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Painting a Simple Vase

Author: Scott Burkett

This simple tutorial will talk the novice oil painter through painting a simple vase. This tutorial is designed to be done in a single session (alla prima). I used a pre-stretched, pre-primed 8x10 cotton duct, medium textured canvas purchased at a local art supply store.

Pardon the glare in some of these photos, I took them at night in my outdoor studio, so I had to use a flash. :-)

Before we begin, let's take a moment to examine the photos above. The first one shows two squares, one black, one red. The second shows them "blended" together with a dry brush. This, folks, is the key to rendering 3 dimensional objects in 2 dimensions. Notice that in the 2nd photo, the squares flow together, with the brighter color (red) appearing to be towards the light source.
The materials used here are a small amount of turpenoid (odorless turpentine, not shown), a small palette cup (or metal can), stand oil (or any variety of linseed oil), a variety of small flat and filbert style brushes, and our palette knife for mixing colors. Colors used are titanium white, mars black, and quinacridone red. I chose this hue of red because that will be primary color of the vase. Feel free to substitute your favorite color (i.e. any hue of blue, green, yellow, red, etc.) It really doesn't matter. Just pick a color that will represent the overall hue of the vase.
The first thing we need to do is prepare a small color pool. Place a big wad of black at the top, and a wad of red at the bottom. Use your palette knife to mix the pools together in the middle, creating a subtle gradation from red to black. Don't overmix! You want a quasi-marbled appearance in the pool.
This picture is a bit faint, but you can see the sketch nonetheless. use a piece of vine charcoal or a soft pencil to sketch in the major shape of the vase. You will notice that in my sketch, it took a couple of different lines to finally get to the point where I had a decent amount of symetry in the vase. Don't worry if this happens! You'll end up painting over all of this anyway.

Blow off any excess charcoal dust, and if you'd like, feel free to spray with a fixative to preserve the drawing.

I then created a small mixture of linseed oil and turpenoid in my little metal palette cup. I generally use a 2 part oil to 1 part turp mixture. This mixture is available commercially as "liquid clear" or "magic clear" medium.

Coat the canvas with this mixture (lightly). use long horizontal and vertical strokes, making sure you have even coverage. You might want to use a large 1 or 2 inch bristle brush to lay this coating on quickly.

Note: because of this glossy mixture, the remaining photos tend to have glare in the them - sorry!

Using a small or medium-sized filbert brush, lay in some of the darker black color to form the general outline of the vase. Again, it doesn't have to be perfect. One thing that you will notice about our clear medium, is that it makes it very easy to "move" the paint around on the canvas.
The next step is to broaden the band of color on the left side of the vase. We do this because the light source will eventually come from the right side.
Next, "round" the corners of vase, still using the dark color. At this point, you really begin shaping the object.

At this point, you really need to make sure that your brushstrokes "flow" with the object. Use vertical strokes, with slow gradual curves to really shape the vase.


This picture is horrible, but lay in a ring of black-red (the middle colors in the pool). Here is a closeup that might help:

Clean your brush, and lay in some of the lighter red (or whatever color you are using).
Be sure to put some in the rim as well! Use a fan brush, hake brush, or some other sort of blender brush to blend the rings of color together, softening up the look.

Clean your brush, and paint in some titanium white (with just a SPECK of the red) to make the highlights. Again, blend this gently with your blender brush.

That's really it! I decided to use my large filbert (with criss cross strokes) to block in a quick background of ultramarine blue (darkened with a speck of black for shadow areas, and lightened with white for the lighter areas).

I hope you've enjoyed this quick little tutorial. Small 8x10 canvases can be a blast to work on, and you can work fairly quickly on them.

The little canvases are great for practicing still life objects. Once you are comfortable, grab a bigger canvas, and add flowers, etc.

Again, apologies for the glare... :-)