Onions on a plate, no. 2

Onions on a plate, no. 2, watercolor, 10x14in., originally uploaded by ahtravis.

More on teaching–back lit

The weather here in the Catskills remains cold and uncomfortable so again we are painting “kitchen paintings” , i.e. fruits and vegetables, in the studio.

For this session I chose onions.


Yes, onions.

Aren’t they all about the same size and shape, yellow or red, and round?

Yes, but I deliberately chose each onion for the personality of its stem:  the twist, the length, the bend, its expressive posture. It is the stem that gives individuality to the onion, or plate of onions.

We set the tall painting table before the outside doors so that the natural light struck the far side of the onions putting them in blinding light and creating a deep, dark side toward the painters. The deep, rich dark is the result of a subject being lightest on the back side or back lit. We placed the plate of onions on a box that lifted it a little below eye level so that the stems rose out of the dark and broke the blinding light.

How, you may ask, does one make an interesting painting of dark, almost black figures?

A back lit painting is dramatic; it’s interest is in its shapes. The shapes must be very strong to overcome the lack of visible detail. In watercolor that means that one must preserve the light lit edges (your initial and lightest wash) and keep dropping in pigment to darken the shapes, their meeting points and their shadows.  The result is many “lost and found edges”.

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2 Responses to Onions on a plate, no. 2

  1. mhfiler says:

    GORGEOUS piece. ahh I wish I was taking your class. waaah I am pouting now…sigh

  2. Rachel says:

    interesting… sometimes i like my backlit snapshots best and now i know why!

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