Autumn Still Life – Two Ways

We will be going over to my parents’ house for Thanksgiving tomorrow, and I was asked to bring a pumpkin pie.  Not sweet potato, nor another kind of squash, but specifically pumpkin.  And just as there are many ways to make a pumpkin pie, there are also several ways to paint pumpkins.

As I walked through the markets this fall, the shapes and colors of all the squashes, gourds, pumpkins, and Indian corn called out to me to paint an autumn still life.  I set up the scene and painted it directly, using whatever colors from my palette that seemed “right.”

Autumn Still Life, watercolor, 10" x 14"
Autumn Still Life, watercolor, 10″ x 14″

And because my students were asking about painting with a triad of colors, I painted the same set-up using only three pigments, a red, a blue, and a yellow.  I was able to produce all the colors I needed with just the three pigments.  I also changed the direction of the light and tried to emphasize the pears instead of the pumpkin, with this as the result:

Autumn Still Life #2, watercolor, 10" x 14"
Autumn Still Life #2, watercolor, 10″ x 14″

Happy Thanksgiving to you all!




8 thoughts on “Autumn Still Life – Two Ways

  1. ruth, i love this! you are so free with your knowledge and share so much. many people would think you were a magician – doing all of that with just three colors!

    do you find it difficult sometimes to replicate the correct color in flowers? i’m limited with what i have with me, so going to an art supply store is out of the question. when i do visit one, like yesterday, i am always disappointed — i was unable to find any type of watercolor paper yesterday.. only ‘card’ or craft foamy/soft papers. drats! maybe i should learn to make my own.

    eureka! by george, i can probably do that!


    • Hi, z! Your comment had me looking up how to make my own paper. 😉
      And yes, I have difficulty replicating the correct color in flowers. Even with the wonderful pigments we have these days, my color mixing skills are not equal to those delicate changes in hue. So often I go with “good enough” and make the values and warms/cools work for me instead of obsessing over the color.

  2. Love this study, Ruth! Fascinating to see the same subject painted with a limited palette. The change in light source is fascinating, too. I know you’ve done a lot of practice with light sources, and seeing the difference in light direction side by side really helps to point out how you get the light effect.

    It seems you were able to achieve a more brilliant/vibrant orange in the first painting. Is that because you had more colors at your disposal, or was that intentional because of the change in light source?

    • When I look at both of these paintings, I like the brilliant orange of the first pumpkin. That bright of a secondary color is hard to achieve by mixing colors, so I used a series of colors directly off my palette without mixing them, starting with a warm yellow near the highlight and working my way progressively through oranges, reds, and even purples in the shadow area, painting wet-in-wet.
      In the second painting I was trying to tone down the orange so that the pumpkin wouldn’t upstage the pears.
      How much of this was intentional is hard to say. I wanted to show that I could paint the same scene using only primary colors. I changed the light source because I was painting the top one at home (and I thought the shadows were more interesting) and the bottom one at class (where I gave my students the places with better contrasts). But I changed too many variables at once and then got “lost” in painting each one to show the difference that a single one of these changes would have made.
      Did you paint a Christmas card this year?

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