Paint a Still Life with Pam Carroll

Featured in The Artist’s Magazine (January/February 2008), Pam Carroll paints playful still lifes using oil. Read on for a free demonstration of her painting Well Read.

free oil still life painting demonstration by Pam Carroll, 1
Well-Read (oil, 14×11)

Carroll begins her work process by applying Prima white gesso to wooden panel. “It dries to a hard finish and, when sanded, it’s as smooth as  porcelain,” she says. “I generally give my hardboard panels three to four coats, sanding after each one.” When the gesso dries, she goes over the panel with an accurate drawing of the composition, then blocks in the background and foreground colors with wide, flat brushes and blends with fan brushes. “This step gives me the opportunity to see the objects clearly and change the composition in certain areas if it feels as if it’s not working.” She’ll let this layer dry overnight before the next step.

Laid out on a tempered glass sheet is Carroll’s palette, a limited selection of intense colors. Standbys include red and the orange cadmiums. “I don’t use a tonal palette at all. Working with too many colors just gets confusing,” she says. “Using the same, select colors helps you get to know your objects, and mixing a few key colors works best for me.”

“On the second day of the preliminary process, I paint in the respective colors of the objects, making sure to feather in light to dark shadows. My favorite part of the painting process is always the third day, when I come in with layering and more feathering,” she says. Carroll swears by a mahlstick to help her place detail. Citrus thinner and Liquin are favored mediums, with Liquin doubling as a finisher. “Some colors dry flat or richer and Liquin evens out the color,” she says. When the painting is complete, her husband Chris (“my right arm”) photographs each work for slides or digital images. If an appropriate title doesn’t come to mind (or if she hasn’t thought of one before starting a piece), Chris or her son will offer assistance.

Well-Read: A day-by-day account

free oil still life painting demonstration by Pam Carroll, compositionfree oil still life painting demonstration by Pam Carroll, sketch and gesso
Day One: After setting up the still life (at left), I carefully sketch on triple-gessoed and sanded hardboard panel. Then I block in the back and foreground with a palette of titanium white, yellow ochre, cadmium orange, phthalo blue, burnt sienna and burnt umber, using large flat and fan brushes (above). The only mediums I use are Liquin and Eco-House citrus thinner for cleaning my brushes.

free oil still life painting demonstration by Pam Carroll, glazing
Day Two: I decide if I need any adjustments in the composition and tighten up the back and foreground with another glazing of color. At this time, I decide tot make the background more interesting by including filtered sunlight and a shadow behind the plant. I use both natural and artificial light when painting. When the weather is overcast (and my studio, dark), artificial lighting is a must.

free oil still life painting demonstration by Pam Carroll, color
Day Three: I add some more colors (chromium oxide, permanent red medium, permanent rose, cobalt blue, sap green and lamp black) to my palette, then paint all the objects, making sure to show values and shadows. When needed, I use easy-release tape to create sharp lines. At this stage, I’m never without my mahlstick to steady my hand. Besides using a 1/2-inch flat and several fan brushes to blend, I’m now using a smaller soft round for detail. As I look at my composition, I feel it could use a small scrap of paper to break up the space between the book and the wood box it’s resting on.

free oil still life painting demonstration by Pam Carroll, glazing and highlights
Day Four: I start by glazing with appropriate colors, painting the plant and pear first, as they’re perishable. Then I work on the rest of the items, using a spotlight to show where the highlights should be applied. It’s always rewarding at this time to see the still life come alive with the addition of highlights. I also use several of my older small round brushes to blend areas too confined for larger fan brushes.

free oil still life painting demonstration by Pam Carroll, details
Days Five and Six: I complete the painting Well-Read (oil, 14×11) by adding more details and glazing all the objects, especially the wood box. Next I paint the title on the book’s spine and finish by adding the suggestion of filtered light in the background. I let the painting dry completely, then give it a thin coat of Liquin, which protects the painting and enhances the colors.

Click here to get your digital version of the full article featuring Pam Carroll and her oil painting techniques in The Artist’s Magazine (January/February 2008).

Born and reared in Southern California, Pam Carroll is a member of the Carmel Arts Association. She’s had several one-person shows and was awarded “People’s Choice” in the Monterey Museum of Art’s 2005 juried biennial show. Primarily a self-taught painter inspired by early Dutch masters, she took a 16-year break from painting to focus on family. Her work is now represented by three galleries: J. Howell Fine Art, Hauk Fine Arts (both in California) and Klaudia Marr Gallery (Santa Fe). When first lady Laura Bush obtained one of the children’s books she illustrated for Sleeping Bear Press, Carroll was asked to illustrate the 2006 White House Christmas Program. That same year, she made her first TV appearance on the Home and Garden Network’s Annual White House Christmas Tour.



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