100 oil stills | no 1-20

by | Feb 26, 2018 | Art, Artistic Endeavors, Oil Painting | 21 comments

If you follow my on Instagram, you know I have started my next art challenge!  I am much more focused when I have a challenge before me, so when the 100 meadows project ended, I needed a new one.  I initially thought I would paint faces/portraits, but I realized I would be painting off of photographs again and, after painting 100 landscapes from photographs, I was starting to see (and experience) the issues and limitations that come with painting with a 2D image.  This led me to still life.  I can set up a scene in my studio, control the light, look at it, and paint it.

Here are the first twenty paintings in the series…

(The ones that have a “buy here” link underneath are for sale via auction.  The rest have already sold or have not been listed yet.)

No. One

I knew the benefits of painting a still life, but it felt a little like going into an ab workout.  I wasn’t very excited about it, but it was exercise that “had to be done” to grow as an artist.  I was determined to paint things I like, though, and not a random collection of objects, like an arrangement including a bowling ball, a bottle of wine, and an egg.

So, I started with a green apple and got ready to do my “workout”.  That’s how I approached painting number one and I feel like you can see that.

First of all, I was tight and the painting looks tight.  I was distracted by the folds in the linen and probably spent more time fussing with those than I did on the apple!  It was a challenge to visually and mentally block out everything outside of the frame as well!  I also really struggled to interpret the colors I saw in front of me.

When I finished, though, I didn’t hate it.  I could, however, see there was a whole world of improvement that needed to happen.  So, I hit the art books again.  I went back to Daily Painting by Carol Marine.  It’s a very practical book that shares a lot of information on still life painting.  One of the exercises Carol “assigns” is “10 minute apples”.  It’s pretty much as it sounds – paint an apple in 10 minutes.  Repeat.  Repeat again.  Paint them to learn and to watch your progress in 10 minutes increments.

No. Two

For my fist 10 minute apple, I put it in a cup and I realized about 8 minutes in that the cup was a bad idea.  The painting had a quirkiness and looseness that I liked, though, so I pressed on…

No. Three

Then, I felt like magic happened.  I absolutely love my second 10 minute apple.

It’s lose, but it doesn’t look messy.  It was such an encouragement to see the “exercise” already paying off and it didn’t feel forced.

No. Four

Number 4 in the series didn’t feel quite as magical, but I was still happy with it…


No. Five

In the next painting session, I figured I had better try painting another fruit, lest I end up with 100 apples!  So, I opted to paint an Anjou pear.  I had them on hand and they weren’t too far removed from the apples I had been practicing.  I also swapped out the white background, which looked blue/gray anyway, for black.

Number 5 was a bit of a disaster when the 10 minute timer went off, so I allowed myself a few more minutes to work things out.  The pear was fine, but the background had too much contrast.  I softened the “wrinkles” in the fabric, so they weren’t such a feature and then I really liked it.  (As an aside, this is one thing I love so much about oils.  An area can be worked and reworked in a way you could never do with watercolors, or graphite sketches, or acrylics.  Oils are so forgiving!)

No. Six

I went straight into another 10 minute pear and I loved how this one turned out…

No. Seven

For number 7, I stuck with the pear, but changed out the background again and put a transferware plate underneath.  This one took me a while, mostly because of the detail on the plate, but I was so pleased when I stepped back and realized you could “see” the design with just a hint of it actually painted.  I didn’t need to stress about detail so much.

No. Eight

You’ll see throughout this series that I’ll work on something that’s challenging and then escape back to a 10 minute piece of fruit to have a small victory or to stay loose.

This is a 10 minute apple, though, that got a little too loose!  I called it a “blurry apple”, but there was something about it that I sort of liked.  It doesn’t feel like my style, but I like that I created something that feels whimsical.

No. Nine

I tried something different and more challenging with a paper berry basket and some blueberries.  I had some perspective issues and the strange lighting was a challenge to capture, but I still ended up liking this one and I learned a lot in the process.

