The Complete Tomato

The canvas is 12" x 12"

The Complete Tomato

This is a painting I started in Wayne Jiang’s “Paint Like the Old Dutch Masters” class and had sat unfinished since then. A year later – with a few more hours of work – and it’s done.

Wayne deconstructed a really interesting technique through his observations of incomplete paintings in museums. As I’ve been using it, I think about it as three stages:

  • Foundation: painting just the tones
  • Colors: introducing cool tones and true colors
  • The last mile: refining and troubleshooting

For the foundation, painting the tones means thinking in monochrome. I worked from black and white copies of my image. The result looks like an aged black & white photo. Wayne’s technique uses warm tones, starting light and going dark: from yellow ochre to burnt sienna to burnt umber. On a future painting I’d like to try this same technique with cool tone foundations instead and see how it looks.

For the colors, there’s a dance between balancing the cool and warm tones. Since the foundation is all warm tones, the next step is to balance them out with another foundational approach and just use one color: ultramarine blue. After this it usually starts getting closer to the colors but looks pretty Halloweeny…the warms parts look unusually orange, and the cooler parts are a little dark if they were mid-range tones. Here’s where I start mixing up different colors and getting a little more opaque on the areas that need it. At some point in there I usually get impatient about getting to the good parts and need to keep jumping around to different areas to keep it interesting. I prefer to get to detail work, and have found that too much repetition makes me sloppy so that’s my way of throwing in a little variety.

The rest is figuring out how to make it “done”. During the other stages, someone could walk up to it and see clearly that it’s not finished. During this last stage, it could probably be seen as “done” as any time. If it was being painted for a class project or had some strict deadline, it would need to be. As a project by choice, I have a little more leeway to decide whether it’s done enough. It’s easy to overwork paintings, so my focus here is on anything remaining that doesn’t feel right. The subconscious is great at identifying that there’s something wrong. Figuring out why, and how to fix it, is its own puzzle.

When I reached the third stage on this painting, there were problems with the stems (too transparent, then too yellow), the shape of the tomato (weird edges where the shape meets the shadow) and background painting that left a bit of a halo around the tomato. It also took some noodling to get the right sheen on the skin while still looking nicely ripe. I’m pretty happy with how those cleaned up.

It’s gratifying to fix and finish old projects. The tomato is done.

Starting with a sketch

Starting with a sketch

All the lighter tones filled in

Tone 1: yellow ochre

Mid-tones only for this color.

Tone 2: burnt sienna

Just the darkest tones here.

Tone 3: burnt umber

Here's how it's looked for the last year.

A bit washed out at the color stage

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