Value Study in Black and White

My paints are mixed in 9 values ranging from white to black. There are many more values possible, but I find that 9 lets me represent a set-up well. I’ve numbered them right on the palette, as usual, for easy identification.

Above is my first pass. I’ll need to let this layer of paint dry before I can make corrections. Otherwise, it all smears together and makes a mess. Looking at this, I noticed that though I had made my vantage point lower, and adjusted the bricks in the drawing, I hadn’t corrected the basket and the square glass plate enough. They are still seen from too high. In other words, too much of their top surfaces are visible. I can fix this here, in the study, at my next session. If it looks good, I’ll have to go back and correct the pencil drawing underneath.

Above is the study after my next session. You can see that less of the top surface of the basket is now visible and the ellipses are shallower. I also corrected the glass plate, painting it at a shallower angle. I’ve gone over everything again, correcting values, adding details, and brightening highlights. The paperweight is more sharply defined, and I indicated the weave on the basket. I decided to darken the shadow area on the far right side (not so noticeable in the photos) and show more of the bits of light showing through the crate that makes the right-side wall. I thought that they livened up this shadowy area. I brightened the turquoise stone, and darkened the shadow cast onto the far left brick. I also noticed that the black vase wasn’t tall enough. I added 1/2″ to the bottom of it. Finally, I chopped off 4 mm at the top of the composition. It’s just a bit, but I thought it looked more dramatic this way.

I’m pretty happy with this study. I’m trying to decide if it bothers me that the turquoise stone is almost in the center of the composition. It’s hard to know. Though black-and-white studies are very helpful for judging a composition, they aren’t perfect. Sometimes color can profoundly effect how the eye travels over a composition. A brightly-colored object might not draw attention in a black-and-white study, but in the full-color painting, it would. The bright blues of the turquoise, paperweight and bowl will direct the eye in a different way in a full-color representation than in this study. I might have to go back and look at the photos I took of the set-up and judge from them whether I like the position of the turquoise.

Correcting My Drawing

Above is a photo of my drawing before I began the changes to lower my vantage point. Below, is how it stands now, after the adjustments.

You can see that less of the top surfaces of objects are visible because I lowered my stool. The ellipse at the top of the black vase is shallower, as is the ellipse at the top of the basket. This all took quite a bit of re-measuring. I recalculated the height of my horizon line (my eye-level) and marked it with a long strip of tape at the top of my drawing board. I drew a dot on the tape at my vanishing point (the spot directly in front of my eyes) I made sure that all lines perpendicular to the picture plane (such as the tabletop and far left brick) met at the vanishing point. This is called one-point perspective. Most of the bricks aren’t parallel to the picture plane, so each has its own two vanishing points on the horizon line-one for each plane. This is called two-point perspective. If the angle is sharp enough, I can draw the vanishing point on my horizon line and use a ruler to draw a line at the correct angle on my brick. The vanishing point for the front plane of each brick that is close to being parallel to the picture plane would be far off to the side on the horizon line. I just estimated these angles because its not practical to draw such a long line.

I made a few more adjustments. The paperweight needed to be a bit wider. The crystal was too far to the right, and the black vase wasn’t quite tall enough, so I added a bit of length at the bottom. I drew the shell, and finished drawing the turquoise and dish. Next, I need to draw the weave on the basket, and the details on the paperweight.

Adjusting My Point of View

I had almost completed my drawing, and was comparing it to the photo I liked best of my set-up. I noticed that the point-of-view in the drawing was slightly higher than that in the photo. I think that when I took the photo, I had held the camera lower than my eye level to get rid of some of the parallax. I don’t know why I didn’t notice this before! Much as I tried to convince myself that the higher vantage point was fine (to save myself having to re-draw!), I really preferred the lower. It seemed to make the line of bricks more imposing and taller. Below is the drawing, and below that, the photo that I liked.

It’s subtle, but you can see that there is less of the tops of things visible, and the ellipses are shallower in the photo. I lowered my stool a bit to lower my view. Drawing the changes I saw was more complicated than I thought it’d be. As my point-of-view got lower, there was more vertical space seen through my view-finder. If I kept the bottom cut-off point of the set-up the same, I now had more space at the top, above the top of the black vase. I can always trim down the composition at the top a bit, if I like this new drawing. Thankfully, the horizontal measurements remained the same, so I didn’t have to re-measure everything!

Above you can see some corrections. The lines perpendicular to the picture plane are receding at a shallower angle, and the top surfaces of the bricks appear narrower. It’s a pain re-drawing all of my carefully observed work, but as my husband pointed out, it will take a lot longer to paint the picture, so I might as well get it right at the beginning! If I had left it, I’d always be unhappy that I hadn’t made it just the way I want it.

Getting Ready to Draw

I’m pretty happy with my composition, so it’s time to start my drawing.

I taped 2 pieces of drawing paper to my drawing board.

