Painting the Blue Book

My first stage in painting the blue book was to block in the local colors. Since I will be glazing the shadows on the cover later, I don’t indicate them yet.

After that layer was dry, I glazed in the shadows. You can see this in the photo below. I then began to indicate the signatures on the book pages, especially near the spine, where they are the most visible. I also painted the end page at the bottom left where it curves away from the other pages. Basically, I’m just painting the most easy to see features first. I scumbled some thick paint to indicate the rough texture of the page ends. I added a little detail to the edges of the book’s cover. I refined the shape of the pages at the bottom of the book. It wasn’t a straight line, as I had shown, but had a more jagged edge. I saw some reflected light from the box on the book’s front cover, which I quickly painted in. I’ll refine this later.

At my next session, below, I’ve painted some cool natural light coming from the window on the right, onto the book’s cover. I was then ready to begin putting in some more detail on the page edges. I can’t paint every page and bump, nor would I want to! I just want to show enough to communicate the textures and feel of the pages. I could see little bumps that caught the light and cast tiny shadows. I painted these using very slight value changes. When I squinted my eyes and looked at my canvas, all of the pages should appear as one value. If I used too dark darks, or too light lights in painting these details, they would stand out way too much. It’s natural to emphasize differences in color and value when studying something, but it takes practice to show restraint and paint details in a more subtle manner than you first think is required. I often put down a color thinking that it’s correct (ie: the faint shadow line between two signatures, and see right away that it’s way too dark! Fortunately, I can always wipe it off and try again!

Below, I took a shot at indicating the lettering on the front of the book. These letters were hardly visible, so I’m not even going to try to actually letter them. I never like to paint a detail that I can’t actually see from where I’m observing the set-up!

Below, I’ve strengthened the reflected light onto the cover, and continued to add some more definition to the pages. I lightened the edge of the back cover on the left side of the book. I also lightened the inside of the box a tiny bit, so that you could see where the book ends and the background begins

I’m happy with the results! I’ll see how I feel about it in a few days.

Painting Letters

Of all of the things I’ve painted, letters give me the most trouble. There are so many tiny nuances to their shapes and spacing. Sometime, you can just suggest letters, but if a book is front and center, it would look very strange if everything was well-defined except the letters! Though it’s tempting to perfect the letters in the drawing, (because it’s so much easier to depict tiny details in pencil) I have found that in painting the body colors of the book, I lose the drawing! There is no practical way to paint around the letters, keeping them visible. My usual method, then, is to complete the book, and then when it is dry, to do the lettering.

Above, you can see my first attempt. I very lightly paint in guidelines for where the letters begin and end, then sketch in a bare-bones version of the letters. I usually end up wiping this off many, many times before I’m happy with it. I always end up making the letters too big! This is where working on a dry surface comes in handy. I can wipe off my mistakes over and over again

It’s tempting to just paint in a generic version of each letter, but it looks much better when you pay attention to the particular font and its look. It helps to look at the space between each letter, too, not just at the letters. The trick is to see the shapes, and not depend on your previously-formed idea of what letters look like. I mix up the color of the book, and the color of the type. I switch back-and-forth between them, using the color of the book almost like an eraser, teasing the paint to perfect each letter. I try not to get too obsessive about this. It doesn’t fit into my style of painting to be super-exact and make the painting like a photo. This is an oil painting, after all, and I like for it to look painterly. After all, from the distance I’m viewing the book, the letters aren’t super-clear. Its never a good idea to paint more detail than the eye could really see! (In this photo, you can also see an example of just suggesting lettering in a shadowy area on the front cover of the book.)

Above, I’ve begun to indicate the subtle reflections in the gold lettering. These were hard to do . When I looked at them, they looked bright, but when I painted them that way, they looked way too bright. I think that it’s natural that when you’re studying something, you tend to see it in a more focused and detailed way. When you take in the whole scene, though, you can see relationships better. I also tried to show some of the shadows and highlights from the embossing, in a very general way. All of these ideas also apply to the painting of the small boat illustration!

