A South African Breakfast – oil painting

I love painting still lives.  When browsing the internet I came across a photo of various foodstuffs and thought that something similar will make a great painting.  I identified a couple of real South African products and my husband and I played around with a couple of options.  We finally settled on the following photo.

Reference photo

Reference photo for still life

I liked the combination of the colours (blue, red, yellow) and decided to make the apple green to create a contrasting colour.  My teacher also suggested that I should include the Marmite reflection in the knife.

I started with the kettle and even in the first layer tried to get the shading right.  It just saves time later when you need to add the details.  The light in the photo is quite yellow, so I used a little Yellow Ochre mixed with white.  The blue is French Ultramarine.  First layer

The apple is Green Oxide with Payne’s Grey for the shadow.  The yellow highlights are Yellow Ochre.Apple done with Green Oxide, Payne's Gray and Yellow Ochre.

After that I did the writing on the Glenryck can and the Joko tin.  I realised that the “J” in Joko wasn’t quite right and had to re-do it.  In hindsight the writing on Glenryck was a bit too thick and I had to make it a bit smaller by painting red over it.  The red I used is Burnt Sienna (for the darker bits) and bright red for the rest of the tin.  The detail was very important e.g. see the thin yellow line around the tomato and the purple underneath the fish.  The fish was done in Payne’s Grey mixed with white and I kept to the shape and shading to make it look as real as possible.Marmite and pilchards

The Joko tin was done in Yellow Ochre and Burnt Umber, with white added to make the highlights.

I really had fun with the Marmite jar!  I used Burnt Umber mixed with a little bit of Ivory Black – just plain black would have been too dark.  The top of the lid is yellow, and the sides I darkened with a little Yellow Ochre.  I outlined the “Marmite” writing in a 0/3 brush with very thin paint.  The yellow sticker was a little darker than the top of the lid (mixed with Yellow Ochre) because it’s in a bit of shadow.  The writing in white was just scribbled – it didn’t make sense to put in all the words exactly, but I think it came out ok.

I struggled a bit to get the colour right for the peanut butter jar.  I started with Yellow Ochre and added bright red to it.  That made it too orange and when I added white, it turned peach.  Not good.  I started again with Yellow Ochre and a little bit of Burnt Sienna and then white and that seemed to have done the trick.  For the shadows, I added Burnt Umber and for the highlights white.  The lid was done in red with Burnt Sienna for the darker bits and I added yellow to the mixture to get the highlights on the side of the lid.  Again, the picture of the cat and the writing was done with a small brush and left to dry before starting the other colours.  The detail (again) was important – notice the yellow shading around the cat logo.  The highlights were done in white, through two layers – the first one the white was worked in while the paint was still wet, and then I put in the super-highlights over it in pure white.Black cat peanut butter bottle

The hilt of the knife was done in grey (white and Ivory Black) and again I tried to capture the shading.  The rest the knife I just covered in light grey and then did the Marmite reflection in the second layer.Knife on toast, with reflection of Marmite jar

The cup of tea was a bit of a challenge.  I had to get the colour right and again struggled when it turned to orange and peach.  In the end I went for Burnt Sienna and Yellow Ochre darkened with Burnt Umber.  I put in the first layer trying to get the shading right.  I then let it dry and the second layer was dry-brushed on top of it.  The secret with painting a see-through object like liquid or glass, is to paint exactly what you see.  That’s the only way to make it look real.

The object I struggled with most, was the bloomin’ Joko tin!  I just couldn’t get the curve of the lid quite right and had to do a lot of re-work to get the shape correct. 

I then focused on adding the details on the Marmite jar and the pilchards, and kept on adding and cleaning up.  Because these are man-made objects, they needed to be absolutely correct. 

When I hung up the painting to dry, my son (6) looked at it and said “Mom, it looks real!”  He couldn’t have given me a better compliment!  :-)

My Green Lady

I grew up in the 70’s, an era known for its kitch and bad taste.  :-)

Tretchikoff’s the Green Lady.

My grandmother was an ardent admirer of the painter Vladimir Tretchikoff.  Several prints hung in her lounge (the Lost Orchid, Pink Lotus and others) but what most intrigued me was a picture book that she had of his work.  This book was an A3 size with full colour photo’s of his most popular paintings, including the ones that he did during his stint in the Orient.  A particular favourite of mine was the Green Lady – probably his most well-known piece.

