Category Archives: Artists work

Having a go at a Still Life

quince 2 008

The last week has been a perfect week for staying indoors and painting. It has been rainy and grey, and I was determined to have a go at some still life painting.

I have been “getting round to it “for the last couple of weeks, but have put it off to do other stuff such as my Xmas cards and playing with my calligraphy pens.
Still life painting just didn’t seem to excite me the same as trees skies and water.

What is a still life anyway ?

I sort of visualize dark paintings of grapes, bread and dead hares sitting on a table; accurately painted, but not hitting me in any way emotionally. I see Still Life as the paintings I glimpse in an art gallery when I pass through the Dutch 17th century room on my way to more colourful landscapes or more contemporary work.

I had to get that idea out of my head. So I had a look at some modern still life on the internet. Hopefully I could replace the dingy images of goblets, grapes, skulls, and dead birds that lived in my head with more colourful, fun images.

There were lots I liked. I liked the colourful fruits by Cezanne, the simple calm pots by Morandi, the colourful still lifes of William Selby and I found some quirky still lifes that I loved by a new artist called Este MacLleod.
I liked a still life of a washing up bowl full of dirty dishes, and ones of sweets,and cakes.

After spending too much time looking and reading about still lifes,(was it a delay tactic? ) I needed to choose some items to paint and start.

So what should I choose ?

I picked fruit( literally )
The reasons being
I tend to like natural objects more than man-made
I am surrounded by the stuff at the moment !
I like colourful objects.
I like the idea of painting something that will not be here in a weeks time.
I also thought ( wrongly as it turned out ) that fruit wouldn’t be too complicated, and did not have too many intricate details.

So I started off with some sketches, and played around putting different fruits together on a plate, on a piece of material, and on the table. I lit them from the side to help me see the shadows, and I even played around with a view finder to help me draw the shapes and sizes.
I got rid of the viewfinder though, as I could not work out how to get it in the right position to see through and draw, and stay there without holding it. When I held it, it moved around and I got in a muddle

So after lots of drawing these are the paintings I have managed so far


1. Simple shaped fruits such as plums are not simple to paint. Getting the shadows and colour tones right is hard work !
2. That even with a light shining on the fruit, the natural light in the room affects the shadows and colours quite quickly.
3.In the 17th century still life paintings, skulls and other objects were incorporated into a painting to give a moralistic message ( often about mortality)
4. Painting from an object rather than a photo, the colours are so much clearer, although the colours changed quickly in the middle of painting, when the sky suddenly got dark .
5. Although I might not want to paint still lifes as much as trees, it is a good way to improve my observation, colour mixing, composition and shading skills.
6. I want to be able to have the skill to draw and paint objects realistically, but I am not interested in making realistic paintings. Hyper realistic is not something that “gets me going”. I find painterly paintings more full of life.
7. I need to try all sorts of painting. I need to paint objects I am scared to paint and to have disasters trying. It is the only way for me to improve.
8. An artists style is more important to me than the subject matter. I found that if I liked a style, I liked it whether it was a still life, a portrait or a landscape.
9. I can appreciate the enormous skill in painting those dark 17th century realistic still lifes, and maybe I need to study them to help me learn, but I don’t want one on my wall.

I am loving my new acrylic paint …

After a frustrating week of not being able to buy my art supplies on-line, I was so desperate to get paints that I drove up to Porto ( just under 2 hours away) on Tuesday.

I enjoy visiting the city, so made it into a mini break and stayed over night. I even managed to get to the beach, where I took about 140 photos of the sea, waves, rocks and people, thinking they might be useful when I attempt painting seascapes. More to the point I was able to get the paints and other stuff I needed to continue painting.

porto and beach 055

Today is the first chance I have had to use them. I have been longing to try them out, but had other jobs to do first.

I read bits from the “blue and yellow don’t make green ” book, and thought I would try to do some of the exercises, to understand more about these new colours.

Well, that lasted about 10 minutes. I decided it was far too scientific for how I was feeling this morning

After 2 days of mathematical calculations and measuring material to make roman blinds, painting little squares of colour seemed too scientific and precise. I felt like being more open more “free” with my painting exercise .
So I put out my 6 new colours and white, tried all the different permutations and painted a colour tree.

I am sure I won’t remember how I made all the colours, but I have a better understanding of colour mixing from it, and it was much more enjoyable for my brain.


