To begin the painting, I laid in the tan background color on the wall and tabletop, painting the shadows in a much lighter value than I’ll want ultimately. Later, I’ll glaze a darker tone over the shadows. This will make them appear transparent and glowing. Next I painted the orange box. I indicated the large shapes and ignored details for now (such as the rivets and edges). It is always easier to begin with the larger, simpler shapes. Until these are painted, it is very difficult to see and place details. Seeing and Painting Complex Forms Once the painting is covered with a layer of paint in the local colors, I can see the whole and can I begin to judge if the colors and values are correct. There is no point in taking the time to paint in details that I’d probably have to repaint later. I also kept the shadows lighter on the box in preparation for glazing them later.
The silver bowl was by far the most difficult thing to see properly. There were so many facets and reflections! I tried to keep things very simple and to get the basic shapes more or less correct. I knew that I’d be returning to this bowl over and over. The reflections off of the bowl were so bright that I put a small piece of black cardboard over the brightest spots. It’s hard to see with spots in front of your eyes!
I’m slow in the summer, but I’ve finally completed my underpainting! At this stage, I need to decide how I want to handle my cast shadows. I always like to glaze them, as opposed to painting them in body color, because they look more transparent. My usual method would be to ignore the cast shadows in both the underpainting and the initial overpainting. For example, I would paint the wall one uniform color. When the overpainting is dry, I would glaze the shadow over it. The advantage to this method is that it beautifully mimics the look of a transparent shadow cast onto a colored surface, since the actual color of the wall would show through the glaze. There are two problems with this method. First, it can be difficult to achieve a soft edge on the glazed shadow. Second, I’d be left with no guide as to the location and shape of the shadows, since I would have obliterated my drawing with the under and overpainting!
An alternative method to handle cast shadows is to paint them in the underpainting. Then, when applying my first layer of the overpainting, I would paint the shadows with body color in my best guess as to their color, but keeping the value much lighter than I want ultimately. Working wet-in-wet, I could blend the shadow edges softly. When this layer is dry, I could then glaze a darker tone on top to achieve the transparent look that I like my shadows to have. Using a cotton pad, I can feather out the edge of the glazed shadow to just before the painted shadow ends. This is easier to do than to try to get a perfectly soft blended edge with the glaze alone. Any irregularities are masked by the smooth painted edge underneath.
Since my cast shadows are difficult to draw correctly, I think I’ll use the second method, so as not to loose my drawing.
I taped some tracing paper over my drawing and did a quick black & white study in oil to better judge the composition. I wasn’t happy with the shadow falling on the back wall. It divided the painting in half. This can be distracting in a composition, so I moved it over to the right to see if I liked it better.
I think that the second attempt works better. The shadow line is no longer dead center, and the additional dark area adds drama.
Now I’ll go back and finish my drawing!
When I went back to my studio a few days later to finish my drawing, it struck me that I hadn’t draw the silver bowl large enough. Also, the two shells on the right were too big. It never stops amazing me that these mistakes are so easy to see after some time has passed, but almost impossible to detect while drawing! I was very reluctant to erase and redraw the bowl, since it had taken me a tremendous amount of time to draw all of the designs. I did not want to do it again! It was only about a half an inch too small, so I tried to talk myself into believing that it was close enough, and wouldn’t make any difference to the composition. Tempting as that was, I realized that the bowl did need to be bigger, especially in relation to the orange box. The bowl is the focal point, and needed to look more important. The larger size would help. Also, the two shells that I’d made too large were drawing too much attention. I wanted them to be a small exclamation point at the end of the long swoop starting at the upper left. They would have to be redrawn, too!
I’ve learned the hard way that you really must take the time to correct errors, even if it means a lot of additional work. If you don’t, the result will always be flawed, and it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to correct the painting later. But it did hurt to erase all of those hard-to-see and measure complex shapes!
I think I’ll put off redrawing the patterns on the bowl until after I’ve completed my black-and-white study. By then I should know if the basic shapes are correct.
