Painting a Red and Green Apple Still Life in Oil Paint, Wet in Wet Demonstration

1) Raw umber wash drawing stage:

I add a small amount of odourless turpentine to a small amount of Raw Umber, mixing together with a palette knife. I then proceed to draw with a brush, using a small amount of this mixture, finding a basic outline and scrubbing in the shadow shapes. I constantly compare the apple to my painting, looking to correct any inaccuracies. By using shadow shapes to draw with, one can start to compare the masses like for like. Using straight lines to better identify the structure and comparing the width of the shadow shapes to the light shapes, I move towards more accurate proportions. I use another brush dipped in odourless turpentine or kitchen towel as an eraser.

I then add my highest light in the composition to better see how bright I can ultimately go to. (Squinting helps to identify where the highest light is. I want the painting to be as bright as possible in the lights (halftones, lights and highlights). Keying the painting in this way also allows me to gage the values (how light or dark something is) more easily. I then thinly paint a basic background colour to create somewhat of a context for the apple and to further correct the drawing. The value of the background in the light is derived by comparing it to the highest light in the painting. Squinting helps to determine the right value.

It should be noted that unlike a tennis ball, no apple is a perfect sphere, but consists of subtle planes. If one were to paint an apple as a perfect sphere, as some artists do, it will look like a Christmas bauble (not the look I am after).

2) Blocking in the masses

I paint the most chromatic (colourful) parts at full intensity in order to key the colour. Thereafter no colours in my composition can be more chromatic than my key, in the same way that no value can be higher than the highest light, already established. I paint the planes of the apple in a colour and value that best represents that plane, looking to capture the structure of the apple. Each value and colour is dependent on those around them and at this stage they must make sense in the context of the whole ensemble, or else be repainted. The lights (halftones, lights and highlights) must be lighter than the shadows. Squinting shows how simply the shadows can be painted, just one flat value at this point. Keeping things broad and simple, I cover the panel to create a loose visual impression, further correcting the drawing as I go.

3) Further refining form

I correct any false values that jump out as not fitting in with the overall impression, before breaking down the large planes into smaller ones, if desired. Further correcting the drawing as I go, I also define my edges, painting the contour of the apple as it meets the background harder (more abruptly) or softer (less abruptly) depending on what I see. For instance, the side of the apple appears harder where it overlaps the cast shadow. The cast shadow is painted more softly the further away it gets from the apple. One can create a soft edge by adding an additional intermediate value, blending across forms (make sure to restate the form if you do this), dragging the brush to overlap a previous brushstroke, with a loaded or empty brush, finger or palette knife or quite frankly any way you want. If there is too much paint down where I need to make a correction, scraping with a palette knife or using kitchen towel to remove excess paint can prove indispensable.

4) Finishing

Looking to simplify and reinforce any values or colours by further repainting on top. Paint handling and application can enhance textural variety, but achieving texture ultimately comes down to the right value, in the context of all the other values in the composition. I add detail, or simplify throughout the composition, depending on what I am after. For instance, I could have left the shadows as one flat value (see stage 3), but in this instance I introduced a small amount of reflected light into the shadow, squinting to determine how unified they should be. Too much reflected light will weaken the sense of the unified light impression. Our eyes adjust and let in more light when looking into the shadows in nature. Sacrifices must be made because paint does not have the same extremes of tonal range that we see in nature. Reflected light is somewhat sacrificed to promote the division of light and shade. See the work of Edouard Manet to see just how much one can simplify values in the lights (halftones, lights and highlights) and shadows. Often less information in a painting means more, but it depends on what effect you are seeking.

Article content: Copyright Andrew Hitchcock 2013