Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Watercolor Still Life--how I painted "Mugs and Mums"

As promised, here are the step-by-step photos taken during the painting of Mugs and Mums.  This was a scene I photographed at a cute little cafe that had just opened in Venice, Florida, called the Blu Island Bistro.  The morning sun was streaming into the glass-cased sunroom, where little bouquets of fresh flowers in square vases were positioned on each table.  We had a wonderful breakfast there and I highly recommend the place!

Step 1.  I have been getting lazy about drawing lately, so I created a black & white "template" of the photo by printing it out lightly on plain copy paper.  I then traced this using Saral graphite transfer paper onto a quarter sheet of stretched 140 lb Arches cold-pressed paper.  I feel that if you know you can draw accurately, you do not have to prove it each time you want to paint!  On the other hand, drawing by hand might result in a picture with more character, and I would never discourage it.

Step 2.  Next I put masking fluid (Daler Rownery) on the flowers because the spider mum was going to be difficult to paint around.  Also I did a light background wash using quinacridone gold to represent the sunlit areas of the table.  I splattered some water on the wet wash to variegate it with backruns.  I began to paint in the bottom of the square glass vase.

Step 3.  Now I had fun painting the mugs.  I used cerulean blue to get a little granulation going, plus cobalt blue and quinacridone gold.  I splattered a little paint on the picture with my brush.

Step 4.   Here I started suggesting the streaks of sunlight.  So important to get enough value contrast!

Step 5.  To get the flowers to really stand out, I knew I had to get dark enough in the background.  I wanted the big shadow (from the windowsill) to have a soft edge, because it is being cast from farther away (check the original photo above).  I painted in the napkin roll on the left, and suggested the one on top with purple, but took this out later.  Again, I purposely used backruns to create interest in this shadow area.

Step 6.  Now I started painting in the mums.  For the white mums. I used some purplish, yellowish shadows, while for the green spider mum, I just mixed a bright green and filled in the spaces.  Here are all the colors I used in this painting:  Winsor & Newton cerulean blue, cobalt blue medium, permanent violet, quinacridone gold, Hansa yellow by Da Vinci (an arylide yellow), and peacock blue by Holbein (a thalo blue).

Step 7.  I added the tea or coffee (whichever you  prefer) using quin gold.  Also added the flower centers with a mixture of dark colors.  I went back into the mugs and tried to suggest a more glossy surface by glazing with some hard edges (glossy surfaces have more hard edges reflected, while matte surfaces have soft internal edges).  I also painted the rest of the windowsill shadow on the top side, plus suggested the edge of the table with a strong dark.  While the big wash was wet, I spattered the picture with some cerulean blue.  I love to do that!  This is as far as I have gotten.  I am thinking of adding a tea bag or a spoon in the upper left, sort of hidden behind the blue mug. 
Susan Avis Murphy, AWS     Mugs and Mums     9x13"
  Self-critique:  This came out pretty well by my standards--not too tight and not too loose.  The mug in the background actually looks more like a water glass, and I might make it into one by making it look more transparent.  The jagged negative space in the lower right bothers me, and I might put another streak of shadow coming across it.  Also I think the picture really could use one more prop, like a tea bag or spoon, or maybe a sugar packet.  What is your opinion?  Please tell me on the blog!  Are you having any trouble with your painting?  Let me know on the blog and we can discuss it.

Sue,  ARThouse Studio School,  February 28, 2012


  1. Susan, I think this painting is terrific! So direct and not fussed over...and the colors are vibrant!

  2. I agree with Mimi. I also feel privileged that I got to watch you paint it:)

    I've painted two pictures from the same still life photo this week. The second one, hoping I could loosen up...I didn't! I think it takes more experience with the paint brush than I have and a better knowledge of color. I'm not giving up, just trying to figure out why it's so hard:)

  3. Thanks you guys! I can't wait to do more of the little scenes from Blu' Island. Just for fun I posted my paintings on their Facebook page, at http://www.facebook.com/BLUISLAND.