‘From all the still-life subjects I have explored, pretty teacups are amongst my favourites,’ says Valérie Pirlot. ‘They are such beautiful objects for many reasons: the delicacy of the subtle details and decorations, the interesting shapes that combine curves, angles and lines, or the rich colour of the tea it contains, to name a few. It is also fascinating to observe the variety of colours that a white cup can display, depending on the lighting and the reflected light from the objects around it.

‘Although teacups are great subjects on their own, it can be fun to combine them with other elements, such as flowers, plates, cutlery, food (biscuits or scones for example) or even daily objects like a book or reading glasses. This will help you to achieve a natural and pleasant composition and give the viewer the feeling he was just invited to a lovely and intimate little tea party.’


The subject

Still life with Teacup, Artisan water-mixable oils on canvas board, (20x25.5cm)

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This still life was painted at home from life with lovely pink peonies and a silver spoon for extra sparkle. You can follow the demonstration below to reproduce your own version from the picture, or you may decide to crop your painting in a different way from the reference photo.

I do invite you to also try your own set-up and practise painting it from life, whether you own a fancy teacup or just want to use your regular mug. The subtleties and variety of colours and tones can only truly be appreciated when seen with your own eyes, especially when it comes to white objects.

The painting in this demo was done alla prima, which means in one session, wet on wet, without having to wait for layers to dry. This approach encourages spontaneity, bold brushstrokes and often injects energy and movement into a painting that could otherwise feel flat or overworked.

The method detailed here is the same I use for any subject so here is a little reminder of the key points:

  • Paint dark to light, thin to thick
  • Work across the whole painting, one colour at the time
  • See your subject in an abstract way
  • Divide the subject into several shapes, each one affected by light in a different way

How to really see

The trick is to stop thinking about what you are painting – a saucer, a spoon – and have no preconception about what colour they should be, for example, white or grey.

Trust your eyes, not your brain, and simply paint what you see, not what you think you see.


Mixing greys

Although you can easily buy a tube of grey paint, I find it much more interesting and harmonious to depict a wide range of greys by mixing previous mixes from the palette with white and other colours. This will be especially useful while working on the shadows in the teacup or the spoon.

Simply vary the mixes to achieve different results and a different colour temperature (warms greys and cool greys).


Demonstration: Still Life with Teacup

Your reference photograph for this still life