No. Ten

Again, I wanted to do something different, so I pushed myself with lemons on transferware.  I struggled with making the lemons look like they were spaced properly and nestled together and also with the shadows!  I have never pondered the color of a lemon’s shadow before, but I was now in a position where I needed to ponder it and paint it!  This was wasn’t a total disaster, but I knew I needed to work on lemons some more!

No. Eleven

Retreating back to a “10 minute apple” after my struggle with lemon shadows.

No. Twelve

This is one that I definitely forced.  I wanted to try another berry basket, but this one was a challenge from start to finish.  Truth be told, it’s probably one I should’ve wiped and started over.  In fact, I did a few times, but after spending two hours on it, I didn’t have the heart to start over.  I learned a lot about perspective, though, and about putting the brush down when I’m just “not feeling it.”  There are some things I like about this painting, but I feel like you can tell it was an “off” day when you compare it to other paintings that have more confidence.

No. 13

I was nervous to start a painting after the struggle of twelve, but I wanted to try the lemon shadows again!  In the early stages of this one, I thought it was going to be a total wipe-worthy mess.  I pressed on, though, and it’s one of my favorites of the entire series.


No. 14

I really enjoyed painting the transferware plate, so I tried it again with an apple.


No. 15

(Here’s a look at my set-up when I’m painting…

I felt like I needed to break away from the green apples and try red.  So, I grabbed a red apple from the fridge and got to work.  I’m sure I’ll come back to red apples again, but I didn’t enjoy painting this one at all!  Red was much harder for me and I think that’s largely to do with the fact that I don’t use it a lot in decorating.


No. 16

Back to lemons!  This time, I wanted to paint the lemon on a white plate, since I’m working on making my whites look more realistic and less “blue”.  I enjoyed adding the linen towel detail on this one, but I still need to work on the whites!


No. 17

I went with an all-out challenge with this one and painted a bowl of tipped strawberries.  This is one that I have mixed feelings about.  I love parts of it and I’m very pleased overall with my first attempt at strawberries and a more complicated still life, but I can also see areas I need to improve.


No. 18

Back to a 10 minute apple, but this one is on a black background and I love it!  It looks “glowy” to me and I’m happy with the subtlety of the light and shadows on the black fabric.


No. 19

I recreated the lemon painting I loved so much, but this time, I used an apple.  This one is another favorite!

Just to show you the progression, here is the still life that I painted.  I have started taking a picture of with my phone before I start painting, so I can reference it as the light changes (when I’m painting during the day) and I can check my composition.

Here is the underpainting sketch…

…and the final painting…

The plate ended up bing a little wonky, but I love this one, anyway!

No. 20

I was enjoying painting the transferware, so I decided to try a cup and an orange.  I found some mandarin oranges with the leaves and stems just for painting!  (I’m eating them as well, but the leaves aren’t important for that!)  This is the moody composition I came up with and I was very excited about painting it…

I didn’t quite capture the shadowing as much as I would’ve liked and the stem got away from me a little, but I am happy with it overall.

Now that I am over twenty paintings through the “exercise”, it doesn’t feel like drudgery any longer.  Quite the opposite.  I am just about bursting to go paint every day and to find new objects to capture on my easel and discover new compositions and preferences.  I do miss landscapes and I am going to sneak some of those in here and there, but I am learning so much through this series and I can see why still life painting is such an important part of studying art.

I also want to encourage you…

If you have an inkling that you’d like to pick up a brush and started your own still life painting journey, tomorrow’s post will be for you!


  1. Tori

    These are wonderful. Can’t wait for tomorrow’s post. I have everything ready to start painting. Watercolors, oils, canvases, brushes…everything. But I have found every excuse in the book that prevents me from starting. I even opted to re-tile a bathroom instead of trying my hand at painting. Who does that? 🤦🏻‍♀️ . Yes, we are remodeling and the bathroom needed to be re-tiled, but still. Hoping tomorrow’s post gives me a good kick in the rear. 😁

    • Cindy D

      Tori. I can so relate. I keep doing other things when I have everything I need at my disposal in my studio. It’s like I’m trying to get up the guts to just do it, but find excuses instead. And I like Marian’s idea of starting small, like a 5 x 7 and work my way up. That’s it…..today’s the day. Come join me. 🙂

  2. Denice

    So very beautiful – all of them! I am certainly no art critic, so I can’t speak to the technical side of it all, but as someone who loves beauty, color, and nature inspired things, these are simply lovely! I am amazed.

