The secret gallery’s blog

Maybe the first secret gallery in Doolin, Co. Clare, Ireland

Why I don’t want to teach James how to paint an orange or do I!

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James has wanted me to teach him how to paint an orange, for about 4 years! We both painted a bowl of oranges almost 4 years ago and have not attempted the lesson since! Thinking about it now, maybe I will try it again one day! Though the idea has felt really uninspiring until now. I am sure there is a very good reason why he wants me to teach him how to paint an orange! The idea of a once off lesson in orange painting feels terribly isolated and dislocated! I find the idea of teaching someone solely one aspect of art very strange. Though strange may not be necessarily bad! Maybe if there is to be a lesson, it would go something like:

I would say it is a good idea to have several studies of the orange or even oranges on the go so you can be really free and experimental on other pieces first and learn from what happens with these, this will filter into the main painting of the orange even if you don’t realize it. Sometimes it can be good to take a break from detailed life-like study to free up a bit and energize yourself and be a bit bolder! Draw the orange, even look at it through a magnifying glass! 

Take an orange, hold it, look at it from all sides. Preferably take another orange and peel it, smell it, then eat some of it. Get your paints and a pallet and turpentine or white spirits or water, depending on what sort of paint you are using, some rags and something to paint on: paper, board, canvas or something else that you wish to paint on. An orange may be orange but you will still need to all the colours on the pallet. I have hardly ever bought a tube of orange paint, maybe never! Place the orange where you would like to paint it. The lighting, surface beneath it, distance you are from it, the angle you see it from, whether you would like to paint it complete or partly peeled, partly eaten or in stages of being devoured all need to be thought about and decided on.

Some tips for painting from life are:

Don’t use colour directly out of the tube, it will never or almost never be exactly the same.

To lighten a colour don’t just add white unless you want it to look chalky, you can add a little yellow into the white, to avoid chalkiness

Keep your brushes clean when using another colour to stop the paint getting muddy looking

Avoid mixing up to many different colours to make a colour; if they are very different colours it can turn to sludge!

Be obsessive be a perfectionist and give it love!

Then look at the orange, squint your eyes to see where the light is and the darker shades are. A light outline drawing of the orange and how it sits on the surface, are a good starting point. Then start trying to get some of the various shades of orange mixed on the pallet. Start trying to create the feeling of the 3 dimensional object, this is a lot to do with how the light falls on the shape. This involves a lot of looking and squinting, applying some paint then looking and squinting some more! Depending on which kind of paint you are using you can keep working, building up the layers of colour to create something that strongly resembles the orange!

Ask yourself questions like: does it feel like an orange, does it feel and look like the actual orange that you were painting, every orange is different! does it feel like it is actually sitting on the table and that it is a solid object? Does it look like you would like to eat it!? What can you do to make it better? Is the texture orange-like? I still am not sure if I am up to the orange challenge! I would like to one day work out a way to do it where James gets to paint the orange that he has wanted to paint for a long time and feels that he has learnt something more about painting, that he can apply to painting anything. I have seen some of James early paintings and they are really good; he has a very natural sense of colour and composition, I guess James would like to be able to paint what he sees and the ideas he has in his head: not to be held back by this technical side. I remember painting oranges years ago and loving the oranges in Cézannes paintings.        

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Written by Marianne Slevin

27 September, 2008 at 11:23 pm

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