Watercolours: Fruit Bowl Still Life (demonstration)

I decided to do a still life of a bowl of fruit so I could review the Golden QoR watercolours. Since it was a fairly simple one, I thought I’d take progress photos of it so I could put together a demonstration post (all of my previous demonstrations have been acrylics so it was time to do something different). As always, you can find the equivalent colours I’ve used in whatever you have in your watercolour collection, but the colour names I’ve referred to throughout this demonstration specifically relate to the QoR watercolours.

Golden QoR Watercolours:
-Indian Yellow
-Pyrrole Red Light
-Permanent Alizarin Crimson
-Cerulean Blue Chromium
-Ultramarine Blue
-Burnt Sienna (Natural)

-Silver Black Velvet Round (size 10)
-Creative Mark Rhapsody Kolinsky Sable (size 4)
-Ebony Splendor Round (size 2)

-Daler-Rowney Aquafine Watercolour Paper (300gsm cold pressed)

Step 1
Start by drawing a sketch of your composition. Use soft pencil marks to start with, so it’s easy to erase if you want to change anything. If you do need to erase lines, use a kneaded eraser to lift the greylead off the paper; rubbing at it with a vinyl eraser will damage the paper and result in uneven, darker areas when watercolour is washed over it. This step is optional; if you’re more confident, you can just go straight to painting.


Step 2
Start laying in pale washes of all your colours to create a ‘colour map’. This will give you an idea of how the piece will look once stronger colours are put down. I used Cerulean Blue Chromium for the upper background and Burnt Sienna for the surface the fruit is sitting on, using the size 10 round for both. The apple in the bowl and the apricot were both painted using the size 4 round with a pale wash of Indian Yellow, while the pear was coloured with a pale green mix of Indian Yellow and Cerulean Blue Chromium. The bowl was painted with a mix of Permanent Alizarin Crimson and Ultramarine Blue, with a more diluted wash used for the inside of the bowl. Let this dry.


Step 3
Start putting in heavier layers of colour. Go over the table surface with another layer of Burnt Sienna and the background with another layer of Cerulean Blue Chromium. Make a stronger green from Indian Yellow and Cerulean Blue Chromium (it should still be more of a yellow green than a blue green) and wash this over the pear, leaving some lighter areas along the upper left edge.

Make an orange from Indian Yellow and Pyrrole Red Light and start washing this over the apricot, following the rounded shape of the fruit. Make the colour darker on the lower right edges of the apricot and along the seam of the fruit to show its form. Take some heavily diluted Pyrrole Red Light and start washing this onto the apple in thin lines, following the contours. Leave some areas uncovered; apples are often not completely red but have yellow or greenish areas. Leave the area around where the stalk will go uncovered as well. I used the size 4 round for this but you could use the smaller brush if it gives you more control.


Step 4
Put yet another layer of Burnt Sienna over the table. Do another wash of Cerulean Blue Chromium across the background, but this time drop in some Ultramarine Blue in the upper corners and tilt your painting towards you slightly so the blues run together. Build up more orange on the apricot with Pyrrole Red Light and Indian Yellow, leaving a lighter area in the top left. Add another layer of red lines on the apple, but don’t go over all the red you put down in the last step. Make the red darker at the outer edges of the apple to make it look further away from the viewer.

Make a slightly bluer mix of Cerulean Blue Chromium and Indian Yellow and wash this over the pear, making it darker on the right and the lower half where it is in shadow. Take a heavily diluted Burnt Sienna and drop a few blotches into the green to add variety to the pear’s surface. Where the pear touches the apple, add a little red to the green to show the reflection of the other fruit.

Put in a darker wash of purple made from Ultramarine Blue and Permanent Alizarin Crimson over the outside of the bowl, with pure, dark colour being used for the rim around the bottom of the bowl. For the inside of the bowl, add a line of this darker purple around the top edge, and blend it down to the lighter purple from your earlier wash. While this purple is still wet, add a tiny bit of Pyrrole Red Light and your green pear mix to the inside of the bowl behind and beside their respective fruits.


Step 5
Add yet another wash of dark purple to your bowl, but leave a paler area showing on the front left of the bowl. Once it dries, use your wet brush to scrub a little spot in the middle of this pale area and in the matching area of the rim beneath the bowl, then dab it with a wet tissue to lift out a more defined highlight. Take up a bit of diluted Burnt Sienna with your brush and run a swipe of it along the bottom curve of the bowl near where it meets the table; this will show a subtle reflection of the table’s colour onto the bowl’s semi-shiny surface.

Use any leftover purple mix with some Burnt Sienna to paint the shadows on the table, blending them so they get lighter as they go backwards. The front edges of the shadows should be clearly defined but then gradually merge with the table surface the further back they go.

Add yet more lines of Pyrrole Red Light to your apple, again making sure you follow the contours of the apple. This layering will help create the ‘stripey’ texture of the apple’s skin. wait for this to dry, and then scrub a small curved line around the top left of the apple (around the stem) so you can lift out a highlight. Use the same technique to lift out two little highlights on the pear.

Finally, add the stems using your fine round brush (a size 0 or 2 would be sufficient) and some Burnt Sienna. Mix a little Ultramarine Blue into the Burnt Sienna and run this colour down the right side of the stems to create the shadow.


Sign your name in the bottom left corner and you’re done!

A word about watercolour: Unlike acrylics, oils and pastels, watercolour can be much more unpredictable and therefore harder to control, and due to its transparent nature, it’s much harder to correct mistakes. Don’t be discouraged if your attempts don’t look exactly like the artist in whatever demonstration you’re reading/watching. When painting with watercolour, you have to work quickly, so it is nearly impossible to faithfully replicate another artist’s wash effects, and there will often – at least while you’re still learning – be times when you look at your painting and wish you had done something differently.

Even in this painting above, there are things I think I could have done better (like getting the shadows for the apricot and the bowl closer in colour), but when working with watercolour, you always have to weigh up the risk of leaving something you’re not quite happy with against overworking it trying to fix it and making it worse. There’s no easy formula for working out what the correct choice is, either; it’s something that will only come with practice and experience.

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