Creating Drama in Still Lifes

1. Don’t take your light source for granted. Especially when I paint still lifes that contain glass, I’m conscious of the quality of light. I often place the elements on my kitchen table, in natural light, or carry them outside so that I can take more immediate advantage of the brilliant California sun.

2. Position something dark behind the glass and/or fill the glass bottle or vase with dark liquid. If you put a glass on a white surface, the glass looks gray. If you put it on or behind a dark fabric, all of a sudden it’s a network of interesting shapes.

3. Put the glass in front of or on a patterned fabric. If you put a clear glass jar on a white tablecloth, the effect is pretty, but if you substitute a patterned fabric for the white tablecloth, the glass will become more interesting, because all of a sudden the glass will seem to be fractured—composed of interesting interior shapes.

4. Think “tight and loose.” Painting is an alternation between the tight contour line, which is a clear description of the form, and then the loose part that’s inside the form. Think of an apple—the defining line’s clarity and the jumble of loosely defined shapes inside the apple. I never paint “splishy splashy” unless it’s inside a strongly defined shape.

5. Pay attention to edges. I try to have a variety of edges: some hard, some rough, some soft. When a really dark area meets a really light area, I go over the line where the two lines meet with an opaque color, like cadmium orange. This tactic will create an aura: softening the edge and introducing a middle value. When I want to get rid of the hard line where two washes meet, I take a damp brush (usually a Winsor & Newton Series 233) and disturb the line.

Catherine Anderson is a Signature Member of the American Watercolor Society and the author of Basic Watercolor Answer Book. Her DVD, Creating Multiple Glazes in Your Watercolors, is available now on her website

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