The painting is far along enough now that I can start thinking about some finer details. I thought I’d take a stab at indicating the red tassel and cord.
So far I’ve put down several glazes of alizarin crimson, a rich, transparent red, to indicate the mid-tones of the tassel and cord For the darkest areas, I mixed the alizarin with ultramarine blue, which is a very deep, transparent blue.
Now I’ll paint some of the lighter areas- a few individual strings on the tassel that catch the light, and some highlights on the raised areas of the braided cord.
In order for the tassel and cord to look real, I do have to paint in some very small details like this. I don’t, however, want to paint too many of them. Painting every string and every highlight is both impossible and counter-productive. To portray a complicated object such as this, my job is to see it clearly, and then simplify what I see and present only what is essential and important. I’m trying to show the essence of the objects, not a photograph-like exact record.
It’s interesting to see how just adding a few details greatly adds to the effect of reality! I stop here for now, and will return to the tassel and cord later. I like to keeps all areas of the painting at about the same level of completion, so they all grow together. I make adjustments as I go along, and sometimes I need to re-think an area. It makes sense to keep fine details for the end because if I need to make any changes, I might end up having to paint over an area and cover up all of my hard work, only to have to repaint it later!
Getting the color right on the highlights was a challenge. My painting is lit mostly by incandescent light, which is a warm yellow. All of the light areas should show this warm tone. My first thought was to just add white to the warm red to get a lighter tone. This did not work. Adding white to red results in a cool, chalky pink- not at all the glowing warm tone I was after!
Also, the highlights on the red cord and tassel aren’t the lightest things in the painting. I need to save pure white for these areas (such as the highlights on the yellow crystal). I found that a pure cadmium red did the trick. It was both light enough in value and warm enough to look like a convincing highlight. For the very lightest highlights I mixed in some pure cadmium orange. Now, the highlights look rich and warm, not dull and cool, as white or white mixed with red would have been.
Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that an artist uses physical pigments that all have different and distinct qualities. We are using these physical pigments to try to portray pure light. Getting the correct effect requires a lot of experimentation to see how the various pigments act and interact with each other. The paints on an artist’s palette will never have the range and subtlety of reality, so the artist has to use some tricks!