Painting Begins

I decided to begin with the backdrop. I needed to get a smooth transition from dark to lighter, from left to right. This can be tricky to do. It requires a lot of careful blending. Blending can get messy because the paint often gets smeared onto adjacent areas. Better to paint it first, so I don’t mar anything that’s already been worked on. Above you can see where I’ve tested several different values of gray to make sure that I’ll get a smooth transition. It’s clear here that the underpainting is a few shades lighter than the finished value. I painted swatches of these colors directly onto my value study to make sure I got them right.

Above you can see the dots of paint that I dabbed onto the value study to compare values. The orange spots are from when I was painting the underpainting. I was checking that the values I chose were a few shades lighter than the finished value. The dark spots are from this session, where I was trying to get the value the same as the in the study.

Above, the backdrop is complete (for now!). I don’t want to work on any adjacent areas until it dries, so I’ll have a first go at the dish and stones.

At first, I try to get the basic local colors in. I can’t do any finished work at this early stage, because all parts of the painting must grow together. If I put a lot of detail in now, I’d probably find later that the colors and/or values were incorrect. Everything must be compared with everything else, as the painting slowly evolves.

At my next session, I roughed in the blue crystal and the two bricks on the left. The color of the bricks is very similar to the underpainting, so it’s hard to see what I did. I put in a thicker layer of paint and indicated some texture. The brick on the far left has a stippled, rough texture. The one next to it has concentric semi-circular markings which I indicated with strokes of the palette knife. I painted the bricks slightly darker than was indicated on my value study because I intend to scumble a lighter value over them to mimic paler deposits on the bricks. I put down the local color of the tabletop on the left.

Above, I’ve made a first stab at the basket

Next, I worked on the paperweight. The patterns are very hard to see, but I did my best! It’s frustrating to not get it right on the first try, but I can always make corrections later. Each time I repaint an object, it’s easier to see. The more landmarks that are in place, the easier it is to see if what is there is correct.

The vase was next. I didn’t paint the darks as dark as they would be because I want to glaze the shadowed areas later.

Finally, I finished putting a layer of paint on all of the bricks, the shell, and the rest of the tabletop. I couldn’t resist glazing a few shadows on the drier parts of the tabletop on the left. The paint wasn’t quite dry enough, but I got away with it. They will be much darker after I apply a few more glazes.


The underpainting is painted in 9 values of burnt sienna and lead white. In the underpainting, everything will be painted lighter than its true value. I find that the colors look richer with a paler ground beneath them.

Generally, I try to blend out all brush stroke marks in the underpainting, so that a random stroke won’t show through and interfere with the finished painting. In this case, because the bricks are very rough, a little texture in the underpainting will contribute to the impression of roughness, so I don’t blend out the strokes.

Things are kept very simple in the underpainting. I don’t need to show any details. It would be a waste of time, since this will all be painted over. The real painting doesn’t happen until I start the overpainting!

I try to keep the edges sharp, because I don’t want to lose the drawing. Edges will be softened in subsequent layers of paint. I also keep the paint layer very thin so that it won’t take long to dry. It has to be completely dry before I can start the over-painting.

I work from left to right so that my hand doesn’t smear my completed work.

On the basket, I painted in the lines more sharply than they really appeared so that they could guide me when I start to paint. The paperweight is more loosely painted. I just need the major landmarks indicated at this point.

Above is the finished underpainting. I’ll let it dry for at least a week before I start to paint.

My Canvas Arrived!

My canvas is finally here, so I can begin my painting!

The first thing I did was to tape the tracing to the canvas, making very sure that all of the edges were even.

Next, I traced all of the lines. I know from experience that however careful I am, I lose some accuracy and detail. This happens because I’m drawing (tracing, in this case, but still drawing) without looking at the subject. When I’m finished, and I remove the tracing paper, I can correct the traced drawing while looking at the set-up.

Above, I’m removing the tracing paper to reveal the transferred drawing underneath. Now I’ll spray it with a bit of fixative, and start my underpainting.

New Canvases

I’m still waiting for my stretched canvas to arrive. I’m so relieved that the company that makes them is still working! I was talking with the owner the other day, inquiring after my canvas, and he told me that he had a one that he had stretched for someone who ended up not wanting it. He asked if I’d like it. It was 24″ square. Squares are notoriously difficult to compose in. I have only used a square canvas once. Maybe I can blame it on a hoarding mentality in response to Covid-19, but I told him yes! Now I’m in the difficult position of having to compose a picture starting from the size and shape of the canvas, instead of my normal method, of letting the objects I’m going to paint tell me what size and shape would best suit them, and then ordering the canvas. I think that I’m up for a challenge about now! Tomorrow I’ll take a shot at setting something up. I have no idea what I’ll do. I hadn’t thought of a new idea since I’ve been focusing on my brick painting. Stay tuned.

Correcting the Drawing, then Making a Tracing for Transfer to Canvas

First, I removed the tracing paper on which I painted the value study, so I could work on the drawing underneath.

Above, I drew the corrections I had painted in the value study. You can see where I erased and changed the positions of the bricks. While I was at it, I narrowed brick #1 on its right side, and made a few more adjustments all over.

Above, I taped some tracing paper over my drawing. I’ll now trace the drawing so that I can transfer it to my canvas.

Above, I’ve started tracing. At this stage, I like to keep things neat, so I use a ruler to draw the straight lines. As I paint, I’ll loosen up on the straightness. It’s easy enough to get less straight as you paint, but much harder to get straighter once you’ve lost it!

Above, I’m removing the tracing from the drawing.

Here’s the finished tracing.

Now I have to turn the tracing into transfer paper. To do this, I flip over the tracing and scribble with a soft pencil over the areas where there are lines.

Now the transfer paper is complete. All I need now is my canvas to arrive so I can transfer the drawing to it and begin painting.

Adjusting the Value Study

Above is the value study as I left it last. I find that my eye is drawn to the shadow cast by the black vase onto the center brick. I don’t like this. I thought I’d try to move the shadow over to the left, so that only a sliver of light is left on its left side.

Above, you can see the correction. (Please forgive the photo which is a bit light.) I actually didn’t move the shadow much. Instead, I shifted the whole brick over to the right about a 1/4′. This change increased the gap between bricks #2 and 3, and decreased the gap between bricks #3 and 4. Now bricks #3 and 4 were too close, so I narrowed brick #4 a bit to keep a small gap. I also added some detail in the vase’s shadow. This made it seem more like a textured brick and less like a black hole. Overall, I am pleased. The shadow isn’t bothering me now.

I also moved the shell over a bit to the right.. Now I’m ready to draw these changes on the drawing.

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.