I thought that I was an old hand at understanding and drawing ellipses, but this set-up had me a bit confused. Both the lid on the orange box, and the silver bowl are set at an angle to the tabletop. I wasn’t sure how to calculate the angles. Also, there are several concentric ellipses on the lid. I didn’t remember how to draw these correctly. I immersed myself in an old book on perspective, and I think I have it straight now. One particularly confusing point is that the actual center of an ellipse (its major axis) is not the same as it’s perspective center. In the illustration below, the perspective center of the ellispe is at c, the center of the square in perspective in which the circle is set. so the line cc marks the perspective center of the ellipse. The line ee is the actual center (or major axis) of the drawn ellipse.
You need to use the perspective center as the center line of any concentric ellipses you construct. When you do this, they appear closer together as they get further away. In the illustration below, the width of the white ring at the bottom, at 4 is wider than its width at the top.
After spending several days studying my perspective book, I realized that it wasn’t necessary for me to master all of the rules! I understand enough to draw what I need to draw. However, it is nice to know that I can refer to my book if I need it.
The pattern on the silver bowl was also confusing to draw. All of the irregular swirls had to be shown in perspective and getting smaller and narrower as they recede into the distance.
It took a lot of staring and measuring! Sometimes when I’m drawing such a complex object with many repeating patterns like the swirling bowl designs, I put a small piece of tape on the object to give my eye a reference point. I mark this point on my drawing, too (the small ‘x’ on the bottom center design). When my eye flits back and forth between the set-up and my drawing, the tape gives my eye a ‘landing point’ so I can know which lobe I was studying. Otherwise, by the time I’ve looked at the drawing and back again to the set-up, I’ve lost track of which lobe I was drawing.
I decided to stop here, and look at the drawing again in a few days. Then, hopefully, all of my errors will be more apparent!
I’ve completed the corrections I wrote about in my last post.
First, I darkened the green cloth in the upper left with a glaze, and then added more detail and highlights to the cloth in the lower portion, near the green bowl. I think that this draws the eye into the center of the painting, as I intended.
Next, I added some more details on the tassel and string, adding a few threads, brightening some highlights, and adding some more contrast with darker glazes in the shadows. I brightened some of the light areas in the green bowl, and added brighter highlights on the black cloth near it.
Finally, I added more lights to the yellow crystal. As I was doing this, I corrected some drawing errors that I had missed, and adjusted some of the values.
I’ve found that sometimes after taking an initial stab at painting an object, it looks fine to me in the context of it’s yet-unfinished surroundings. Later, I find that even though it still looks acceptable, it isn’t as well seen and painted as it could be.
After looking at the painting with all of these changes, I thought of another possible improvement. How would it look if the entire black cloth were a shade or two darker? This might bring even more brightness and focus to the tan vase and stones. I’ve figured out a low-tech way of visualizing this sort of change. I cast a shadow onto the canvas from the light in my hallway where I lean my painting. I used my arm to cast a shadow onto the area of the black cloth. It effectively makes the area look like it has a dark glaze over it! (To simulate a lighter area, I use a narrow-beam flashlight). I can’t decide if I like the area darker or not! I’ll live with it for a while, before I commit to the change.
Sometimes after working hard on a painting, I find that I get tunnel-vision and can’t judge the work clearly, so I put ‘Green Cloth’ away for a few weeks so that I could see it with fresh eyes.
The first thing that struck me was that the tan vase was the focal point, not the green bowl, as I’d originally thought. That seems obvious now, as it’s the brightest object with the most value contrast surrounding it. I still want to bring some more focus to the green bowl, though, to balance the pot. I’ll experiment with adding some more darks and lights in the bowl to create contrast to draw the eye. I also noticed that the red tassel and cord weren’t getting enough attention. I’ll add some more details- some highlighted strings and a few brighter highlights.
Sometimes after I’ve painted something as faithfully as I can, I stand back and see that I have to make some changes for the sake of the composition. Since my spotlight is on the right, the black cloth is brighter on the right. Though I painted this correctly, I ‘d like to bring more focus to the left side of the painting near the green bowl. I thought I’d brighten the highlights on the black cloth near the bowl to bring some attention there.
I think that the fold of green cloth falling down from the upper left was drawing the eye up and out of the picture. I can think of two ways to prevent this. First, I’ll darken the cloth at the top to mute the attraction. Next I’ll add some detail on the lower part of the cloth near the green bowl to keep the eye busy there.
Finally, to keep the area near my focal point interesting, I think I’ll add some brighter highlights to the yellow crystal.