Painting a Realistic Apple

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Setting Up an Apple for a Painting

Studio Setup for Painting an Apple
The apple was set up on a table to the right of my easel. Photo ©2010 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to, Inc.

An apple is an excellent subject for a painting whether you're a beginner or more experienced painter. The famous modern artist Cézanne painted many an apple. As a beginner, it gives you good practice in painting a realistic subject that's a step on from painting a sphere. For an experienced artist the challenge lies in the composition, deciding how to position it and arranging the light to produce an interesting result.

When setting up a still life for a painting, you want to position the subject (in this case the apple) and your easel so you can see both without turning your head much. The photo shows how I'd set things up for my painting. I was standing in front of the easel and set the apple on top of a table, painting with the brush in my left hand.

To lift the apple higher, so I wasn't looking down on it quite so much, I propped it up on a box. The apple is sitting on colored paper I'd selected as my foreground and background colors.

The key to painting a realistic apple is knowing how to use tone so it looks three-dimensional, rather than like a flat circle. Go from circle to sphere to apple...

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From a Circle to a Sphere to an Apple

From circle to sphere to apple painting
From circle to sphere to apple... Photo ©2010 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to, Inc.

Painting an apple so it looks three dimensional relies on the same 'trick' that it takes to paint a sphere rather than a circle. After all, what is an apple but a slightly indented sphere with a stem at the top?

Painting a realistic apple is mostly a question of getting the tones right. Once you've got those right, you can then focus on getting the color right, the shape of that particular apple, and its shadow.

But first, let's select colors for the background...

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Selecting a Background Color

I decided to use red for the foreground, given my apple was green. Red and green being complementary colors. For the background, I wanted something that was darker and less intense in color.

I decided on a blue, because I knew I'd be using blue to mix the greens for my apple. The blue could serve as a mother color. In photo 1 you can see various shades of blue paper I tried, and in photo 2 the one I ultimately selected.

If you're wondering why the apple has two shadows, it's because I was working in a shared studio with multiple spotlights. In such circumstances, all you can do is to decide which shadow you're going to include in your painting and try to ignore the other.

So now let's start painting the background...

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Painting the Foreground and Background

Apple Painting Background
Photo ©2010 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to, Inc.

Using cadmium red, I started painting the foreground (photo 1). While the paint was still wet, I added a little Prussian blue into the red at the bottom, mixing it on the painting (photo 2).

The background was going to be painted in a chromatic black mixed from the cadmium red and Prussian blue. Because I didn't want to risk this running into the foreground, I turned the sheet of paper upside down on my easel (photo 3). I then mixed the red and blue together on the painting, using some water to help blend the two colors. The result (photo 4) is a background that looks black from a distance, but up close reveals subtle variations in color and direction of brushwork.

Now the background's done, let's paint the apple...

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Painting the Apple

Painting a Green Apple
Once the background had dried, I painted the apple using a palette knife. Photo ©2010 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to, Inc.

I left the background/foreground to dry thoroughly before starting to paint the apple. I wanted to be sure that the colors for the apple wouldn't mix with the background as I painted. Also to be able to take a wet cloth and remove any of the apple should it go wrong. Being acrylic paint, it wasn't a very long wait, especially as I was working on paper rather than canvas.

I used a painting knife rather than a brush to paint the apple so it would have more texture. I partly mixed the greens on my palette, and partly on the painting itself. Scraping across the not-quite-mixed paint with the knife gives a greater variation in color than using totally mixed paint.

I first loosely set down the size of the apple (photo 1), then added more and more color, as well as tonal variation (photos 2 to 4). Once I had the overall shape of the apple painted to my satisfaction, I added the stem and the shadow.

Take a look at my final three apple paintings...

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My Final Three Apple Paintings

Three apple paintings by Marion Boddy-Evans
If at first you don't succeed to your satisfaction, try again. And again. Photo ©2010 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to, Inc.

This photo shows my final three apple paintings, all painted on the same afternoon. The small one in the middle was the first I did, then the one on the left, and finally the one on the right.

Each is similar, but different, and the third one definitely benefits from the practice I got from creating the other two. The foreground has more variation in tone in it, a suggestion of a table cloth falling off the edge of a table. The range of tones on the apple is greater; the darkest done is darker and the lightest tone is lighter. The apple is also positioned a bit further in from the edge, giving more space for a frame. (The painting being on card, it would want to be framed under glass for display.)

Notice how the black/red of the background/foreground aren't quite equal. How the red is a little way below the half-way point of the composition. How there's more red below the bottom of the apple than there is black above the top of the apple. These all subtly counter-act the danger of the a fried-egg composition.

All three paintings were done in Winsor & Newton Galeria, with cadmium red, cadmium yellow, Prussian blue, cerulean blue, raw umber, and titanium white. The smaller blue bottle you can see in the photo on page one is for spraying a fine mist of water over the acrylics to slow drying.