old italian pitcher with lemonsOn My Easel is a series of articles that records the trials and tribulations of my own personal painting journey. Yes, I am a working artist and lately, I have been getting ready for my upcoming annual still life show at Kneeland Gallery.

This old Italian pitcher has been collecting dust on my kitchen self, when one day, those decorative lemons on the vessel just seemed to jump out at me. I dusted off the pitcher, and ran off to the grocery store and bought some lemons with the concept and title already in mind, “Lemons to Lemonade”.


“If life deals you lemons make lemonade” -Proverb

The Concept:
Once I returned from the grocery store, I immediately set up my props. I wanted a fresh, country appeal to this painting. So, I chose the white doily and sliced open one of the lemons…I enjoyed its zesty scent. The ‘bluebird’ was the bird of choice for this cheery painting. I felt good about the set up – it had good energy and I was confident about this project.
However, little did I know that the title,Lemons to Lemonade” would literally foreshadow the agonizing process of this painting…
The Start:
Lately, my ‘starts’ have been more refined than my bolder approach towards blocking in. But with either approach, I generally begin my still life paintings with a sepia toned under-painting. For this ‘start’, I began by mixing raw umber and burnt sienna together and then thinned the mixture. I used this monochromatic color to nail the basic shapes, light patterns and shadows of the composition.  I am inspired by the Dutch masters who often worked in this manner.

oil painting underpainting

At this point I began to block in the color. My plan was to keep the colors harmonious, so I chose to use blues, oranges and warm yellows. So far so good…
still life oil painting demonstration
The Middle:
The middle part of any project, art related or not, can be the toughest. This is the time when we can get lost and lose focus –  and I did just that! In fact, I struggled with this painting for days and stopped photographing the stages because I was certain that this one would be fit for the dreaded – TRASH!

italian pitcher with lemons country lemonade

Then the painting’s name, “Lemons to Lemonade” hit me like a ton of bricks – Here I was, literally struggling with what seemed to be a ‘lemon’ of a painting! So right then, I decided to make ‘lemonade’ out of this situation. As soon as I changed my negative attitude, the painting turned from sour to sweet! Meaning…that one should make the best of bad situations. What a life lesson.

“When fate hands us a lemon, let’s try to make a lemonade”-Dale Carnegie
“If you have a lemon, make lemonade.” -Howard Luck Gossage

The problem was, I struggled with the weird shaped handle and then I got stumped on choosing the background color. The colors I experimented with were ruining the feel of the whole painting. Meanwhile, my juicy lemons were drying and shriveling up! Now, I wish I documented those various stages, but that was the last thing on my mind at the time – lol!

  • Finally, after trial and error – wiping and repainting, I decided upon keeping the warm sepias in the left-hand side with a gradation of cool tones as it progressed to the right side and into the light.
  • I chose a lavender blue shade which compliments the yellows and oranges.

still life set up painting demonstration
The Finish Line:
As most of you know by know, I add birds and often butterflies, and sometimes even a monkey, to my still life paintings. Once again, the Dutch Masters did it, so why can’t I?

  • I like to wait until the majority of the painting is completed before I add my ‘live’ subjects.
  • I start with the same sepia under-painting, just like the pitcher above.
  • Then I block in the color and add the details last.

still life oil painting demonstration
So, I am really glad that I stuck with this painting and was once again reminded of this age-old proverb, “If life deals you lemons make lemonade”

bluebird oil painting
I hope you enjoyed this post or have a similar story to share for moral support, please leave a comment! ~Lori 🙂
You might enjoy reading these other informative articles:
On My Easel: Still Life Oil Painting Demo #1
On My Easel #2: The Challenge of Painting Blown Glass
How to Paint Iridecent Bird Feathers and Make Them Glow (video)
How to Paint Animal Fur (video)
How I Destroyed a Painting to Make it Better
3 Steps to Set Up & Light a Still Life Painting
Still Life Painting: Create Your Own Small Universe
Water Soluble Oils: Facts, Tips & Why I Use Them
How to Use the Rule of Thirds: Composition in Art

Privacy Preference Center