Red Tassel & Cord

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!


Green Glass Bowl- Indicating Transparency

Many people are confounded by the prospect of painting a transparent object. It’s actually not that difficult. You just have to train yourself to see the details of what’s in front of you, and not to get side-tracked into thinking about transparency. You simply observe all of the little irregular shapes and colors before you without worrying about what they are or where they’re reflected from. I might says to myself “This little shape looks like a crescent. It’s a sort of bluish green color that’s darker than the black line to the right of it.” Soon, you stop thinking about transparency, and are just a recording machine, seeing colors and shapes, darkness and lightness. It seems like a little miracle, when you finally step back after working for a while, and see that it actually looks like glass!

Green Cloth- Green bowl, more details.JPG

This is just my first attempt at getting the basic shapes and colors in the glass bowl painted. The next time I work on it, it’ll be much easier for me to see and paint additional shapes and colors, because I’ll have a basic framework set down.  Having a few things in place makes it easier to see how additional details fit in. This base gives my eye a place to settle and  to compare it with new observed data. This is the beauty of a  layered approach to oil painting. You don’t have to see everything at once. Each session of studying reveals more and more detail.




Block-in continued

Green Cloth-Continue Block-in.PNG

Here I’ve painted in a first approximation of the tan bowl’s color, ignoring the details of the design for now.  I also glazed in a darker red on the tassel  and cord. I’ll continue to add glazes to this to get a nice, rich dark red that will serve as a shadowy base for the lighter details of the strings and highlights.

Green Cloth-Details on Pot and stones.JPG

In my next session, I added details on the design on the pot. At this stage, because I’m struggling to see, I tend to paint details in too clearly, with their edges too hard, colors too bright, and contrasts too marked. This is a natural part of trying to see. Later, when I understand the design and have it recorded, I can go back and soften edges, correct color, and mute contrasts. Oil painting is very forgiving!

I added the cool light on the pots left side coming in from my studio window, and darkened the right side with a warm glaze (the shadows cast by cool light appear warmer). I indicated the splotchy texture of the bowl, and added details on the stones. I also darkened the shadows cast by the stones onto the cloth. I added some detail on the fringe of the green cloth.

Green Cloth-Highlights on green cloth.JPG

Finally, I added some of the highlights on the green cloth. To do this, I scumbled a pale yellow over the lit areas with the flat side of a large, dry brush. The fibers of the canvas catch the bits of paint in an irregular way,  allowing the glaze beneath to show through in places, imitating the look of light bouncing off of the cloth. Scumbled areas tend to look cool, so to indicate a warm light, I had to use a very bright yellow. It looked surprisingly bright on the palette, but once applied, it looked just right- just warm enough.


Green Glaze and Black Cloth First Layer

My last glaze is dry, so it’s time for the first green glaze. I use viridian green mixed with glaze medium.


Its very bright! If I had added a bit of red to the green glaze, it would have dulled the color down (colors opposite on the color wheel neutralize each other), but I wanted to see what the bright green would look like. It’s easy to tone down the brightness with subsequent glazes, but impossible to get back the brightness once dulled!

Next, I’ll put down the first layer of paint over the underpainting of the black cloth. I’ll keep this layer a bit thin, so that the color of the underpainting shows through in places. This underlying color will unify the painting, and help to create the illusion that everything in the painting is lit by the same light source.


I kept the darks in this layer lighter in value than I’ll want the finished cloth to be. This will allow me to glaze over them with a dark glaze to achieve the darker, correct value. Glazing the darks over a lighter base results in a transparent richness that you can’t achieve with one solid paint layer.

Similarly, the light areas are painted darker than they’ll ultimately be. This allows me to scumble a light layer over a darker base. A light scumbled layer, dragged onto the painting with a dry brush, leaves a ragged, broken, textured brushstroke that allows some of the darker underlayer to show through, and mimics light falling on an object.

The Green Cloth

After I glazed the yellow over the green cloth area, I noticed that it obscured the underpainting beneath much more than I had anticipated. If I went ahead as planned and glazed green over the yellow, much of my drawing would become nearly invisible. I decided to wait to put on the green, and instead, glaze in the darker shadows, since their borders define the lines of the drawing beneath. I would have glazed these darks as my next step anyway. After this dark glaze dries in a few days, I’ll finally be able to glaze the green over all areas of the cloth.

I also painted in a rough approximation of the colors of the stones. I didn’t touch the areas adjacent to the cloth, because they would smear as I work on my green glaze at my next session. A layered approach requires patience!









I Begin the Over-Painting

I let the under-painting dry for a week until it was very dry to the touch. (The paint layer is very thin, so I probably could have painted over it in 4 or 5 days.) I was eager to see how my idea of under-painting the green cloth in yellow would work out, so my first step was putting down a thin glaze of cadmium yellow over the cloth. This is all I did for my first session, because I want to put down a green glaze over the yellow area as soon as it is dry, in 4 or 5 days. If I had started to paint the rest of the canvas, those thicker layers, by contrast,  wouldn’t be dry for weeks. They would inevitably smear as I worked with my green glaze. So, it was a short session today!


The Underpainting

My first layer of paint is a monochromatic underpainting. This serves many purposes. It gets me started painting in a stress-free way (It’ll be covered up later!). Also, it’s easier to judge final colors and values painted onto this underpainting than onto a stark white canvas. Finally, the underpainting shows through here and there between the top layers and also through subsequent glazes, providing a consistent color harmony to the finished work. This provides a feeling of unity and reality in the finished work.

I choose to paint the underpainting in lead white and burnt sienna. I like the warm color of the burnt sienna, and both colors are low in oil, important for an under-layer. (An important rule of oil painting is to always have the oilier layers on the top, and the leaner mixtures underneath.) I mix up 9 values from lightest to darkest.



All of the values in the underpainting will be in a lighter key than the finished painting. This lighter tone will allow subsequent layers to appear brighter.  I keep this paint layer very thin so that it will dry quickly, because I can’t paint over it until it is dry to the touch. I blend out any obvious brush marks, so they won’t show through and interfere with my more considered brush strokes in the finished painting. I paint only the general shapes, not any details. Since this layer will be mostly covered up with more paint, it would be a waste of time to spend any time working on details. I keep edges clear and visible to preserve my drawing for the over-painting.


It’s hard to judge values correctly when mixing paint on the palette. I find it useful to use my black-and-white study as a value guide. If I’m unsure about the value I mixed for a part of the painting, I paint a dab of it right onto the corresponding area of the black-and-white study, which I have tacked to the wall nearby).  I  can tell immediately if the value I mixed is darker or lighter. Since I’m painting my underpainting a few values lighter than the final result (which are the values represented in the black-and-white study), I might think, “So this dab is the same value as the black-and-white, so I’ll paint it two steps lighter in the underpainting.”


It takes me two sessions to complete the underpainting. Now, it’ll take about a week to dry completely.