Second in my still life watercolor paintings series I am doing as part of a short art challenge is this unimaginatively titled work, Bananas and Oranges. As previously mentioned, the challenge was to do three new artworks in three days, all focused on the theme of banana(s). Since I had considered doing some bananas as still life subjects, I jumped on it with my watercolor paints at the ready.
Using my artistic license to make the still life more traditional
While I was able to find a reference photo to work from, I was much less impressed with the color choices the original photographer made. While I loved the dark background and shadowed surface, I detest the red bowl. It is jarring to my eye, especially next to the oranges in the bowl. So, I needed to pick a different color for that bowl. Should I make it white (very traditional) or a complementary color like purple or blue? Since I was not feeling a white bowl, I decided to make the bowl one complementary color with the background being the other.
This piece didn’t flow as easily as the first one did, but after I blocked out the sketch, transferred it to watercolor paper, and got the background painted a lovely deep Prussian blue – and got scans of those two steps – I slipped into “the art zone” and didn’t stop until suddenly it was finished. I really did mean to get more scans of the stages! It’s just that once I am in the zone, I don’t think of anything else but the work in front of me.
Painting the bananas and oranges
Contrary to most watercolorists, I like to start off with the darkest shadows. I know the conventional wisdom says to work from light to dark, and I have certainly tried that the first couple years. This series of paintings, I decided to try doing it “backwards.” Long story short – I prefer it. It even helps me get my shadows deep enough. Since this was basically a repeat of the subject matter, I just used the same colors as the day before. Once again, I was pleased with the color.
Links to purchase the original painting and art prints
How can you purchase this artwork? If you have the right space for the 9 by 12 inch original watercolor (on paper) painting, get that through my gallery at Daily PaintWorks. If you want larger (or even smaller) sized prints, you can order from 8 by 6 inch all the way up to 45 by 60 inches from Pixels here. For my mother and sister, who prefer to wear my art, there are several apparel options along with home accessories with this image printed on them in my RedBubble shop.
After the first still life art in watercolor, I decided day two simply needed to be in soft pastel. Not only because I haven’t recently played with my “dusties,” as I call them, but I also bought a sample pad of Clairefontaine’s Pastelmat, an expensive but highly recommended paper for soft pastels and pastel pencils. I figure an art challenge is a good excuse to try something new, so the apples, oranges, and bowl still life composition needed to be worked up in dusty pastel.
Selecting my reference photo
Once again, I looked through the set of photos I took back in October of 2021 for the right one to use as a reference. I almost didn’t pick this one, as I wasn’t sure at first how well the composition would work with the fruit mostly in a line like this. In the end I figured, “Why not?” This is for an art challenge and that is permission to try things that seem uncertain. So here is the cropped version of my reference photo, featuring the apples, oranges, and bowl mostly in a line.
Once again, I consider focus to be a bonus feature, and not a requirement. I am most interested in the shapes and shadows for a reference photo of familiar objects. (We got very familiar with these subjects when we ate them!)
Working the still life in soft pastels
I did my basic sketch directly onto the sheet of Pastelmat, as I know I am able to cover up the light graphite lines with the dusties. Soft pastel in particular tends to be quite opaque, so I felt confident as I sketched in the main shapes after lightly gridding the sheet. I had decided before starting that I would “edit” out the background of the photo in favor of more stylized colors behind the apples and oranges. In fact, I also planned to omit the towel and pepper grinder as well, choosing to focus only on the fruit.
First the oranges
I worked on both oranges first, mostly because I knew I would need to turn the mat this way and that to keep from accidently smudging the soft pastel. Actually, I started with a reddish tone they call sienna, not wanting to deal with trying to completely cover a stark white sheet. I used my Mungyo Gallery soft pastels for the blocking in, and even for the shading. My intention had been to use my Stabilo CarbOthello pastel pencils to add in details at the end, which turned out to be barely needed as the Mungyo set worked wonderfully with the Pastelmat.
The three apples in the bowl
Since I had made the previous day’s apples straight red instead of the variegated red and green they actually were, I decided to keep that for this version of the still life series so they look like a cohesive set of pictures. As I worked the color into first shapes then forms, I found myself enjoying the process of laying down dry pigment onto the expensive heavy paper. By the time I had the apples in the bowl looking like red apples in a white bowl, I made the decision that I will only be buying Pastelmat for my soft pastel paintings and drawings going forward.
