Vase Details

I never work from photos. The camera both distorts and doesn’t provide enough information. It doesn’t pick up subtleties of color and tone, and can be deceiving about shapes and perspective. That being said, I have found one use for photos. Details on objects that are focal points should be clearly painted. If those details are too far away from my easel for me to see clearly, I need a little help. I could hop up and down from my stool to get closer to the set-up for a look, but that is exhausting and creates too much lag time between seeing and painting. It’s much easier to glance down at a photo on my phone held in my hand. One danger in this is that I might easily end up showing more detail than looks natural for an object seen at a distance of 5 feet with some of the areas in shadow. To avoid this, I only use the photo for the ‘drawing’ of the details. Before I paint them in earnest, I return to looking at the set-up to judge if some of them need to be muted or made more hazy, especially as the object turns into shadow. I can de-emphasize an area by dulling the intensity of its color, reducing value contrast, or making the drawing more hazy.

Above, I’ve begun to paint in details on the vase. You might notice that my painting isn’t exactly like the photo. Partly that’s because my drawing isn’t perfect! Partly it’s the result of the perspective in the photo being distorted because I was very close to the vase when I took the photo. As long as my perspective is correct, the disparities between my drawing and reality don’t bother me, because my goal isn’t to create an exact replica of the vase. It’s to create a beautiful painting!


Above, I’ve completed most of the designs. You can see how I’ve muted all detail in the highlighted areas. Also, as the vase turn toward the shadow, I’ve made the images much hazier with less value contrast. This makes the vase look believably rounded and the designs seem to be part of the vase.

Before I Can Paint

My canvas attracts quite a lot of dust and cat hair in between painting sessions! Unless I want that embedded into my finished painting, I have to remove it before beginning to paint. The best way is to blast the canvas with some canned air. This removes the loose pieces, and calls attention to the ones partway stuck in the dried paint. These, I have to pull out with my fingers or tweezers.

After the dust and hair are gone, I have to deal with the sunken-in areas of dried paint. Sometimes (or usually!) the oil in a fresh layer of paint will be absorbed into the layer beneath as it dries. This results in a flat, matte look to the new paint, which makes it look paler than when it was fresh. To bring back the shine and correct value, I apply some painting medium onto the canvas with a brush and wipe off the residue so only a very thin layer remains. Now I can I see the painting correctly. Above, you can see what a difference it makes!

Painting Wrinkled Paper

wrinkled-paper-66.jpgI continued to refine the paper at this session. Below you can see how it looked at the beginning, after my first block-in. The underpainting is still showing through in places, and the shapes of the wrinkles is approximate. Edges are sharp, and the colors are not quite right. Above, you can see how I’ve subdued the paper’s greenish cast, refined the drawing, covered more of the underpainting, and more carefully observed and rendered edges.

Wrinkled Paper #38

The shadow cast onto the right side of the orange bowl from the wall on the right actually looked like two shadows- one darker and one fainter. I considered simplifying it and painting it as one shadow, but I’m always more successful when rendering what I see, so I tried to paint it as it was. Below, you can see the result. I like it! I’ll need to work on it some more. I found it very difficult to see how these shadows interacted with the horizontal ridges on the vase. Maybe it will become clearer to me at my next session.

Wrinkled Paper #68

I decided to darken the large shadow area on the right to make the painting look more like my original conception. I’m going slow, though. It’s easy to add a glaze, but impossible to remove it! The photo below has a glare at the top center, but otherwise gives a good representation of how the painting currently stands.

Wrinkled Paper #67

Refining #2

At this session, I turned my attention to the orange bowl and the obsidian, and made a few changes to the vase.

Wrinkled Paper #63The photos above and below were taken in different lights. The one above is in a warmer light. Try to ignore that if you can! The one above is my ‘after’ shot. I added the subtle horizontal ribs in the body of the bowl with some simple strokes in pale dulled orange. I glazed the interior a darker, warmer hue, using alizarin crimson and a little ultramarine blue. I painted into the wet glaze with a dark yellowish tone to represent a highlight that I observed there. I could have scumbled the reflection onto the glazed area once it was dry, but that would have had too much texture. Painting it into the glaze made it look as if it floated inside the dark area and was part of the shadow. I also darkened the shadowed back rim with a more neutral glaze. I repainted the rest of the rim with body color, correcting color and softening edges.

wrinkled Paper #48

By softening an edge, I mean to make a gradual transition between two adjacent areas, instead of a sharp line.  I do this by dragging a bit of body color right over the sharp edge.  I mix a color that is in-between the areas both in value and in color.  For example, I softened the edge between the light front rim and the dark interior. The value of the color I wanted was darker than the rim, and lighter than the interior. The hue was a bit trickier. In this case, I saw a very warm reddish tone in this area when I looked quickly at it. (If I looked too closely, the effect disappeared!) I decided to use straight cadmium red. The value was in between the two areas, as I wanted, and the intense color seemed right in this case. I also softened the edge on the far right side where the outside rim of the bowl is seen against the dark wall. here, I mixed a color that was halfway between the two in both color and value. I used a dark orangey brown.

