My biggest challenge in painting the paper lamp is making it appear lit from within. Interestingly, the black band covers the brightest part of the lightbulb, so it has to glow, but in a much more subdued way than the white parts. Below is the underpainting.
Below is my first layer of paint. Both the wrinkles in the white parts and the accordion folds in the black are very complex. I simplified them greatly here for my first go. The value range in the white section is very limited. When you squint your eyes, it should all pretty much look the same value. It’s natural when trying to see all of the subtle wrinkles to exaggerate the differences, making the darks too dark. I try not to let this worry me. It’s not hard to lighten up the darks at subsequent sessions. Another very difficult part of painting the white paper is figuring our what pigments to use. There are many ways to mix a pale off-white! Here I used lead white mixed with small amounts of raw sienna, transparent golden ochre and cobalt blue. When I studied the lamp I saw cools and warms seeming to vibrate against one another. To capture the feel of glowing paper, its important to juxtapose these cool and warm tones. This has the effect of making the lamp glow. Paradoxically, it often seemed to me that one spot was both cool and warm at the same time! The more I looked, the more alive with vibrating lights the lamp appeared.
At my next session, below, I clarified the accordion pleats in the black paper. It was so hard to see the details. My inner dialog went something like this: “The third pleat down has a highlight on its top edge. The second pleat has a dark underside adjacent to a thin highlight over the dark of the second pleat.” This went on over and over as I lost my place while shifting my gaze from the set-up to the canvas. It was very frustrating! As I worked, though, I got into the groove of observing, and it became easier. Looking and understanding in not easy. I find it essential to put my observations into words as I’m trying to understand anything complex. Later in the painting process, when I’ve already done a lot of the thinking, the painting process can proceed wordlessly.
A nice way to achieve a pearly glow on a dark is to scumble a lighter tone over a darker one. That is just the look I’m going for in the black section of the lamp where the lightbulb glows from within. To this end, I glazed over the dark section with a transparent glaze of ultramarine blue and raw umber. You can see this below. When this dries, I will scumble a lighter tone over it where the lightbulb is. (Scumbling is dragging dryish paint with the side of a hog bristle brush so that it catches on the weave of the canvas.) I also took a stab at indicating the wire structure at the top of the lamp.
Below, at my next session, I scumbled in some of the lights in the dark band. I’m not happy with the effect, so I’ll keep working on it. I went over the white parts, making the darks more subtle, and observing the wrinkles more carefully. Every time I return to a section of the painting, it’s easier to see more and refine. That’s one reason why I don’t attempt to finish an area all in one go. I learn as I paint, and the more structure that is on the canvas, the easier it is to add to it.
In my last session, below, I took the time to really see what was going on in the wire frame at the top. The trickiest part was not to paint the wires too dark. Though they are black, the glow from the surrounding light areas wash it out, making them appear more of a warm gray. If I were to paint them stark black, the look of the light glowing around them would not be convincing. My brain says they are black, but I have to put that aside to really look.
I scumbled some more lights in the black band. I also added some lights around the edges of the lamp. I have to save the lightest lights for the areas of the white paper nearest to the lightbulb. Since the value range that I can achieve in paint is far more limited than I can see, it can be frustrating to try to paint something like this lamp. I’ll keep returning to the lamp, but for now, I’ll let it sit and move onto another area.