Next, I had to decide how big to make the painting. I like to paint my still lifes life-size. I find that they are more compelling if they are close to reality. If they are much smaller or larger, they lose impact. I began by measuring the length of my set-up in the front, estimating where the edges of the composition would be. See below.

I’ll calculate the height of the painting by using the proportions on the view-finder I used to compose the picture. In this case, I used my 2-to-3 ratio view-finder. The set-up was about 21″ across, so it will be 14″ high. I drew a rectangle with these dimensions on my drawing paper. I sub-divided the rectangle into halves, thirds, etc. to make a grid These same divisions are drawn on my view-finder. Using a thin knitting needle held on the view-finder, I can locate edges and points in the set-up and place them on my drawing. If, let’s say, the top of a brick lines up on the top 1/4 line when looking at the set-up through the view-finder, I can draw this on my paper in the equivalent spot.

Below, you can see me using the knitting needle while doing the drawing for my last painting.

I also measure by holding up a ruler and comparing measurements. Perhaps a brick would line up with one inch and the length of the bowl would line up with 1-1/2″. I discuss this and other measuring methods here. https://lindamann.blog/2018/03/02/drawing-again/

I’ll get the drawing mostly right and will then do my value study. Often, after I’ve completed the study, I’ll want to move some things around. I’ll go back and finish the drawing at that time.

Here’s how the drawing stands now.

Some Final Adjustments

I don’t know why I didn’t notice it before, but the shadows cast by the nest onto the front of the tabletop weren’t ideal.

As you can see above, the five shadows are almost exactly alike in size, value and direction. I usually try to vary the space between objects. I also try to avoid repeating the same shapes without introducing some variety. Below, I painted over the shadow on the far left, and re-painted it in further to the left, where it actually should have been. I painted it much lighter than it had been, so as not to draw as much attention. I shortened the next shadow on the left, so that it didn’t reach down to the edge of the table top. The other shadows remained much the same, except that I lightened them. I added some very fine strands of grass, visible against the dark area under the tabletop.

I’m much happier with the dried grasses hanging over the edge and the shadows they cast now. I’ll need to repaint another layer over the painted-over shadows when they dry to get complete coverage. I’ll also soften the edges of the shadows.

Another Version of the Brick Set-up

Now that I’ve been away from this new set-up for a few days, I can see some things I’d like to change. The space between the second and third bricks seems too wide. That, and the small bit of light showing there draw the eye in to the background and out of the picture. Also, I wonder if the vase would draw the eye upwards more if both sides of its top were silhouetted against the second brick from the right, as opposed to just its right side, as it is now. Finally, I thought I’d move the vase a bit to see if I could get a more interesting shadow cast onto the middle brick. Below is a photo of how I left the set-up last I worked on it.

Below is a photo of the changes I made.

The biggest change is in the shadow cast by the vase. Now, more of the shape of the vase is apparent in the shadow. (It’s nice to have some repetition of shapes, for unity.) Also, some of the shadow is now cast onto the second brick from the left, further unifying the foreground and the background. This new arrangement caused the lighter-valued space between the second and third bricks to be dark, and eliminated the small bright spot, too. Now there is a dark mass of shadow in the center of the composition. I think that this lets the eye focus more on the foreground objects and the curve that they suggest. I moved the shell more into the picture. Finally, the brick behind the vase is now visible on both sides of the vase. I like this for two reasons. First, the shape of the vase is now more defined. Second, the shape of the brick behind the vase is clearer, accentuating the importance of the continuous line of bricks that makes up the background.

A Few Final Changes

After my last session, I lived with the painting for a few days and decided that it needed to be darker between the basket and the bowl, and on the far right. Even though I had captured the actual quality of the light there, I thought that the composition would benefit from more drama and contrast. I decided to add a dark glaze in these areas. I only applied a thin glaze, so I could judge its effect and then add another if I thought it necessary. Also, the table top seemed still to be too dark. I scumbled a light gray over the right-hand side, nearer the light source. I added more light touches to the bowl and box. I shortened the piece of straw sticking out to the left. I had lengthened it a few sessions back, but it had been bugging me since. I scraped off the thick white paint with my palette knife, then dotted in some dark glaze to cover. If I had just glazed over it, the impasto (thick paint) of the straw would have shown through. Finally, it’s been bothering me how yellow the rice paper has been looking. I decided that it needed to be cooler (it was cooler in reality, as well). I scumbled pure lead white over the entire background wall. This added a bit of texture, as well as neutralizing the yellow. After it dries, I’ll repaint the tiny bits of golden fibers embedded in the rice paper, along with the tiny bits of light they reflected and shadows that they cast. These were obscured by the white glaze.

Above, you can see the before and after shots. The changes are subtle, but I think that they are good. I see that I need to work on the upper right of the basket near the rim. It looks a little flat there. Also the nest could use some highlights. I’ll tackle these next week.