1. The Liquitex artist paint I bought is MUCH more intense, and vibrant than the cheap stuff I use for crafts.
2. Ultramarine Blue and Alizarin Crimson makes a nice purple colour but Phthalocyanine Blue and Cadmium Red is almost black.
3. Phthalocyanine Blue and Hansa Yellow makes a very vivid green, whilst Cadmium Yellow and Ultramarine Blue is a much more mossy colour.

4. I enjoy painting trees a lot …

5. I would not have the patience ( even if I had the understanding) to attempt Pointillism ! Hats off to Monsieurs Signac and Seurat.

6. Contrasting paint colours are Red + Green Yellow + Purple Blue + Orange

7. It’s amazing how many beige, grey possibilities there are with so few colours. The difficulty will be remembering how to make them again !

8. The more I experiment, the more I find out.

9. Many artists use contrasting colour in shadows. Shadows are rarely solid black .

10. I love gloopy thick paint …

So that’s it for today. I am off to continue with my experimenting. I want to try working out how the warmness or coolness of the reds, yellow, and blues affects what browns and greys are made.

I think I might need a bit more of a scientific approach for this part.

Colour . The fun and the theory

 red, ochre  ultramarine blue  and white

red, ochre ultramarine blue and white

I have had lots of fun with colour this week. I have been seeing what colours I can make with the few paints I have, and have been learning to paint clouds.

I made a list of paints I thought would be good last week and tried to buy them on-line, but due to the complicated banking system about buying on-line here, I was not able to so, and have been waiting for a ” virtual bank card” all week.

The delay turned out to be a good thing, as after making the order I was given some paints that were on my list and a book called “Blue and yellow don’t make green” to read, which explained more about colour mixing

So after a bit of colour mixing, and book reading,
my list became ….

Phthalo blue or Cerulean blue (blue-green)
Cadmium yellow light ( orange-yellow)
Cadmium lemon or Hansa yellow ( green-yellow)
Quinacridone violet or alizarin crimson (violet- red)
Cadmium Red light ( orange- red)
Titanium white ( lots)

I was lucky to have been given some tubes of
ultramarine blue ( violet-blue)
Yellow ochre
Burnt sienna

So with these colours I Hope to make all the colours I need. (once I have the understanding to go with them )


1. The colour wheel is not the best way to understand about mixing. Pure red , pure blue and pure yellow paint does not exist. So when they show red and blue making a lovely purple it is not correct. It depends which red and which blue. Some do make purples and others make sludgy grey browns.

2. The Swedish painter Anders Zorn is well-known for using as few as 4 colours, yellow ochre, vermillion, black and white, to create amazing works of art .

3. Mixing two or three colours can make a huge colour range, as long as you think about the amounts and don’t just add them willy- nilly. Otherwise you get MUD !

4. A small plastic plate is not big enough to mix colours ( for me any way) Bigger is better.

5. White is so important in acrylic painting. I seem to need more of it than any other colour.

6. The colours in the artists paints I was given are much more intense than the ones in my Amsterdam student paints, and feel nicer too.

7. Reading about how colours are made, and how we see them is like being back in a school science lesson, except this time I am more interested !

8. Every day I paint, I learn something about colour ( and composition , tone, light , shape perspective loads of other stuff too ) so the more I do, the more I learn …. and the more FUN I have !

Here’s what I have done this week


I recently visited The Museum of contemporary art in Porto, a great space, within the Serralves park.
I particularly enjoyed a temporary exhibition called A Substance of Time which showed the works of the Portuguese artist Jorge Martins

From what I could understand the exhibition was split between the Foundation in Porto and the Carmona E Costa Foundation in Lisbon. His early figurative works were being shown in Lisbon, and I was seeing his later abstract works, from 1965 – 2012.

Most of the works I saw were black and white drawings, using pencil.

I particularly liked the drawings using lines to create patterns and textures and the ones with smudges. One piece looked like a few smears of pencil with a wiggily line running over the top, until you stood back, and the smears became faces peering out of the paper.

There must have been about 200 drawings, and what was amazing was the variety of images, patterns and textures he managed to create using just a line a dot or a smudge of pencil.
it was also interesting to see how his works evolved, and changed over time.
It certainly made me see the pencil in a whole new way. They were much more atmospheric and painterly than most pencil drawings i have seen.

Here are a few poor photos. They really don’t do the work justice, but are just to give you a visual idea.