First Glazes

Above is the painting before glazing (except for the green glaze on the book).

Above, I’ve added the first glaze of ultramarine blue and raw sienna in the shadows. I wiped off most of the glaze, leaving only a thin layer. I’ll add more glazes later. I like to do this slowly, in layers, if I’m unsure of how dark I want the shadows to be. Now, you can clearly see the background colors shining through. This can be a nice effect if you want the shadow to look luminous. It doesn’t matter so much if the shadows are ultimately going to be black. I also put some paint on the yellow flourite crystal. I’m not going into much detail yet. I also noticed that the blue book looked a bit thin. I added some width to the side on the left.

I’ll let these glazes dry before I proceed. Now that the values are closer to being correct, I’ll be able to do some real painting at the next session.

Starting to Paint

The underpainting is dry, so it’s time to begin painting!

I include the shot of the set-up above, so you can see how far my first layer of paint (shown below) is from being a good representation of it! Since I use a layered approach, which depends on the subtleties resulting from the interactions of many layers, the first layer always looks odd. No dark glazes have been added yet, so there are no shadows. Also, the colors aren’t really correct yet, since I can’t judge them properly until more paint is down.

I put one glaze of green on the green book just to kill the yellow. It’ll take a few more glazes to get it to be the right color and value. I decided to use a dark glaze on the blue book later, so I painted it lighter than it should be.

Above, the under-painting has been covered with the first layer of paint. I noticed that the blue book looks too thin. I’m surprised I didn’t notice this before! I can still fix it, though. I’ll move the left edge over a bit at my next session. This layer of paint will need to dry thoroughly before I can begin glazing and painting over it. I’ll wait about a week, and then check on it.

Last Minute Changes

As I was studying the painting, I thought that maybe the tabletop edge needed more interest. I had painted a small ding in the edge to break up the line, but maybe this wasn’t enough.

When I first painted the table top, I had decided to ignore the striated pattern on the edge, and just painted it as one tone. Below, you can see what it really looks like.

I thought I’d try painting the striped pattern in. If I didn’t like it, it’d be easy to wipe off, or even paint over when it dried.

Above you can see the re-painted edge. I just roughed it in to see what it looked like. If I like it, I’ll put in more detail.

Here’s what it looks like with a smooth finish.

I think I like it. I’ll live with it for a few days. If I decide against it, I’ll just paint over it! Oil paint is very forgiving that way.

The Underpainting

After being away for a few days, I could see some problems with the drawing. It always amazes me how the eye can grow accustomed to errors during a long drawing session. A day or two later, and the mistakes are glaring! It’s as though the longer you try to draw something, the more your brain tries to convince you that it’s correct! It turns out that the glass was too small and too far over to the right. I really didn’t want to redraw the glass, as It took so long and looked nice. Tempting though it is, it’s never a good idea to decide not to correct an error just because you’ve put in a lot of time. I always regret it!

Next, I traced the drawing onto a piece of tracing paper, and made a transfer paper by scribbling with graphite on the reverse. I then flipped it over, taped it to my canvas, and traced over the lines to transfer the drawing to the canvas.

Now it was time to begin painting. I mixed up 9 values of burnt sienna and lead white from white to pure burnt sienna, and began to block in the values. I kept all values much lighter than they’ll be in the finished painting. The finished colors look more vibrant over a lighter base. I also keep detail to a minimum. Since I’ll be painting over this, any time spent on details would be wasted. I keep edges sharp, so as not to lose my drawing.

I decided to under-paint the green book with pure cadmium yellow. When it’s dry, I will glaze over it in green. It’s a nice way to achieve a vibrant green. The transparent green glaze will allow some of the yellow to shine through. The orange tones of the burnt sienna would have dulled down any green I painted over it. I also experimented with under-painting the yellow flourite crystal, to see if it helped me achieve a nicer yellow. We shall see! I stopped there for the day.

I finished up the next day. I’ll let this dry for about a week. The paint layer is so thin, it should be ready to paint on by then.

Sandstone Details

I hadn’t worked on the left side of the sandstone in a while, so I thought that it was time to give it some attention. I think I’ve been avoiding it because it’s so complex and hard to see. Below is how it stood at the beginning of the session.