I’ll probably work on the letters a bit more. A few of them are a bit crooked, and I still need to ‘erase’ some gold paint in places.

Adding the Cool Lights

When I set up this still life, I intentionally let in a bit of cool daylight from a window to the right of the set-up to contrast with the warm spotlight on the left. This variety in the temperature of the light adds vibrancy to the painting.

Since the warm spotlight is so bright, it can be difficult to see the cool lights, so I turned off the spot for a while. The first photo below is the set-up with the spotlight on. In the second, I’ve turned the spot off.

I’m at the po

They are dramatically different! It’s now easy to see where the cool natural light is. The right side of the green book, the right edges of the box, and the right-facing surfaces of the ribbon are all quite cool and blue. There are some blue highlights on the glass as well. The table top on the right is also very cool. Some of these effects will become invisible when I turn the spot on, but many of them can still be seen.

Above is the ribbon as I first painted it. I used mostly warm hues, because that’s how it looked to me at the time. Now that I’ve seen the cool lights with the spot off, it’s easy for me to see them with the spot on! Below, I’ve added the cool tones. I think that it looks more vibrant now.

Below you can see where I’ve added a blue edge to the right side of the box, the glass, and the right-facing side of the rest of the ribbon

I have found that just looking is not enough. The brain has to understand what is causing the effects that we see. Only then can you really begin to see what is in front of you! I encounter the same issue when drawing. If I don’t understand the perspective, no matter how much I observe and try to re-create what I see, it never looks convincing. When I take the time to study and understand, then I can actually see more and draw it properly.

Blue Book Pages and Fluorite Details

I thought that it was time to give the pages of the blue book some attention. Below is how it looked when I began. I wanted to begin indicating the texture of the pages.

Below you can see that I’ve begun to paint the signatures of pages as distinct units. I don’t have to paint all of these precisely, but near the spine, they were very obvious. It was tricky deciding what colors to use. I ended up using lead white mixed with a bit of transparent golden ochre and cobalt blue. For the darker bits, I added a small amount of raw umber and more cobalt blue. It’s important to keep the values of the dark and light areas very close. It’s easy to over-emphasize the differences and paint the shadows too dark. When I squinted my eyes and looked at the set-up, the edges of the pages all looked the same value! It’s wise to keep checking.

I defined the edges of the book’s cover and refined the bottom edge a bit. I sharpened up the label on the book’s cover.

Now I turned to the fluorite crystal. Above is how it stood.

The first thing I did was to paint some raw sienna mixed with cadmium yellow around the lit edges. I darkened the tone as I went away from the outline by mixing in some raw umber. This blurred the edge and made it look as though the light was radiating out from the fluorite, making it glow. I added in the darker tones, adding some cobalt blue to the yellow to make a greenish color. I added some highlights. I could see a bright orangey red area at the base of the crystal where it meets its cast shadow. I saw them out of the corner of my eye. When I focused on the area, they disappeared! I always try to capture these bits of phantom light. I painted in some pure cadmium orange, cadmium red, and alizarin crimson around this edge. I painted the warm reflected light into the shadow. I used a mixture of raw sienna, raw umber, and a bit of alizarin crimson.

I’ll return to these areas again and again, getting closer each time.

Building the Layers

Now that everything was blocked in, I turned my attention to refining the painting. I began with the ribbon. It can be quite hard first to see and then to mix colors for pale ivory-colored objects. They are very subtle! Are they cool or warm? Do I add raw sienna to white? Or maybe transparent golden ochre or naples yellow? Do I cool the mixture with a blue? Which blue? What color are the shadows? So many questions! I find the best approach is to mix a few options, put some paint down on the canvas and look at it. It’s always clear then if it’s wrong. It’s not always so easy to know how to fix it though!

