Free Still Life Demo: Detailed Drawing at the Start

There are four general steps to Harold Reddicliffe’s procedure for painting his beautiful, sometimes obsolete machines:

The first involves arranging his manmade objects and lighting them. Reddicliffe uses a clamp-on reflector, which can be moved around to illuminate the setup.

Three Engines and a Gas Tank (oil, 10×10) by Harold Reddicliffe

Second is an extensive line drawing in graphite, directly on the canvas; this drawing begins “very loosely and openly and progressively tightens, ultimately incorporating a variety of drafting tools: straight-edges, a compass and occasionally a protractor.”

Third is a very specific underpainting including every aspect of the finished image.

“Finally is an overpainting, intended to revise and correct decisions made in the underpainting.”

The underdrawing, created with Staedtler HB leads worked on an acrylic polymer gessoed surface, consumes a large amount of the time involved in a painting’s production. The surface is stretched, primed linen and, while the ground is sanded, Reddicliffe tries to retain vestiges of the weave because he seeks to resist the impression of photorealism that the works initially inspire due to their intricate facture.

Demonstration by Harold Reddicliffe

1. I begin with a graphite line drawing on primed canvas. I draw as loosely as possible to allow for maximum flexibility in the initial investigation. As the drawing proceeds, I include more information and measure the evolving two-dimensional relationships with increasing care. The process continues with the introduction of drawing tools (straight-edge, compass, protractor).


2. An imprimatura (turpentine and damar varnish) seals the drawing. I then cover the surface with an underpainting that’s as specific, in terms of the quantity of information, as the final paint layer will be. The underpainting serves as a dress rehearsal, allowing me to explore each potential structural problem. It also establishes the color relationships and tonal structure.


3. The final layer provides another opportunity to address the range of structural problems I’ve already encountered. I resolve any remaining drawing inconsistencies, tailor edges with greater control than was possible earlier, unify the paint surface, and adjust color relationships tentatively established in the underpainting for Lighter, Lightbulb and Cameras (oil, 12×10).

Materials and Tools

Surface: Utrecht 66J linen canvas stretched with Fredrix stretcher (Arrow JT21 staple gun and staples), primed with Liquitex acrylic polymer gesso
Drawing tools: Koh-I-Noor lead holder; Staedtler HB leads; Gedess lead pointer; Utrecht kneaded rubber eraser
Painting materials: Winsor & Newton refined linseed oil, damar varnish, distilled turpentine and oil paint; Permalba white oil paint
Painting tools: Utrecht or Liquitex palette knife; Utrecht Rhenish sable round brushes; 16×20 glass palette; aluminum mahlstick
Miscellaneous: double upright studio easel; straight-edge; compass; protractor

To read more about Harold Reddicliffe and to see more of his work, find a downloadable November 2010 issue of The Artist’s Magazine here.


Harold Reddicliffe has won two grants (1981 and 1985) from the National Endowment for the Arts. He has shown his work at Hirschl & Adler Modern in New York City and at Pepper Gallery in Boston. His paintings are a part of important collections, for instance, Fidelity Investments, Citibank, Philip Morris and the Delaware Art Museum. He is an associate professor at Boston University College of Fine Arts. To see more of Harold Reddicliffe’s still life paintings, visit Hirschl & Adler Modern’s website.

Ruth K. Meyer is an art historian and consultant.


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