How to Paint Tomatoes

Learning how to paint fruit and vegetables is a great way of exploring bold colours in oil paint. This demonstration on painting tomato plants within a greenhouse contains lots of interesting light and shadow.


A Painting of Tomatoes Step by Step


Painting onsite within a greenhouse is often a pleasant environment in which to set up a studio, particularly early in the morning or in late afternoon. In this case, the oblique light filtering through the greenhouse windows added an abstract quality to the painting of tomato plants.

Tips on Painting Plants
The following advice on painting tomatoes, and indeed, other greenhouse plants may help the artist overcome preliminary problems.
  • Select a time when the tomatoes are in various stages of ripening, so that yellows, greens and oranges can also be used as well as red
  • Take care when mixing greens, for using the same green throughout will result in a flat painting. Greens contain lots of other mixes
  • Do not be afraid to use the pigment straight from the tube, if observation dictates that such a pure colour can be perceived. This will add focal points to a painting of tomatoes
  • Use a soft brush to blend the shadows of the tomato plant to remove any unwanted ridges
  • If painting from life, be aware of the changing light.

Art Materials Required

  1. Red acrylic paint
  2. Oil paints in the following colours: titanium, pthalo blue, ultramarine, permanent rose, cadmium red, cadmium yellow, lemon yellow, viridian, burnt sienna and burnt umber
  3. A 12” x 16” (30.5 x 40.5cm) canvasboard
  4. A size 3 and size 6 round sables
  5. Size 3 and 6 bristle brushes
  6. A palette consisting of a china plate or varnished wood.
  7. Small pot of artists’ white spirits
  8. A few rags
  9. Soft pencil

Read more about the colour red on my science of colour site.


This site comprise of pictures and excerpts taken from my two art instruction books. Oil Paintings from Your Garden can be purchased direct from the author via this site, or through Amazon.


My other book, Oil Paintings from the Landscape can be purchased direct from Amazon.

Demonstration on Painting Fruit


The drawing was roughed onto the canvasboard on an overcast day, when the light and shadow could not confuse the shapes of the tomato plants. The painting surface was then overlaid with dilute red acrylic paint to kill the offputting whiteness and to offer contrast against the pervading green.


Painting in the Greenhouse


The background area was blocked in first. The sky consisted of pthalo blue and white; the other areas consisted of various greens Allowing some of the red underpaint to show through helps to add vibrancy to the painting.


Mixing Green


Various greens can be perceived within the painting. The pale greens consisted of viridian, ultramarine and white. The darker greens consisted of, lemon yellow and more viridian. A little red was added to the mixture to make the green yet darker around the doorframe area.


The Colour of Tomatoes in Painting


The sunlit and shaded areas meant the tomato plant had to be divided into two basic colours. Two sables were employed at the same time to serve this purpose. The leaves catching the sunlight consisted of a mixture of viridian, lemon yellow and titanium white; the shaded foliage consisted of permanent rose, ultramarine, viridian and a little lemon yellow. When painting light and shade, it sometimes pays to stand back from the painting and to ensure the tones are accurately portrayed, as this can be difficult when close up.


Completing a Still Life Painting with Tomatoes


More of the background in the painting was blocked in prior to painting the tomatoes themselves. A thin sable was used to illustrate the ripe fruits with mixtures of neat cadmium red, darkened with a little permanent rose and ultramarine; lemon yellow and cadmium yellow for the less ripened fruit. The finishing touches were provided with a dab of neat white on each fruit to express the highlights.


Painting out of doors in the garden is a satisfying pastime, but completing a painting within a greenhouse offers something different, for the interplay of light and shadow. The tomato plant is an ideal subject matter for such a challenge and the bright colours of the fruit themselves offers focal points.

YouTube Video

My youtube clip showing the oil painting process of an apple and lemon might be of interest. The clip has been speeded up.


© Rachel Shirley 2010