I found the colours of her skin (green and blue with a touch of red) absolutely fascinating and would stare at the picture for hours.  My grandmother passed away in 2003 and the prints and the book were donated to the old age home where she spent her last years.  I forgot about it until a couple of years ago at a bookclub meeting with my friends.  A friend of mine, Cristelle, was into making  jewellery and brought some pieces to show us.  One of them was a laminated picture of the same Green Lady on a scrabble tile.  I was immediately drawn to it because of the memory of my grandmother but when I turned the tile over and saw that the letter on the back was “L” (the first letter of my name), the deal was clinched!  I bought the piece and it has since become a favourite of mine.

A year or so later I bought a book on the art of Tretchikoff and the full colour photo’s of the green Asian ladies so inspired me that I had to try it out.  But where to find a model?  The opportunity presented itself not long after.  During a training course at work, I spotted a colleague whom I had known for a couple of years and thought she would make the ideal model.  She had the most interesting face with beautiful traces of Asian influences.  An artist cannot be timid, so I boldly asked her if she would mind posing for the photos.  She generously agreed and became the model that I worked from.

First I did a layer using Sap Green, Titanium White and Payne’s Gray.  The latter was used for the shadows because it’s a beautiful dark blue without being too bright.  I didn’t use yellow on the face, preferring white.

At first I wanted to do the face in an impasto style which I did over the first layer.  The veil was done in red, burnt sienna for the shadows and red mixed with white for the highlights.

When I showed the painting to a friend, she commented that the skin was a bit too rough – it looked like the lady had bad skin…  Fortunately the paint was still fairly wet from the previous day and I could blend the skin quite easily.  I must admit that it looked a lot better after that.  I’m quite pleased with the final product.  The background was done in Ivory Black and white and I made it darker towards the bottom.  I put additional white next to the head when the painting was finished, to make it stand out more in contrast.

Some friends said it was a bit “weird” for their taste, but I like it.  At the moment I’m working on a second painting in the series.  Keep checking the blog for updates.

Please leave a comment.  I’m looking forward to your feedback.

Supporting SA’s finest

Completed painting

Being a fledgling artist (!) I have been sharing my painting experiences with friends and colleagues alike over the last year or so.  Great was my pleasure when a colleague asked me to paint two works to hang in the corporate university of one of the biggest breweries in South Africa – SAB.  I was overjoyed that my work will be displayed in a public place for the first time.  Woohoo!

I immediately set out looking for suitable photographs as an inspiration.  I found a couple of great photographs taken for SABMiller (the holding company) by a photographer called (OneRedEye) and obtained permission to use them. This is the original photo for the first of two paintings.

Original photo

I titled the first picture ‘Supporting South Africa’s finest’ – because it shows both our national soccer team’s colour as well as the best-knows beer brand, Castle Lager.  The Soccer World Cup was hosted by South Africa in 2010 and it was a BIG DEAL!  The country really rallied around our soccer team and everyone was in the grip of national patriotism – something that is fairly rare in a country where poverty and crime are two biggest issues.  For a couple of weeks the whole country pulled together towards a common goal, and by all accounts hosted the World Cup in an exemplary way.

I started the painting on a 24 x 30 inch canvas.  The focus points were great – I liked the contrast of the yellow t-shirts to the blue background of the shipping crate, and the man on the right added life to what could otherwise been a very ‘dead’ picture.

I started with the shirts and used Zelcol’s Chrome Oxide green, with shadows done by mixing the green with Payne’s Grey.  The light yellow shirts were done in yellow and white.  To obtain the shadows I added a little bit of Van Dyke Brown and Yellow Ochre.  The dark yellow shirts were done in Yellow Ochre, with the shadows in Van Dyke Brown.  The towel on the right was done in Payne’s Grey. 

T-shirts had 3 layers, all blended well.

After that I put in the background of the blue shipping crate.  I used Zelcol’s Cerulean Blue Hue straight from the tube and put in the shadows.  Then I filled in the rest with Cerulean blue and white.  To create the corrugated iron feel of the crate, I did the shadows on the right with a dark cerulean blue and used a lighter shade of blue contrasting with a white to create the 3-dimensional feel.  The imperfections of the crate like the holes and damage, were important to create an illusion of realism.  The shadows of the shirts and the man was done in Payne’s grey, which made a beautiful dark blue straight out of the tube.  I love Payne’s grey – it is so versatile!

