Commissioned painting by Tanja Moderscheim

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)

The dead-colouring stage of the Delft blue plate (detail of the still life painting)


Delft blue plate

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.

Delft blue plate


commission a painting

Still life with Delft blue plate, grapes, nectarines, cherries and reine claudes. Oil on fine linen, 70x50cm, 2017.


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