Saturday, 22 January 2011

What Art Techniques can I use to Paint Textures in Still Life?

Diverse textures on a still life, which may feature furry toys, smooth brass, crumbly bread or delicate rose petals, may confound the artist wishing to capture all these qualities on canvas. Oils being versatile may also seem bewildering to the beginner who is unsure of which application to use for optimum results. What are the main oil painting techniques to suggest any texture in a still life?

Oil Painting Techniques for Still Life

Textures in Still Life
Rachel Shirley
Because oils have been around for hundreds of years, many artists have conceived novel and wonderful ways of using oil to serve a particular effect. The beginner would be forgiven for thinking that oils are complex and require several processes. In reality, oil paints can be simple or it can be applied in more complex ways. The following describe the main oil painting techniques that can be used to suggest different textures in a still life.

Oil Painting Techniques to Suggest Smooth Textures

Smooth objects, including waxy fruit, porcelain, plastic toys or stoneware can be suggested by the application of a series of oil paint washes, otherwise known as glazing. Glazing is a widely-used technique, most notably perfected by the old masters who wished to attain a high finish with deep colours. Applying paint in a series of translucent layers via a soft sable enables the artist to smooth over imperfections and modify the colour beneath. Each layer is applied as though it will be its last, i.e. as perfect as possible, and then allowed to dry. The overlying glaze works with the last to achieve an ever smoother finish. I find three glazes often suffice.

Blending with Oil Paint

Achieving smooth gradations between two colours or tones can be achieved by soft blending via a sable. Wipe surplus paint from the bristles each time the area is worked over. Smooth tonal transitions can also be achieved by gently smudging the oil paint via a soft cloth. If combined with glazing, ultra smooth finishes, akin to an airbrushed effect can be achieved for ceramics or china.

Oil Painting Techniques for Fur

A furry teddy bear or velvety fabric can be suggested in similar way to glazing. Begin by blocking in the oil paint in a generalized way, simplifying the furry object into basic areas of colour and tone. Allow to dry and then apply the paint on top with a fine sable, moving the paint in the direction of the fur. Work towards the highlights, keeping each brushstroke soft. Finish off with the darkest areas, soft blending any harsh lines. Dragging the paint in a neat layer offers an effect similar to a crayon.

Techniques for Shiny Surfaces

Metallic reflections on silverware, glassware or brass can be emulated if oil paint is mixed with a little linseed. Runny paint applied onto a wet glaze will give the paint added fluidity, which may encourage “happy accidents,” ideal for the smudgy quality of distorted reflections found on glass or silver.

Technique for Painting Bread

A crusty loaf, crumbly cheese, orange peel or splintered wood can be suggested by scumbling. Scumbling involves dragging a thin, neat paint layer over a rough under-glaze of dried impasto (a thick, uneven paint layer) or coarse canvas. A broken glaze will result, ideal for suggesting rough textures and rustic effects.

Techniques for Jagged Edges

The Complete Oil Painter: The Essential Reference for Beginners to ProfessionalsImpasto can be used to emulate tough evergreen leaves of potted indoor plants or cacti. Impasto involves applying the oil paint in a thick layer via a stiff brush, leaving brush marks and ridges. Impasto can also be used to inject movement and energy into any area of the still life, even if it is an empty portion of background. Ladling the paint via a palette knife will leave crisp edges to the paint, ideal for suggesting broken vases or embossed jewellery.

Simple Technique for Still Life Art

Of course, the artist may opt for simple alla prima, which is the application of one layer of paint and in one go. Alla prima is ideal for quick oil sketches comprising of a simple study, which might be a single fruit or bowel. I have often completed a still life painting in alla prima with the use of just two brushes, three colours, a small canvas and no mediums except artist spirits. For this reason, alla prima is perhaps the ideal technique for the beginner.

Relevant Links to Still Life Painting

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