Complex objects, such as clear glass or (folded) cloth, can be quite daunting to paint. There are so many subtle shapes, reflections, and fine nuances of color and value that it makes it very difficult to sort out what you are seeing, let alone to figure out how to represent it in paint. As an illustration, let’s take a close look at how the green glass bowl has evolved.
The first step in painting something accurately is to have a clear drawing of the object. I drew the easy-to-see, basic shapes of the structure of the bowl, the reflections, and objects seen through the glass in my original drawing. I then transferred the drawing onto my canvas, and preserved it when I carefully painted my underpainting. Here, I’ve painted a thin glaze of green over the underpainting to indicate the general color of the bowl. The underpainting is still visible beneath the glaze. At this point, there are very few details shown- just a basic suggestion of the larger shapes.
Below, I’ve blocked in the local color of the black cloth so that I’ll be better able to judge the adjacent colors and values of the bowl. Painting is all about comparing one area of the painting to another. As each part slowly grows, it becomes easier to judge what other areas should be. That’s why I never try to bring just one area to completion before I’ve worked on the others. You can’t properly judge color and value unless it’s in relation to what’s nearby. I also added in a first indication of the rest of the red cord, and added some of the dark tones to the rim. I also noticed a dark slanting shadow on the left, inside the ellipse of the top of the bowl, showing the shadow side of the cloth behind. These large shapes were very easy for me to see. I always begin with what’s clear to me. The details will come soon enough!
In the next photo, I glazed the green and black cloths a bit darker. I added some of the larger details of the bowl’s design on the left side, and corrected the size and shape of the main highlights. I darkened the dark areas, and the red string. I added some detail on the rim, very gradually bringing it nearer to reality.
Painting is always, at its beginning, seeing. Seeing complex objects is very difficult. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the myriad details. Also, by the time your eye travels from studying a detail in the set-up to back to the canvas, it’s hard to know exactly where to put the detail you were just studying. Having a basic framework of large shapes in place is like having a hook to hang further details on. For example, I looked at the bowl and saw two long bluish reflections near the inner portion of the red string. Because I had already indicated where the string was on my canvas, I could easily look at my canvas, locate the string, and place the reflections next to it in the correct position. In this way, as I add details throughout the course of the painting, I make it increasingly easy to place additional ones. My painting proceeds by my comparing how reality appears to how what I’ve painted appears. The more my painting gets to looks like the object I’m painting, the easier it is for my eye to go back-and-forth between them and focus right in on any particular detail. I can then see any differences and correct them. Because of this, at every subsequent painting session it becomes more and more easy both to really see and then paint the small nuances of color and value that create the feeling of reality in a painting.
At this stage, it’s becoming easy to observe more of the reflections and highlights. Notice how the highlights from my light source on the right are a warm yellow, whereas the highlights from the window on the left are blue. I also added more detail to the rim, adjusting value and color to match reality. The green cloth and the black cloth now have some highlights indicated. I’ll continue to work on the bowl as the painting progresses, always trying to bring it closer to reality.