Acrylic Painting Exercise Two: Lemon

Still Life Lemon with Will Kemp

Here are the topics we’ll be discussing:


Part One: Laying A Ground

Part Two: Begin Painting

Part Three: Complete The Painting


We expect that each part of this lesson will take about one hour to complete, though this may vary from student to student depending on your individual pace. Take your time, don’t rush, and if you need to stop you can. If you have more than an hour to spare, then work as long as you feel comfortable!

Will Kemp Lemon

Painting by Will Kemp


Another reason we love like Will Kemp’s videos is that he teaches theory as he teaches painting and his technique isn’t fussy or precious—which can be difficult to avoid with beginning painters. He uses bigger brushes and loose brush strokes to make really beautiful, professional paintings. Here are the colors you’ll need for this painting:

  • Burnt Umber
  • Titanium White
  • Cadmium Yellow Light
  • Raw Sienna

Split this video into three different sessions—during your first session, lay down your ground and sketch the lemon onto the canvas. Watch the video first up to 5:08. Then, complete all steps up to 5:08. Watch the second part of the video (up to 18:30) while your painting dries. During your next session, complete the rest of the painting.

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.

Part One: Laying A Ground

Here’s a transcript of what Will says in this part of the video if it’s helpful to you: Part One Transcript

Will starts out by adding a colored ground to his canvas, which can really be any number of colors (as he explains in the video). For the purpose of this painting, he is using a mix of Raw Umber and Titanium White. If you haven’t purchased Raw Umber yet, don’t panic! You can mix a nice cool neutral with the colors you have now. I just tried mixing the ground myself using Liquitex Heavy Body acrylic and found that a mix of roughly 50/50 Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Sienna works nicely—then add a bit of Titanium White so it’s not too dark. Use your largest brush to apply your ground. When you apply this ground to your canvas, make sure to thin it out with water so that the paint flows smoothly and you can still see and feel the texture of the canvas under the paint. If your paint is too thick, then you will lose the texture of the canvas and get brushstrokes instead. It’s better for the next layers of paint to have the canvas texture to grab onto rather than brushstrokes, which can be too smooth for paint to properly adhere to.


Acrylic Painting Tutorial: Still Life Lemon by willkempartschool

Will is using artist quality paints because they have greater opacity–meaning that they aren’t as see-through or translucent as student grade paints. We discussed the difference between artist and student grade paints back in Acrylic Supplies And What Do I Need?. Check it out if you need a refresher! He suggests at least an artist-grade Titanium White because it’s better at covering mistakes than the student-grade version. If you can afford artist quality paints, go for it! If you can only afford student quality, we would rather you have those than not paint at all!

To apply the ground color, Will uses a Purdy house brush, but any kind of large brush will work. Begin with dipping the tips of the paintbrush into your clean water then dab your brush on some paper towels or a rag to remove the excess water. You want your brush damp, but not wet. Start brushing on your paint. If it’s too thick, add a touch of water. If it’s too runny, dry your brush off and add more paint. Scrub the paint in so that you still have the texture of the canvas coming through. Don’t forget to paint the edges of your canvas!

Part Two: Begin Painting

Here’s a transcript of this part of the video: Part Two Transcript

Now that your ground is on the canvas, you’ll begin the painting process. We have broken the rest of the video down into two parts for your convenience. For this section, watch the video from 5:08 to 18:30 first.

To begin, you’ll need to draw your lemon onto your canvas. You can right click on the image above and save it to your computer or print it for reference. Using a pencil that’s dark enough to see on the colored ground (Will uses a 3B or 4B), lightly draw in the lemon. It doesn’t need to be detailed or elaborate–just some guiding lines so you know where you’re painting.

Using Burnt Umber and Titanium White, Will is going to establish his darkest darks and lightest lights first. In order to see these in the reference photo, it’s helpful to squint your eyes so that you can see these tonal variations. Will notices the darkest part is the shadow area under the lemon, so he begins painting that with a round brush and straight Burnt Sienna. He thins down his paint using a little water and softens hard edges with the tip of his finger.

Remember your different paintbrush grips and keep it loose to start with! Will is holding his paintbrush handle in about the center–not up near the brush like a pencil. Try doing this when you paint. It may feel awkward at first but you will get used to it and it will help you to become a better painter.

Now that his darkest parts have been loosely painted in, he’s moving on to the highlights. Rinse out your brush when you’re finished and pick up a new brush–Will is using the filbert brush now. Notice that Will is not using the same paintbrush throughout. He’s using a larger filbert brush to fill in big areas with paint and then adding details later with a smaller round brush. Don’t try to fill in big areas with a tiny brush–it will be frustrating and is likely to ruin your brush. If you’ve purchased the paintbrushes on our recommendation list, use your largest size 12 flat or size 10 filbert to fill in most of the painting. You can break out your smaller size 4 round for details towards the end. Dip your brush into the water so your paint will thin just slightly. Using pure Titanium White, he starts to paint in the background just above the edge of the table.

