Shadeel Siddiki spends between 150 and 200 hours on each of his magnificently detailed paintings. In this excerpt from “Tenacious Detail” in the January 2006 issue of The Artist’s Magazine, he explains how you too can capture the intimacies of a still life.
Cutwork Tablecloth (oil, 44×36)
Toolbox: Methods and Materials
(6 step demo below)
To create such highly detailed paintings—what he refers to as superrealism—Siddiqui uses oils to paint from life in the studio, using artificial light. He avoids linseed oil, preferring turpentine instead, and applies damar varnish to each painting once it has dried.
“I stress” drawing, but in my 18 years of teaching I’ve found that good drawing isn’t enough to create a painting. You must have a sense of tone and color mixing,” Siddiqui says. He never uses pure black in his paintings, but mixes other tones to create it.
Similarly, as a teaching tool, Siddiqui often likes to remove certain colors from his student’s palettes: “To improve color sense, I take away a few colors and ask my students to compensate. If cerulean blue is removed, for example, they’re to create it on their own. I think this helps them to instinctively be aware of the colors they encounter in everyday life,” the artist says.
To create sharp lines, such as that between a tabletop and the background, Siddiqui uses masking tape. He applies the tape, covering the surface that will become the table, then paints the background. Once it’s dry, he removes the tape to reveal the crisp edge of what will become a table.
To “paint” the writing on books, newspaper clippings and notes—a common theme in his work—Siddiqui works with a pointed blade to sharpen brushwork while the paint is still wet.
Setting the Table: 6-Step Demo
1. Drawing with paint
In the first step, I composed this painting using paint and brush, establishing the general forms of the tablecloth and the objects on the table. Then I filled in the objects, background, foreground and tablecloth, which I painted as a plain white sheet of cloth.
2. Lines of lace
Next, I used pencil to draw the lace design on the tablecloth, being sure to show the folds of the linen.
3. Painting space
I went over my pencil lines with a mixture of burnt umber and Prussian blue to paint in the lace pattern. Then I filled in the negative spaces with paint, using a mixture of burnt umber, Prussian blue and alizarin crimson.
4. Starting again
Here’s where things get interesting. After the paint completely dried, I painted over the entire tablecloth using the color I wanted to be the final hue for the cloth’s surface—a mixture of Naples yellow, burnt umber and white. I applied this layer of paint thinly, so that the pattern underneath remained visible. The thinness of the paint also created a bit of a sheen on the cloth and made the folds more prominent.
5. Extreme Detail
In this stage, I again painted in the negative parts of the design using burnt umber, Prussian blue and alizarin crimson, and finished the details of the design very carefully. Application of this dark color helps the pattern of the lace emerge, but it still looks more like cutout paper at this point.
6. Finishing flourish
Once the dark color in the negative space of the tablecloth dried thoroughly, I finished the tablecloth by refining all the tonal values and adding a full range of darks, mediums and lights to achieve a very smooth effect. I also refined all the shadows, which are very important to tromple l’oeil. I added detail to the objects on the tabletop, and refined both the foreground and background to finalize Cutwork Tablecloth (oil, 44×36).
Shakel Siddiqui splits his time between Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and British Columbia, Canada, where he’s a frequent lecturer and workshop instructor. He has participated in numerous group and solo exhibitions. In addition to working as a professional artist since 1975, Siddiqui has also restored numerous Old Master paintings for private collectors and for the government of Pakistan. To see more of his work, check out his gallery.
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