Before my drawing is complete, I’ll take some time to do a full-size value study in black, white, and gray. I do this for several reasons. First, it’s a great way to judge my composition. I’ve found that if a composition doesn’t look good in black-and-white, it won’t look good in color. If I see anything that doesn’t work, I can quickly make changes. Any changes I like, I’ll make in my drawing also.

To make my study, I tape a piece of tracing paper over my drawing. I can see the drawing underneath and use it as a guide as I paint. This study is very rough and loose. I don’t need many details to judge the composition. I just need the big masses of values. I won’t paint every bamboo strip on the basket. I’ll indicate the major ones, and quickly sketch in an impression of the rest.

It’s amazing how just a few brushstrokes can evoke an object! Below you can see the study after the first layer of paint is down. I usually find that I need to come back and add more value contrast (darker darks and lighter lights) after the paint is dry. If I try to do it now, it all smears together into mid-tones.

Even unfinished, I can get a good sense of the final composition from the study. You can see that you don’t need small details to get that sense. It’s the large masses of light and dark and how the shapes and lines lead the eye that make a striking composition. Without that, all the accurate details in the world won’t save it. Good composition always trumps precise rendering of forms.