Thursday, 20 January 2011

How do I Darken the Colour of Tomatoes?

The bright colours of vegetables and fruit in a still life may sometimes appear garish when rendered in paint. Any red at the artist’s disposal might have been used to portray tomatoes, peppers or pomegranates and then neatly applied in the fashion of colour-by-numbers. Darkening such a bright colour may cause further dissatisfaction when dirty colours result. How can the artist recreate bright-coloured food in still life with deep colours and intense shadows?

Garish Colours in Fruit

Still Life with Fruit
Rachel Shirley
Portraying bright fruit in painting may prove difficult if the artist has poor understanding of the colour theory, ruining what could be a great focal point to a still life. Before improvements can be made, the following culprits need to be identified, which could be any of the following:

A poor selection of oil pigments, which do not contain the true primary colours means the colour needed for a still life cannot be mixed. Using any red pigment for red fruit, or any yellow for bananas may result in colour mixes that do not quite hit the mark.

Using one pigment for the entire fruit or vegetable concerned may result in flat looking perishables in the still life, that do not appear to inhabit three-dimensional space.

Applying bright-coloured oil paint alla prima, or in one layer can sometimes result in colours that lack saturation or depth. The effect can be made worse if applying paint in a thin layer, which will reveal the whiteness of the painting surface beneath.

Trying to darken a bright colour with black or dark grey for shadows often results in dingy colours that make the fruit look dirty rather than obliquely-lit. If poorly blended, crescent moon shadows appear to inhabit spheroid food such as apples.

How to Darken Bright Colours for Shadows

Darkening bright colours is a common problem for beginners getting to grips with colour mixing. Rather than use black, dark grey or brown for shadows, use the colour’s opposing colour. In the case of red food such as tomatoes, cherries or strawberries, this will be any colour that lies in the blue spectrum or any colour containing blue. Depending upon the lighting conditions and reflections, this might be violet, Prussian blue, ultramarine, midnight blue, or a “cool” earth colour such as burnt umber.

In the case of yellow food, such as bananas and sweet-corn, any color in the violet spectrum would be suitable, which might be indigo, violet or a blend of ultramarine and burnt sienna.

Bluish-green foods such as cucumbers and spinach can be darkened with warm reds, oranges or earth colours, which may be cadmium red, vermillion or burnt sienna. Yellowish-green foods such as green grapes and peas require cooler-deeper reds, such as permanent rose or alizarin crimson.

How to Paint the Colour of Food

How to Paint Like the Old MastersIn fact, “bright” food can contain a lot of subdued colours, without which the food would not appear so deep. Tomatoes often contain burnt umber, cucumbers, a lot of blue and cherries may contain burnt sienna. Shadows on food will often contain a lot of blues, neutrals and earth colours as well as red or yellow.

Exploit the bright colours of food by placing them against a somber or deeply-shadowed background. An obliquely-lit pepper cannot fail to draw the eye when set against dark blue curtains. Bright colours will further draw the eye if not too many are used throughout the painting. Intersperse bright fruit within a dark setting or one that contains subtle colours.

Light on Still Life with Fruit

Experiment with lighting on bright fruit. Rather than place the light source in front, try the side. Lowering the light source will cause shadows to stretch out across the work surface creating the ideal stage for bright colours. When it comes to effective use of bright colours in a painting, less is often more.

Working in glazes is a good way of enriching the colours in a still life with fruit and vegetables. Glazing entails the application of a translucent layer of oil paint over an under-glaze completed alla prima. Placing a thin layer of red oil paint over a preliminary painting of tomatoes for example reinforces the red colour, adds depth or modifies the colour beneath. Remember to keep observing the colour of fruit and vegetables to dispel any inaccurate presumptions. Colour tags for food are best avoided when it comes to mixing the colour of such perishables sensitively.

Relevant Links on Painting Fruit

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