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Stacked! (Stacking the Odds in Your Favor)

Stacked, painting of apples and lemon stacked a top each other, oil on Gessobord, 10x8"
"Stacked!" oil on Gessobord, 10x8"

One way to the stack the odds in your favor with most endeavors is to rehearse. So before I attempted the oil painting above, I did a little thumbnail sketch, a full-sized value sketch, and a watercolor sketch (below). I also took photos just in case the paperclips and scotch tape holding it all together failed (but they didn’t–the stack is still standing!)

Stacked, ink & watercolor, 7x5"
Stacked, ink & watercolor, 7x5"

I did the watercolor sketch first with the fruit sitting on my drawing table and the grey studio wall as the background. I love ink & watercolor. So immediate and so fun!

Stacked, value study with Prismacolor cool grey markers, 10x8"
Stacked, value study with Prismacolor cool grey markers, 10x8"

Then I set up the fruit stack by my easel and did this value and compositional sketch. I wanted the sketch to be the same size as the painting so I used the Gessobord as a template, tracing around it on the sketching paper. Once I had the drawing the way I wanted it, I used Prismacolor cool grey markers (30%, 50% 80%) to shade the values. It was easy to transfer the full-sized sketch to the Gessobord with a sheet of blue Saral Transfer Paper between the sketch and the board, then drawing over the sketch with a stylus.

I revised the background by hanging a dark gold/green cloth hung behind the still life hiding the gray wall.  Now I’m wondering whether to repaint the leaves. What do you think? Is it better to leave them kind of soft and blurry so they don’t attract too much attention. Did you notice them before I asked the question?

(Painting available here)

6 replies on “Stacked! (Stacking the Odds in Your Favor)”

No doubt about it, you WORK to get your beautiful paintings! Thanks for the behind the scenes story! I agree with richardneutra—you have a great teaching blog!!!


This is really clever, Jana! I noticed the leaves before you mentioned them because they added movement to the odd arrangement of stacked fruit. Once again, your sense of humor really tickled my funny bone.8-) Who would have thought to stack apples, much less admit it involved paper clips and tape?!


Those leaves look fabulous. What an incredible motif! And does this mean you’re still getting lots of apples from the office!?

The colors in the oil painting look so wonderful, the balance of light and dark is really enchanting — the top reminds me in its coloration (as well as by this clever setup) of the 17th century Spanish still lifes and the bottom portion with its bright colors seems reminiscent of Manet. In combining them it is as though linking these two great and different, yet related traditions (Manet studied 17th c Spanish art).

It is so charming. Just seems to dance. Feels a little like it might tumble any moment — and of course it won’t — but it is in that almost ready to tumble forever state and gives the picture such energy.

Wow and wow. BRAVO!


Thank you so much for the wonderful comments which I’m sorry I must have missed when you first wrote. If half of what you said is true, I’m thrilled. I’ve been really struggling with a failed oil painting the past week so it was a treat to read this comment and be reminded that there were some good ones before. I don’t know why I can only see that one instead of the many others that worked. Maybe because it’s still sitting on my easel as if there was a way to save it. But there’s not. It was meant to be a quickie palette knife painting but turned into days of drudgery. And now the flowers have been dumped in the green waste bin.So it’s over. Anyway, thanks again for reminding me to see the big picture, not just the bad picture! Jana


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