When I went back to my studio a few days later to finish my drawing, it struck me that I hadn’t draw the silver bowl large enough. Also, the two shells on the right were too big. It never stops amazing me that these mistakes are so easy to see after some time has passed, but almost impossible to detect while drawing! I was very reluctant to erase and redraw the bowl, since it had taken me a tremendous amount of time to draw all of the designs. I did not want to do it again! It was only about a half an inch too small, so I tried to talk myself into believing that it was close enough, and wouldn’t make any difference to the composition. Tempting as that was, I realized that the bowl did need to be bigger, especially in relation to the orange box. The bowl is the focal point, and needed to look more important. The larger size would help. Also, the two shells that I’d made too large were drawing too much attention. I wanted them to be a small exclamation point at the end of the long swoop starting at the upper left. They would have to be redrawn, too!
I’ve learned the hard way that you really must take the time to correct errors, even if it means a lot of additional work. If you don’t, the result will always be flawed, and it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to correct the painting later. But it did hurt to erase all of those hard-to-see and measure complex shapes!
I think I’ll put off redrawing the patterns on the bowl until after I’ve completed my black-and-white study. By then I should know if the basic shapes are correct.
I thought that I was an old hand at understanding and drawing ellipses, but this set-up had me a bit confused. Both the lid on the orange box, and the silver bowl are set at an angle to the tabletop. I wasn’t sure how to calculate the angles. Also, there are several concentric ellipses on the lid. I didn’t remember how to draw these correctly. I immersed myself in an old book on perspective, and I think I have it straight now. One particularly confusing point is that the actual center of an ellipse (its major axis) is not the same as it’s perspective center. In the illustration below, the perspective center of the ellispe is at c, the center of the square in perspective in which the circle is set. so the line cc marks the perspective center of the ellipse. The line ee is the actual center (or major axis) of the drawn ellipse.
You need to use the perspective center as the center line of any concentric ellipses you construct. When you do this, they appear closer together as they get further away. In the illustration below, the width of the white ring at the bottom, at 4 is wider than its width at the top.
After spending several days studying my perspective book, I realized that it wasn’t necessary for me to master all of the rules! I understand enough to draw what I need to draw. However, it is nice to know that I can refer to my book if I need it.
The pattern on the silver bowl was also confusing to draw. All of the irregular swirls had to be shown in perspective and getting smaller and narrower as they recede into the distance.
It took a lot of staring and measuring! Sometimes when I’m drawing such a complex object with many repeating patterns like the swirling bowl designs, I put a small piece of tape on the object to give my eye a reference point. I mark this point on my drawing, too (the small ‘x’ on the bottom center design). When my eye flits back and forth between the set-up and my drawing, the tape gives my eye a ‘landing point’ so I can know which lobe I was studying. Otherwise, by the time I’ve looked at the drawing and back again to the set-up, I’ve lost track of which lobe I was drawing.
I decided to stop here, and look at the drawing again in a few days. Then, hopefully, all of my errors will be more apparent!
I’ve completed the corrections I wrote about in my last post.
First, I darkened the green cloth in the upper left with a glaze, and then added more detail and highlights to the cloth in the lower portion, near the green bowl. I think that this draws the eye into the center of the painting, as I intended.
Next, I added some more details on the tassel and string, adding a few threads, brightening some highlights, and adding some more contrast with darker glazes in the shadows. I brightened some of the light areas in the green bowl, and added brighter highlights on the black cloth near it.
Finally, I added more lights to the yellow crystal. As I was doing this, I corrected some drawing errors that I had missed, and adjusted some of the values.
I’ve found that sometimes after taking an initial stab at painting an object, it looks fine to me in the context of it’s yet-unfinished surroundings. Later, I find that even though it still looks acceptable, it isn’t as well seen and painted as it could be.
After looking at the painting with all of these changes, I thought of another possible improvement. How would it look if the entire black cloth were a shade or two darker? This might bring even more brightness and focus to the tan vase and stones. I’ve figured out a low-tech way of visualizing this sort of change. I cast a shadow onto the canvas from the light in my hallway where I lean my painting. I used my arm to cast a shadow onto the area of the black cloth. It effectively makes the area look like it has a dark glaze over it! (To simulate a lighter area, I use a narrow-beam flashlight). I can’t decide if I like the area darker or not! I’ll live with it for a while, before I commit to the change.
Sometimes after working hard on a painting, I find that I get tunnel-vision and can’t judge the work clearly, so I put ‘Green Cloth’ away for a few weeks so that I could see it with fresh eyes.