Wrinkled Paper #61

The first correction I made to the obsidian was putting a dark glaze over the darkest areas. Next, I adjusted shapes that seemed wrong, and added some cooler (bluish) tones. There is a danger when working under a warm light with many warm colored objects that the painting will end up with not enough cool tones. A painting needs cool tones to balance the warm while at the same time, to appear to be lit by a consistent light source. The cool objects in this still life are the obsidian, the grey stone, and parts of the geode. Also, the shadows are predominately cool. I added highlights and subtle markings.

Wrinkled Paper #64

You can compare the results with the ‘before’ photo below.

Wrinkled Paper #59

I made a few changes to the vase. I darkened the handles and added some markings to the zig-zag patterns

Wrinkled Paper #65

At the next session, I’ll darken the shadow on the right and work in earnest on the paper, especially the top area, which I haven’t worked on much yet.

Wrinkled Paper #62

A Refining Layer of Paint

Wrinkled Paper #57

Wrinkled Paper #42

Above are the geode and blue stone, before and after my last session. I glazed the left side of the stone darker, then scumbled in some light tones where the light was strongest. I added some warm tones to the top which were reflecting from the paper above. I darkened the shadows cast by the geode onto the stone and tabletop with a glaze of ultramarine blue, raw umber and alizarin crimson. I softened the top edge of the stone. The geode received a dark glaze where the shadow was cast from the obsidian. I refined the colors on the cut surface of the geode, adding some warm yellowish tones to the pale blue area. I defined the shapes of the rough underneath part and adjusted the colors.

Wrinkled Paper #58

Next, I repainted the yellow and orange stones, adjusting colors and softening edges. I still can’t get the colors quite right on the orange stone! At least I know that I can always go back to work on it again.

Wrinkled Paper #59

I noticed that the tabletop was too yellow and bright (and stained with smudges from my glazing), so I repainted it in a more neutral color.

Wrinkled Paper #60

It’s hard to see here, but I painted the vase handles darker. The little red stone on the far right finally has some shadows.

At my next session , I’ll work on the orange bowl, adding some texture to the front, softening edges, and making the rim in the shadow darker. It helps to have a set goal for my next session-preferably something easy and straightforward. It makes getting started much easier!



Painting into a Wet Glaze


Wrinkled Paper S#55

I put down another dark glaze on the right side of the paper in shadow, then, instead of waiting for the glaze to dry, I painted directly into the wet glaze. This is a nice technique that results in very smooth transitions. It appears that the solid paint is floating in the shadow. It also gives an opportunity to add some subtle colors. I was careful to keep all values very dark, so that they still appear to be in shadow. I think that I will continue to darken this area with glazes after this layer is dry.

Wrinkled Paper #54

I continued work on the paper in the light, adjusting colors and shapes.




Continuing Work on Paper

IMG_0180The paint on the paper on the right had dried, so I applied a dark glaze over all of it to bring the value down closer to what it should be. This is always fun to do! It’s both simple and transformative. The photo has a glare at the top, so it’s hard to see, but it is darker! Now I can see more clearly what the finished painting will look like. After the glaze was down, I noticed that the folds all looked too soft- almost like cloth. I’ll need to add some sharper edges. Also, the color is too uniform. In reality, there are a lot of warm tones reflecting from the bowl and vase onto the paper.  I’ll address these issues when I apply my next glaze.


I had another go at painting the paper on the right side in the light. With a base layer of paint set, I can now begin to make better judgements about color and form. The more that I have down on the canvas, the easier it is to spot errors. It’s always less trouble to correct an error than to make your first guess! For instance, If I have a tone down, it’s easy to compare that area to reality and see that it needs to be more yellow or more blue or lighter or darker. Or, if I have most of the wrinkles painted in, I can see if one of them is in the wrong position. Painting is all about comparing- both your painting to reality, and areas of the painting to other areas.

I softened the transitions between dark and lighter areas and between different colors. It’s easy to fall back on laying one tone next to another with a hard edge between them. Reality seldom looks like that! There is usually a blended area between tones. How much depends on the nature of the material. A soft cloth will have very gradual transitions between tones, whereas a fold in paper will have sharper ones.


Above, you can see that I’ve almost finished the decorations on the vase. I painted the S-shaped designs at the top. I’ve saved working on the delicate transitions from light to dark on the body of the vase until the values of the background are set.