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Still Life Painting: Paint an Apple

Learn to Paint an Apple in the Fruit Studies Series on Oh She Paints' Blog

Still Life Painting: Paint an Apple

In this still life painting lesson for beginners, I’m going to teach you how to paint an apple, step-by-step. This is an easy and fun exercise that will help you improve your painting techniques and brush handling skills. In addition to the basics of painting, you’ll learn about value and color mixing.

This painting tutorial is part of the Fruit Studies Series. You may also want to look at Paint a Pair of Lemons.

An apple is great subject to start with when first learning to paint because it has a simple round form. I recomment that you choose one with a fairly uniform color to simplify things.

I’m doing this painting exercise on a sheet of gessoed mayfair (a smooth medium weight and inexpensive paper). Feel free to use watercolor paper, canvas paper, a board, canvas or a panel. Make sure to prepare your surface with a coat of gesso.

My still life painting study is 8 x 8 inches. Choose a similar size (it could be 10 x 10 inches). Your apple painting should be life-size or larger.

Still Life painting preparation. Cut up your gessoed paper into squares.
Painting Preparation. Cut up your gessoed paper into squares.

Color Palette

I’m using a very simple color palette for painting that consists of:

  • cadmium red light
  • cadmium yellow
  • lemon yellow
  • yellow ocher
  • titanium white
  • ultramarine blue
  • cerulean blue
  • burnt umber

You can do this study in oil paint or acrylic paint. I’m using oil paint. For a painting medium, I’m using a 50/50 mix of odorless solvent (taltine) and linseed oil. With acrylic paint you can use just water or your favorite acrylic medium to give body to the paint and/or slow its drying time.

For details on color mixing and color theory, look for my upcoming post.

How to paint a still life of an apple

Step 1: Set up. Place your apple on a table on top of a white cloth (choose something neutral, not patterned) or a piece of paper at a distance of a few feet in front of you.

Step 2: Lighting. Make sure that you have a lamp positioned at a 45 angle to one side of the fruit still life. You want to make sure that one half of the fruit is in light and the other in shadow. This works best to reveal form.

Still Life Painting Preparation. Fruit study, apple painting, setting up the lighting, oh she paints
Painting Preparation. Set up a lamp at a 45 degree angle to your fruit.

Step 3: Sketch with Paint. Start with simple sketch with diluted paint (watered down acrylic paint mixed with water or oil paint mixed with solvent). This washy paint will dry fast. Don’t go for details, just get the overall shape of the form and the cast shadow (and possibly an indication of the line separating shadow from light, though this isn’t necessary).

Still Life Painting. Fruit studies, apple painting. initial sketch with diluted paint, oh she paints
Initial sketch of the still life with diluted paint. I’m using ultramarine blue mixed with titanium white.

Step 4: Mix. Try mixing up some initial colors on your palette using your palette knife. You can adjust these as you paint, but it is nice to have a starting point. Observe your apple closely, squint. Compare your colors with what you see. Make sure you mix a generous amount of paint – this will save you time later.

Tip: When your paint is on your brush hold it up so that it is lined up with the right spot on apple, close one eye, and compare the color.

Still Life Painting. Fruit studies, apple painting. mixing greens on palette, oh she paints
Mix paint colors on your palette, rather than on your canvas.

Step 5: Shadows. Begin blocking in your darkest colors that you see on the shadow side of your still life. Don’t forget to squint – this will help you get the value right. Remember to put down a brush mark once; don’t fuss. It may look choppy at first, but it will come together at the end – have confidence.

Color tip: I’ve mixed my shadow colors with a combination of ultramarine blue, cadmium yellow, and cadmium red light.

Still Life Painting. Fruit studies, apple painting. paint the shadow areas, oh she paints
Paint the shadow areas that you identify on your still life.

Step 6: Reflected light. Use a second, slightly lighter, shadow color to paint the area where light bounces back onto the form. Be careful not to make this color too light; it should still be darker than the light side of your apple.

Color tip: I’ve mixed this color by adding some yellow ocher to my shadow color and lightening it with a bit more cad yellow.

Still Life Painting. Fruit studies, apple painting. paint the reflected light, oh she paints
Paint the reflected light that you see on shadow side of your apple.

Step 7. Mid-tones. Use a fresh color to paint your mid-tones. This is often where we find the local color of the fruit (what we think of as the fruit’s real color). Leave a space for your lights.

Color tip: I’m using cerulean blue in my greens here to get the bright green apple color.


Still Life Painting. Fruit studies, apple painting. paint the mid-tones, oh she paints
Paint the mid-tones of your still life.

Step 8: Lights. Paint your light values and add the highlight on top at the end.

Color tip: I’m using more yellow and just a touch of white to make my lights. Don’t use pure white for your highlight color, make sure there is yellow mixed into it.


Fruit studies, apple painting. paint the lights, oh she paints
Paint the lights

Step 9: The cast shadow. Paint the cast shadow. Look carefully at its color. Mine looks blue. Often a bit of the color of your object will be reflected in the cast shadow. Use horizontal brushstrokes.

I’ve also added in the stem of the apple.

Color tip: To get the cast shadow color, I’ve created a mixture of ultramarine blue and titanium white and added a touch of red and a dab of green from my palette to it.

Still Life Painting. Fruit studies, apple painting. paint the cast shadow, oh she paints
Paint the cast shadow (the shadow that the apple casts on the ground plane).

Step 10: Background. Paint the background using a neutral color. Make the foreground (the area in front of the apple) a bit lighter than the background. Feel free to use loose, brushy marks in many directions to add dynamism to the background. Add any finishing touches. Does your stem need a highlight or a cast shadow? Be careful not to go back into areas you’ve already painted and overwork your painting. Leave it fresh.

Color tip: I’ve mixed the background color using titanium white with a touch of cad red light, cad yellow, and ultramarine blue which gives me a nice chromatic gray. I find you can mix a little bit of your main color (in this case, green) into the white and add a dab of its complement (in this case, red) to get a gray that fits well with your painting as a whole.

Still life Painting tutorial. Fruit studies, apple painting. finishing touches, oh she paints
Paint the background, finishing touches, and you’re done!

Voila! You’ve finished your first still life painting! Great work!

Optional homework: Try painting different varieties of apples. Here is an example of a golden delicious.

Still life Painting of a golden delicious apple on
Still life painting of a golden delicious apple.

If you had fun with this, you may want to try another of my still life painting lessons: Painting Lemons – a great next step for beginners that will continue to build your painting techniques using a new and slightly more complicated subject matter.

How did it go? Was this an easy painting exercise for you? What did you find challenging? Let me know in the comments if you would like to see more lessons like this.








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4 Replies to “Still Life Painting: Paint an Apple”

  1. like the fact that you go into detail

    1. Thanks DNrommy, I’m really glad you enjoyed the post.

  2. Some great info here thanks!

    Quick question about the light…would it better to have natural light from outside rather than using a lamp?

    1. Hey Jim, I find that using the lamp is easiest, at least when you’re first learning, as it gives a strong, directed light that reveals form. Natural light is beautiful, but it is diffuse, meaning that you won’t necessarily have a clear division between shadow and light. Also, it changes constantly throughout the day making painting from observation more complicated.

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