Oil Painting Steps for Still Life

The genre of still-life paintings created by the Dutch of the 16th & 17th centuries utilized allegorical symbolism which is continued by today's artists who still represent popular objects that spark meaningful memories that define our era. 

Still life set up for painting, Tipping Point.

PHOTO of still life. 'Tipping Point ~ Taurus & Tin'

2020 shocked the world and shut down our economy. Most of us are closed up in our homes with fear of seeing a person face to face with the imminent death of the elusive spread of COVID 19.  Mental health and well-being came to everyone's reality and we all had to find a way to get up in the morning. Creative activities from my experience in life have always been my go-to for uplifting mental health and mindfulness. 

Minaz in her art studio.

My healing room sanctuary, the art studio!

To soothe my mind, I turned to art-making as it always takes me away from the stressful tick-tock world. I walk into my healing room and leave the world behind. 

During this 2020 chaos, I decide to paint a few objects displayed on my studio window sills to create an allegorical symbolic still life in oil paint.

Art Studio View

Display of objects on the studio window.

The allegorical symbolism and their meanings for this painting, 
'Tipping Point ~ Taurus & Tin':

  • Tin Can = preservation of ideas, methods & beliefs.
Tin food has a longer shelf life (established beliefs and methods) where fresh foods (new ideas) decay unless there is a plan in place to preserve them.
  • Taurus = Strength & Power
The Taurus Bull settles the dispute by goring or butting the necessary issues that are at a tipping point, an evolution... out of the dark into light.
  • Seashell = logic & reason
Nature demands balance and fills the void. Nothing is random, everything has a purpose.
  • Building Blocks = mankind's purpose & contribution
Humans have natural creative intentions to serve or to destroy individuality and the environment we build.
  • Red block = Primal life forces
  • Blue block = Peace & revelation

Oil painting studies & still life for Tipping Point.

  • Holbein Cadmium Yellow
  • *JM Paillard Louvre Raw Sienna (Historical paint from France)
  • *JM Paillard Louvre Madder Lake (red)
  • Grumbacher Pretested Azo Red (no longer available)
  • *JM Paillard Louvre Cobalt Blue
  • Later added Holbein Prussian Blue
  • Later added Gamblin Chromatic Black
  • Holbein Burnt Umber
  • Winsor & Newton Titanium White

* A box of old oil paints was purchased by my sister at an auction and she gave them to me to use. They were smeared with a leaking tube of paint so was hard to read the labels. Turns out some of paints where created by  JM Paillard Louvre brand (Jaques Michel Paillard, born in France 1808) manufactured in Paris 1800s and continued to be produced into the 1960s. JM Paillard is the brand of oil paints Vincent Van Gogh used for his oil painting.


Black & White photo of still life set-up.

Photo in Black & White for value study.

 The oil painting preparation in steps:

STEP #1: planning & preparation.
 I choose a selection of oil paints and do oil painting notes for study. 

Years ago I bought at a clearance store a big box of thick & shiny surfaced printer paper. I found out that I can practice oil paint mixes right onto the surface of the paper without it soaking through the other side. I keep my oil paint notes, labeling all the colors, and the painting's title for references later. I hole-punch the notes when dried and put them into the palette sample binder. 

I love to spend time making these preliminary studies and mixing paint as it is fun to explore color mixtures and allows more time to SNEAK up on the painting with some sense of direction.

Palette mixing and value study.

I do use throw-away palette paper but rather use glass as I like how the paint moves around on the surface. I found a piece of glass from an old framed painting and it's the right size for a small palette. I placed a sheet of grey mid-value paper on the back of the glass to assist me in judging the saturation and values of my colors. I took good ole ducktape to stick the paper and to protect the sharp edges. Glass palette is easily cleaned up with paint thinner & a paper towel. Even if the oil paint has dried, take a large palette knife to scrape off what you can then dribble a bit of thinner over the areas and leave it for 30 minutes. Come back with a palette knife and paper towel to be back to a clean palette.

* I use old phone books to wipe my brushes while painting to save on paper towels.

Drawing with guidelines for painting.

STEP #2: Preparation of the drawing.

