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Monday, September 28, 2009

Color Notes for Still Life Paintings

When I was commenting about the apples in the previous post, I realized I hadn't mentioned some of the ways I use color in a still life. I talk often about landscapes and the tricks/techniques used to push back the background and create depth. I haven't talked much about still life.

Some ideas I use that I have picked up from various teachers and sources that work in either still life or landscape:

  • Overlapping creates depth
  • Use complements in the shadows AND highlights. The complement grays down and darkens the original color. When used in a highlight, with white, it sparkles as your eye can't focus on the complementary colors side by side. For example in the red apples, the highlights are white with a touch of green, they look brighter than plain white and not chalky.
  • For the dark color, I add a deeper hue and then add a bit of complement. That way you don't get mud. For red on the apples I add alizaron crimson to the cadmium red and then a bit of dark green.
  • The light comes out of the dark so if the light is coming from the right as in the case of the apples, the right side of my background is darker and the left side is lighter. This adds to the contrast as your highlights are against the darker background and the shadows are against the lighter background. Also, the flat surface/table is lighter/brighter. Light reflects on the flat surfaces of steps, rocks, boxes, etc. In the apple painting the background in the photo was all white, one color. I made it a light green gray a little darker on the right and then some yellow ochre in the white of the table in front of the apples.
  • There is a "rule" that if your light is warm, shadows are cool and vice versa. This gives life to a painting. Of course like all rules, you have to go by the results you want to portray.
  • In general I try to have all four corners of a painting different values. In the photo, the three corners were white.
I try for five values, especially in still life paintings. Items look more realistic and they have a better form and shape.
  1. body color, in apples that is red
  2. body shadow, the side away from the light
  3. cast shadow, the shadow under the object, darker than the body shadow. If there is a cast shadow on the object, like if the nose on a face casts a shadow, it is darker than the body shadow of the cheek as it turns.
  4. reflection, the reflected light on the dark side, never as bright as the highlight.
  5. highlight, the reflected light on the light side, it can be soft on cloth or bright like glass.
I hope this give you an idea of how I create form and light in a still life painting. Any comments you wish to make or questions??


Teresa said...

This is wonderful advice. Never heard of some of your tips (and I read a lot of art books). Can't wait to try them out.... going to print this post so I'll remember this info.

Thanks a bunch for sharing, Jo!

Rose Welty said...

I second that. Very useful info here Jo. Complements in the highlights - hadn't heard of that before. I will have to try that. Thanks!

Jo Castillo said...

Thanks, Teresa. It is good to think about why we do things once in a while. For me, they seem to stick more if I talk about them. :)

Rose, thank you. I think the complement in the highlights came from Helen Van Wyk. She was a great color mixer. In fact lots of my info came from her.

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About Me

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Bastrop, Texas, United States
I Grew up in a small town , Magdalena, New Mexico. I enjoy art and the pleasure other people get from my work. I always donate some of my sales and art to charities, especially for children. That started in Bolivia with Para los NiƱos. (Link on sidebar) "I cannot pretend to feel impartial about colors. I rejoice with the brilliant ones and am genuinely sorry for the poor browns." -- Winston Churchill


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