Cherries in a bag - still life demo
by Merethe Torbergsen
I work mainly from my own photos, I do photo shoots in bright sunlight as I want strong light/shadows. I use a Cannon 350 D camera, it suits my needs nicely. I shoot the photos in high resolution to see the details clearly, and make notes in my sketchbook when I have the set up in front of me. My computer is a tool for my painting process. I keep the reference photo on the monitor, and I can easily zoom in and out to get a good view of details. I find it easier to make good colour choices by the monitor, rather than printing it out.
I start my painting process with a drawing. I do a rough drawing of main lines, and identify shadows and highlights. The drawing is transferred to the pastel paper with tracing paper, using a cheap pastel stick on the back of the tracing paper. I'll seal the drawing on my pastel painting with a light fixative coat. This is the only time I'll use fixative during the process. I'm not to worried about getting an absolute accurate transfer, some lines might be moved around a bit - I don't always correct when I'm painting things like fruit, fabric etc.
While painting I keep referring to the ref photo to identify values and colours, and I keep an eye on the other parts of the painting to make sure it'll all come together in the end. Using photos as reference has taught me is that it can't reproduce true colors and values, and what works in a photo might not work in the painting. This is the reference for this painting.
I used Faber Castell Polychromo, Girault, Unison and Great American soft pastels. In addition I also used Carbothello and Faber Castell Pitt pastel pencils for details. I sometimes use colors shapers to clean up edges, but for the most part I use my pencils for edges and small details. For Cherries in a bag I picked out a sand-coloured sheet from Sennelier La Carte 30x40 cm.
This is the start of the painting. I usually start in the upper left corner and work my way down in sections. I've started work on the plastic bag, basically just blocking in darks, lights and midtones. At this point I've used different greys, and a little bit of blue - using hard pastels and a few pencils. As I'm getting closer to the cherries I'll use some dark reds too. At this point the background is still undecided, I’ll start working with it when I see how dark it needs to be to make the bag “pop”. I'm looking for the largest shapes at this point, details to get the realism I'm looking for comes later.
Some parts might be too dark now, but that's an easy fix when I start to work in the details. I’m not trying to reproduce the photo, I’m not trying to do every line and shape correctly according to the ref. What’s important is to identify values and find a palette that works for me.
I blend through all stages in my work when I’m painting reflecting surfaces like glass, plastic and metal. The bag is to dark to give the impression of plastic, and I’ll keep brightening the colors bit by bit until I get the right look. I always work in thin layers, building
up the colors. I find it easier to avoid making mud this way. La Carte has enough tooth for this kind of approach .
I've lightened the plastic bag with some light grey, light blue and a white pencil -later on I'll bring out the highlights even more with my white Great American. I’ve started work on the background – from black to dark gray, with a touch of the darkest red I'll be using for the cherries. I can't get a good impression of how the bag looks until I have some cherries too, so I've started painting cherries. I've used two colours for them - a dark Cyprus, GA, and a dark alizarin FC. I've used black to darken the red even more - and blended it all. For the stems I use dark green, light green, cream and a couple of red browns.
I don't blend the stems, I use my pencils and they'll do the blending for me.
I'm moving on to the cherries in the front, to get the lighter colours in the mix. When I work I use a blow-brush constantly, I blow off access dust before blending – it keeps the colours clean. The blow-brush is part of my camera equipment, but I found better use for it than cleaning my camera.
I've painted a few more cherries, moving forward to the closer ones, slightly shifting the values. I'm not looking for photorealism when I paint, I try not to get caught up in details. I want deep, rich reds, and I try to keep the palette down to 6-7 different reds. I'll use some of the cherry colours in shadows and background, to tie the painting together.
Cherries before blending.
Cherries after blending.
For the cherry highlights I used light blue and pure white for the brightest parts. At this point I’ll leave out parts of the photo, keeping focus on what is important for the painting to work.
The next step is working the wood surface beneath the cherries. I won’t be doing a detailed wood texture, as I want to keep focus on the bag and cherries. Painting the wood I indicate some lines, enough to make it read wood for the viewer. I use different browns, and a little turquoise some places. I like the effect of the turquoise, it seem to add more realism to the wood. At the end I’ll let the painting sit in my studio a few days, usually I’ll find some areas that need tweaking when I’ve let the painting rest. Finally, here’s the finished painting.