Below is the ribbon after working on it during my next session. Most of the colors looked very warm to me, even though they were in the shadow of a warm light source. (Shadows of a warm light are typically cool.) There was so much warm light bouncing around in the set-up, though, that the ribbon did look very warm. However, I do have a north window on the right side of this set-up, which lets in some cool daylight. I did this on purpose, because I often like the contrast that a secondary contrasting light source provides. I think that as the painting progresses, I will begin to see some cool tones in the ribbon. Right now, though, that is too subtle for my eyes and brain to pick up. I can always adjust later!

I began to indicate the edges on the grosgrain ribbon. I also darkened the shadows a bit, and added few details on the wood.

Above is how the glass stood at the beginning of my session.

Above, I’ve darkened the top center of the glass and indicated where the main highlight will be. I’ve shown some more of the bright stripes on left side, and put in a few more details on the base. I found it very hard to see what was going on with all of the reflections. I tried not to worry too much about it, and just put down what I could understand, knowing that it’ll get easier as I go! I think that I lost the shape of the ellipse on the rim. It looks too narrow and pointy on the right side. No matter how accurate your drawing is, it’s all too easy to lose it when you start putting down paint. I’ll fix that the next time.

I glazed the green book again, and began painting the brown marks and dings in the wood. I think that most of the values and colors are correct now, so I’ll be able to turn my attention to details.

Correcting the Values and Colors with Glazes

Above is how the painting stood when I started this session. The previous glazes had sunken in. This is that annoying thing that happens when the oil from the glaze sinks into the layer underneath, making the surface appear dull. To judge the values and colors correctly for further painting, you have to paint a layer of medium over these areas to bring back the shine. I used my glazing medium, and then wiped off the excess with a lintless cotton pad.

I darkened the interior of the box with a glaze of ultramarine blue and raw umber with a touch of alizarin crimson. I also darkened the wall on the right and the left of the box. I added another green glaze to the green book. I want to get the color just right, so I’m darkening this gradually. I glazed the blue book to get it closer to it’s correct color and value. I glazed the left vertical edge of the box to darken it a bit.

The wall on the right seemed much warmer, and not as dark, so I used a different glaze of transparent golden ochre, raw sienna, alizarin crimson, and a touch of ultramarine blue. I then darkened the rest of the smaller shadows. When the colors didn’t seem quite right, or the shadow had a lot of reflected warm light, I painted a lighter, warm tone right into the wet glaze. This technique is called ‘painting into a wet glaze,’ which is very descriptive! The paint melts into the wet glaze, giving a very convincing effect of light in the shadows. You can see this in the shadow the green book casts onto the bottom edge of the box. I’ve begun to indicate a few details on the box. I don’t want to do too much yet, until I’m sure that the basic values and colors are right. As usual, I like to keep all of the painting at about the same stage, so it all progresses together.

Here’s life and art together!

A Few More Glazes and Some Direct Painting

My first glazes are dry, so I can add some more to get the darks closer to what they need to be. Below is how the painting looked when I began today. The photo is a bit washed out and glarey, but you can get the idea.

Below, I’ve added a glaze of ultramarine blue and raw umber to the shadow areas, and corrected the blue book, which had been too narrow. I had corrected this a bit at the last session, but the spine was still too narrow. I built out the left side a bit, and re-centered the label. I added a few details at the top and roughed in a shadow cast by the cover onto the pages. I lightened and warmed up the shadow cast by the green book onto the bottom front of the box, and added some warm bits and nicks to the box’s edge.

Though it was daunting, I took a first stab at the glass. You can see a shot of it below. I began to paint the swirling pattern on it’s body, and a few details on the stem. I’ll return to this many times, but it felt good to make a start. I did a bit of work on the ribbon, and added some details on the box rim. I put another layer of paint on the blue stone.

I’ll let this dry, then finally put a glaze on the green book to bring it to its proper value and color.

Here’s how it stands. Sorry about the washed out photo!

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.