Grape Expectations: A Mini-Lesson in Massing Small (and Large) Objects


My friend Paul Pedersen* sent me a copy of his latest still life painting.


He was kind enough to allow me to stomp on his grapes as a way to teach you all a mini-lesson in correcting a common mistake.


I am grape-ful for Paul's nice little original still life above.

Paul has painted perfect little portraits of each grape - but he failed to "paint the bunch."


I photoshopped the painting to show how to "mass" this bunch of grapes together.

The bunch of grapes need to be painted as one entire unit - with both light and shadow as shown above.

In painting "reality" you paint the desired illusion (not merely what you see). In this case the "illusion" is meant to be "a bunch of grapes" - and not just sixty eight individual portraits of similar grapes (even though that is what they really are).

On the overall mass of grapes, the part nearest the source of light are the lightest - and the portion farthest from the light turns into shadow.

Massing small objects will always strengthen a painting.


Here is Paul's picture - photoshopped to show the result of massing. You can see that the overall light and shadow are maintained.

In painting the individual objects (in this case, grapes) you must not violate the light and shadow pattern you established underneath.

In other words, the values of each individual grape will completely respect the light and shadow you have established in massing the bunch.


Massing is so easy to see when you know what you're looking at. Chardin masses the bunch of strawberries in his still life.


Or when George Inness masses foliage in his landscapes...everybody does it - or they'd go nuts painting each tree branch and leaf.


Corot (and every other master painter I can think of) masses objects . . . trees and even those buildings in the distance.


Titian masses hair and fur in this portrait. Just imagine how impossible it would be to paint individual hairs?


Raphael masses hair and landscape elements.


Raphael masses hair and fur. You can see massing is everywhere - go to any good art museum and look at the Old Masters.

*NOTE: I trust Paul will forgive me for "raisin a fuss" about those grapes. (Groan - I ust cannot seem to help myself with those puns).


3 comments:

R.L. Delight said...

Thanks for the mini-lesson! It is just the reminder I needed. I am off to take another look at my current painting in progress with this in mind.

JonInFrance said...

Hi Karin, just wanted to say I've always appreciated your blog. If you do a book, I would be pleased to own a copy! Cheers. jon

My Painting Studio said...

@JoninFrance, thanks for the kind words. I'll get there eventually....but putting this together in a clear, step-by-step way so it will be useful to the beginner is harder than I thought it would be.