Lemon Painting Demo

by Noah Layne

Image 1
I started this painting by doing a quick drawing of the outlines of the lemons and box. I drew the box with a 2h pencil. I used a ruler to measure 3 inches in in from the edges so I would be sure to have the same size box all around the painting. I then used the ruler to draw straight lines and find the vanishing point of the places the box joins at the edges. 

After drawing the box I found the placement of the lemons by looking at my setup and comparing the size and shapes of the lemons. I checked the horizontal lines to compare the top or bottom of different lemons with other lemons, tying all the relationships of the lemons together. 

As I say in the classes I teach “It’s like a puzzle. The more parts we get in the right place, the easier it is to put the other parts in their right places.”

I used a stick of charcoal to draw in the big shapes of the lemons. I deliberately left the drawing of the lemons a little loose and unfinished so that I could make changes as I started to paint. I like to work on a drawing that is not too tight so I can feel excitement as I start to paint and not feel like I’m just filling in the drawing.

Image 2
Start of the first coat: Here I’m using a limited palette of earth colors. By using a limited palette I can focus on getting the big flow of light and value and not worry too much about color. 

I use mineral spirits to thin the paint a little in the first coat. I started by blocking in the lemons. At this stage it can be hard to judge the value of the paint compared to the white of the linen. As I go over the all of the linen with paint, it becomes easier to see the values. Reminds me of those optical illusions where the value of a square is only relevant as compared to the value of the squares around them. http://web.mit.edu/persci/people/adelson/checkershadow_illusion.html

Image 3
Here is how the painting looks when I’m finished with the first coat of paint. I try to keep this coat loose and exciting so that I feel like coming back and painting more! If you squint your eyes down the value relationships are starting to work.

Image 4
Start of second coat: Here I start using a full palette of colors. I go over the whole painting bringing the color closer to what I’m seeing. I deliberately do not try to finish or model anything in the second coat. I find if I do finish things too much in the second coat it makes it harder to want to come back and paint over the finished parts. I like the look of having a least 3 coats of paint. So the second coat is just to bring the color closer to the real thing I’m painting and build the paint up. I paint very thinly so it helps to have at least 3 layers of paint. I use linseed oil as my medium for the second coat. I started working from the left to right and from dark to light. Slowly going over the linen.

Image 5
Start of the third coat: I used a full palette of colors again. This time I used a medium of linseed oil and stand oil mixed on my pallet. It’s an oil rich medium but the Artfix linen I use is very thirsty so it works well. The stand oil adds a buttery quality to the paint and helps level the brush strokes.  I start by working from dark to light so I start on the lemon in the back left. I paint over it trying to finish it as I go. Then, I move down to the left bottom lemon and, starting from the shadow side blocking in the big light and dark. Much like in the second coat but this time I start to model and finish the lemon by painting all the little changes as the light flows across it’s form. I do this by painting both the shadow and light side of the lemon with their local color and then working in to the wet paint to adjust and model things.

Image 6
Working my way along the lemons.

Image 7
Finished painting “Lemons in Box” Oil on Linen 11″x 16″

Image 8
Painting with frame.

Image 9
Detail of painting.



Image 7 -- Finished painting "Lemons in Box" Oil on Linen 11"x 16"

Image 1 -- I started this painting by doing a quick drawing of the outlines of the lemons and box

Image 2 -- Start of the first coat

Image 3 -- Here is how the painting looks when I'm finished with the first coat of paint

Image 4 -- Start of second coat

Image 5 -- Start of the third coat

Image 6 -- Working my way along the lemons

Image 8 -- Painting with frame

Image 9 -- Detail of painting


  1. Sarah Marina | October 26, 2012

    Yellow! Probably my most challenging color to paint without getting muddy. But the challenge is what draws me back every so often. Lovely clean color in this. And I like the fun that lies in trome loeil paintings! May I ask how long you waited between layers to keep the colors from blending? That’s always my trouble with painting still lifes anything but alla prima. The fruit/flowers die. But I like the color of layered paintings so much more.

  2. Noah Layne | October 28, 2012

    Thanks Sarah,
    One of the things I love about painting lemons is how long they will last before they wilt/die. I find they can last two or three weeks. They may shrink a little but still maintain their shape. I wait anywhere from 2 to 4/5 days between coats of paint.

  3. Pamm | October 30, 2012

    Very…Very…Very Nice…the demo and the painting!!!!!

  4. Beverly Bunker | October 30, 2012

    Noah, I have just started to paint trompe l’oeil and I am working on 5 in.x 7in. Ampersand gessoed boards to start with. Do you find that beginning with a grisaille underpainting is more successful to the end result than just heading in with glazes of local color? Also, I would like to try these on linen I stretch myself. What would you recommend as a primer (I work with oils) – acrylic gesso or oil primed gesso?

  5. Pauline Caffrey | November 01, 2012

    Loved the demo, and the painting!

  6. Noah Layne | November 01, 2012

    Thanks Pamm and Pauline.

    Beverly, I like to start with an underpainting of earth colors and then start to use a full palette of color in the second coat of paint. The earth underpainting dries somewhat quickly and I find it a nice underpainting to work on to.

    The linen I used in this painting is Artfix L64C. It’s a beautiful linen that comes primed. I use this linen a lot in my paintings. I also use unprimed linen that I gesso with an acrylic primer. Hope that was of some help.

  7. Jon Nickerson | November 08, 2012

    Noah, very nice and thank you for sharing your images and process. Could you share the paint colors you used in your palette? Especially the yellows and earth tones.

  8. Noah Layne | November 15, 2012

    Thanks Jon,
    Here are the colors I used to paint the lemons and the rest of the painting!

    White, Cad Yellow Light both Gamblin and Holbein, Cad Orange, Yellow Ocher, Burnt Sienna, Viridian Green, Sap Green, Burnt Umber, Ivory Black, Ultramarine Blue, Rose Violet, Cad Red Light, Alizarin Permanent Gamblin.

    Hope that helps 🙂

  9. Chris | December 23, 2013

    Hi Noah,
    Those lemons are beautifully finished with details of specks on lemon skin. I tried to mimic them but found it difficult to paint these specks to look like real. Do you mind if I ask what brush (incl. size) you are using to paint these specks and what techniques may be employed to make it easier?
    Thank you

  10. Judy t | March 11, 2014

    Hi Noah, I sure wish you could answer that last question that Chris ask about the specks in the lemon and brushes. I was wondering the same thing

  11. john | January 17, 2015

    Your lemons were on display at the Los Angeles art show today and I was just blown away, great work.

  12. JOYA MANNA | November 09, 2016

    It is amazing how you capture the real colors of the lemons . I guess it is being slow and steady and loving every bit of the time you spend with paint .
    It is also very gratifying, how well you teach ; every step a challenge upon the first .

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