Friday, August 19, 2011

tackling a still life

when i first started painting i had a book by charles reid about painting flowers in watercolor. that was my first introduction to watercolor painting and really had everything from drawing to materials and painting techniques in it. so naturally i tried copying some of his "lessons" and demos and then moved on to my own set ups. i enjoyed doing those but have gotten away from it of late. i decided to reprise those first efforts and paint a still life for my next project. i borrowed these great old antique wooden mallard duck decoys from some good friends joey and jim wilde to be sort of a subject of some paintings. the way that i set these up is more or less the same in each painting in terms of lighting and easel placement. this is shown in the pulled back photo. i set up one of the decoys with some objects i have in my "property" closet and some artificial flowers (don't wilt, don't you know) and came up with this:
set up for "decoy and daisies"

to start the process i drew the set up on a 140#, 16"X20" piece of cold press fabriano artistico paper. for these getting things on the paper in decent proportions i usually lightly sketch the approximate outline of the objects and their respective placements in a preliminary fashion. once i am satisfied everything will fit i draw a modified contour drawing and usually start with the flowers, somewhere in the middle of the bouquet and work my way out. if i come across the edge of another object i might go ahead and follow its contour for awhile and then move onto another object if i intersect another. in this way the line meanders around the surface and i start to get a feel for edges, which ones found and which ones lost, and masses that can be grouped as they are of similar value. it may not be that apparent on the drawing (with some of the painting started) but one area is where the cast shadow of the larger lemon on the left is drawn as one shape with the fruit with little if any boundary separating them.  to start the painting process i lightly erase some of the lines to help in losing some edges and then splatter some clear water over the area of the bouquet to aid in staying loose. using a #10 round that points well i stat picking out the white shapes of the lighter flowers with swatches of color...mainly greens, blues, violets. if i loose and edge on these it is likely to be on the shadow side. the yellow buttons are painted in with a dab of cadmium yellow orange (holbein) that is drawn out with a damp clean brush.  the shadows within the white shapes are painted with combinations of cerulean blue, alizarin crimson permanent, and raw sienna and it is carried down onto the the white enamel  coffee pot as i start to describe its shape. the tiny cast shadow under the pot is a bit dark and prominent but i put it in immediately after the pot shadow to get them tied together. i'm not really sure why put the duck's bill in at this stage but i probably had some raw sienna on the brush from the cast shadow under the pot and know i would use it there so went ahead and painted it. all pretty profound reasoning, heh?

the small blue pitcher is shiny and i knew i didn't want a block of solid color here in the middle of the picture, so i painted it with the broken wash that you see here using ultramarine blue and mineral violet. the cast shadow is raw sienna and cobalt blue painted wet-in-wet right after the blue was was applied. i'm still using the #10 round here so one can make some fairly small shapes using just the tip. the lime is painted with hooker's green and ultramarine blue and a little raw sienna. its cast shadow is raw sienna and cobalt blue being careful to preserve the "step down" off of the cutting board. i switched to a #8 round and picked out a few harder edges in the flowers with some carefully placed darks. there is a cast shadow of the large bouquet shape on the wall and i decided to put it in. i splattered a watery mix of cerulean blue, alizarin crimson permanent, and raw sienna and then light mixed and manipulated them on paper to form the somewhat broken shape you see here. i'm not sure i like this at this point, but we'll see and........its only a painting afterall. experimenting is half the fun, especially with watercolor.  i let the whole thing rest and dry overnight at this point.

the next morning i painted the large flashlight with combinations of alizarin crimson permanent, cadmium red light, and brown madder using a #8 round brush. the metallic parts are painted with a broken wash of ivory black, cerulean blue, and some reds and yellows to depict some reflections of colored objects. this need to have some hard edges to read "metal". i painted the pear with olive green mixed with quinacridone gold and raw sienna on the paper. the olive green was a bit truculent and didn't want to mingle with other colors but i did manage to coax into blending somewhat. i'll have to remember that next time. as usual the cast shadow was painted in immediately with cobalt blue. another reason i like to do this is shown here where some of the pear color has leaked into the shadow and formed some reflected color...i like this effect. i also stared to define the back edge of the table at the right with pales washes of a variety of colors which are more or less complements of the colors around it. well, that's all for today. should be able to finish it tomorrow.


  1. Beautiful! And thanks so much for taking the time to write up the progress.

  2. thanks, dena, for taking a look at this and leaving a comment. i do this as an incentive to paint, if not everyday, at least frequently and to get the process straight in my head...i find it helps me with later paintings. hopefully i'll be finishing this one in the next day or so.