Red-on-red, step-by-step

I took process shots while painting these hot peppers because it was a watercolour challenge for me. Red peppers on a red cloth. What gets painted first? The red subject or the red background?

In this experiment, I decided to try painting the background first. The cloth is a deep crimson, so I used mostly Alizarin Crimson mixed with a bit of Cobalt Blue in places. I used a 1″ flat brush that carries a lot of wash and has a good edge. I mixed up enough paint in a big puddle so that I wouldn’t have to make more wash while painting.

Next I painted the peppers. For these I used mostly Cadmium Red, mixed with a little Hansa Yellow for the light parts, and Alizarin for the shadow sides. I left the white of the paper for the shiny highlights on the peppers.

The green pepper and the stems were painted with a mixture of Hansa Yellow and Prussian Blue. I wanted to choose a blue that made a nice bright green, and this worked well.

The last steps are adding the shadows on the cloth. Here’s the trick with this: if you paint the cloth too dark to start with, you won’t see the shadows, so paint this a little lighter than it was. Reds are tricky. Also, make sure your background is dry so your shadows remain sharp.

This is the final, scanned version of the sketch. The previous images are photos of the sketch on my easel.

25 Comments on “Red-on-red, step-by-step”

  1. Soni says:

    you answered my wish after seeing your first one

    thank you – might be a good demo for video series


  2. rothpoetry says:

    OOOh.. those would burn all the way down! Beautiful painting … I enjoyed the process!


  3. Gia says:

    Beautiful! I thought it was Chinese calligraphy at first, but it dawned on me that the red peppers were a better image. Thanks for the tips on shadows and mixing colors.


  4. Laura Kate says:

    Thanks for sharing the paint choices. I find it educational.


  5. Iona says:

    Wow, just wow!

    And yes, my thanks too, for including your paint choices and technical details.
    Wonderful, and a lovely painting.
    Nothing like a challenge, right?


  6. Sabiscuit says:

    Perfect! I loved seeing this process. Thank you for solving a problem for me. I have done this with oils or acrylics but can’t seem to make it work with inks or watercolours. I’m really into red inks and have a growing collection. I might run out of ink before I make something useable.


  7. Bernadette says:

    Thanks for taking the time to show and tell the process and strategy used. Great job with a difficult subject. You are a fine master of washes!


  8. Birte Paul says:

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful painting. I love reds, but find them challenging. Great work


  9. Denise says:

    Another valuable lesson from a very generous teacher. I’m not a lover of peppers, but this convinced me to at least try to paint them!


  10. Judy Sopher says:

    This is amazing. Thanks for the step by step explanation. I have a lot of green chile I roasted. May try this on green background. kk


  11. Fred Schmidt says:

    thanks for the progression images. very insightful.


  12. timoceno says:

    The step by step post is a great teaching tool. Watching the painting come to life is much more engaging, even with stills, and informative. Keep it up.


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