Posts Tagged ‘painting squashes’

Fall Watercolour Classes at Arts on Adrian – Week One!


My autumnal theme continued at Arts on Adrian in Toronto this week. I created a  challenging still-life of pumpkins, squashes and gourds with the backdrop of baskets and boxes. The first students to take it on were my Sustained Saturday group. It’s a full day of painting. The Tuesday afternoon students worked from the same still-life and I gave the same demonstration/lesson to both groups.

I also continued with the ‘back to basics’ lesson I offered to the Dundas Valley School of Art students last Wednesday evening. My focus again was light and shadow and how it can be used to create form and pattern in a painting. Observational painting and drawing is a balance between the visual and the rational, what we see and what we understand. Seeing light and shadow can be very difficult, even with a good lamp on the still-life. Squinting helps. Turning off other lights in the studio helps. Still, an understanding of how the objects receive the direct light from the lamp is crucial.

Imagine the circles in the upper row of my demonstration sheet as spherical objects, like oranges. The arrows indicate the light direction. In these cases, I’ve lit them from the upper right.  The direct light (paper-white) and the core shadow (blue-grey wash) meet at the cusp. Which ones feel right to you?

• The one on the left shows the cusp as a straight edge. That doesn’t make much sense on a curving surface. Also, the sphere is evenly divided between light and shadow. This creates symmetry and that usually makes an object look flat.
• Second from the left? The curve of the cusp is curving in the same direction as the bottom edge of the sphere and gives the light area the shape of a football. Doesn’t work for me.
• Third from the left? This sphere is lit, like the others, from the upper right and a little bit behind the sphere, which creates more shadow on the object. Backlit, essentially. Note that the curve of the cusp corresponds to the closest edge of the sphere! In this case, that’s the upper edge of the sphere. This makes sense to me.
• The final sphere is lit more from the front and the light area is larger than the shadow area. Again, the cusp curve is similar to the closest edge and, this time, it’s the lower edge of the object. It gets a check-mark, in my books.
• One last thought! Look again at the two spheres on the right with the check-marks. Note that the light on the backlit one is in the shape of a crescent. The shadow on the rightmost sphere is also in the shape of a crescent. These curving shapes help to describe the sphere.

Understanding light and shadow is a discipline. The great Italian Renaissance artists called it chiaroscuro. It takes thought and practice and it pays off. It worked for the Old Masters, didn’t it?

I didn’t insist that the students just do value studies. Earlier, I’d leafed through past demonstrations and showed them to both classes. There are many ways to skin a cat and these sheets show a few different options.

It wasn’t a bad way to kick off the season of still-life painting in the studio. As usual, the students applied themselves thoughtfully and here are the results. Click on these critique images to view larger versions.

Sustained Saturday Critique

Tuesday Critique


Fall Wednesday Watercolour Class at DVSA – Week One!


It’s pumpkin time in southern Ontario and that means that fall term is underway at the Dundas Valley School of Art. I teach a class called Watercolour: Concept and Technique on Wednesday evenings. It’s an intermediate level class but I always like to start with a few fundamentals. Last night, I discussed value and light and shadow. Our class is still-life based and a solid grasp of these concepts is of key importance to observational painting and drawing.

I kicked things off with a demonstration of a value study. I did a pencil drawing and then mixed a brown wash with Cobalt Blue and Burnt Sienna. I applied the wash everywhere except where I saw direct light hitting the still-life. This simplifies and unifies the subject and creates a pattern in the painting. We also start to feel an emerging three-dimensional quality.

The students got to work following the demonstration. While they worked, I painted another small demonstration and called them over to see the successive steps. This time, I began with a wash of the same two colours but it includes a lot more  Cobalt Blue and appears as a cool grey. Once again, the areas of direct light were left untouched and remain the white of the paper. The ‘panels’ of the squash were painted one at a time, which allowed me more control as I created soft-edge transitions. When the grey washes were completely dry, I glazed thin washes of local colour over the relevant areas.


This is a rather old-fashioned way to paint a watercolour and was employed by many of the early English watercolourists hundreds of years ago. All approaches and processes have their pros and cons. This method is very helpful to the student who strives to understand value.

We got off to a good start and I’m looking forward to our next seven Wednesday evenings at DVSA. Please, click on the critique image to view a larger version.

Wednesday Critique