Folk Art Painting Basics – The Apple

The apple is a very important lesson for every decorative painter. It teaches the need for value control to create shape and form and is an excellent place to begin the foundations of color harmony between the red apple and the complimentary green leaves.

Surface: a 6″ x 8″ copper panel with 8″ x 10″ oval mat.
Paints: FolkArt Artist’s Pigments- Titanium White-TW, Yellow Light-YL, Red Light-RL, Napthol Crimson-NC, Alizarin Crimson-AC, Sap Green-SG, Burnt Umber-BU, Pure Black-PB, and Aqua-AQ.
FolkArt Acrylic: Engine Red.
Brushes: Silver Brush Ltd.- Golden Naturals Flats- #8 & #10, Golden Naturals Script Liner- #2, Golden Natural Square Wash Brush- 3/4″, Ruby Satin Filbert- #8.
Miscellaneous items: wax coated palette, Sta-wet palette, palette knife, grey graphite paper, stylus or dead pen, clear acrylic spray, ruler, and pencil.
Tool: Ruling pen

Background shading:
Mix SG + a tad of black to make a nice dark green color. Side load a large wash brush with this mixture and water. Apply the shading in the background to the left of the apple and leaf behind the apple. The color should fade away gradually. Don’t bring the shading all the way around the apple. Let dry.

I’ve painted the apples and leaves using my dry brush technique in which you apply layers of color that are blended optically. When I paint with acrylics, I prefer to use pure acrylics because they offer a superior level of clarity and color strength. This technique is often used in Outsider Artworks as you can see on this Southern Folk Art post about Annie Tolliver. Use the color straight from the bottle and thin only enough to get a smooth or sharp edge when base coating or when floating color for shading an element.

After you have made a base coat mixture or have finished base coating an object, move the color to a wet palette. I use a wet palette for storage of mixes only. I move my colors (with a palette knife) to the wax coated palette to use them. If you try to work from the wet palette, you’ll have too much moisture in your brush which may be okay when you’re, for example, are painting the California Coast, but not here.

With minor exceptions, use the floated color technique for shading as we have learned from the fine art of Bali. Develop highlights using a value scale starting with the base coat color and gradually getting lighter. Begin all highlights in the same spot (the area of the brightest highlight). Be careful not to have too much paint on your brush and be sure each highlight takes up less space than the one before it. Read also: The Miracle of Creativity in the Woman Artist, a very engaging article.

Step 1: Base coating
Using the largest flat brush that you can comfortably fit into an area, apply the base color. Pat or stipple this color to create texture. The highlights will cling to this texture. If you need to apply a second coat, do at this time.
Mix a deep green from YL + PB. Using a #8 flat brush to base-coat the leaves.
The apple is base coated with NC. Use the #10 flat to fill in the apple.

Step 2: Shading
Once the base coat is dry, use a floated color technique to apply the shading as indicated on the inked design. This step is the only one that requires a wet or damp brush. Dip a flat brush in water and blot on a paper towel.

Pick up the desired shading color on the corner of the brush, then blend on the palette to soften the color across the brush. There should be a gradation of color from the dark to clean water. Be sure the color fades off before reaching the opposite corner or you’ll end up with a harsh line where the shading stops. The shading color is not a thin, transparent wash of color.

When I float shading on my painting, my brush has strong, opaque color (and a lot of it) on one half of the brush and then fades to clear water on the other half of the brush. It should only take one pass to shade an object. If you are making repeated passes in order to achieve good darks, then, chances are your shading color is too thin and transparent.

When the instructions call for multiple layers of shading, apply the first shading in a larger area than the second layer. The second layer of shading reinforces the darkness and adds a richness to the shading. If necessary, re-transfer any division lines you may have lost before shading.
The leaves are shaded with PB. The apple is shaded with AC- (Illustration 2 (A)), then AC + SG and AC + more SG if needed. See also this post about the importance of Outsider Art.

Step 3: Highlighting
The highlights are developed slowly throughout layers of closely related colors. Each application of color should be slightly smaller in size than the proceeding one. Each successive layer should be also one value lighter. Be sure shading is dry before applying the highlights or you could pull up the paint.

Begin with the base coat color or one that is just slightly lighter for the first highlight color. Next, wipe the brush on paper towel to remove excess any paint. You only want a scant amount of paint on the brush; more can cause you to leave globs of paint caught in the base coat texture. You want to be able to skim the brush across the surface and deposit only on the tops of the ridges in the base coat.

Always begin highlighting in the area where you want the strongest highlight (regardless of which step in the highlighting process, you’ll always begin in the same spot). When brushing the color on, be sure to vary your direction- almost like making Xs with your highlights. (Mix refers to the previous color in your brush. You are going to add a little color to the brush with each highlight.)

The leaves are highlighted with a value scale of lighter greens made by adding small amounts of YL to the leaf base coat mixture. As you continue adding layers, begin to add some TW to the mixture. Your final highlights should be very pale warm green. Well, beauty is, of course, in the eye (or the fork) of the beholder, but it’s key to not let the leaves become chalky with too much TW. The apple is highlighted with NC, NC + RL.

Step 4: Details
The veins on the leaves are painted with the lightest highlight color + a bit more TW.
Tints and accents on the leaves are AC and NC separately.
The reflected light on the apple is AQ + TW + PB.
The green accent in the stem area is YL + SG and on the left side of the apple.
The stem is the leaf base coat color shaded with BU highlighted with light green made from the base color green + TW.

Painting the Mat:
The mat was base coated in Engine Red. Let dry. Then use a pencil and ruler to mark off 1 1/2″ lines apart both vertically and horizontally.
Mix AC + a tad of SG to make a nice burgundy color. Side load the wash brush with this burgundy mixture and water. Begin to apply the shading down one side of the lines marked vertically. Let dry.
Using the same shading color, apply the side-loaded color to the horizontal lines. You may need to repeat this shading in both directions in order to achieve nice solid darks on the plaid. Let dry.
Using a ruling pen, apply black lines both vertically and horizontally to define and straighten any edges of the side-loaded burgundy.
The Aqua lines are applied with the ruling pen and are set 3/8″ from the black lines. It adds a nice touch and relates the plaid mat to the background.
The beveled opening of the mat is painted in black. Paint from the back of the mat and work neatly and carefully.

Allow the painting to thoroughly dry then apply a finish. Spray the mat and painting with several light mistings of clear acrylic spray to seal and protect. Pop mat and painting into a frame and enjoy (we recommend without glass- the paint on the mat may stick to the glass). If you need or want to reframe your painting, read this post about Restretching a Canvas Painting.

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