Whether you have drawn or painted a still life before in watercolor or pastel, you will find that with oil painting a new set of problems will confront you, that of allying what you see to the problems of mixing the pigments and applying them. If you haven’t drawn or painted in watercolor it doesn’t matter.
The following exercises are designed to familiarize you with all the problems that may arise when painting something in front of you. Previous knowledge and experience can be helpful, but if you don’t have it, it need not deter you from painting in oil. Accordingly these exercises will benefit both the experienced and the inexperienced.
Choose for this study not more than three subjects, one large and two medium in size, with bright clear color and good rich shapes. The kitchen should provide you with lots of good objects: pots, pans, tea cups, jugs, bottles, fruit, vegetables; and place them on some brightly colored stuffs: old tea towels, curtains, tablecloths and so on will do admirably.
Arrange these objects simply on a table in a good light. If you are forced to paint by artificial light I would suggest you use at least three bulbs: two strong white and one blue. The blue bulb will help you judge your colors better. Another name for a blue bulb is daylight lamp and they can be bought at any good electrical shop.
When you have arranged your still life and laid out your colors and selected your paper (stained with a tint if possible) you are ready to begin. First take a good look at the still life. Then imagine you have suddenly smashed them all by dropping them accidentally on the floor. Imagine all the pieces, bits of jug or bottle, plate, cup, fruit and vegetables as well. Seeing these objects smashed out of recognition will give you a new insight into their construction.
Now you are going to put it all together again on your canvas in paint. It won’t matter if the pieces become mixed up or don’t fit each other properly or look different from what they were like when they were whole. You have smashed what you have just seen and you can put it back how you wish, in the best way you can, with paint.