On Line Lesson in Painting a Still Life in Oils, by Elin Thomas
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Updated 11/4/2020

On Line Lessons - Oils, Painting a Still Life

This painting lesson will show you how I move from an original idea, through the process as I paint in my studio.  Please check the other lessons here. I also have lessons available on DVDs. Click here for those.

The reference photograph: 

This was taken in the morning light at our friend's inn in Borrego Springs, California. I set the bench and flowers together outside their front door and took the snapshot and made some notes about what I saw in the shadows, since the camera tends to make shadows much too dark. 
  The colors used for this painting are the palette of five colors and white that I use for beginning lessons and for many plein air subjects. 
  The colors are:  alizerin crimson, thalo green, ultramarine blue, cadmium red light and cadmium yellow light.  That plus white equal this palette. 

The underpainting:

This is an 20 inch by 16 inch canvas that has been toned with an undermix of the limited palette colors applied thinly.  Then the sketch was laid in using alizerin crimson mixed with thalo green to make a black.  I've offset the table a little bit to create space for the viewer to enjoy the painting. I also shortened and thickened the legs of the seat/table to close up the design.

Underpainting continues:

I've begun building the shapes of the shadows, using the same mix of thalo and alizarin. I've also put in a mix of thalo green and white, with some of the cad yellow to show the glass vase's water.

Now I'm finding the lights at my central area of interest. And I'm using the contrast of the lights against the darks to keep your eye near that point. As you compare this painting with the white of the background of the rest of this page, you will see just how FAR away from white all my colors are.

Finding the large shapes:

As you can see, I am NOT concentrating on the center of interest (flowers) as I build the lights and shadows.  I am working, instead, on making each and every part of the painting interesting.  I am breaking up the larger shapes of the abstract design to make each area of the painting more interesting--without losing the overall design.  PLANNING takes the "PAIN" out of PAINting....I am using muted colors up to this point, greying each section so as to not compete with the brilliant colors of the flowers.

Building up the background:

I'm bringing in ever more intense colors to define the floural bouquet, without spending any time or energy on the central purple and pink blooms. By building up the painting from least important to most important area, I can be certain that my painting will have much to look at, yet still hold the viewer's eye where I want it to be.

Up to the finishing touches:

Now I am painting in the strong colors of the central flowers, and the details on the ocatillo (desert thorn bush) in the background.  Additional tweaking of the details continues until the painting is signed, and finished.

You can find out about videos of Elin's painting methods by going here.

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