Studio Mysteries

May 3, 2009

Still Life Painting with Michael Siegel: Session 2

Filed under: Michael Siegel, Painting, Still Life — Anya Galkina - Studio Mysteries @ 2:10 am

Please note that this will be a normal-length post 🙂

I’m realizing that the lecture we had during Session 1 was a huge info-dump. It was kind of a distillation of a long study of painting, thrown at us like some sort of magical monsoon. Now, as we work on our own paintings, Michael revisits the ideas from the lecture over and over, so as I post along, I’ll revisit the ideas from the first post on this subject too.

The idea I thought about the most in this session is suggesting an object by suggesting how light behaves on it. Even if the suggestion is rough and not very detailed, if you give the right information about light, the viewer will respond by seeing the object and not just a bunch of blobs.

You know what’s a good way to test this? Grapes!


Grapes are simple: they are transluscent as a whole, but the lit plane also has some dusty and hence opaque stuff sitting on the surface. So, to suggest a grape, you suggest a transparent object, which means that it’s dark overall, it has a sharp highlight on the side closest to the light, and it is lightest on the shadow side, where light is passing through and out of the object.

So, dark blotch + light spot on opaque lit plane + highlight + internal, passing light on the shadow side (where normally opaque objects are darkest, but transparent ones are lightest) = grape. If you want to make the grape really, really transluscent, make the internal light brighter and more colorful, and the highlight sharper. If you take those things to extreme, you’ll have a grape made of glass!

Another good illustration of the light behaviour principle is this cup:


Right now it’s a pretty fuzzy-looking cup, for being made of porcelain, but bear with me, Cosmos. Cups aren’t built in a day. The main thing here is that the cup is looking A) three-dimensional, and B) heavy and planted on the table surface, and all that is because the light information is there, both in where it hits the form, and where it slides past it.

The more I learn about painting, the more I realize that it’s a study of visual cognition, of how we perceive and process information about our environment, how we are always reading what’s lit, what’s in shadow, and whether it might be a hungry leopard or an edible plant – how we relate to the world first and foremost through our eyes. More than anything else, painting is a magician’s act, a way to trick the eye into seeing what the artist wants it to see instead of pigment spread across a flat surface. It is a noble trickery, and I intend to use my powers for good when I develop them fully. Scout’s honour.


This is where my still life is at as a whole. One of the things I am struggling with is how to maintain accuracy in the structure of the objects, especially the teapot, as I wing it with the paint. I think that in the future, once I get the painting to this stage or even a little earlier, I will take a sheet of paper and do a very structural drawing of the still life, and then make corrections in the paint, as necessary. But it feels right not to do it at the very start of the project – I LOVED being able to feel my way into the canvas, to touch and sculpt the objects with paint. I think doing that first is more important than getting worried about finessing ellipses and so on.

Which is another argument for keeping things fairly open and undefined until you are a fair way into establishing the value relationships. Mmm… fuzzy teapots…


  1. I won’t have to pay you a percentage for all this clear instruction, will I?

    I’ve never analysed my own techniques, I just jump in, but I can see that’s all going to change now that I can loiter here. Those grapes look yummy!

    Comment by Splodge! — May 3, 2009 @ 11:15 am

    • Lol, I can’t tell you how much writing these things down DOESN’T come closer to doing the stuff with a teacher nearby. But any bit helps, right? I hope people who read this blog find it helpful.

      Comment by studiomysteries — May 4, 2009 @ 7:28 pm

  2. This is a sumptuous painting – I like it unfinished but hope you’ll show us the end result.

    Comment by InkSplodge! — June 19, 2009 @ 8:22 am

  3. Yeah, artwork! Excellent grapes.

    Comment by Paulina — July 27, 2009 @ 2:19 pm

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