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Art Masterclass - 119

How to paint fresh, modern still lifes with Halima Washington-Dixon

For this article I am painting some gorgeous dahlias given to me by my neighbour.

My set-ups are positioned near a large window in my studio, so the light source is cool in temperature, giving me warm shadows and a more contemporary feel to my work.

A daylight lamp is also used to keep things bright at night and on a gloomy day. I have been into grey backgrounds lately, I think because of the way it makes the vibrant colours almost electric.

Stripes are a big theme in my floral work, so I made sure to include them in my set-up as well to mirror the colours in the bouquet.


Demonstration: Garden Dahlias


Brushes: a small brush for drawing details and a medium brush for underpainting

Palette knives: Winsor & Newton No. 20 & 29; RGM No. 3 and 5

Oil paint: Winsor & Newton Artist Colours and Schmincke Norma Professional; titanium white, lemon yellow, cadmium yellow pale, brilliant orange, cadmium red, crimson alizarin, ultramarine blue, viridian and burnt umber. Other colours I like to use from time to time are cerulean blue, quinacridone magenta and permanent rose

Mediums: Winsor & Newton Original Liquin and Impasto medium

Stage one

Using a thin brush, I sketched in my composition using green paint thinned with solvent. I chose green because I would be using lots of reds and I like to see the sketch when working on the underpainting.





Stage two

With thin washes of colour I added bold and simple marks with a brush, then left it all to dry until it was a bit sticky so that the next layer would adhere better – I planned to work alla prima or wet-on-wet as the painting progressed.



Stage three

Starting with the grey background, I worked from dark to light, beginning with the shadows cast by the vase of flowers from the light source on the right, applying the paint with the round-tipped No. 5 painting knife. The basic mix for this grey was titanium white, cadmium orange, ultramarine blue and burnt umber, with a touch of Liquin Impasto medium. Using different percentages and adding other colours to the mix warmed, cooled or changed the shade so that it did not look flat.



Stage four

Adding thick paint to the flowers using a No. 20 knife with rounded tip, I layered from dark to light, getting thicker and brighter as I worked towards the lighter petals. At the very end, I used a thin brush to add darker lines between a few petals in order to separate them and create depth, giving a 3D effect.


Stage five

The vase was rendered in plain white and then I used my small palette knife to scrape a pattern into the thick white paint. With a fine brush, I traced over the pattern and lines and filled in any larger sections with my small knife. For the detailed band at the bottom of the vase, I painted a thick blue line over the white and then dug through the paint to reveal the white underneath.

Stage six

I painted the stripes first, which meant I didn’t have to be so careful when painting the bowl and fruit. Using a flat wide brush, I applied thick paint and then smoothed downward with a knife to keep with the overall texture of the painting. Starting with the shadows first, I then moved from left to right on the stripes, working towards the light source. I rendered the bowl before the plums, and tried not to overpaint them.

The finished painting

Garden Dahlias, oil on board, (71x71cm)

I saved the figs until last so I could capture all their nuances and ‘figgyness’ without rushing. Deep reds and violets merged into a bright red-violet as I moved out of the shadows of the figs. I then added hints of slate blue for the ashy bits and a cool pale lavender just underneath the highlight. I was finished!


Halima Washington-Dixon

Halima was born and raised in Los Angeles, California and has been living in England since 2011. Her work can usually be seen at John Noott Galleries, Broadway,; Morningside Gallery, Edinburgh,; VK Gallery, St Ives, Cambridgeshire,; The Albany Gallery, Cardiff,; and Stirling Art, Stirling, www.hwdixon

This demonstration is taken from the October 2016 issue of The ArtistClick here to purchase your copy.


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