Art theory Oil Painting Painting Still Life Studio

Tomato Under Glass

Tomato Under Glass

Oil on gessoed Museum Board, 7.5″ x 9.25″

I did this oil sketch from life in the studio yesterday evening. One of the “rules” of oil painting is to keep your darks thin, with no texture and you can see why on the background here. Those brushstrokes catch the light and draw attention to it. Here’s the preliminary sketch with the darks blocked in first:

Start of Tomato...

I liked the way this looked and enjoyed getting back to painting glass again which I find so much easier than painting landscapes. I know it’s just a matter of what I think of as peeling the layers off my vision until I can really see exactly what’s there instead of “things” that have names, like tree, road, field. With glass I see colors and shapes but with landscape I still see “TREE”. Someday soon I hope I will break through and be able to see masses, colors, shapes that when put together will read as “TREE” but without painting each leaf, trunk, branch, etc.

I discovered in one of the books on painting I was reading a way to make still life painting so much easier. Build a little stage for the still life that raises it to the desired height and allows light to only come from one direction. Then focus a lamp on it so that you control the direction of the light, the reflections and shadows. Here’s a picture from the back of the stage I made out of a cardboard box that I stacked on top of a plastic drawer from an organizer cart (and taped down so that if the cats tried to climb in it…which Busby did–he thought it was a special kitty spa bed with a nice cloth and warm lamp…the boxes wouldn’t fall off the table):

Stage, back view

And here it is from the front with a floral setup that I made it for (that painting is in progress).

Still life stage, roses

And here it is with the little glass butter dish and tomatoes from the painting at the top:

Still life stage-tomatoes

And while I’m doing this little show and tell of nifty stuff I made, here’s a brush holder I made from a shoebox:

brush holder

It’s really handy for messy oil painting brushes, both while I’m dirtying them and after I’ve cleaned them so that they can dry horizontally, which helps keep the brushes in better condition longer since they’re not standing in the water that drips off them. I didn’t measure, just cut little triangles in the side and it works perfectly. By the way, those are some really crappy brushes in there that are now relegated to my drawer of bad art supplies. I bought them for using with acrylics and they came in a package of 10 brushes for about $18. Absolute rubbish…useless as they hold almost no paint, streak, shed and feel icky to hold.

As Maya Angelou said her mother always told her, “You don’t always get what you pay for, but you always pay for what you get.”

19 replies on “Tomato Under Glass”

wonderful painting of the tomatoes. the shoebox for the brushes is a great idea! i’m definitely going to try that out. as for the backdrop , the carboard box has been lying in my “studio” ever since we moved in and i still havent cut it out and set it up 😦 I’m going to take this as a reminder to begin my still life studies and continue with the lessons in Sovek’s book and my resolutions. thanks for a lovely post.


WONDERFUL WONDERFUL PAINTING!!!! And I couldn’t agree with you more about the ability to ‘see’ shapes instead of ‘things’! When you find out how to do that, please let me know!!!

As for your set up — it’s terrific!! And looks easy enough to do anywhere!

I DO LOVE your tomotoes!!! The glass is perfect! And your flowers are beautiful too — beautiful colors on them!


Very nice tomato painting. I completely sympathize with your thoughts about painting still lives vs plein air landscapes. I keep thinking, ‘It’s still just shapes, values and colors. Why is this so hard”


I haven’t visited in too long: I love your process posts so packed with information and ideas. You should write a book.


Wonderful painting, Jana! I just love your highlights — just enough, not too much — great! The brush holder is an awesome idea … I’m going to make myself one tomorrow!


Nice painting. My only suggestion would be to add a cooler layer of paint on the background to push it back and make your tomatoes really pop to the foreground. Make the two reds different from each other.
Additionally, in regard to your tree paragraph, I don’t think people should reduce their subject matter to just shapes. If you are painting a tree, it should shout “TREE” and one should really feel the treeness of the tree and not think of it merely as a shape. That way the painting will be about the tree and not about a shape. That’s just my opinion. Shape-searching is overated.


Now I’m all inspired… BUT, I’m at the office, AND have a zillion commitments for the rest of the day and have laundry and pre-vacation cleaning to do tomorrow. Grumble grumble.
Love the brush drying “rack”… and can see how the light-stage would be really helpful.
Do you ever work from photos? or sketches?


Hi Jana,
It’s been ages since I checked in on your blog…I see that you are really getting good at the oil painting…I just love this tomatoe one under glass, it’s lovely. Great job!


Hey, cool idea for dealing with your wet brushes! What I do is fill a coffee can with pinto beans and stab my brush handles into it. The brushes stay put and when I’m done I just snap the plastic lid on to transport it to the next painting site. I like your box idea, too!


Comments are closed.