Jewelry Still Life
News for June!
Interview with Kelly Chehardy
Jewelry Still LifeBehind the Art
by Melissa Acker
Another month already come and gone! This month's theme is jewels, and since I don't have a lot of experience depicting them, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to set up a still life and do a quick study!
Most of the time, the best way to learn how to depict something is to study it in real life. That doesn't work so well for dragons and griffins, but for something like plants -- or jewelry -- it works pretty well. I grabbed a bunch of old rings I had, along with a colorful t-shirt, and set them up on my painting table in a place I knew I could keep them for a few days without disturbing them. A still life always looks better when you have one strong light source, and considering we're painting objects that already have a ton of reflections, best to keep things simple.
Here's a picture of the objects I set up.
Next I get my materials ready. I'm doing this piece in acrylic. The method in which I use watercolors is not conducive towards doing still lifes -- something about the way my brain works just breaks them horribly -- and I loathe oils. I use a paper palette, and almost all of my paint is Liqutex.
The most common mistake I see people make when they first start using acrylics -- and watercolors, too, for the most part -- is that they push way too much paint out of the tube when they are getting ready to paint. You really don't need a lot, unless you're painting impasto, which is another technique altogether and not something I'm going to get into right now. Here's a photo of my palette with a few of my paints ready to go. Even here, I probably have more red than I need. And, just to confirm, a Canadian quarter is the same size as an American one.
The nice thing about working with acrylics is that you can just throw down a base layer and work up from it. Using a combination of cadmium red deep, payne's grey and raw umber I covered the white gessoed panel completely. Since I knew the brush strokes would be showing a little, I painted them in a radial pattern. This way, regardless of how much of the background is showing in the end, there will be some movement for the eye to follow.
I don't usually draw my subject onto the surface before I start painting when I use acrylic. This is mostly because I use the paint opaquely enough that it would completely cover any underlying pencil.
So once the base layer of background is dry, I take a much thinner brush and draw in the shapes of the rings and such. I'm using the same colors as before, as well as titanium white, cadmium yellow deep and hansa yellow light. The important thing in this step is to try and keep your head is still as possible, so that your perspective isn't changing every few seconds. Also constantly check your angles and measure as often as you can; this will help keep the drawing as accurate as possible.
This is what the painting looked like after the 'drawing' phase.
Now we have to start blocking in the lights and darks, as well as the basic colors. I switch to an even smaller brush and carefully look for the changes and transitions in color and value. I put more detail in the foreground objects than the background ones -- the bracelets, for instance, are not worked on at all. Even at this early stage, it's obvious where the light source is, and what materials the objects are made of (in this case, gold and silver).
Detail time! I add raw sienna, pthalo green and cadmium red medium to the colors I already had out. Using an even smaller brush, I take a great deal of time and very carefully look for highlights, reflected color, and shadows on both the rings and the fabric. When I want glazes for reflected color, I add a little bit of matte medium to the paint to make it transparent without thinning it out too much. At this point, it is just a matter of observation and patience. I'm still keeping the background objects more vague -- I don't want them to compete with the foreground for attention.
This is the result after about an hour of detail work.
Sometimes, the easiest way to learn to paint something is to observe it in person and pay close attention. It's not hard, and you'll always learn something useful.
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