I started by trying to closely observe the cross-shaped dark brown mossy area at the top of the sandstone. First, I mixed up a few colors that I thought I’d need. If I’m reluctant to start painting an area, I’ll often do this, as it eases me into a painting frame of mind. Also, once I start observing, I don’t have to stop to mix colors. Naturally, my pre-mixed colors won’t be exactly right, so I’ll occasionally stop to mix some more. I’ll also use what a teacher of mine used to call the “smooshing” method of color mixing, which is mixing a color with my brush on the palette by dipping into the colors I want to mix and then smooshing them together on the palette. The good thing about this method is that it allows you to quickly mix up just what you need in a very intuitive way. The drawback is that you only end up with a brush-load of paint. If it’s a useful color, you’ll want more of it, and it’s hard to keep re-mixing it. When this happens, I’ll stop and mix up a bigger pile of paint with my palette knife, so that I can have a good supply.

It was very slow-going. I was correcting the drawing at the same time that I was trying to closely observe colors and values. They were such tiny shapes! I couldn’t paint all of the bits, but I wanted to get enough of them to seem convincing. I also worked on the area to the left of the sage leaves and the left-most edge of the sandstone. My constant challenge was not to overstate the darkness or lightness of these details. It’s natural, when trying so hard to observe something, to paint it more clearly than it would actually look if you stepped back and took in the whole painting. Over the years, I’ve gotten better at knowing how to dial these bolder statements back, but the impulse is still there! I kept going back to lighten shadows that I had painted too darkly.

Maybe fortunately, at this point, our power went out and I was in the dark! I was forced to wait until tomorrow to continue. Stay tuned.

The Bottle Label

The painting of the label began with the barest suggestion of its color, while I tried to retain the position of the lettering from the drawing.

Below, I’ve adjusted the color a bit and glazed in a shadow.

As I suspected, it was too hard to retain the drawing underneath and also get a smooth transition of tone across the label, so I decided to paint over the lettering guidelines. I’ll just have to re-draw the letters free-hand! Below is the re-painted label. I also added the gold border and the bent corner at the top right. I noticed that the ellipse at the top of the label was too wide, so I made it shallower.

Below, I’ve made my first attempt at the lettering. For the smallest type, I’ve just indicated a line. I’ll try to make this look like lettering at my next session. It’s too small to read, of course, so I’ll try to merely suggest it. I find lettering very tricky to get right! The bigger letters, of course, need to be legible, but not to stand out too much. I’ve observed the bent corner and revised it a bit, sharpening its shadow.

‘Books in Box’ Value Study

Before beginning my painting, I like to paint a value study in black -and-white. Seeing the composition without the distraction of color helps me to judge it. I’ve found that getting the value relationships right makes a strong composition. I also use the study to refer to later while painting. To judge if a color I mix is the correct value, I can dab a bit of the paint right onto the study. If it’s the correct value, it’ll blend right in. If it’s too dark or too light, it jumps out! Below is a value study from an older painting. You can see the dabs of paint I was trying to judge.

To begin my value study, I mix up 9 values, from white to black, in even steps. I number them right on the palette. Having the different values numbered simplifies painting. If one is too dark, let’s say, when I put it down, I’ll think ‘#4 was too dark, let’s try #3.’

Next I tape a piece of tracing paper onto my drawing board. I’ll paint on this. It allows me to see the drawing underneath, so I don’t have to transfer the drawing to do my study.

I keep the painting very loose in the study. I’m just trying to get a quick sense of how the composition is working. I don’t need to paint the details. It’s hard to get all of the values correct right off the bat, because I don’t have a basis of comparison. Once I get all of the paint down, it’s easy to see what’s amiss. I’ll let this layer dry, so I can go back in a few days to make my corrections.

Above is the study after I worked on it a second time. It’s mostly correct. Now I’ll live with it for a while to see if I think the composition works in black-and-white. If so, I’ll go back and refine my drawing before transferring it to the canvas and begin painting!

Working on the Sandstone

I decided to work on the sandstone again. Below is how it stood after my first attempt. It has such a complicated surface, that it was hard to begin this first try. I was trying to make sense of all of the subtle shapes and colors, but all I could do was roughly indicate the basics. Now it was time to get more specific.

