Still Life Painting: Lemons
In this lesson, we’re going to practice still life painting by painting a pair of lemons using oil or acrylic paint. I’ll guide you step-by-step through the fun and easy process of painting a still life to develop your painting techniques and skills.
If you haven’t done the Paint an apple lesson Fruit Studies Series , you may want to have a quick look at it for advice on setting up for your still life painting, adjusting the lighting, and laying out your color palette. This lesson is perfect for beginners wanting to learn how to paint. Still life is a great subject to practice color, composition, brushwork and other elements of painting.
Step 1: Set up your lemons. As with any still life, make sure they are well-lit from one side, and that one side is in shadow. There should be a visible cast-shadow. Try to position them at different angles for visual interest. This may be your first attempt at composition, so experiment!
Step 2: Do a quick initial sketch. Use diluted paint (watered down acrylic or oil mixed with solvent) to paint the general shape of your still life, and wipe off any excess with a rag or paper towel. 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). I’m using blue. You can use any color, but it is helpful to use a color you think will work with the overall painting, especially if you are going to leave a little bit of the initial drawing showing through at the end as I will do in this demo.
Step 3: Begin to block in the shadow areas. Squint and try to see where the deepest shadows are on the lemons. Mix up your color and apply it with a clean brushstroke, then leave it alone! Mix up your next color and apply it in the same way. The shadows on my lemon were warm, greenish in the deepest areas, while slightly more yellow ochery in the others. Remember that we always work from dark to light when painting.
Step 4: Paint the midtones of your fruit. I’m beginning to add in the areas of the lemon that are between the shadows and the lights. They are quite warm and deep golden yellow in color. I’m looking for the planes of the lemons and allowing my brushstrokes to follow the direction of those planes. The brushstrokes are important: you don’t want to “fill in” your paint sketch.
Step 5: Paint the area that is in light. On my lemons, this is a warm, rich buttercup yellow color that I get from mixing my cad yellow with a bit of lemon yellow. (Note: In the photo below, I finished the mid-tones and the reflected light in the shadow area before moving onto the lights).
Step 6: Paint the cast shadows. The shadow will always be the darkest right underneath the object that is casting it. Remember to always look for the color in the cast shadow. It is not just grey. The cast shadows of my lemons are very blue. I’m using cerulean with a bit of ultramarine and red.
Step 7: Paint the background. Again, look for color in your whites (if your lemons are on a white piece of paper). I’ve added a bit of a muted violet to the background color since it is the complementary color of yellow. Also, the light shining in from the window is causing the lemons to cast an orange-ish color onto the paper. In this still life painting I’ve decided to allow the initial sketch to show through in places. Remember that you can use the background color to “cut” around your objects, refining the form of the lemons, if you choose.
Add any finishing touches to your still life and you are done!
Congratulations! You’ve just painted your first pair of lemons! How did it go? Are you satisfied with the result? Are you feeling ready to move onto more complex still life paintings?