Coloring the table for the fruit and the background to complement the colors
I had no intention of leaving these apples and oranges to float in a colorful ether, so after I was satisfied with the fruit it was time to color in a table for it all the set on top. A couple broad strokes in brown accomplished the illusion of a table with shadows. I then turned my attention to the background. Getting the background color right was actually a critical component of how successful this composition would be! I needed just the right combination of blue and green, blended just enough to be harmonious but still dynamic enough to stay interesting. It is a fine line, but I think I am getting more familiar with where that line is on each piece.
Links to purchase original artwork and prints
Now for the part y’all have been waiting for: links to buy. The original is on paper made in Europe, which means they measure in centimeters, so if you purchase the 24 by 30 cm pastel piece you will need to have it custom matted to fit standard US frames. The long side is 11 -7/8 inches, while the short side is 9-7/16 inches, so neither measurement will work for a 9×12 inch frame or mat. It’s worth it though! The Pastelmat holds the dry pigment surprisingly well. Seriously, I’ve been playing with pastels off and on since I was seven, and this stuff is the best I’ve ever worked on in over forty years of making dusty, colorful messes.
For art prints, I recommend my Pixels shop. There is a good variety of surface to choose from, and you can get it matted and framed as well if you like. Shipping might seem a bit steep, but the quality of product is high.
If you prefer to wear your art like my mother and sister love to do, then I recommend my shop at RedBubble for the wide variety of apparel styles. I’m also partial to the analog face clocks, even though I definitely do NOT have enough wall space to hang even half of the ones I like. The struggle is real.
And this concludes the second in my short series of fruit in a bowl for the three work art challenge. If anyone thinks my method of naming to be boringly bland, you have permission to rename it if you purchase the original. Meanwhile, I’ll continue to refer to this still life in soft pastel as simply Apples and Oranges 2.
And with that, I wish everyone a happy new year, and I’ll be back in 2023!
So, I signed up to participate in a short three day art challenge solstice week with the theme of fruit in a bowl. Not even a full second had passed when I already knew what the first artwork would be: a watercolor still life painting using the reference photos from last year that inspired my Apples sketches and acrylic paintings. This time, though, I would only use photos with apples and oranges together in the frame. The bowl requirement excluded a handful of photos, but there was still plenty to choose from.
Choosing the reference photo
Armed with the parameters of the specific theme for this art challenge, I began browsing my collection of photos taken on my own kitchen table with fruit chosen for its appearance. Yes, I actually went grocery shopping for fruit (and some vegetables) for the purpose of getting myself some reference photos that had the layout and lighting to draw and paint. As most of y’all know, I am blogging buddies with a handful of fine art photographers, and my hundred-or-so photos would probably make each of them cringe. I do not claim to be a photog, but sometimes I can get a snapshot that will make a decent painting reference. Focus tends to be a bonus, not a hard requirement. Here is the photo I chose for the first painting.
The preliminary sketch done in the sketchbook
I have learned from experience to do my gridding and layout in my sketchbook, not on my watercolor paper. Once I am happy with the general line drawing, I transfer it to my watercolor paper with graphite transfer paper. Then I take a kneaded eraser to clean up the lines and lift up any smudges from resting my hand on it.
This is where the progress photos stop, because once I picked out which paints I wanted to use, I got into the art zone and was only thinking about how I would apply the paint to paper. It took more layers than I expected, because apparently QoR brand watercolor paints have a color shift when they dry. I did do almost the entire painting with my newer QoR set, though I needed to pull out the burnt umber from my Turner set because I had evidently forgotten to make sure I had a nice strong dark brown tube when I purchased the colors last time. I’ll need to fix that with my next art supply splurge, maybe in January.
The finished still life in watercolor
I painted this fruit still life (with a bowl) on my 9 by 12 inch watercolor block, which means I did not need to tape a sheet of loose paper to a board. That means the paint goes all the way out to the edges, which is now my preference. I have not sealed it yet, because I am still debating if I should add another layer of pigment to the front apples and orange or not. If you want to purchase the original watercolor still life painting, you can make that decision for me.
Stay tuned here for the second piece in this series, which will not be in watercolor, but will still be named “Apples and Oranges.” Or put in an email address so you can have the next post delivered to your inbox. I don’t seem to be able to keep a regular schedule for publishing new blog posts, so that’s probably the best way to keep up.