Not so still Still Life

Today’s image is a study for my next class in San Antonio. I set for myself the goal of painting a still life. It’s amazing how resistant I was to finding a subject, sitting myself down and getting started. In fact, for the past 24 hours I’ve done everything possible to avoid this assignment. Finally this morning, I gathered some items and decided to launch out. First, I wanted to capture the folds in a drape. If my students learn nothing more than that, it will be a meaningful class. Hopefully, we’ll get to the point where they are comfortable painting glass – that will be my secondary goal. After that, we’ll just see where it goes.

First, we paint a soft beige background, using Cadmium Red Light, Cadmium Yellow Medium, a trace of Ultramarine Blue, and Titanium White. Let it dry thoroughly while you drink another cup of coffee. Or something.

Next, with a very small amount of paint and lots of water on your brush, sketch in the main shapes you plan to put in the painting. If you don’t like where you placed them, erase with a damp brush. Play with the arrangement until you are satisfied you have things where you want them. Don’t forget you want the viewers eye to return to the center of interest, so don’t point things outward. Notice the tubes of paint point to the water jar, and even the brushes bring your eyes back to the center.

Mix a little of all your paints together to make a gray, then add Titanium White to lighten the mixture. Study the drapery and look for your darkest shapes. Paint them into your background. This is the most time consuming part. Here is where you ignore the phone, the cat and your computer and really concentrate. Here is also where the cat walks right across your palette paper and you have to stop and mop the carpet. Trust me, this does happen, frequently!

Paint first coat of pure red, yellow and blue labels in tubes. Note white at bottom of each label. Begin painting light gray on jar, paying attention to where the rim goes behind or in front of the brush handles.

Take your time and study shadows around the paint tubes and the drapery. Do you see some light shapes where you might apply white shapes? Notice there are usually three surfaces around a fold: the deepest darkest in the “ditch,” the lightest on top where the light is shining across it, and a mid color in between. Play with these shadows. If you get too dark, let it dry and paint over it. Part of the beauty of drapery is all the combinations of shadows and light.

Mix a bit of red and yellow to make orange, then add a bit of blue to change it to beige. Add enough white to give a warm brown tone and paint in the brush handles. Note shadows cast by the handles of the brush? They are not straight! If the cloth is wrinkled, the shadows also are crooked. Play with those shadows until they resemble what you see. Remember, learning to see is a major part of learning to paint. Observe, observe, and then look again!

At the bottom of the brushes, the ferrules are silver – you can make yours look that way by painting them gray and then adding white highlights when they dry.

Continue working around and inside the jar, adding shadows and highlights as you see them. When labels on tubes are dry, add letters and scribbles to approximate printing on labels. If price tags are still on brushes, put a bit of white and some gray scribbles to represent bar codes and give them a realistic touch. Study bottom of jar and placement of cloth around it. Remember brushes under water will not have sharp edges, so blur them with some gray paint mixture.

Go back around the drapery, adding more or less shadows as you see them. Let the cat in again. Then let the cat out again. This gives you time to contemplate and critique your work.

If needed, touch up any places you missed, sign your name, pat yourself on the back and go take a nap. You earned it!


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