Still life with onions

Still life with onions

I always wanted to have a title like this – Still life with… something… I am not sure really why, but I wanted it. Now is my chance – Still life with Onions – how very satisfying!

This is another first for me, an experiment – watercolor and ink on metal. This is my teacher’s specialty and she guided me through the process. The metal is aluminum, the kind that is used for roofing. But really any kind would do because the surface is prepared for pigment with several layers of white gesso. I painted gesso in criss-cross fashion letting it dry between layers. When it was completely dry, it was ready for painting.

The gessoed surface takes pencil very well, and I drew my onions without a problem. Painting was another story. The surface was slippery, and I found that I took off the previous wash when I tried to apply the next one. Layered washes was not the way to go, and I changed my approach to using thick barely diluted pigment. That was more like it.

The little painting became good and saturated, but still lacked punch. So yesterday in class my teacher got out her inks and suggested to try them. I added inks over the watercolor with a brush and really liked the result. Then I painted more watercolor washes on top of ink. They seem to be natural together.

5”x7” (13×18 cm) watercolor and ink on metal


34 thoughts on “Still life with onions

    • Thank you, Casey! This is a really nice way of working watercolor, I am so glad I tried it. I am not sure at this point if I will pursue this method with high dedication, there are so many other things to try, like figuring out dry-brush or clay surface. But it is always nice have an extra tool in your arsenal.

    • Thank you, Leslie! I chose a close-crop because it simplifies composition, and my goal was to figure out the new technique. I didn’t feel like solving several problems at once. And that was a wise decision, I had my hands full with the slippery surface.

      • I like using gesso on Aquarius II watercolor paper. I apply it on the paper using a large bristle brush to leave an abstract texture on the paper. It creates a less slipperry base to work on. I paint that way when I feel myself getting too tight and want to work impressionistically. The Aquarius II watercolor paper does not buckle when applying the wet gesso.

        • I used a 2 inch bristle brush as well. Still ended up with a surface more slippery than was comfortable. I am wondering if the difference is in the support: metal vs. paper. My teacher uses gessoed paper as well as metal. This is her preferred method. I will try paper as well. Which gesso do you use? There are so many different ones. Perhaps yours has a different less slippery texture.

          But I must say that I am in a midst of another experiment right now – Aquabord. The painting is almost finished, I will post it soon. It seems at the moment that Aquabord may become my surface of choice, I really like how is handles.

    • Ha-ha-ha! This was the cutest comment! Here, I have a better idea: how about you give me your salsa recipe. I am an adventurous cook, but somehow I never made salsa from scratch – an oversight. So I will make your salsa, and you come over and help us eat it! You can bring chips :D.

  1. Aha, onions! Everybody seems to draw/paint them. Maybe because they have interesting texture, shapes, and color and are handy? Me, I’m rather allergic/intolerant. A mere whiff of them makes my head feel like it’s going to explode.

    You created an awesome textural effect with the gesso and metal, I really dig the way this turned out. I always liked watercolor and ink together.

    • Glad you like it, Sam! Onions are so photogenic, everybody paints them starting with Cezanne . Love his colors!

      I just discovered watercolor and ink together – a really great mix! As to textures, I now see how it could have been better. I just painted gesso on metal in a way one would paint a fence – up-down and left-right. I decided what to paint on it later. Had I made a decision on the subject earlier I would’ve painted different patterns of gesso, in a way to emphasize the forms and striations of the onions. As I have now my onions have a gridded texture, good to do some math on.

  2. Alex, this is very satisfying to the viewer too! Beautiful painting. And thank you for letting us know how you painted on metal. I was surprised that you used watercolor, I thought you would have had to use acrylic. It came out great with the ink added.

    • Thank you, Carol! I never thought of acrylic. Now that you mentioned it, it makes perfect sense. Acrylic would’ve been more sticky, right? I don’t know, I never touched acrylic paints in my life, don’t have any either, but I assume they would stick better. Must try that – thank you for the idea!

    • I knew you would do this! LOL

      We are actually OK with recipe #1. Have even gone to a dance school to learn Salsa properly. Baila para mi!

      I am surprised to see no jalapeno peppers in recipe #2. It is fine with me, I would’ve left them out anyway. I like my salsa mild. Thank you for the recipe!

    • That was a quote from Santana’s Dance, sister, dance:
      Baila mi hermana,
      baila parami.
      I thought it means “dance sister, dance with me.” But then, I don’t speak Spanish – what do I know…

      I import various smilies from smilies collections on the net, and use “img” button to bring the image url in. The animated one are usually gif files as opposed to jpg, which are static.

  3. You’re very close!

    Baila (dance)
    mi (my)
    hermana (sister)
    baila (dance)
    para (for)
    mi (me)

    I was wrong, too, cuz I wrote “myself.” I thought you were talking about yourself. What do I know? 🙂

  4. Great painting. One of my artist friends uses gesso on her watercolor paper. She applies white gesso, then gold gesso then black and uses watercolor on the black gesso surface. Her paintings are very unusual and just won Best-in-Show in a local competition. Just one more suggestion

  5. Hi Alex, thanks for introducing a new surface to paint watercolor on. Don’t you need to apply a fixative to protect the watercolor painting? Will the watercolor paint stay put and not have problems like we have on Yupo surface?

    • I never thought about needing fixative for protection! Thank you for bring it up, it makes sense. My teacher paints on metal all the time, and I am reasonably sure she doesn’t use fixative. But I will ask. I never painted on Yupo yet, but am curious to try. What kind of problems Yupo creates?

      • Yupo has a very slick surface so the paints just sit on the surface. I have read that when you frame it behind the glass, condensation causes the paint to be displaced. Ofcourse I think you see this problem only where there is high humidity. Some watercolorists suggest to use spray varnish over a
        painted yupo surface to seal it.

        • I see what you mean, Raji. Yes, the gessoed surface is rather slick, so it sounds like it would be like Yupo in a way. It would need to fixed to keep the paint from slipping off.

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