  3. Celeste

    You may have addressed this before, but what are your canvases? I am even now working on a big (20 x 30?) still life of strawberries in a Fiestaware bowl with a glass vase.Yours look better than mine. It started as a desire for a big, bold painting for my living room. Although I have painted for a few years with a teacher, this is the first one I’ve done completely on my own. I know I will look back on it and think “What were you thinking?”, but the process has been so challenging and fulfilling. Clearly, I need to start a little less grandiose and do some smaller challenge paintings, but I think I will always like this huge still life because it was like jumping into the deep end of the pool. I’ve survived. Now, I can give myself permission to keep trying and learning on my own. And if I need to wipe one out and start over, that’s okay.

    • Marian Parsons

      I am painting on 5 x 7s and it has helped to paint small, so there’s little time commitment in each one. I’ll work up to painting bigger!

  4. Melissa

    Fabulous! Tipping Strawberries is just beautiful…

  5. Chris Moore of Seattle

    Love watching the progress!

  6. Elizabeth Stein

    I forgot which email I had clicked on and, when the painting appeared, I initially thought I was on a site devoted to a well known painter. Seriously!

    • Marian Parsons

      Aw, thank you! What a lovely compliment. 🙂

  7. marilyn

    Thank you for sharing these. I liked them all!

  8. Dee

    Love the strawberries 🍓

  9. Roseann

    Amazing! Hope you will be selling them. Ya, know I need some.

  10. mary m

    Loved them all. I can see the advantage of painting with oils because you can get more interesting shading and texture vs. acrylics.

    Just a little tip about washing little linen items and don’t want to iron. While they are wet lay it out on your counter and finger press and walk away. Will dry beautifully and will have a natural body to the piece. I just did a little item so it was fresh in my mind. Actually I like the wrinkles in your piece!

  11. Cindy Jones

    The transferware in #13 is amazing. I love your strawberries in #17.

  12. Nan, Odessa, DE

    I want the strawberries on a cutting board!
    Your fruit is terrific. The red gets my vote every time.

  13. Mindy Bush

    I love what you are doing…i’m kinda doing the same thing…learning. I prefer oils because of the dry time and texture factor. Keep it up, you are definately improving! Love the red apple and a couple of the pears 🙂

  14. Katherine

    OH Marion!
    Not to take away from your gorgeous oils, but just read some exciting news – Jaftex is going to be buying Free Spirit Fabrics and hoping to accomplish this “with minimal disruption top the marketplace” (per their press release — so we may still be shopping for your fabrics quite soon!

  15. Mary Kaiser

    I LOVE # 12. You said you didn’t love it, but I do. You are so talented. Is #12 for sale?

  16. Becky

    I can’t wait for tomorrow’s post! Inspired by your meadow paintings I bought some oils at Christmas, but I have yet to break them out! I have to buy the paper, although I do have some cheap board canvases.

  17. Pamela

    I so enjoyed the journey!

  18. Karen

    Love the strawberries- my favorite, and the lemons are awesome. I used to teach art and would always start someone off on apples. Adding a touch of blue to the highlights on red is helpful, with only the center white. And a great tip for shadows (on anything) is to add a bit of the colors opposite (red -green, yellow-purple) to the shadow mix. It works wonders! I’m painting vicariously with you for right now, and enjoying your paintings immensely. Thanks!


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Marian Parsons - Miss Mustard Seed

I’m Marian, aka Miss Mustard Seed, a wife, mother, paint enthusiast, lover of all things home and an entrepreneur, author, artist, designer, freelance writer & photographer.  READ MORE to learn more about me, my blog and my business…

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