Painting a Still Life Start to Finish

Berry Branch
20 x 16

I like the mental exercise of painting still lifes.  The set up alone can take an hour or more of tweaking and evaluating every aspect of the objects that I'm painting.  Things that I consider are: number, size, colour and shape of the objects; view point; repetition of colour, shape, and value; negative and positive shapes; balancing objects; light source; and much more.   If I can set the objects up well, the painting is easier, so I force myself not to skimp on this task.

Once it's set up, then I can work at leisure and that's when the fun begins.  I do a few quick thumbnail sketches to determine the overall pattern of dark shapes and shadows and to see if I can connect some of them and make pleasing abstract shapes.  Then - finally - I get to paint.  

The nice thing is that all of this prep work has made me very familiar with the subject and has allowed me to make a bunch of mental notes about how I'll paint it.  I might have noticed an opportunity for the repetition of a colour or the losing of an edge.  I knock in the lightest value and colour of the set up; not in a final, polished way, just as a marker to remind me of my tonal parameters.  From there, it's all midtones.  While the bright, impasto highlights on a subject are often the most exciting to look at, they are also the smallest pieces of paint and so I have to restrain myself and not put them in too early.  I like to tell my classes that it's like constructing a house.  You can't put the trim around the windows before you've built the foundation, the frame and all of the other less-exciting stuff.  But when you do get to put that trim on, it has a firm base, feels right and makes a statement.  So I work the midtones in as varied a way as I can, incorporating different warm and cool colours, an assortment of paint consistencies, brushstrokes and edges; all as a means of setting the stage for the lightest, smallest pieces of paint.

The final marks are the juicy hightlights, often applied with a palette knife, and some dark accents.  These little notes of paint create order out of soft-focus patches of colour, allowing the forms of the objects to come into focus.  It's the magical step and I always get a kick out of it.

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving and happy painting!


Angela said…
Your painting seem to bring a sense of peace. Love them.
Bobbi Dunlop said…
Always so fresh, Ingrid! Great post! Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, too!
Dean H. said…
Love your well thought out and concise presentation of developing a painting, Ingrid!
I'm guilty of "want it now" and jumping right in.
I should rethink my approach.