'I'm always looking for the Hows and the Whys and the Whats,' said Muskrat, 'That is why I speak as I do. You've heard of Muskrat's Much-in-Little, of course?'
'No,' said the child. 'What is it?'
- The Mouse and his Child. Russell Hoban.

Go here to find out more.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Painting Cherries

It's a tradition, although there is often no obligation, that when an artist is given the opportunity to have a Residency, they leave a painting as a gift to the host that made the residency possible.

With one weekend to go, and my other work having progressed very satisfactorily*, I turned my mind to a suitable subject.  Should I paint a scene from the farm?  An Alpaca?  The Highland cattle?  I looked at the table in front of me... one mug of roibos tea, cold.  A plate with crumbs from lunch.  Salt and pepper ... a plastic pack of cherries.  Hmmmm.

I called for volunteers.

I selected three suitable candidates.  Two were very dark, one redder.  They had good stalks, evenly curved, albeit rather dried-up.  I tried them in a variety of arrangements, and finally settled on one that was interesting, but also had interesting negative spaces - the shapes between the stalks.  

It's going to be a watercolour painting.

Working on 300gsm paper, I carefully and lightly penciled the shapes of the cherries and their stems.  
I made them slightly larger than life size. 

I find it's best to do the lines very lightly first and when I am happy with the position of a line, I do it again slightly darker.  I hardly ever erase.  If I use an eraser it can scuff up the paper surface and then when I lay down the paint, it doesn't go on evenly.  Also, even if I erase the marks, pencil lines can dent the paper, and paint can accumulate darker in the dents (although sometimes this is useful). 

I took my time and looked hard at the colours I could see in the cherries.  The front one was pinker, the back ones a deep, deep maroon, almost black.  I know from experience that purple (blue and pink) with a little orange, will make that plummy maroon.  (If you add too much orange or yellow it goes to the brown).

I very rarely use black.  I find it 'deadens' paintings.  

The patches of gloss are best achieved by allowing white paper to remain.  I have to be careful not to paint over them.  The pink pigment especially, stains the paper and won't come off.

Here was my palette:

 I painted each cherry separately in the pink, then added the orange, then the blue.  

Whoops, forgot to photograph
the stages of the first cherry.

I spent a lot of time looking at the real fruit.

Orange is laid over the pink on both the front cherries

Blue laid over the right cherry.
Have to come back to that one, it's still too pale. 

 The paint must dry completely between layers.  Even when dry, very light brush strokes are still required to avoid 'picking up' the layer underneath.

There, another layer of blue on the right hand cherry.

A layer of blue on the front cherry.
 I must remember that I don't want to go as dark with this one.
More blue on the front cherry.
Putting thin layers of pigment on top of each other keeps the colours bright, and also keeps the control.

Adding a shadow suddenly brings the fruit off the page.
 The stems were each given a dark and a lit side, and some specks of  red/orange/blue mixed (with lots of orange this time to make brown) were dropped onto the ends.

A few tiny specks of blue at the base of each stem anchored them into each cherry.  Shadows are very important to give the illusion of 3D.

More orange and more red brightened up the surface of the blue, without mixing unto it.

I exaggerated the front cherry's redness, to contrast with the others.  Artist's license.

Each cherry reflected onto its neighbour, darkly.
The pale of the table reflected up onto the cherries as a paler stripe.
And below that, the shadow reflected up too, as a dark stripe.

More shadow and careful touches of almost full-strength
prussian blue makes the dark reflections look rich and glossy.

I also spent some time with a tiny brush
 'washing' off colour that had crept onto the white sky patches.


Almost good enough to eat.

The end.

* The commission is a surprise present so I can't divulge it here yet. 


  1. Paint along with Katherine

    Wonderful! X

  2. Oh I love that you included us in the whole process! I love to watch artists at work, and this is the next best thing. Tons of patience needed it seems..but a beautiful result!

  3. Enjoied very much to se how you work with the cherries, - i am painthing watercolours myself but not as beatyfull as your painthing.

  4. i had no idea painting required so much intense individual internal turmoil and pressure and when teaching it to us{educating} required so many photographs<><>i did know, however that you do eat the cherries at the end of any painting project<><>i used to steal cherris from our neighbor's cherry trees when i was a mere boy, and also at night we would stand on two sides of a street with an invisable wire stretched between our two groups of pop,plpole and pull together when a car came down the street and also have a blank gun{ gun filled with blank ammunition that sounded bad but no pop] and then go off in a group and pretend to fight and one would drop in a heap in the street while the car screeched to a stop and the rest of us would all run<><>are we still talking about france like we did on bob's blog???????or cherries or water coloring

  5. Thank you for the art lesson - bringing your patience, experience and keen eye to bear on three innocent cherries. They would have been lauded by the cherry community if you hadn't gobbled them down! Poor things!

  6. Thanks for your comments everyone.

    Putz. What a reprobate you were!

  7. May I present you with the 'Cherry Painter of the Year' award. Nice job.

  8. Ha. Thank you Cro.

  9. Wow, those are good cherries. I am very impressed with your painting!

    I think I need lessons - fancy a stay in the UK?

  10. Thank you Jay. Ok then, you're on.

    Monica - Thank you!

  11. i am disappointed i din't get some flack from robert abouy my comment discussing pranks, cherrireies streets in america wires gun control here in the wild west and of course france and paris

  12. Well, Putz, you can't win them all.

  13. I admire your talent.

    1. Thank you GB. I think it comes with practice.

  14. Wonderful to see the process. Thanks.

  15. wow, there's ever so much to painting cherries than I would have thought! nicely done. BTW I came here via GB.

  16. Thanks Helsie, and Norma. Welcome to TLVD Norma!