Knowing When You’re Done

After working on it for so long, I decided that I’m finished with Wrinkled Paper. I could have worked on it forever, observing subtle differences in color and value, correcting the drawing, but in the end, my goal wasn’t to make a perfect reproduction of reality, but to create a beautiful picture.

It’s interesting to reach that point in a painting where suddenly, it feels complete. Sometimes, I think that I’m merely tired of it! I’m sure that’s part of the desire to move on, but I think that more importantly, I realize that the picture is saying what I wanted it to say, for better or worse. It’s almost as if it has a life of it’s own, formed when I completed the set-up. I realize that vision in paint, and then it’s done. No amount of fussing with small details will change the overall effect.

I find that it’s very difficult for me to judge the worth of a painting soon after I complete it. I’ve been so involved with it that I can’t be objective. I might look at it in a few months and love it, or I might see glaring faults. I really don’t know!

I don’t have any idea what my next painting will be! For now, I’m going to take a little break over the summer to travel, be with my family, and work in the garden.

The Fun Part


When viewed from a distance, the painting is mostly finished at this point. The composition is complete. The large areas of light and shade as well as the colors are set. All that remains is to refine the details. Many of these will only be discernable up close, but to me, they are a large part of what makes a good still life so interesting to study. The subtleties of reflected lights, lost edges, colors in highlights, colors in the shadows all enhance the feeling of a heightened reality.

Above, I’ve finished the stacked stones. On the red stone, I painted the pattern on its surface, and added a small nick in the front. I muted the reflected light under the shadow on the left side, and added more yellow to the top surface on the right to better represent the light coming from that side. I added some bits of bright yellow and orange to the highlight to make it appear to glow.On the yellow stone, I added some reflected orange light on its bottom from the orange stone below. I softened its edges, and added some bright orange on the edge on the lighted side. I modified the triangular light spot between the stones and the obsidian by softening its edges with yellow to make it appear that light is radiating out from it.

On the stone above, I darkened the shadow side with a glaze. I softened all edges and refined the drawing of the patterns on the surface. I added some blue to the light areas in the highlighted side.

Above, I added some lighter details on the cut side of the geode. I also softened some edges on the blue stone.

Above, I adjusted small details- a bit of light here, a darker shadow there. Sometimes the changes are so subtle that it’s difficult to remember or even see what’s different! It is satisfying, though, to try to get the image closer and closer to reality (up to a point!)

I softened edges on the orange stone, and darkened the light reflected up from the table onto it’s bottom side. I worked on making subtle transitions in color and value in the double shadow that crosses it.

On the orange bowl, I lightened the left upper rim towards the back where it turns into shadow, so that it is lighter than the vase behind it. I added some pure cadmium red to the upper edge of the front rim to show the light bouncing off of it contrasted with the dark interior. I brightened the highlights on the right side of the front of the body of the bowl, and lightened the bottom where it catches reflected light from the tabletop below.

On the vase, I added black outlines to the triangular designs at the top, and corrected some wobbly lines all over. The original vase and mine (mine is obviously a reproduction!), was painted by hand, so the patterns aren’t perfectly even, so I don’t have to be too perfect.

Here’s what the painting looks like now. I think that I’ll put it away for a week to get some distance from it. If I’ve been working very hard on a painting, I can develop blind spots and it can be hard to make judgements. I don’t want to wait too much longer, though. If too much time passes, I lose my connection to the painting process and it’s very difficult to get back in the proper frame of mind to continue. Maybe when I look at it next week, something will strike me that needs changing. I wonder if I need to keep working on the paper. I know that I could keep refining it, but eventually to diminishing effect. I have to reach a point where it looks real and rewards close study, but not where it looks over-labored and focus-pulling. The vase- not the paper- is after all, the focal point!

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!

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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!