This is a demonstration of a simple still life, “Green Pear, Red Pear.” It’s on a store bought, pre-stretched 7 × 5” acrylic primed canvas. The previous night I applied an imprimatura consisting of raw umber mixed with lead white, thinned slightly with spirits of turpentine. I scrubbed it in with a bristle brush, then wiped it off with a cloth. The canvas is temporarily attached to a piece of hardboard with tape on the back. That makes the small canvas easier to manage and helps me avoid pulling brush strokes at the edges.
I set up a simple still life on a small table, illuminated by a lamp. I wanted more reflected light than the room was providing, so I taped a piece of white paper to my easel, to the right of the two pears, to bounce some light back onto them. The nice thing about a still life is that it’s easy to work from life.
1. I block in the forms with raw umber, paying particular attention to placement and negative space. My plan is to avoid detail and keep all edges loose until the very end. I am working with two number one bristle flats.
2. My palette consists of lead white, burnt sienna, raw sienna, Studio Products Tuscan red, yellow ochre, Williamsburg Italian terre verte, cadmium green (a convenience mixture of pthalo blue and cadmium yellow), viridian, pyrol ruby, and ultramarine blue. I establish the foreground and background, trying to keep some color variability in the dull yellow browns.
3. I block in the basic color and gradations of the green pear, focusing on making it look round. To do that, I pay particular attention to the upper lights, the darker lights, the terminator, and the reflected lights. I avoid highlights and try to keep all edges soft. The goal is to determine the overall average value, hue, and chroma for each small section and put that down without getting into any details. The basic method is to lay in a few strokes of color with a bristle flat, then go back over with a dry synthetic sable round, which I clean often. I use the round to soften edges and to move the paint around so that it better reflects the wash of light across the rounded form of the pear. I notice that I’ve made the green pear a bit too vertical. That’s one of my common errors—I tend to make things more symmetrical, more orderly, and more regular than they really are. Fortunately, I caught it at an early stage, so it won’t be too hard to fix.
4. I complete the basic block in of all tones, trying to provide lots of specific information without getting tied into fiddly little details. I correct the symmetry problem with the green pear.
5. Now I switch to smaller synthetic flat brushes. I begin to go over each section of the painting, now getting much more specific. The goal is to capture the shape of the light on each small section of each of the two pears. In other words, to make it not just a couple of pears, but these particular pears, in this particular light, from this particular viewpoint.
6. Lots of details rendered: highlights, edges, small forms within large forms. I’m pretty happy with the green pear. The red pear proves to be more of a challenge, probably because of the more limited tonal range providing less room to generate a sense of form. I’m thinking about the background; whether to make it darker, so that the red pear is pulled back into it. Hmm…
7. I let it dry, then gone back in over both pears. It’s several days later, so they are now overripe and have changed colors somewhat. But the underlying forms make a great underpainting. I go back over both pears, focusing even more on three dimensional form and getting the right sense of depth.
Total time for the painting was one two and a half hour session and a later 45 minute session.