When the background was dry, I made up a very light version of the blue with lots of white and dry brushed over it to make it look like scuffed and flaking paint.  I used pure white on only a couple of the really light areas.  At the bottom of the crate I crated a white edge framed with a darker edge to make it look three dimensional.

The man was done in Van Dyke Brown for the darker bits of skin, Burnt Sienna and flesh.  The red of the sienna give the skin a beautiful warm tone, without it the man would look grey.  The highlights of the skin were done over 3 consecutive layers of paint – I had to wait a couple of days in between for the paint to be touch dry.  His t-shirt was done with a light mix of white and Van Dyke Brown and this, together with a little bit of burnt sienna, was used for the trousers as well.

Man with bottle

The red crate was done with Louvre’s Primary Red straight out of the tube.  It took three thick layers to really cover the canvas because the paint is a bit thinner than the others in the same range.  The white writing had to be done very carefully with a 000 brush, and I used two layers of white.  The shadows on the crate were done with red mixed with a little bit of black and the writing was done in grey.  His shoes were done in black (2 layers), and when it was dry I dry-brushed white over it to create the reflection of light.

Crate with shoe

The face took a lot of time.  I had to ensure that there was more detail on the painting than what showed up on the photo – it had to look real.  I put in more frown lines on his forehead and more detail on his eyes.  The white of the eyes were done in grey so as not to stand out too much.

The ground was done in a combination of Van Dyke Brown and white, with a little bit of black thrown in to create mounds and ‘valleys’.  I created stones (which weren’t on the photo) to make it look more real using Yellow Ochre, Van Dyke Brown and then with black for the shadows.

Grass and rocks

The grass was difficult.  I’m used to painting in a very precise way and the grass had to be very rough.  I used Yellow Ochre, green, Van Dyke Brown and white and the grass took about 30 minutes to get right.  I did a bit less grass than was evident in the photo.  The paint was very thin (with turps) and I went over it with a small line brush (0 and 00) a couple of times.  The key was to ensure that the background of the crate doesn’t show through the grass.

The washing line was done in white, but I added a grey shadow at the bottom of the line.  This made it look deliciously 3-dimensional.  The pegs were also very important and the detail on them had to be exact.  Because the sun is so bright on the photo, it made the shadows stand out quite a lot.  The shadows around the t-shirts, the man’s clothes and the washing line had to be done very darkly to get that effect.

Washing line

What did I learn?: 

  • Look at every detail in the photo and try to get it right.  This will ensure that the painting looks real.
  • Take your time.  It took about 2 months to finish this painting – I spent between 3 and 5 hours a week on it.
  • Keep building up the layers and blend, blend, blend!
  • Keep to the same colours e.g. the same blue and the same yellow.  This creates harmony in the painting.
  • Don’t just copy the photo blindly – add details that would make it look real.

Meet me in Paris

A friend of mine, Cristelle, got married in August 2011 and for their honeymoon they went on an extended trip through Europe.  It really was the trip of a lifetime – there’s no city in Europe worth visiting that they didn’t go to!  And they took in excess of 3,000 photos!  Always looking for new subjects to paint, I asked her to have a look at her photos and send me a couple that would work well for a painting.  She was very excited about the prospect but replied that it’s her husband’s department – she will ask him to sift through and send me a couple of options.

Unfortunately, about two weeks after our conversation, her husband passed away quite suddenly from a heart attack.  It was a great shock to all of us.  After the funeral she asked me to still do the painting because it would mean such a lot to her.  The picture that she chose is one that she took in Paris.  When coming out from the Eiffel tower, she spotted this woman sitting at a café texting on her phone.  She looked so deliciously “Parisian” that my friend couldn’t resist snapping a quick one.  It turned out to be a beautiful photo and lent itself very well to a stunning painting.

