Poppies and Sorrel Seeds

This post was inspired by a happenstance event in my garden last May. I had been spreading seeds of Papaver rhoeas the previous summer and the poppies re-seeded and began to spread themselves. In that part of the garden, a ceramic pot full of sorrel was left to us by the previous owners of the property. The sorrel comes back every year and never seems to lose its vigour, although I do nothing to support or encourage it. The sorrel goes to seed; I cut back the branches of seedheads; the sorrel produces more seeds. The poppies bloom where they wish. One day, I noticed that the red poppies were shown off to great advantage where they stood against a background of sorrel seeds. This was a lovely sight, indeed, and lit to perfection by strong sunlight. I began taking pictures.

Papaver rhoeas is also known as common poppy, corn poppy, corn rose, field poppy, Flanders poppy and red poppy. Rhoeas means red in Greek. Rumex acetosa is the botanical name for sorrel, also known as common sorrel, garden sorrel, spinach dock and narrow-leaved dock. The plant is edible, although somewhat sour in taste, and can be puréed in sauces or used to make soups and salads. I’ve seen recipes for a soup made in Poland that includes onion, potato and sour cream, often with hard‑boiled egg. I haven’t tried making it myself.

"Red Poppy and Sorrel Seeds", drypoint and chine-collé on paper x 8"

“Red Poppy and Sorrel Seeds”, drypoint and chine-collé on paper x 6″ x 8″

Recently, I did a drawing of the poppy/sorrel seed combination and then turned the drawing into a drypoint plate. [“Drypoint” is described in Note(1) below.]  I cut out the poppy shape from red decorative paper, as well as a yellow rectangular shape the same size as the printing plate. After inking the plate with a brownish shade, I was ready to make a Chine-collé print. [Chine-collé is described in Note (2) below.]

I was not pleased with the first print. Although the ink “drawing” was strong and clear, the poppy flower was not correctly aligned with the ink outline and the colour of the background wasn’t right somehow. The red of the poppy and the yellow of the background were nearly equal in intensity and temperature. Also, the gilded decorative paper used for the poppy flower did not integrate well with the rest of the print. My friend and printmaking mentor suggested that the background and foreground were at war, and I think this is true.

For my next attempt, I used plain red paper (no gilt) for the poppy and a softer, greener background paper with a pattern of gently falling leaves. This made a tremendous difference and I was very pleased with the result. However, the etched background of sorrel seeds had almost disappeared! I’m going to continue with these prints and may even try blue and/or yellow poppies. Of course, the titles will have to change.

Red Poppy and Falling Leaves, drypoint and chine-collé on paper, 6" x 8"

Red Poppy and Falling Leaves, drypoint and chine-collé on paper, 6″ x 8″


(1)Drypoint is a printmaking technique of the intaglio family, in which an image is incised into a plate (or “matrix”) with a hard-pointed “needle” of sharp metal or diamond point. Traditionally the plate was copper, but now acetate, zinc, or plexiglas are also commonly used. Like etching, drypoint is easier for an artist trained in drawing to master than engraving, as the technique of using the needle is closer to using a pencil than the engraver’s burin. [Wikipedia]


(2)Chine-collé is a special technique in printmaking, in which the image is transferred to a surface that is bonded to a heavier support in the printing process. One purpose is to allow the printmaker to print on a much more delicate surface, such as Japanese paper or linen, which pulls finer details off the plate. Another purpose is to provide a background colour behind the image that is different from the surrounding backing sheet.

The final image will depend on the design and ink color of the printed image, the color and opacity of the paper to which the image is directly printed (plus any inclusions such as petals or fibers in that paper), and the color of the backing sheet. [Wikipedia]


18 thoughts on “Poppies and Sorrel Seeds

  1. Pingback: Variations on a Theme | the painting gardener

    • It seems there is always an inner dialogue going on when working. Perhaps this is true of all types of work, but especially so for artists, writers, etc. It is necessary to “get it right,” even though we often don’t know what “right” will turn out to be.


  2. Lovely, as always! And it reminded me that I have got two tiny little seed heads of Papaver atlanticum for you. They have been drying out on my desk for ages. I will try and send them to you very soon. The seed are so tiny, I hope they don’t escape mid Atlantic!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Well, I have to say that I really like the first one! I like the colours. I’m not troubled by the inexact lining up. In fact ithat seems I like it for all the reasons that you don’t! Not to say that I don’t also like the second one, because I do. The first one, though seems more daring or something. Looking forward to seeing the next versions. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, there’s no arguing taste, is there? All these comments in favour of #1 are making me think I should try using a pale yellow background paper. Hopefully the etched lines would show up on that. As Chaucer wrote, “The lyf so short, the craft so longe to lerne.”


    • Thank you. It doesn’t seem to be possible to truly capture the beauty of the garden. There was something about the glowing colours of the poppies standing in front of the bead-like curtain of seed-heads that was really quite glorious.


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