Still Life After Cezanne

I hesitate to include Paul Cezanne’s name in this still life painting, the one I fussed about and fretted over from a Craftsy oil painting class with Tony Curanaj. By calling it “after Cezanne” I’m not comparing my art to his, simply recognizing him as a influential force behind my desire to paint still lifes. Cezanne is an inspiration to me, and I thought often of him as I worked slowly but surely on this painting.

I can’t say that this painting is “finished” exactly. Most likely it is, but maybe not. Maybe I’ll go back to go over everything a second time. In the Craftsy course, Curanaj speaks of making two or three “passes” before he considers a painting complete. For much of this painting I was working with very thin paints, using slight glazes of color — especially with the glass bowl — and, in a sense, literally feeling my way along as I turned these basic two-dimensional shapes into what do appear to be three-dimensional objects.

But, back to Cezanne. I wrote a post before about his still life paintings. What I love about them is that they are imperfect. I see wonky-looking cups, misshapen fruit, and fabric folds that, with practice, I could probably paint. His stil life paintings are so much different than those of the old “Dutch masters”, those highly-detailed works that, quite frankly, I find intimidating!

This painting was intimidation enough, or maybe it was only Tony Curanaj whom I found intimidating, and obviously I didn’t go through all the steps he did — drawing the arrangement perfectly, carefully transferring it to the canvas, making a precise underpainting, completing a separate value study and a separate color study, and then meticulously painting each element in the still life.

Sometimes I wish I could be that kind of artist, the kind who seeks perfection in every brushstroke. But I’m not, I never will be, and honestly, I wouldn’t really want to be. I want to be more like Cezanne, more playful with colors, more willing to embrace imperfection. I just want to be me, an artist who has fun painting still lifes but who doesn’t demand that every glimmer, every reflection, and every subtle change of value is accurately and expertly captured on the canvas.

I remember my joy when I painted my first pot. It really looked like a pot! I recall now how I would sit and stare at that little painting in amazement, marveling that my shape had taken form. I felt that same excitement and astonishment all over again as I began working on “Still Life After Cezanne”. Especially when I stepped away from the easel, I could see the forms appearing.

Look! It’s really a milk jug! And look at that book! The brass cup might not have the sort of texture a brass cup should have, but I don’t care. Look at that lemon! Do you see how I added a slight touch of blue with the brown? Do you notice the shadows? And, yes, I actually painted a glass bowl. Let me say that again. I painted a glass bowl. Glass. As in “see through”, and if you stand back from the painting, yes, you can see through it, or at least you can imagine you’re seeing through it.

It’s all illusion, of course, and while my illusion is far, far, far from perfect, it still delights me. A real art instructor — like Tony Curanaj — would shake his head in dismay. I did everything wrong, or at least in a somewhat half-hearted manner. I didn’t take time to get my drawing proportionally correct. I overlooked most of the actual details. Is that supposed to be cloth? And why are all those Sharpie lines showing through?

Yep. I’d get a failing grade for sure if I submitted this as a completed “homework assignment”, but I happen to love what I’ve done. Doing a large painting like this with objects instead of landscape elements gives me the opportunity to learn and practice skills I don’t always get to use. Here I had to paint with very small brushes. I had to carefully paint around objects. I had to put in shadows. I had to think about highlights. And with that glass bowl, I had to consider reflections, as well.

I like sitting here and looking at my easel where this painting still sits. From this distance, most of those Sharpie lines fade away. From here, the shadows look real. I can actually see and feel the light shining down from the left.

And I’m grateful to Paul Cezanne for painting his still lifes, for letting his imperfections show through. His work and its bits of “wonkiness” gave me courage enough to attempt this — which is the largest still life painting I’ve done to this point. It’s also the most detailed. Sure, I skimped on detail, but I did manage to get a few things right.

I’ve asked my husband now to add a small shelf to one wall near my easel. I’m going to have fun painting still lifes — from life. Instead of working from a reference photo where it’s difficult to see all the details, I’ll be able to really get up close to my subjects. I’m excited.

Yes, I fussed about this painting because I couldn’t do it Curanaj’s way. I had to do it my own way, a way inspired by Paul Cezanne. So, I’m going to go right ahead and give this the title I want. This is definitely a “Still Life After Cezanne.”

You can see how this compares to my first still life attempt here: My First Still Life.




    1. One of the most important lessons I’ve been learning over the past few months is the need for us to be who we are as artists. We can always work to improve our art, but there’s a quintessential part of ourselves that will always be there. We have to honor that, even if it’s not always pretty. πŸ™‚

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  1. I like it. Usually towards the summer and fall I photograph some still lives. I have no idea if they have artistic value or if there’s a style the fit in. People seem to like some of them I guess. With photography you have to be really careful with dirt and unwanted folds. I’m kinda like you I want to get it done rather than spend hours preparing. I have a book from Kevin Best who does a lot of Dutch style stills in photography. Some of his teachings I have been able to incorporate.

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    1. Doing still life “photos” would be interesting. There are so many interesting things to include in a still life setting. I don’t have the skill to do highly-detailed objects, though. I’ll have to look up Kevin Best. His work sounds interesting. I’ll look forward to seeing your still life photos, too.


    1. Thank you. I really enjoyed painting that glass bowl. I was amazed that (from a distance at least) it actually looks like glass. Landscapes will always be my favorite subject, but painting still lifes is fun, too,


  2. Almost all of my paintings have Sharpie lines showing through in one place or another. I like to think of them as adding some texture. I can always justify them by smiling sweetly and saying I meant to do that. 😁

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    1. πŸ™‚ I’ve tried a lot of different methods for sketching on the canvas. Sometimes I use charcoal, sometimes I use graphite, and sometimes I use very thin oil paint to lightly “sketch in” a scene. I haven’t quite figured out a method that really works for me.

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