Value Study

My drawing isn’t quite finished yet, but I needed a change of pace, so I decided to start on my black and white value study. As usual, I taped a piece of tracing paper over my drawing and mixed up 9 values of paint from white to black, numbering them on my palette. See for some more information. I’m not trying for detail here, just a basic indication of the big shapes.

I didn’t intend to put so much detail on the basket at this point, but it almost seemed easier to follow the lines than to simplify it! I don’t think I’ll continue this way. I’ll be a lot more loose with it at my next session. When this study is complete, I’ll use it both to judge the composition, and to guide me when I’m painting on the canvas.

I’m Still Drawing

It was hard to jump into drawing again after a few day’s break. It takes a lot of concentration! The position of the thick diagonal bamboo piece seemed wrong to me, so I moved it over a bit to the right with more of a slant. This change made positioning other pieces work better. I’m amazed that after all of this time that I’ve worked on it, the drawing can still be wrong! The best time to catch a mistake is the first glance I take at the drawing after being away from if for a day. After those first few moments, I can feel my brain beginning to accept whatever is already drawn as correct. I’m not sure why this happens. Maybe it’s that I want it to be right, so I ignore the evidence of my eyes. Maybe it’s that as I draw, I start focusing on small details, which takes my brain away from seeing the big picture. In either case, my advise is to use those first moments to be critical!

I’m continuing to join up the strips and add more of them. I’m sticking to the well-lit ones now. The shadowy ones are hard to see, even with my overhead room light turned on (as it won’t be when I begin painting.) In a way it doesn’t matter if the ones in shadow are perfectly correct, since they won’t be seen much, but I like to know that at least the major strips are correct, so that when I paint in a few suggested pieces in shadow, they’ll be in a believable position.

Adding Details

As most major strips of bamboo seemed to be in the right places, I started to add the secondary ones. It was gratifying to see that most bits were lining up properly with adjoining bits! In some cases, there seemed to be too much space between strips. I found that often this was a result of the strip itself not being drawn wide enough.

Above, I began adding many of the smaller pieces, correcting their size and direction as I went. I started drawing the weave of the bamboo going up the handles, and more of the details around the rim. I kept checking the beginning and end points of the strips using my knitting needle held vertically. I held it out in front of me, lining it up on the actual basket with the spot that I was drawing. I checked if that spot lined up on the same vertical line with another easily recognizable spot on the basket that was already drawn and of which I was fairly certain. I then marked that spot on my drawing. I’ll just keep plugging away! It’s hard to rush this part.

Drawing the Basket

I looked at my drawing with fresh eyes today and saw that some of the main bamboo strips weren’t in the correct positions. Though I kept measuring and checking them in reference to other points in the basket and the rest of the composition, when I sat back and looked at the drawing, they still didn’t seem right. I noticed that there seemed to be too much space between the top of the basket and the horizontal band a bit below it. Ignoring my measurements, I raised the band a bit and lowered the level of the top rim. This looked better to me. I also saw that the horizontal band wasn’t really flat. The basket it very irregular, and the band tilts up quite a bit on the left side. You can see the correction in the photo below.

As I started filling in some of the major bamboo strips, I saw that the ones on the right needed to be moved over to the right. As I began to fill in more details, I noticed that things seemed to be joining up properly- a sign that the drawing was mostly correct. Now I’m confident enough in my drawing that I can begin to trust my eyes more, and move things around that need to be moved. When I’m stuck too much in measuring, I often lose the spontaneity of seeing and recording. My eyes are my best tools! I think that the drawing will be easier from now on.


The first thing I do when beginning a drawing is to locate important landmarks using my view-finder and a thin knitting needle. For more information on how I use them and other tools for measuring, comparing and locating, see .

Above is my first shot at drawing the basket. After I finished it, I saw that the ellipse at the top was too wide, and the width of the basket was too wide for its height. I corrected those errors, then decided to calculate the correct ellipses for the top and bottom of the basket. I figured out the angles of the ellipses using string and a protractor (see for an explanation), then transferred them to my drawing using tracing paper rubbed on the back with pencil.

