Still Life with a Crab
by Vicente Collado Jr
Doha, Qatar
Tue 13th September 2011

Sometimes, ideas for a painting come from unexpected places. I was browsing once through the Facebook album of my cousin-in-law when I came across her orchid collection and pictures of a giant crab as big as a placemat.


Still Life with a Crab
Oil on Canvas
(40cm x 50cm)
It immediately hit me that the flowers and the crustacean could become the subject of my next still life painting. I had never painted a crab before and my previous orchids, although looking like orchids, certainly needed much improvement.

I started picturing in mind all imaginable arrangements involving the two with the crab as the main element and the orchids as supporting cast. When I had a definite composition, I immediately sketched it on a drawing pad and there was nothing that would stop the painting process from then on.

Afraid my rendition of the crab would flop given the complexity of its bodily structure, I decided to use a relatively small canvas that I could always pass as a study should my fears proved true. And if I liked the result, I could always make a much bigger version worthy of the giant crab.
Resource photos of the yellow orchid and the humongous crab.


The following are the major stages involved in the creation of the painting. More intermediate stages can be seen in the slideshow below.

Stage 1

I made an initial sketch of the composition on paper, placing the orchids on the tip of the pyramid and the crab at the intended focal area. The crab was slightly turned to the side to avoid the less dramatic frontal view.

Stage 2

Satisfied with the arrangement, I transferred the sketch into the canvas. I placed some peripheral and diagonal lines to aid me in drawing. I made sure the crab is situated right at the golden mean, the point where the diagonal line from the upper left corner is intersected by the perpendicular line coming from the upper right corner.

Stage 3

Using acrylic, I did the underpainting in black and white. This helps me to assess the overall value (lightness and darkness) pattern in the composition.

Stage 4

Once the underpainting was dry, I began to add colors in oil. Realizing that the small dark areas on the right are overwhelmed by the large dark areas at the left, I decided to make the grapes purple instead of green for more value balance. Initially, I kept the the flower vase light blue (complement of orange) to contrast with the crab. I balanced the color combination of beige, orange and yellow (basket, crab, mangoes) on the right with a similar combination (lanzones, clementine, karamay) on the left.

Stage 5

I continued developing the forms and adding more details, such as the leaves of the yellow orchids. I decided to change the wooden table into marble to which I could add as patterns my palette colors. I also made the flower vase white to harmonize with the table cloth. Together, they help to tie up the composition into a unified whole. Note that I replaced the purple-pink orchids from the resource photo with yellow ones for unity's sake. A blob of purple pink in that area would have thrown the color composition into disequilibrium.

FINISHED PAINTING

In this final stage, I refined the features of the claws, feet, eyes and shell of the crab to give it a sharper focus. I then painted the wine bottle lable with a mini-landscape, and added the reflections on the shadow side of the flower vase and the wine glass. Then, I carried out the most enjoyable part of any painting process which is to place or strengthened the opaque highlights in all the items in the painting where they should naturally appear. Finally, I marked in the transmitted light on the eyes of the crab to make them look more real.

Details



It is generally accepted among artists that every painting must have one and only one focal point and that it should not be situated in the center. In this work, what it is should be pretty obvious. Nethertheless, I took some care that the viewers' eyes would feast first on the crab before moving on to the others. The crab stands out in the arrangement not only because it occupies the golden-mean area but also because it is the only fauna in a sea of flora. Likewise, it gets noticed first because of its color red that gets highlighted by green, the dominant color, and because the most elaborate work was done on it. And, if none of these techniques works, at least, I made sure the crab's eyes feast on the viewers instead.


 




Still Life with a Crab
Tue 13th September 2011