In a Reflective MoodWatercolour, 44cm x 30cm


Complications of a Still Life

2008Article posted by Gilly

When Australian Artist magazine invited me to submit a demonstration article I quickly became excited by how challenging this project would be. I am not at all competitive by nature but I do enjoy challenging myself when I paint, for example - trying to recreate the sparkle on a glass, the expression in an eye, the rough textures of an old wooden post, or the soft bloom on a rose petal. These are reasons that I am compelled to paint, along with the sheer joy of creating something with my own heart and hands. I paint because I can’t not paint.


I lit the set-up with a spotlight, moving it around until interesting cast shadows and bouncing light enlivened the still life. After taking the photograph I decided that a magnifying glass looked better than the spectacles, so I substituted that item. Don’t be afraid to change your mind.

Stage 1

I love this! My drawing lightly sketched initially with an HB pencil to ascertain proportions and then detail and shading added with 2B and 4B. I abandoned the gridded reference photo as the distortions were too great, and drew freehand. I used a clean piece of paper beneath my hand to prevent smudging of the graphite. This drawing helps me to work out tonal values, mapping of the lace-holes, the tapestry design and areas I need to reserve for highlights. When I am satisfied with the drawing I spray it lightly with fixative.

Stage 2

Even for me, this is the most tedious part of my painting process - careful tracing of the drawing using an HB pencil and then over the reverse with a B pencil. This is my ‘roadmap’ and I’ll even make alterations here if I think them necessary. My watercolour support has been stretched and allowed to dry overnight so the tracing can be transferred onto it using an old ballpoint pen as a stylus. I make sure I don’t press too hard as I don’t want indentations on the watercolour sheet where pigment could collect.

With my mop brush I brush two washes of clean distilled water, which I allow to soak into the support, and a first underpainting glaze of Transparent Yellow over the entire area of the tapestry. Whilst this is drying I brush in the shadows on the lace, again washing the areas twice with clean water before dropping the pigment. I use Cobalt Blue and Burnt Sienna in varying strengths to make the shadows interesting.

Stage 3

Oops! Monumental stuff-up! After 5 straight hours of painting I am tired and rushing to finish for the day. I should have stopped because I’ve completely messed up the fold of lace above the wineglass. The next morning I carefully lift out the pigment in that area using a stiff, synthetic brush and lots of clean water, then I go off to have breakfast whilst it dries. Phew! Not perfect, but it works, which is the joy of using transparent colours. I redraw and repaint the area and it’s barely noticeable. I commence the tapestry design, wetting each area with clean water and dropping in the colours, using Cobalt Blue and Payne’s Grey for the base between the floral elements.  I keep the colours soft and greyed - it’s the background, remember.

Stage 4

The background has taken a long time so it’s almost a relief to begin the objects. The wine is a luscious mix of Prussian Blue and Alizarin Crimson applied with Kolinsky No 8 sables, one filled with pigment the other for the clean water washes and softening edges. I apply several glazes of the mix in varying strengths onto damp underwashes for soft blending, being careful to preserve and accentuate the highlights by dropping the darkest hues around them. The gold rim on the wineglass is painted using Indian Yellow, Burnt Sienna and Cobalt Blue, but still with my No 8 sable. It has such a sharp point that I can do the finest work without worry.

Next come the books. The reflective edges of the pages on the lower book are glazes of Indian Yellow, Burnt Sienna and Payne’s Grey. For the cover on the upper book I use Burnt Sienna and Burnt Umber. To achieve uniform glazes I apply a wash of clean water and allow the sheen to disappear, then a 2nd wash into which I gently drop the pigment. When this is dry I repeat the process where necessary to enrich the colour with further glazes.

Stage 5

I begin the first, soft, pale glazes on the magnifying glass and silver pot, looking carefully for reflected light and colour bouncing back from the books and tapestry. I spot a reflection from the rim of the magnifying glass onto the book that I’d never even noticed before, after all these hours! Which just proves how constantly an artist must observe. The little rose has to be painted from the photo of the original set-up as it had died a long while ago.

Stage 6

Some shadows need to be strengthened, a little pigment lifted here and there with a clean brush, and some tiny little adjustments made for extra refinement. I leave the painting on display for several days just to be sure that it is completely finished, and then I sign it.


anna rrae | June 08, 2009

brilliant! freakily good, glad i came and had a look!

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