
  2. Create two side petals, one pulling up and one that’s level. Leave white space between the petals, and repeat the process with the red paint in the centre.
  3. For the bottom petals you want to use ‘foreshortening’ – a perspective trick to make the petals look like they’re coming out of the page towards the viewer. Make them short, flat and darker than the others.
  4. Add a curved stem, with smaller branches coming off it. UsingĀ  a small watercolour brush, start to flick outwards to create textured leaves, working from the tip of the stem.
  5. After a few flicks, stop and pull out two smaller stems in a V shapes. Repeat the same process, adding the flicks onto these stems. When you’re done, add more stems, and more flicks, working backwards along the main branch.
  6. If you want to add a bud, you simply need a long cone shape with a rounded bottom, sitting on a small green bud. Add a small fern-like leaf and you’re done!

These California poppies are super simple to paint, using some delicate techniques.

Keep exploring painting watercolour florals including zinnias, sunflowers and coneflowers.

If you want a crash course in florals, take my watercolour florals masterclass online course on Skillshare and learn the brushstrokes you need to paint any flower.

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