Acrylic Painting Exercise Three: Cherry

Still Life Cherry with Will Kemp


Here are the topics we’ll be discussing:


Part One: Prep And Shadows

Part Two A: Adding In The Background

Part Two B: Introducing Red

Part Three: Adding Form

Part Four: Finishing Touches


Remember, take your time painting, don’t rush, and if you need to stop you can. If you have more than an hour to spare, work as long as you feel comfortable!


Five-part series, each video less than 10 minutes.

This is a great video series that shows you how to paint a cherry. Will Kemp suggests using Burnt Umber, Raw Umber, Titanium White, Cadmium Red Light, Cadmium Red Medium, Alizarin Crimson, Green Gold, and Pthalo Blue. These are all very good colors to have, so if you can, go ahead and buy these colors. An 8” x 10” canvas is fine, but try not to go any smaller than that. This is a nice tutorial to follow to start painting still life fruit. Right-click and save the image below to your computer so you can print it or reference it on your computer screen as you paint:


Image source:

Remember that it’s helpful to watch the video in its entirety first, then paint along with it. Plan on giving yourself at least 30 minutes to complete the painting in each part.

We recommend you watch the video completely for the part you are working on all the way through once without painting, then follow along the second time you watch. It’s also helpful to read our text all the way through before you try to paint along. To make the video full screen, click the box in the lower right-hand corner:

full screen annotation

Exit full-screen mode by clicking the same box again.

Don’t forget, you can pause anytime you need by clicking on the two vertical lines, then restart by clicking on the triangle.

A note about mixing paint: when Will is mixing only small amounts of paint, he uses his paintbrush. However, when he’s mixing larger portions of paint, he uses his palette knife. The palette knife is great for picking up and mixing colors and is really helpful to use instead of a paintbrush for larger quantities, particularly because then you don’t have to worry about paint going under the ferrule of your brush (which can happen quite easily when you’re mixing large amounts of paint with a brush). To clean off your palette knife between colors, simply wipe it off on a rag or paper towel.

Part One: Prep And Shadows 

If you’d like a transcript of what Will says in the video, it is available for viewing or download here: Cherry Text Part One

In the beginning of the first video, he discusses choosing the right color ground for your painting. It looks like he’s working on a canvas that was previously primed with a darker color, but you don’t have to do that. You can simply paint on a ground that’s darker than the stark white of a new canvas. He demonstrates the difference between Burnt Umber and Raw Umber, both mixed with Titanium White. Ultimately he suggests using Raw Umber and Titanium White for the grounds since it has a cooler, more greenish color than the Burnt Umber. To mix this color, I would suggest using a ratio of about 75% Titanium White with 25% Raw Umber. Pause the video, put a bit of the paint you’ve mixed onto your brush and hold it up to the screen to see if you’ve got a similar color to Will’s. If it’s too light, add more Raw Umber. If it’s too dark, add more Titanium White. The ground looks sort of grey, but with a cool green-brown tone (watch the video to find out why that’s the color you’re using for this painting!). After the ground is dry, draw the image onto your canvas with a light pencil. As in the previous painting exercise, begin first by painting in the shadows in the painting. Where the shadow is less dark, thin out your paint with a little water (not white). Continue adding in shadows and dark colors all over your cherry before moving on.

The brush he is using during this part is a sable brush, but as he says in the video, it’s not necessary to use a sable (it was just what he had close by). You’ll want to use your synthetic round brush for this part. Later on in the video, he switches to a larger filbert or flat brush to fill in the bigger areas and you should do the same. Don’t forget to wash the paint out of any brushes you’re not using so they don’t get damaged!

Sometimes, Will uses his finger to smudge his paint on his canvas. This is something you can do if you like (our oil painting instructor Cynda Valle uses her fingers a lot too). If you don’t want to get your hands dirty, you don’t need to use your fingers. If you do use your fingers just be sure to keep them clean, the same way you would with your brushes so you don’t end up accidentally applying the wrong color.

Will mentions but it’s worth reiterating–don’t focus on details yet. Start by painting masses or large areas first, then gradually move on to the details much later on.


Part Two A: Adding In The Background

Please note that this video is split into two sections, A and B.

If you’d like a transcript of what Will says in the video, it is available for viewing or download here.

Using Burnt Umber and Titanium White, Will is now starting to scrub in some of the background. Notice how loosely he’s painting. He’s not worried about making “perfect” paint strokes and you shouldn’t be either. Keeping the paint strokes loose will, believe it or not, make your painting look better in the end!

When he’s adding the background, he wants his paint to move more fluidly on the canvas but instead of adding water which will dilute the paint, he’s adding some acrylic medium. If you’ve purchased glazing medium (on the recommendation list) then you can mix a drop of that in with your paint to help it move. You can use as much or as little glazing medium as you like (it won’t damage your paint) but when you’re painting something semi-opaque like this background, you’ll want to only use a small amount–less than 1/3 of the amount of paint you are mixing it with. You want the ground to show through your background slightly so that it lends some of that greenish tone (from the Raw Umber) to your background. You want the background to stay cool in tone so that the warm reds of the cherry really pop forward later!

