Learning From Still Lifes
Watercolor Painting by Dennis Pendleton. I decided to take Christmas off because I was celebrating with friends so my Sunday email is coming out on Monday. I choose this painting because it represents that feeling of sheer happiness that I feel when I am painting without worrying about the results. I painted it in a class at the Art Students League of Denver and discussed what I was doing and why as the painting developed. Because I was limited in time, simplicity was the key, just two apples and a bouquet of flowers in a vase. It was in the Spring so iris and lilacs were in bloom.
All the things in the setup, apples, dark blue vase, iris, and lilacs were props I had painted before so that gave me confidence. Starting with the apples I worked from the inside out using cadmium yellow, cadmium red, yellow ochre, and alizarin crimson moving quickly so that the colors would blend on the paper creating a combination of hard and soft edges. Next I allowed colors from the apples to merge into the cast shadows as I painted them across the tabletop.
Painting lilacs can be a challenge because they are so interesting it is easy to get caught up in too much detail. With this in mind, I massed in brushstrokes of cobalt violet and cerulean blue making sure to save bits of unpainted white paper. Then I added individual little flowers here and there so that it looked like a bunch of lilacs. Iris are always fun to paint and I choose to include three because I like working with uneven numbers. Using the same technique that I used on the apples, I let wet paint mix right on the paper creating a combination of hard and soft edges. You can also see where I left slivers of white paper where I didn't want the wet colors to blend together. Adding buds and leaves among the lilacs was next and I choose the simple approach of using three values, light, medium, and dark. Settling on a definite approach with values makes it easier to work with colors and edges.
Using unpainted white paper for the background instead of color only works if you create interesting negative shapes and work with the borders. Look at the negative white paper shapes between the flowers and you can see how I tried to make them as interesting as the flowers. Allowing the three iris to be cropped by the top border also made the negative shapes more interesting and the tabletop is cropped by the left border and the bottom border. Deciding when to stop is always critical and after adding the lilac branch on the table I saw no reason to finish the table top on the right side of the vase. I decided finishing the tabletop would ruin the delicacy of the branch of lilacs so I left it out.
If you would like to learn more about painting still lifes, I am teaching an Online class at the Art Students League Of Denver that starts on Tuesday, January 10th from 1;00-3:30 and runs for four weeks. In these zoom classes, I walk the students through a painting each week as we work back and forth and they see me finish the painting. The Art Students League sends the video of the class to the students each week so they can watch it again as often as they want and finish their painting. We look at each painting next week and I make suggestions and comments. This style of teaching that I developed for the zoom classes has been very successful and I am always delighted with the improvement that i see in the student paintings. If you are interested contact the Art Students League through their website or call them 303-778-6990 and sign up for the class. Happy Painting! Dennis Pendleton