How to paint a Delft blue plate
The dead-colouring stage
I’m working on a new commission: a painting to go with the Silverware with plums painting the client has bought. The painting features a Delft blue plate and several types of fruit scattered on a relatively undefined surface. I break up the painting process in different stages: after sketching the set-up, I first work on the tonal aspects, check the composition and create a ‘map’ ready for the colour stage. I use raw umber and zinc white for this, with titanium white for the brightest highlights. I need several painting sessions to get the light right and provide enough detail. The plate also needs to be anchored to its space: I want it to lean against the wall. The light needs to softly touch the plate and the cracks and chips need to pick up the light – I love this play with hard and soft edges, creating the illusion of soft light and ultimately the expression of a certain atmosphere and calm.
The dead-colouring stage of the Delft blue plate (detail of the still life painting)
While painting the rest of the set up, I kept playing with the design of the plate.
The colour and glazing stages
Once the dead-colouring stage has reached a sufficiently detailed level, I move on to the colour stage. I use cobalt blue, lapis lazuli, zinc and titanium white as well as raw umber (again) and yellow ochre. In the previous stage I used tonal variations to model the forms, and now using colour I can further bring out the rims and edges of the plate. I want to contrast to be high (but not too high) to help create a certain feel/atmosphere. I’ve FINALLY decided to paint a tulip on the plate. And now it is time for the best thing about this painting – the crack! Using a very fine sable brush, I drag burnt umber paint across the plate to suggest the shadows cast in the crack; variation in line gives the illusion of hairline vs wider cracks. I put in highlights of titanium white.
Painting the Delft blue plate is part of working up the rest of the still life and I come back to it as the painting progresses. I need several sessions. I keep the painting quite light but create just enough contrast. It is important to keep the plate a part of the painting, anchored to it – bringing colours from the rest of the painting into the plate helps with this.
Using very thin layers of pigment in plenty of medium and also just paint to dry-brush in places, I turn the forms some more and add a bit more depth into the painting. I only glaze those parts of the painting that need further depth and luminosity.
I’m very pleased with the crack.
Still life with Delft blue plate, grapes, nectarines, cherries and reine claudes. Oil on fine linen, 70x50cm, 2017.