Japanese Basket and Wine Decanter

I’m finished! I could certainly keep fussing with small things, but after a certain point, further details don’t necessarily add to the final effect. My goal is to produce a beautiful picture that shows the essence of the objects and that celebrates the act of seeing. To that end, it has to be realistic, but not photographic. I try to include only the essentials, and to eliminate the unimportant.

I’m very happy with the way the painting turned out. It was a lot of work, but worth it!

Geode, Stone, and Crystal


I thought that I was finished with the area, but then I noticed a few details that could be improved on in the crystal, geode, stone and surrounding cloth.

Japanese basket #103

Japanese basket #128

The geode needed some more punch. The right side didn’t look bright enough considering its closeness to the light source. I added some sparkling lights to the far right edge. Also the left side of the triangular hole in its center was catching some light. In both of these areas, it only required a few tiny specks of paint to make a difference! I brightened the highlights on the green stone- both the major one, and the smaller yellow one to its right. For the bigger highlight, I painted some small lines radiating out from its center. If you look carefully at a bright highlight on a shiny surface, you can actually observe these! They have to be painted subtlety, though, or the effect can be easily overdone. I also brightened the upper edge of the stone, showing the reflections from the basket above. I painted some reflected light into all of the cast shadows onto the cloth, lightening them and adding some color.

I brightened the top side of the crystal and added some reflected light to its left side. Finally, I added some scumbled lights to the raised areas of the cloth that were catching the light. To do this, I dragged a dry brush loaded with a warm light color over these areas. (I had to mix the color much warmer than you’d think, because scumbles always look cool.) The top of the weave of the canvas catches some of the paint, creating a shimmering effect that nicely conveys the look of highlights.



A Comparison

I thought it might be fun to compare my initial black and white study to the (nearly) finished result.

Japanese basket #34

Japanese basket #119

It’s turned out pretty similarly! The only major difference I see is that the background behind the basket is now lighter in value than my original conception. When I was setting the still life up, I took some photos of it to study. The background looked very dark in the photos because of the limitations of photography. The basket was so bright, that the camera couldn’t show any detail in the darks. At first, I liked this look in the photos. As I began to paint from life, however, I could see that the background was indeed, much lighter than in the photos. All of the light from the set-up was bouncing around, illuminating most of the shadowed areas.  Painting the background showing this reflected light produced a more realistic look. I have no problem ignoring reality if it would make a more beautiful and convincing painting, but in this case, reality won!

Another difference is that the value of the orange background wall on the left ended up lighter in value than in my study. I thought that the lighter value made this area more vibrant and provided a balance for the brightness of the basket without detracting from it.

Finally, it is interesting to see how a quick study can convey the feeling of a finished work. You can see this especially in the basket and the decanter, where just a few strokes of paint can capture the essence of an object. In same forms of modern art,  these quick sketches would be considered a finished result. I can see the beauty in them, but for me, they are not a finished work. As I get more experienced, I like to think that I can paint things with a minimum of fuss, and I certainly use less paint and effort to depict things than when I was a beginner. There is a certain beauty and bravura in a simply conveyed image. For a still life, though, a certain level of detail is required for it to be convincing. A still life is, by its nature, an up-close study. There has to be detail for the eye to study. Quick, loose brushwork will work for a background, but not for the main subject.


Almost Finished!


Japanese basket #119

There always comes a day when suddenly, the painting seems just about finished! The changes I’ll make from now on will be subtle, but still important.

When done painting for the day, I usually place the painting in my hallway where I often walk by. I keep a notepad and pencil there, so that I can write down any corrections that occur to me. Sometimes I turn the painting upside down, or on it’s side, so I can get a fresh view of the composition. My notes from today read:

  1. Shade the values more on the left diagonal bamboo band from dark to light, from left to right, so that the right-most ones are lightest.
  2. Soften the edge on the shadow cast by the orange box onto the tabletop on the far right.
  3. Fix irregularity in paint on the yellow background on the top adjacent to the shadow cast by orange box.
  4. Soften edges on right-side handle on bronze box.
  5. Think about changing the shape of the fabric fold to the right of the orange geode to be less straight.
  6. Soften edges of bamboo strips at top front edge and make the light appear to bounce off of them into the darkness above.

Japanese basket #120

Japanese basket #1232

Above is the basket after my last session.

Wine Decanter

Below you can see the progress of the wine decanter. You can see the refinement of the shapes and reflections. I corrected colors, softened edges, and added highlights.

Japanese basket #116

Japanese basket #117

Many people are confused by representing transparent glass. Like painting anything else, one begins by carefully observing and slowly building up the correct shapes, colors, and values. It doesn’t happen all at once. Every time I sit down to paint, I compare my painting of the decanter to the actual decanter and try to observe differences. I’ll say to myself “the dark ring in the base should be darker and cooler,’ or “there is a bright yellow highlight on the neck that is lightening the whole area,” or ” the left side of the base should be much lighter than the cloth it’s adjacent to.” I make these changes the best that I can, knowing that I’m slowly getting more accurate.


Still Studying the Basket

Japanese basket #97

Above is a photo of the basket as I last left it. I can see now that the diagonal band of bamboo strips on the left needs to be darker, as it’s further from the light. Also, I need to add some highlights to the band on the right, which is nearer the light. Below, I’ve made those changes. I also finished covering the underpainting on the bottom right side of the basket.

Japanese basket #104At my next session, seen below, I decided to further darken the left band of bamboo and also add some highlights to the individual strip’s edges. I made the highlighted area on the right band much brighter, obliterating some details. I also brightened many of the other strips that were catching the light and made their edges soft and hazy to mimic the look of bright light glowing and bouncing off of them. I noticed that many of the small shadow edges looked rather sharp and too dark. This often happens when I make a first stab at painting shadows near a bright light. At first, it seems as though the dark area is very dark, especially when closely compared to the adjacent light. However, if I step back and take in the whole set-up, I can see that the light from the bright area reflects into the dark shadowed area, casting a light glow onto it, effectively making the shadow appear much lighter than it first seemed. It always seems counter-intuitive to paint these shadows lighter, but observation always wins!

Japanese basket #107

I spent a whole day making small adjustments to the many bamboo strips- too many to point out here! I think you can see though, that the end result is a more realistic, glowing result.


Refining the Stone, Geode and Crystal

Japanese basket #101

Japanese basket #102In the second photo above, you can see that I’ve worked on the orange geode. I’ve added highlights to the right side and shadows to the left. I also corrected some colors. I darkened the table cloth with a gray glaze.

Japanese basket #103

In my next session, shown above, I’ve scumbled in some lights onto the cloth. I corrected the shape of the small crystal. It had been too wide. I also added some highlights to its front plane. Next, I painted some reflected lights onto the top of the stone.

This area is looking pretty good to me. I’ll leave it for now and reevaluate it after I’ve worked on the rest of the painting some more.