Original photo outside the Eiffel tower in Paris

 There was a lot of detail in this photo.  No, let me rephrase that:  there was an inordinate amount of detail in this photo!  The chairs alone were quite a challenge.  I printed the photo on good quality paper and also printed an overhead of it in order to trace it.  I had to decide which style to use and considered expressionistic.  However, with the amount of detail I through that a realistic style would bring the painting to life better.

First I started with the umbrella.  I decided to change the colour from red to green because I wanted the red beret to be the focus point of the picture.  Red would contrast very well against green, being complimentary colours on the colour wheel.  I used sap green and highlighted the lighter areas with yellow.  Next I used flesh colour for the woman’s legs and inserted the shadows with Van Dyke Brown in the first layer to get the shape right.  I also used Burnt Sienna to do the shading.

Legs and the umbrella first layer

Next I did the chairs in a Yellow Ochre and white and shaded it with Van Dyke Brown.  That turned out to look too yellow and I subsequently re-did it with a mix of Van Dyke Brown and white.  That created a pleasing cream colour that fitted in better with the colour scheme.  The woman’s dress was done with a very dark grey and I put in the shadows in black with the first layer so as not to lose the detail.  The shoes were done in black and the table legs in dark grey.

Chairs first layer (too yellow) and dress in dark grey

The two people in the background (right) added some interest to the picture, especially the lady in the far right looking back at the beholder.  It’s almost like she’s caught my friend in the act of taking the picture illicitly! I did her in light grey and the blonde woman’s jacket in Payne’s Grey (it makes a beautiful blue when used straight out of the tube).  The shadows were done in black.  The beret, being the focus point, was done in a bold red with the shadows in Burnt Sienna.  I initially thought of doing the backs of the chairs in pink, but changed it to green to fit with the colour scheme of the green umbrella.

People in background, tables and ground added

The foreground was done in various shades of grey, getting darker towards the background.  I had to pay careful attention to the details e.g. where the people’s clothes showed through the gaps in the chairs to ensure that it looked realistic.  In this picture you can see that I forgot to include the blonde woman’s right leg – which would have looked very odd. I also decided against putting too much detail into the reflections of the windows because it could distract from the main picture.

Backs of chairs and red beret

I spent a lot of time on the woman’s face and hands, using flesh, Burnt Sienna and Van Dyke Brown to do the shading.  The lips were done in Burnt Sienna, which makes a great dark red when used out of the tube.  I put in the highlights in dry brush with white and grey and created the highlights on the table legs with grey and white.  The detail on the shoes was done in Yellow Ochre,  yellow and white.  I decided to keep the fallen leaves in the picture (there’s a nice one in the foreground) and also added the ones in the back so that one leaf doesn’t look strange.

More detail and layers, layers, layers!

The next step was to put a second layer on the umbrella with Sap Green.  The highlights were done with Napium Yellow and blended while still wet.  The green squares of the chairs were done a little darker at the bottom to create the illusion of a shadow.  Some super highlights were added to the tables to make them stand out and I also added a bit more grey with a dry brush to shape the iron.  It looked like the girl was floating in the air, so even though the photo didn’t show it, I added the cushion of the chair that she’s sitting on.  This did a lot to “anchor” her to the scene.  I did the shadows on the ground in dark grey with a dry brush and added white and grey details in dry brush on the rest of the ground.

Highlights and shading

I left the cool drink glass for last – probably because I was a bit apprehensive about painting it!  To get into the detail, I looked at the highest resolution of the photo on the PC and painted just what I saw.  It was surprisingly easy! 

The final step was to touch up the whole of the painting to ensure that there is no open canvas showing and that all the smudges have been cleaned up. 

When I presented my friend with the painting, she professed to love it.  In fact, the blonde woman in the background looks a lot like me and 6 people (including my two children) asked if it was, in fact, me!  So, I told her that I’ve included myself in the painting so that she can think of me every time she looks at it.  I hope that it brings her much joy.

The final painting: Meet me in Paris

Sienna Miller and I…


Sienna Miller and I have the same stylist. Are you impressed? So was I!

It happened like this… On my way home from holiday on the 30th of Dec 2011, I received a call from Peter from Woolworths. Great news, he said. I won a competition through Little World, the club for mommies at Woolies. You can understand my initial scepticism – I had won millions in the UK Lottery before (without buying a ticket), so I was understandably taking it with a pinch of salt. But it was legit. I won a “Mommy Make-over” competition through Woolies’ Little World. It included a full afternoon with a stylist who would do my hair and make-up and then take me shopping with the R3,000 voucher included in the prize. I was overjoyed. It sounded like a LOT of fun. 

