Though I often don’t take photos of my artwork until it’s finished, occasionally I take a number of shots during the painting process (especially if I can’t keep working on it because I have to wait for it to dry). People seem to like these step-by-step shots when I post them on my social media accounts, so I thought I might try putting some of them together in a little project demonstration. This painting is a fruit still life called The Grape Escape which I painted using the SoHo Urban Artist acrylics; you can read my review of those paints here. When I talk about colours in this demonstration, I will be referring specifically to the colours from the SoHo paints, but you can easily find the equivalent colour in whatever paints you are using.
The first step is to paint an outline to show the basic composition of your picture. You will be covering this later with layers of thick paint, so it probably doesn’t matter too much what colour you use, though I always like to use a colour which I know will be in the final painting (in this case, the Dioxazine Violet Hue which would form the basis for most of the background). It’s also easier to use a pale, watery mixture of the colour to ensure that covering it takes less work down the track. If you’re not sure about your composition, it is a good idea to practice drawing a few sketches on a notepad or cheap sketch book so you can get it right before committing it to canvas; while it’s easy enough to alter the size or shape of some components even in later stages of the painting, there’s not much you can do if you get towards the end and realise that some objects are in the wrong place.
Once you have your outline, it’s time to colour it in! This is where you lay down basic colours to map out what colour each part of the painting will be and to give yourself an idea of what the finished piece might look like. I use a weak, almost watercolour-like approach in this stage, as I may decide to change some colours or small details. It doesn’t matter if the colours you use here are bright or uneven or if the outlines show through as you will be covering them up later with thick paint.
Here I washed the background with Dioxazine Purple, the table with a mix of Burnt Sienna and Yellow Ochre, the orange with Cadmium Orange Hue, the grapes with Alizarin Crimson, the pear with Permanent Green Light and the plate with Titanium White and a tiny bit of Payne’s Grey.
Now you know what colour everything will be, it’s time to start using less diluted layers of acrylic. For each section, work out what the mid value (or the basic colour) is, and mix enough of it to fill the whole object. In this stage, you just need to block out solid colours for each area; you will add light and shade in the next steps.
Lay down a solid layer of Dioxazine Violet Hue for the background and a mixture of Raw Sienna with a little Burnt Sienna and Burnt Umber for the table (you may want to vary the ratio of these colours or even add a little Titanium White to your tastes). The orange was painted with a solid layer of Cadmium Orange Hue, while the grapes were painted with a mixture of Alizarin Crimson and Cadmium Red Medium Hue. The pear was made with a mix of Permanent Green Light, a bit of Cadmium Yellow Medium Hue and a tiny bit of Yellow Ochre to dull it a bit (again, you can vary the ratio of these colours depending on how greenish, brownish or yellowish you want your pear). Try to mix up a lot of this green colour as you will need some more in later steps. The plate was painted with a pale grey made from Titanium White and Payne’s Grey, with even more white being added to define the outer rim of the plate
Now we start making the fruit and its surroundings look more realistic. Mix up a generous portion of your table colour (Raw Sienna, Burnt Sienna and Burnt Umber) so you can layer on a thick, completely opaque finish for the table. If you want to, you could try applying this without mixing it completely, which would leave various streaks of the colours and mimic the look of wood. For the outer rim of the plate, mix a grey that is almost white and apply this in an even layer around the outside. You may want to add some of this on the inner section of the plate as well (just make sure it is slightly darker than the rim to avoid flattening the rim and the inside). In this painting, the light is coming from the upper left; think of it as if you are standing in front of this plate of fruit and the light is shining on it from over your left shoulder. The rim of the plate will cast a shadow on the sunken inner section, so mix a slightly darker grey and lay in this shadow around the rim on the lower left quarter of the plate. For the purple background, mix Dioxazine Violet Hue with some Titanium White to create the centre of the stripes on the wallpaper. Add a little more violet to the mix for the outer section of these stripes. The area between your stripes should be pure Dioxazine Violet Hue.
