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A small oil painting demo

Pear sequenceThis 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.

Pears final

Posted in demo/in progress, oil painting, painting.

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3 Responses

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  1. JeffL says

    Looks great David, very infor­ma­tive. The WIP with pic­tures of your process for each step is fan­tas­tic, look­ing for­ward to more of these in the future:) I am Trans­fig­ured over at Cen­nini if you ever see me on the MB (that’s how I found your blog)

  2. David says


    Thanks for the com­ment. I often find that the sim­pler demos are the ones I get the most from.

  3. MURAT güneyligil-RESSAM says

    ı use talens,van gogh,amsterdam,pabeo etc.
    Tus­can red,
    Williams­burg Ital­ian terre verte,
    pyrol ruby,

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