Below is my second attempt. As always, after I had a base down, I could begin to see where the shapes of the moss and the sandstone were wrong, and where colors needed to be adjusted. I found that it was very hard getting myself to concentrate on these details- it all seemed too much! I kept at it, though, and slowly, after I accepted that it would be a long, meticulous process, the work began to flow. It became fun! Details like this aren’t crucial for the success of the composition as a whole, but it’s important to give the viewer something to study and enjoy when they get up close with the painting.

I added details at the top edge of the sandstone, and indicated the shadows it casts onto the wall. You can also see that I’ve begun to add the bits of orange fibers in the rice paper on the back wall. I also added warm reflected lights into the shadow on the left, cast by the sandstone onto the back wall.

Some Glazes and Some Details

The initial glazes are dry now, so I can add some more. The shadow cast onto the sandstone and wall from the right needed darkening. Below is how the painting stood when I began. Under that is how it looked after I added the glaze.

The shadow is probably too dark now, but it’s hard to tell at this point. I can always paint over it later in places to lighten it. I noticed that the sandstone casts a shadow onto the wall to its right. This is from light coming in from a window on the left. Because that light is cool, coming from a north window, the shadow will be warm. To indicate this, I used the technique of painting into a wet glaze. While the glaze I just painted was still wet, I painted a cool lighter tone to the right of the shadow. Because the glaze was wet, It was easy to blend a smooth, soft transition. The untouched glazed area now is the warm shadow.

I also added a warm glaze to the shadow on the left, cast by the sandstone onto the wall. I corrected the color on the far left wall with a layer of body color (paint not thinned with glazing medium). The area seemed a bit insubstantial, and needed some thick paint. Glazing is great to darken shadow areas, or to change the color of an area, but if used too much, gives the painting a thin look.

Finally, I wanted to paint the dried sage leaves before they dried up more and changed too much or fell off! I usually wouldn’t paint at this level of detail so early, but this is an exception. Above is a photo of the leaves. I didn’t paint using this photo as reference, just to show what it looked like (though from where I was sitting, I could never see or paint this level of detail!).

I’ll work on this some more, but I have enough now that they’ll look convincing, even if they change on me.

Books in Box- Starting the Drawing

I was happy with the composition, so I ordered my canvas and can start on the drawing!

After locating the major points in the drawing using my view-finder and knitting needle, I located where my vanishing point would be, so that I could get the perspective correct from the start. The v.p. is the point right in front of my eyes, to which all lines parallel to the picture plane seem to converge. It’s easily found by holding up two straight-edges at arm’s length and lining them up with two lines perpendicular to the picture plane in the set-up, (such as the sides of the box). Where they meet is the v.p. I mark this point with a piece of tape above my set-up. (If you look at the last photo in this post, you can see the tape on one of the books on the bookshelf.) I then locate where the equivalent spot would be on my drawing. Sometime, it’s above my drawing, so I mark the spot on my easel, above the drawing. It’s then simple to draw these receding lines, such as the spines of the books, by using a straight-edge and begining each line at the v.p. Of course, objects that aren’t parallel to these lines will have their own vanishing points far off to the side (such as the crystal on the left). I don’t usually bother to find these vanishing points, since they would be too far away to mark on my paper. I just eye-ball them.

I thought that I had calculated the size of this painting to have everything life-sized. As I was drawing, I could actually go to the set-up and measure the thickness of the walls of the box, for instance, and use that measurement in my drawing. I discovered as I went along, though, that things weren’t measuring up. It was very frustrating to have so many discrepancies between what I was seeing and my measurements. After a lot of erasing, I figured out that my drawing was actually a bit less than life-sized. After I adjusted the thickness of the box walls, the heights of the books and the glass to be a bit smaller, everything clicked into place. Always trust your eyes! For more on calculating painting size and drawing, and measuring, see Getting Ready to Draw and Drawing Again.

Above, I’ve roughed in the glass. I drew the ellipse by eye, but I’ll check it with the pin-and-string method before I finalize the drawing.

The ribbon was fairly easy to position after everything else was in the proper place. The drawing is far enough along that I can do my value study. I don’t want to complete the drawing until I know that all is well with the composition and that I won’t want to be moving anything around.