For preparation drawings, I use drawing paper the same size as the painting surface and then use the basic guidelines to draw the placement of the objects. The tools for this are a ruler, pencil, and an eraser. Once I get the basic shapes figured out the way I want them, then it is time to do the tracing onto the gesso-prepared 11"x14" canvas.

Vine charcoal for tracing drawing onto canvas.

Sample of vine charcoal tracing on canvas.

STEP #3: Preparation tracing drawing onto the canvas.

I do use tracing paper occasionally but find using vine charcoal rubbed to the back of the finished drawing to be a quick cheaper effective way to transfer the drawing without leaving permanent marks on the painting surface. The store-bought tracing paper has wax to it and is not always suitable for removing it from painting surfaces. The vine charcoal tracing lines will be mixed in with the paint so as never to see the drawing lines nor will it shine through the layers of paint. I use a colored pencil for tracing the drawing so I can keep track of what I traced.  The vine charcoal on the back of the tracing is leaving lines of the drawing on my canvas.

Under painting thin wash for blocking in painting.

The painting process in steps:

STEP #1: Underpainting and Blocking-in.
I want to get rid of the white canvas right away so I like to thinly paint in shapes called blocking-in. I use a mop-style brush to fan over lightly to smooth out any hard edges of oil paint. I let this dry overnight and it will keep my basic drawing intact.

STEP #2: Defining shapes into color blocks.
STEP #2: Defining shapes into color blocks.
I had thought to put the wrinkles on the backdrop sheet but in the final step, I decided the wrinkles were distracting and wanted to go warmer color to complement the shimmer of the blue-ish bull and tin can.

STEP #3: Defining the tin can with reflections and silver surfaces.
STEP #3: Defining the tin can with reflections and silver surfaces.
Using purples mixed with red and blue, I paint the bull's reflection rippled onto the tin's textured surface. I add some yellow reflections onto the tin picking up the yellow ground.

STEP #4: Defining the bull's colors & cardboard texture.

STEP #4: Defining the bull's colors & cardboard texture.
I mixed the Prussian Blue with Cobalt Blue to get a dark value. 
I wanted to enhance the vertical lines of the cardboard and added mixed yellow highlights in stripes.

STEP #5: Adding reflective light values on bull's shiny surface.

STEP #5: Adding reflective light values on the bull's shiny surface.
To define the bull's ceramic body and to highlight the light reflecting off the bull I added the light details. The shadow under the bull is darkened with mixed purple scrubbed dry over the yellow cardboard ground.

STEP #6:  Defining the shell.

STEP #6:  Defining the shell.
 I used a mix of yellow ochre, raw sienna, and cadmium yellow mixed with titanium white and grey purple for shadow.

STEP #7: The building blocks & the bull's reflections & highlights.

STEP #7: The building blocks & the bull's reflections & highlights.
Another layer of color values to adjust the dimensional quality of blocks and to define more of the tops. I added a shadow on blocks from the shell. 

The bull was detailed a bit more with HIGHLIGHTS & more reflections and added a hint of Chromatic Black into the mix of blues for a slightly darker value. I really am hooked with the new Chromatic Black as it is transparent black so doesn't obliviate the original color still keeping the blue hue intact. 

I add a bit more color and values into the shell for creating texture and depth.

STEP #8: Tin can's reflections & block's top.

STEP #8: Tin can's reflections & block's top.
What a fun challenge to create the texture of the ripples on the tin while also capturing reflections of the room and bull.  I had to keep my values focused on abstract colorful shapes. 

Back to the tops of the blocks tightening up the details and glazing some reflection of the colored blocks onto the shell. 

I am still unsure about the backdrop triangle as I am finding it distracting and decided to change it completely in the end.

Step FINAL: Background & ground shadows.
Step FINAL: Background & ground shadows.
The background is changed to a warm yellow which makes highlights POP-Off the blue bull's reflective qualities and vibrates the tin can's edges. 

Scrubbed in some dark yellow mix to create more drama with the ground shadows. 

Tipping Point Taurus & Tin (oil) by Minaz Jantz

Tipping Point Taurus & Tin (oil on canvas) 11"x14"

I enjoyed the painting process and learned from the new challenges this painting presented. I look forward to setting up other still-life objects. 

Wish everyone an insightful outcome with 2020's self-isolating era and may you find your creative healing that brings joy and peace.

Art Inspired Healing, Minaz

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