By establishing the darks and lights early on, you’ll find it’s easier to judge the tones of all the other elements in the painting.

Will is now moving on to the foreground of the painting–the tabletop under the lemon. He mixes Titanium White and Burnt Sienna together. He reminds us that we can stay relatively loose in our painting–there’s no need for tight details, especially not at this stage.

To add in the background behind the lemon, Will is using some of the paint mix he made for his ground and adding a bit of Burnt Sienna to it to dark it a little. He reminds us at this point that acrylic paints dry darker than they appear when they’re wet, so if you try to match the colors exactly to your reference image, keep in mind that they will darken as they dry!

Now that the background has been painted in, it’s time to start adding yellow! Because acrylics dry quickly, it’s okay to work on different areas of the painting at once, but do be careful that you don’t set your hand down in wet paint and smear your hard work! For this part, you’ll use your Cadmium Yellow Light for the yellow. With the pure Cadmium Yellow Light, load up your paintbrush and start to fill in the lemon. Will mentions in the video that this will look odd for right now but that’s okay–we’re simply blocking in colors now and will tone this down a bit later on. The paint is fairly watery and he’s scrubbing it in with his paintbrush and softening hard edges with his fingertip.

Once that has been blocked in, it’s time to move on to the lighter pith of the lemon–that light colored circle surrounding the flesh. Use a mix of Titanium White, a touch of Raw Sienna, and a touch of the mix you made for your ground. Paint in that circle, pause if you need to at 18:30 and then it’s time to move on to part three! If time allows, feel free to press on and finish the whole painting and video at once!


Part Three: Complete The Painting

Here’s a transcript of this part of the video: Part Three Transcript

Watch from 18:30 to the end of the video first, then watch again and follow along.

Now that the painting has dried a little bit, we can start applying paint on top of what’s there to refine our lemon. Use some Raw Sienna straight from the tube and add it on top of your lemon peel. This layering effect will add depth and interest to your painting. Because the Raw Sienna is a translucent color, you can still see the Cadmium Yellow Light showing through underneath. Leave just a little of the pure yellow on the edge so the lemon has a “glow” there. Once you’ve done that, you can add some Cadmium Yellow Light into your Raw Sienna and lighten up any areas of that lemon peel that look a bit too dark. Pay close attention to your reference photograph and paint what you see, not what you think you should see!

The center of the lemon is actually darker than you may think. Use some Raw Sienna and Titanium White with a little bit of the ground color to tone it down. You’ll notice in the video that Will isn’t just scrubbing the paint in any direction on this portion of the lemon–he’s painting in little triangular shapes like the sections of the lemon and leaving a little bit of the ground showing through between the sections. Lighten any small sections in here that look like they need a bit of brightness.

Now it’s time to darken the part of the lemon peel that’s closest to the table in order to give it dimension and make it look like a rounded object on a flat surface. Mix some Burnt Sienna and Raw Sienna together and scrub it into the painting in a thin line near the bottom edge of the lemon. To blend this into the already dried paint underneath, you’ll add a touch of your Glazing Medium to your paint. You don’t need much! This helps to keep your paint wetter for longer and allows you to feather or blend your paint better.

Take a short break here and step back from your painting. Take a look at both your painting and the reference photo and try to see what’s different between the two images–which parts do you need to work on? Are there any light areas you may have missed? Will notices that the white in his background is too harsh of a line so he’s going to soften it up by mixing a slightly darker white and feathering it in over the existing line. Continue making small refinements with your paint anywhere you feel the painting could use some editing. Will continues his refinements on the inside of the lemon.

For those little highlights inside the lemon, use Titanium White toned down just slightly with a touch of Raw Sienna. Using a small brush, add in little highlights to the lemon sections where you see them in the reference photograph. You can see in the reference photo of the lemon that there are a lot of minute details in the flesh of the lemon. Don’t be intimidated by that! You do not have to paint a photo-realistic lemon. Notice how Will Kemp is keeping the details of the fruit nice and loose so we can the idea of the lemon without fussing over too many small details.

After he’s finished with the details inside the lemon, he lightens up the tabletop background around the lemon. This helps to make the lemon stand out more because of the greater amount of contrast between light (tabletop) and dark (shadow) in this section.

How did your lemon turn out? Take a photo and send it to us using our submission form!

Next lesson: Exercise Three: Cherry

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