Will has a bit of a mishap in this video when his brush falls apart! It’s a pretty funny event and as he laughs about it, he tells us that if this same thing happens to us, not to worry. He simply pushes the ferrule of the brush back onto the handle and it works well enough to finish the painting. If this happens to you, you can try the same technique or rinse out your brush and make sure the handle and ferrule are dry, then add a touch of super glue to the base of the handle before sliding the ferrule back on. This will help it hold. You don’t necessarily need to buy a new brush when this happens! In fact, the only time you really need a new brush is if the bristles are damaged. The rest can be worked around.

When you’re adding in highlights, try to use thicker paint. This may seem counterintuitive, but the thicker paint has more body to it, making it stand out more. It’s also less likely to mix with any wet paint underneath, keeping the highlight nice and bright.

Part Two B: Introducing Red 

If you’d like a transcript of what Will says in the video, it is available for viewing or download here.


In this video, you’ll begin adding red to your cherry. Will is talking about mixing colors here, and talks about “local color” which is the overall color you see in the object if you squint your eyes. He mixes his local color with Alizarin Crimson and a small amount of Burnt Umber to darken the red. Start by just adding a small amount of Burnt Umber into your Alizarin Crimson and mix until you have a color that looks close to the darker midtone red on the cherry. Because the Alizarin Crimson is a transparent color, you can still see the shadows come through when you paint the red mixture over the top. Notice how he leaves an area of the cherry blank. You don’t need to paint the entire cherry with that local color. Leave some space for where your brighter red will go as this will help to create form in your cherry.

When you mix your brighter red, do not add white!  A lot of people think that in order to make red lighter and brighter they should add white, but that’s not true. Adding white will make your red paint turn pastel pink! In order to get a brighter red, you need a brighter, warmer red paint (like Cadmium Red Light, which tends more towards the orange spectrum) or  if you don’t have that paint, you can add a bit of yellow to the red paint that you do have in order to make it brighter.

Remember that as we discussed in Acrylic Painting Exercise One: Milk Jug that acrylics will dry darker than they appear when they are wet, so keep this in mind when you’re mixing your paints.

Part Three: Adding Form 

If you’d like a transcript of what Will says in the video, it is available for viewing or download here.

Now, Will is starting to use thicker paint. He’s using his Cadmium Red Light mixed with some Alizarin Crimson to make the brighter parts of the cherry stand out. Mixing colors can be difficult when you’re first starting out. Don’t stress if your colors aren’t exact. You can mix up a color and put a bit on your paintbrush and hold it up to your photograph or the photo of the cherry on your computer screen to see if you’re close. If it’s too dark, add more Cadmium Red Light. If it’s too bright, add more Alizarin Crimson. Keep adding and mixing colors until you have something close. Like I said, it’s an artistic representation of a cherry–not a complete photo-realistic painting–so don’t worry if your mixed colors aren’t exact! At this point, Will is mixing his colors with his paintbrush and not his palette knife because he’s only using small amounts of color. Remember, mix large amounts of paint with your palette knife and small amounts of paint with your brush. So for example, Will has mixed a large amount of Cadmium Red Light with Alizarin Crimson to make the basic red for the cherry, but when he’s painting, if he wants that color to be slightly warmer/cooler/brighter/darker, he pulls out a small amount of that base color and varies it slightly by adding a small bit of another paint. Mixing colors is complicated and even professionals can struggle with it. It gets easier the more you do it, but there’s never a “formula” or right way to do it–you just have to keep trying until you get it right. If you watch Will mix his colors, you’ll notice that he doesn’t get it right on the first try. Every time he mixes a color, he adds a bit more of this, a bit more of that, until he has it right. Even he doesn’t have a perfect formula!

For the parts of the cherry where there is reflected light (light reflected off the table top) he adds some white to his paint to get closer to the color in the photograph. He says you can just “feather it in”, which means to use a very light touch (as though you were painting with a feather) and blend the new paint lightly with the paint underneath so that it creates a subtle transition between the colors.

If you make mistakes, wait for the paint to dry and paint over it! It’s not the end of the world or even a big deal. You can always start over.

Part Four: Finishing Touches

If you’d like a transcript of what Will says in the video, it is available for viewing or download here.

For the final video, Will starts out by painting the highlight of the cherry. For this, he is using pure Titanium White. He then refines some of the other highlights around the cherry using his mix of red and white.

After that, he starts painting the green stem of the cherry using a much smaller brush than he’s been using. Use your small round brush for this part. Will begins by talking about mixing your own greens and shows a small clip from another video of his in which he teaches you about mixing your own greens. Don’t worry about mixing all the greens he shows because you don’t need them for this–it’s only if you’re interested in learning how to mix your own greens later on down the line.

Because the stem is so light, again instead of adding white, he is using pure yellow on the entire stalk. Using yellow will make the green appear brighter than if you added white, which would make it more pastel colored and muted. On top of the yellow, he adds a darker green (Green Gold) to make the stem look more realistic. The darkest parts of the stem are created by mixing Green Gold with a touch of Pthalo Blue. He also makes a mix of green gold with a bit of Cadmium Red Light to create a highlight on the very top of the cherry. In the shadow area behind the cherry, Will mixes a bit of yellow-green with some glazing medium that he adds to the shadow to give it greater depth. He mentions that the reason for this is that the red of the cherry will really stand out more if there’s green on either side of it (because green is the complementary color to red, it helps the red to stand out).

You can see how Will Kemp’s other students have done with this tutorial by looking at his website here:

When you’ve finished your painting, share it with us! Take a photo and send it to us using our submission form.

Next lesson: Painting En Plein Air With Acrylics

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