Fabienne inserting some curls

And so it was that on the 17th of Jan 2012 I made my way over to the Melrose Arch Woolworths to present myself to staff and stylist. The shop, which I had never been to before, is beautiful. It’s quiet, with a great selection of everything Woolies has to offer in the area of drop-dead style. I was met by the Beauty Manager, Angie and taken to


 a private room where the make-over would happen. I met the stylist, Fabienne Zadel, (www.fabienne.co.za ), a small French woman with striking eyes and a long salt ‘n pepper braid tied with a bow. She greeted me warmly and I could see her professional glance taking in my complete appearance. I was glad that I dressed fairly nicely (I thought so,


anyway) because I wanted her to see what my current style was like. There’s always something to improve on, right?

Making small talk, I asked her what she’d been busy with the previous day. Oh, she said, working on a movie shoot in Cape Town with Sienna Miller. Gulp! As we chatted, she mentioned the international stars that she has worked with – Charlize Theron, Ryan Reynolds, Jeff Bridges, Denzel Washington. Ok, I was impres


sed! Fabienne washed my face and started on my hair. She blow-dried it and added a couple of curls. Then she had me bend over and went wild with the hairspray. When I came upright again, I had a hairdo like Marilyn Monroe! Wow, this woman was a genius.

Like, wow!

Onto the make-up next. Fabienne told me that the foundation I use is too pink. I always thought that, being quite pale, I had to choose a foundation that would bring a bit of colour to my face. Not a good idea, evidently. She used a foundation with a more yellow tint, which had the effect of creating a pale canvas onto which the make-up could be applied (Smashbox Studio Skin). I must admit that it looked a lot better. She told me that the main mistake I had been making with my usual make-up was to go too dark on my lips and too light on my eyes. As we grow older, Fabienne said, dark lipstick tends to make us look harsh. Leave it for the evenings only. She encircled my eyes with a dark copper liner (complimenting the green of my eyes) and used a dark brown (Lancome Black Cuivre – 244) to cover most of the eyelid. She used a lighter colour on the bank of the eye to highlight it (Woolworths Apricot Frost). Next, she used black mascara to frame the eyes. She insisted that I MUST wear blusher applied lightly on the apple of the cheek. Evidently Charlize wears it like that. Ok. On my lips she used Smashbox Lip Tech Peony with Smaxhbox lipgloss “Afterglow”. When she finally let me look in the mirror I was blown away! Who knew I could look like a movie star?

Very funky

The next step was spending some voucher money! Fabienne went for a funky look for me. She chose bright colour for the pants like melon (a type of orange, I thought) coupled with a crisp white shirt and a scarf which mirrored the melon colour of the pants. She plunked a hat on my head which had the effect of making me look playful and – yes – funky! High heels completed the ensemble.

A little violet number

Next, I tried on a dark violet dress with black lace around the neckline. A golden scarf and nude high heels created an interesting contrast and made the fancy little number a bit more mischievous. (insert photo) A bright pink dress with killer black heels and pink clutch bag had me looking ready for a board meeting while emphasising the femininity of the look. (insert photo) All throughout the Woolies staff was ooh-ing and aah-ing and taking pictures to upload onto the website (insert Flicr stream). Everyone was extremely friendly and very willing to please. I FELT like Sienna Miller for an afternoon.

Shopping, shopping

The next day I managed to copy the hairstyle and the make-up from the day before and with my melon outfit and spiky heels, dropped my son off at school. My friends, standing around outside the classroom, ignored me at first – because they didn’t recognise me! The looks of amazement on their faces were precious! They were so impressed with the transformation that they asked for Fabienne’s details in order to book her. Evidently she can do this for groups. Only problem is, now they’re all going to look as fabulous as me! There goes my competitive advantage! LOL :-)

What I learned from the experience: Don’t be afraid to change. There’s always room for improvement. Don’t be afraid to use colour – both on your face and in your outfits. Match different things together (violet and gold, for example) and don’t be afraid to experiment. Thanks Fabienne and Woolworths! You’re the best.