Now we get to the fruit. So far the grapes look a bit too bright a red, so mix up some Alizarin Crimson with a tiny bit of Cadmium Red Medium Hue and paint over the entirety of each grape. Use some pure Alizarin Crimson to add some shadows to the underside and right side of the grapes. Finally, add a little Dioxazine Violet Hue to this mix and add a deeper shadow on the underside of the grapes, being careful not to cover too much of your pure Alizarin Crimson areas. For the highlights, pick up a little bit of Titanium White and dry brush it onto the top left sections of the grapes (try not to cover more than a third of the grapes this way). Add a tiny spot of pure white in the middle of each highlight to make the grapes look shiny.
For the pear, take your muted green from Step 3 and separate it into three blobs; you will keep one as it is, and modify the other two. For one blob, add a little Cadmium Yellow Hue. You will apply this to the top left third of the pear to create the area where the light falls on it. Add a little white to this mixture and dab on the two highlights; as you can see from the picture, pears often have a smaller highlight on the narrow part of the fruit and a larger highlight on the wider bottom part. Take some more of your original pear mixture and add a tiny bit of Cadmium Orange Hue and a tiny bit of Burnt Sienna. You will use this to paint the shadowed side of the pear, applying it to the bottom/underside and a little on the right. If you work relatively quickly, you should be able to blend these three sections so they all run together smoothly, but if it dries before you can blend it, use a little of the appropriate green mixture to dry brush over the transition to smooth out any hard lines. Add the stalk using a mix of Burnt Umber and Burnt Sienna, and then add a stroke of just Burnt Sienna along the left side to give it form. Add a tiny bit of Titanium White to the stalk mix and dab this onto the top of the stalk to give it a subtle highlight.
To paint the orange, mix a little Titanium White with the Cadmium Orange and apply it to the top left third or so of the orange. Add more white to this mixture to put the strong highlight on the top left of the fruit. Get a bit more Cadmium Orange and mix in a tiny bit of Dioxazine Violet Hue. Purple and orange are opposites on the colour wheel (ie. they are complimentary colours), so they are effective at muting each other. Adding purple to orange will give you a good shadow-orange to apply to the underside of your orange. Once again, gradually reduce the amount of purple as you get towards the centre of the orange. Use a bit of leftover mixture from your pear (either the middle mix or the dark mix) to paint the little green stalk on the orange.
Now that the main colours of the fruit are done, it’s time to add some reflections. As many fruits have shiny surfaces, they will often reflect colours from the surface they are on or from other objects around them. In this case, the orange reflects a little bit of the grey-write from the plate. Mix a very pale grey and dry brush a tiny bit onto the underside edge of the orange, on the bottom and around to the right side. One or two strokes should be enough as this is a subtle reflection and you don’t want to negate the dark shadows too much. The pear will need a little bit of this same mixture, but it will also need a little Alizarin Crimson from the grapes and a tiny bit of Cadmium Orange from the orange. Again, don’t slather on too much paint for these reflections; one or two dry brush strokes should be enough to define the reflections without ruining your shadows.
The painting is now almost finished. Most of the detailing on the fruit itself is done, but they still need their shadows. For the shadows of the grapes and the plate on the table, mix up more of your table colour (or use what you have leftover, if any) and add a bit of Dioxazine Violet Hue. Apply a little of this under and behind the grapes, under the front rim of the plate and in the background where the pear casts a shadow on the table. For the shadows on the plate, mix up some Titanium White and Payne’s Grey (this should be darker than what you used for your plate mixtures). Where the shadows touch the object, they should be relatively dark and well defined. As the shadows move outwards, their edges become softer and the shadow becomes fainter. You may also want to mix a little of the object colour into the shadow colour, as I did with a small part of the orange’s shadow.
Once you’ve painted your shadows, you may decide (as I did) that the reflected light on the underside of the fruit needs to be enhanced a little. Once again, this can easily be done by dry brushing a tiny bit of white onto the area. Add your signature in the corner and your painting is finished 🙂
Thus concludes my first art demonstration post! I hope you enjoyed it and found it helpful. I will try to do more similar demonstrations in the future, so if you think there’s anything I should add that would make it better, please let me know in the comments.