The first thing that struck me was that the tan vase was the focal point, not the green bowl, as I’d originally thought. That seems obvious now, as it’s the brightest object with the most value contrast surrounding it. I still want to bring some more focus to the green bowl, though, to balance the pot. I’ll experiment with adding some more darks and lights in the bowl to create contrast to draw the eye. I also noticed that the red tassel and cord weren’t getting enough attention. I’ll add some more details- some highlighted strings and a few brighter highlights.
Sometimes after I’ve painted something as faithfully as I can, I stand back and see that I have to make some changes for the sake of the composition. Since my spotlight is on the right, the black cloth is brighter on the right. Though I painted this correctly, I ‘d like to bring more focus to the left side of the painting near the green bowl. I thought I’d brighten the highlights on the black cloth near the bowl to bring some attention there.
I think that the fold of green cloth falling down from the upper left was drawing the eye up and out of the picture. I can think of two ways to prevent this. First, I’ll darken the cloth at the top to mute the attraction. Next I’ll add some detail on the lower part of the cloth near the green bowl to keep the eye busy there.
Finally, to keep the area near my focal point interesting, I think I’ll add some brighter highlights to the yellow crystal.
I’ve put my Green Cloth painting away for a few weeks, so that I can judge it with fresh eyes. My thoughts have turned to a new painting!
I have three set-up stations in my studio. I thought I’d use one on the opposite side of the room from the last one I used, on a narrow shelf. Now, my spotlight is on the left, and my window is on the right. I like how the spotlight casts shadows of the vertical sides of the shelf unit onto the ‘stage.’ I selected some things from my prop cupboard that attracted my eye- an orange lidded cardboard box, a tall black vase, a silver bowl, and some shells and stones. I decided not to use a cloth, as my last painting was so cloth-centered.
I set this up very quickly- a rare occurrence for me!
I like how every object is influencing the object adjacent to it. The orange box is casting its color onto both the black vase and the silver bowl. The silver bowl is sending wild reflections onto the box and the wall. The shell and the two stones are reflected in the bowl. The table top is sending light up onto all of the objects. Finally, cast shadows connect all of the objects into a continuous flow from upper left to bottom right. I’ll have to make sure that the small shell on the far right is highlighted enough to draw the viewer’s eye up a bit so that the viewer’s eye isn’t led right off of the canvas! I will omit the light switch in the upper right.
My focal point will be the silver bowl with the stones on it. It’s possible that the orange box will be too focus-pulling. If so, I could dull it’s color or increase the brightness of lights on the silver bowl. Or, I could make the orange box the focal point! I’ll wait and see.
Next I’ll figure out how large to make the painting, order the canvas, and start my drawing!
After writing my last post about why I don’t paint from photographs, I realized that I forgot to mention an important point. In my work, I show the world not as it is, but as I think it should be. I don’t depict every detail just as it appears to me. I’m selective about what I include and what I don’t. I omit distracting elements, add emphasis, change colors, mute details, all in the service of creating a beautiful image. If I were to work from a photo, I’d be inclined just to copy the image as it stood. A painting should be more than a photograph!
I always paint from life- never from photographs. I’ve noticed that many painters, especially beginners, do work from photographs. I can usually tell simply by looking at the painting that it wasn’t painted from life. Edges are hard, 3-dimensional forms are unconvincing, colors lack subtlety, there is not enough detail in either the darks or the lights, and there is little sense of light flowing through the work. Why should this be? Doesn’t a photo show us just what reality looks like?
The answer is, no! The camera does not reliably show us what the world looks like. How many times have you seen something beautiful or striking, and photographed it only to see a disappointing result? The camera can reproduce only a limited range of values and colors. If the light is too bright, the darks are completely washed out. If there’s not enough light, the camera registers only dark with no details. Looking at a photograph, it is impossible to truly study forms and light flowing around them.
Another problem with painting from photos is that a photo captures the view from just one point. It might happen that from this one point, an object’s shape is confusing. It’s true form may not be visible. The resulting painting would be unconvincing, as the artist is obliged to guess at the true form. If the artist were working from life, however, he would merely have to move his head a little to be able to see the shape clearly, and paint it as it really is.
Finally, using a photo puts an artist a step removed from reality. I can’t imagine studying my set-ups and painting without being completely immersed in what’s before me. If I used a photograph, I’d be painting the 2-D photograph, not the world. I want my work to show what I see, in an immediate, visceral way.
I do use a camera in my work, but not at the painting stage. When I am composing a painting, I use my camera to record the potential set-ups so that I can judge how they will look as 2-D compositions.