Painting still life is so much easier then painting people. I’ve never heard of an apple complaining: “Oh no! You’ve made me look fat in that picture!” or banana saying: “I don’t look THAT yellow, do I?” Milk jars and vases can stay motionless for hours, even days if you ask them nicely. And people? You position and position and then after only five hours they start whining: “I am tired! I need to go to the restroom!” No wonder many artists prefer painting still life.
Paul Cezanne, for example, made about 200 still life paintings. He also painted people but it was a little difficult for him to find the models because it sometimes took 100 working sessions to complete a portrait. Besides he was a well known drama queen. Once when he was working on a portrait of his friend’s wife, she moved just a little bit and Cezanne completely lost it. He cut the canvas with a knife, broke the brushes and threw the paints across the room. Uh, I bet it was fun to watch! He finished it later, nevertheless.
Cezanne could afford to work at his own speed as he was born rich and never had to work to make ends meet. His father gave him money so he could paint and not be a starving artist. He first wanted for his son to become a lawyer (who’s parents don’t?) but was pretty happy how things turned out after he saw how respected his son was for what he did with passion.
And Cezanne was respected for sure. Picasso and Matisse called him “the father of us all” and that meant something. The reason for that was probably because Cezanne became kind of like a bridge between the old way of painting and the new. He wanted to make simple yet beautiful paintings and applied oils with small brushstrokes to create clear forms: cylinders, spheres and cubes. Hence cubism was born giving us more talented artists and their amazing crazy one eyed portraits with square heads.
Cubism is a style of art. When the world started to change with new technologies, artists found a way to reflect it with cubism abandoning perspective and blending background and foreground. It was a new way to show a subject with as many as possible angles and it was not meant to be realistic.
Once a person, especially an artist, becomes famous, his creative life gets devided into periods by scholars who know a thing or two about him. Normal people usually have four: playground, school, work and Florida. Cezanne, this mighty artist, also had only four:
- Dark Period, when he used dark colors. Dah!
- Impressionist Period, when he started exhibiting but was still considered weird.
- Mature Period. A few things happened during that time. Cezanne and his best friend from childhood writer Emile Zola became enemies. Zola wrote a book where the main character suspiciously resembled someone. Cezanne got married. His father died leaving him a small fortune.
- Final Period. Cezanne worked a lot. I mean really a lot. He painted landscapes even when the weather was bad. One day he got sick in the rain and never recovered. His latest works, though, were strikingly wonderful and inspired other artists to create and experiment.
This class we decided to experiment, too. Despite the fact that painting from life is the hardest, I set up a bowl of fruit and a vase in order to challenge my students.
For these paintings we used:
- acrylic paints. I ‘ve got mine here.
- brushes. Standard acrylic brushes are perfect. I still love the ones from IKEA.
- canvas paper. This one is good quality and pretty sturdy.
- artificial fruit for staging. I bought mine in Michels. They looked good enough to eat.
It could take a little longer then an hour. Younger children unexpectedly had no problem rendering the image, but older kids had some struggles. If a child is working on a sketch too much, just show on another piece of paper how you might have done it.
Inevitably the sketch will come first. Your task is to emphasize where the highlights and shadows will be. For the object not to look flat, the middle will be a little (or a lot with highlights) lighter. Adding blue to the color you work with will let you define a shadow. Do not forget to stress that a vase or a bowl do not have straight bottoms and tops but rather curved ones.
Background comes after the sketch is done.
NB: Its tempting to draw every grape separately but point out that grapes can be painted as a whole, adding shadows and highlights will separate them into little round balloons on the vine.
My students truly surpassed my expectations.
I woke up the next day and rushed to the studio to see the works again. When the kids create something like this, it simply makes me happy. Now I even turn on the French Jazz music to feel the excitement again because we listened to it during a class.
Have a great class!