Friday 29 August 2014

From Ripe to Riper

“August rain: the best of the summer gone, and the new fall not yet born. The odd uneven time.”
 ~Sylvia Plath

It’s been yet another messy week of interruptions, but finally the kids are back in school, and hopefully, life will once more settle back into a blissful routine.  I miss my long painting days!

I have managed to keep the painting cravings at bay by doing some small studies of dates. Yes, a few fresh dates made their way back to Ireland with me, to be painted, eaten and hopefully planted. Fortunately they last a long time, especially when kept in an airtight container in the fridge.

The changing colour of dates from ripe to riper 
I love this stage of ripeness, known as “Rutab” in Arabic. The dates are very soft, sweet and moist, quite different to the dried stage which we are all familiar with. Ideally the dates would be left on the tree to become dry, but I might try to air-dry these myself. 

Meanwhile, I am just enjoying the wonderful rich reds of the ripe dates. I could never get bored of painting them, or eating them!

Someone asked me how I paint my highlights, so I have included a short step by step in this week’s post. Whilst you might not have fresh dates to paint, the same technique would be ideal for cherries, plums or rosehips, or any similar round shiny fruit.

Know your colours

Over the years I have accumulated quite a large collection of red paints. In fact, I have far too many paints of all colours (but at least they are cheaper than shoes) ! It’s really not necessary to have a huge number of paints, but it is important to know the cool tones from the warm, and also which colours are transparent, semi-transparent or opaque. The easiest way to do this is by making a colour chart. Lay them all out and decide which are closer to orange and which are closer to purple. Look to see which paints granulate, and which give clear smooth washes. Keep your colour chart close at hand. I often refer back to my colour chart whilst painting to help me decide which colour to use next.

Red colour charts. I've left some room on the larger one, just in case I happen to come across another red.

Check your lighting

The first thing that I always do is make sure that the lighting is good.  I prefer the traditional way of lighting from the left (I’m right-handed). I don’t like artificial lights, particularly overhead lights, as these can create confusing highlights and shadows. On very overcast days, I will use a daylight lamp and something shiny to bounce the light back up onto the subject, but in truth, nothing beats a natural light. You can see an example of a dark rainy day set up here

The date is placed on a small piece of paper to protect the paper beneath and then carefully drawn it out with a 2H pencil


Find your highlights. It’s important to take note of where they lie and also how shiny they are. I start with Cobalt violet and then add cerulean (Schmincke) to the shadows, making sure to leave the highlights clear. Usually the side which is furthest away from the light has more of a blue tone. I paint quite wet at this stage and let the colours blend on the paper. Sometimes highlights are very bright, but here they were soft, so I kept the edges of the highlights soft by using a second damp brush to blend it all in.

These are the colours that I used for this date, starting with the ones on the left

When I first started painting botanicals, I remember feeling quite confused by the term “disappearing edges”, which is often used to describe how the surface of a fruit curves away from you. I kept wondering how an edge can disappear, if I can so obviously see it! A better way to describe this process is to say “bring the middle bit forward”, although admittedly that’s a bit of a mouthful! To create this effect, you use warmer colours in the centre of the fruit, and build up the layers of transparent colours so that the middle part is the most saturated, leaving the paint around the edges is quite thin.

I usually start in the center with a bit of winsor orange which is a nice yellow orange, and then winsor orange-red,  building up the layers of colour and using progressively darker reds, until I am on to the purples. I paint quite drily, but always make sure that my brushstrokes follow the form of the fruit (across the width and along the length, never diagonally), and as the fruit has a smooth surface, I try to blend it all in with a second damp brush as I go along.

There is always a stage where you look at it and think it looks dreadful, but persevere!

Save little details like the stalk or tiny blemishes until the end. Often it’s the little details that can bring it to life.
Have fun!

Six dancing dates  ©Shevaun Doherty 2014

"If you chase perfection, you often catch excellence" 
William Fowble


  1. Great step-by-step, Shevaun..the volumization (is that a word?) of your form is beautiful in its gradiating colour. I hope to attempt botanical sketching soon and your blog looks to be a wealth of information!

    1. Thank you so much, Allen. I like that word! Best of luck with the botanical studies. I'm sure you'll do a beautiful job.

  2. Thanks Elaine. I hope it makes sense!

  3. Thanks so much for describing your process with the highlights - and I like the idea of bringing the middle part forward!! Beautiful work, as always!

    1. Thanks Rhonda. I'm so pleased that you found it helpful

  4. This is so informative; great to see the progress Shevaun -superb idea! I love your work, so delicate and yet so rich and bold at the same time. You are the colour queen! Thanks for posting it, it's made my evening.

    1. Jess... you're so sweet! Thank you. Reading your comment has just rounded off a fantastic weekend.

  5. Your dates are gorgeous with all of their rich yet subtle color. Thanks for explaining your process--very interesting!

    1. Thank you, Janene. You're always so encouraging!

  6. Thank you, Shevuan. It is very helpful :) Would you be able to share how do you make your dates to look a bit dented? I meant the second one from the left. Thank you in advance.

    1. Hi VG. I've just spent fifteen minutes trying to work out which date... there are a lot! I'm still no wiser, but it doesn't really matter because the simple answer is to just paint what you see. Painting a dent or a flaw is actually a lot easier than you think, because your mind doesn't have a preconceived idea of what it should look like, so it forces your eyes to really look. It's really a careful observation of where the lights and darks lie. It's amazingly effective because it brings character to the fruit. I hope that helps a little :)

    2. LOL!! Thank for your time, I meant your last painting, the second date from the left. :)


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