Second-place winner in the still life painting category of The Artist’s Magazine’s 29th Annual Competition, David Cheifetz, takes you step by step through the process for his winning oil painting Spool as he focuses on his deft handling of edges, contrast and color.
By David Cheifetz
My inspiration for Spool was initially born of being fed up with my stash of still life objects and grabbing a spool of picture wire as something new to paint. The still life oil painting then became a little challenge to further validate my suspicion that it’s not what I paint but how I paint it that really matters.
Cheifetz’s Oil Painting Techniques
I enjoy painting with lots of color, but I also like to explore the concept that you can make a painting appear colorful by restricting intense color to small areas in the still life composition—that it’s the relationship of these small colorful areas with the surrounding neutral tones that matters.
My still lifes are painted from life. I begin with a toned panel. I prefer panel to canvas—I like how the paint sits on the firm surface and becomes a 3d medium from the very beginning. I loosely (but accurately) block in the drawing and shapes of shadows with umber. At this point if I don’t like the composition or placement, I’ll wipe it out and start again. After I’ve got my shapes of shadow blocked in (always squinting to see dark shapes, not detail), I start painting directly with spots of color, being sure to establish my darkest dark and lightest light as quickly as possible. This helps me judge my range of values for the rest of the painting. I like to paint direct, alla prima style. I’m finished with a painting when the work I’m doing is no longer making any significant improvement. It’s the point of diminishing returns—which usually happens to be when I’m sick of that painting.
These days my typical palette is: ivory black, phthalo blue, ultramarine blue, permanent alizarin crimson, cadmium red, cadmium orange, burnt umber, raw umber, yellow ochre, cadmium yellow , cadmium lemon , titanium white. and my favorite medium is Neo-Megilp (by Gamblin) because it is the next-best thing to the Maroger medium made by the teachers at the Schuler School.
1. Still Life Oil Painting Process—Step by Step: The Setup
I have a cool fluorescent coming from above left and a warm incandescent bulb coming from the right. The objects in the foreground—the spool, paint tube and red glass—will be high contrast and in focus. I want the pitcher to recede into the background.
2. Painting Process: The Block-In
I start blocking in the shapes. I start painting directly into the spool of wire. This start is a bit messy. I’m relying on the ability fix things later. Not always the best strategy, but it worked this time.
3. Painting Process: Establishing the Value Range
I want the pitcher and onion to eventually become secondary. At this stage I’m intentionally holding back with the darks in the pitcher, searching for the value range that will help it to recede.
4. Painting Process: Establishing the Background and Cloth
I establish background and cloth, deciding on a neutral tone (with reflected light in the folds of the cloth) to showcase my chosen elements. Now I have a better idea of what I’m working with.
5. Painting Process: Getting in the Red
Finally getting the red elements in. These red objects might compete a little with the primacy of the spool. I kind of like how the unfinished cloth looks at this point, like it’s vibrating or something. But know I’ll be taking it further.
6. Painting Process: Finishing the Cloth
I begin working the cloth to a better finish, working my way from left to right. I’m in the zone right now, deep in an audiobook. I’m lost in the folds and creases. Satisfying work. At this point I realize my pitcher has too much value contrast: it’s commanding too much attention.
7. Painting Process: Finessing Detail and Edges
At this point I’m killing the contrast of the pitcher to push it back and draw more focus to the spool and red paint tube and glass. I decide to start obliterating the edges of the pitcher and onion. I want the eye to go to the darks and sharp edges. I tighten up the detail of the foreground objects.
8. Painting Process: The Finished Painting
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If you’re just getting started in oil painting, Alwyn Crawshaw shows you all the materials you need. He demonstrates brushwork techniques and color mixing to help you understand how oils work. Click here to learn about his video download.
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