I was struggling trying to get the correct shapes of the handles. I was more successful after I stopped trying to make them perfectly symmetrical. The basket is wonderfully irregular! Also, the proportions of the body of the basket continued to look wrong to me. My measuring methods were not agreeing with each other. Sometimes that happens, and I have no idea why. Finally, I had to go with what my eyes were seeing!

Above, I’ve begun to indicate the position of the large bamboo strips. I know from my last basket drawing experience that if I don’t get this part right, everything that follows is wrong!

Now it was time to draw the box and then the bowl. Before I began, I had to figure out where my vanishing point was, so that I could draw the box in perspective. I could just copy the angles that I saw without finding the vanishing point, but if I have an actual vanishing point marked on my board, it’d be much easier to just draw the correct lines converging on it with a ruler than to rely on my eyes. The vanishing point is wherever my eye is. It’s not hard to figure out the correct height (my eye level when sitting on my chair), but it’s hard to pinpoint the correct position on the horizontal plane, especially since we have binocular vision and a dominant eye.

I’ve found the easiest way is to hold up two rulers in front of me, each lining up with a receding line in the composition and see where they meet. This is the vanishing point! I note this spot on the wall with a piece of tape. You can see it in the above photo over the top of the rice paper. You can see that all of the lines in the composition that are perpendicular to the front plane would meet at this point if continued upward. (The photo has some distortions due to parallax, so this effect can only be seen for the lines at the bottom of the composition.) I then locate the equivalent spot on my paper. Often, it is above my paper, so I mark it with a piece of tape on my easel. Now, drawing receding lines in correct perspective is easy, as they all should converge on this spot.

Since I move a round a lot as I draw, sometimes the vanishing point I’ve marked doesn’t produce lines in the exact places and at the angles I wanted them. I might end up moving the point a bit to get the most pleasing angles.

Next, I drew the bowl. For now, I just eye-balled the ellipse at the top.

I saw that I drew the bowl too far over to the right, so I moved it over to the left. I saw that in moving it, I got the shape wrong. Both sides did not have the same curve. I remedied this by tracing the correct side onto a piece of tracing paper, being careful to mark the position of the center line. I then flipped the tracing paper over, lining up the center line and traced over the curved line to produce a mirror image on the other side. (The graphite from the original line acted was transferred to the paper.) This is my go-to method for achieving symmetry.

I started to indicate the general location and shape of the nest. It’s a very loosely-defined object, so it’s difficult to draw precisely! A lot of the drawing will have to take place later on the canvas with paint brushes.

I drew some of the reflections and patterns on the bowl, but reflections can be tricky to see, and I usually end up re-seeing and drawing these as I paint.

Next, I think I’ll tackle the weave of the basket!

Settling on a Composition

This is the set-up I ended up liking the most. I preferred the edge-on view of the basket handles, and the simpler shadow that they cast on the wall. I wanted to confirm that the proportions of the composition were good. I had been composing it using an 8-9 ratio view-finder, which is slightly taller than a square. After looking at the set-up through a few different view–finders, I decided that I’d stick with the 8-9.

I noticed that more light than I liked was coming through my shades. My spot light is on the right side of the set-up, and the window is on the left. It can be confusing to have more than one light source, though I do find that I often like the effect of having a little cool light reach my set-up from the window on the opposite side of my spot light. It can add a balancing coolness to all of the warm light and warm-colored objects I tend to favor. In this case, I only want a touch of cool outdoor light. My shades aren’t very effective at blocking out a lot of light, so I improvised by covering them up with cardboard.

Here’s everything ready to go!

The last step before starting my drawing is to figure out how large the painting will be. I have found that still lifes look best when the objects are life-sized because the illusion of reality is enhanced. I begin by measuring the length of my set-up towards the front, and using this measurement as a starting point for the length of my drawing.

Using a T-square and triangle, I drew a rectangle on a sheet of drawing paper taped to my drawing board. The length was the length I measured above. I calculated the height using the 8-9 ratio. I now sub-divided the space into halves, quarters, thirds, and sixths both horizontally and vertically. These marks correspond to marks on my view-finder. For an explanation of how I use a view-finder to locate objects in my drawing, see I then quickly located and drew the main objects to see how large they’d be using this size paper. I found that they were smaller than life-sized. I thought that life-sized would look better, so I increased the size of the drawing a bit, using the same proportions. I had to redraw all of my guide-lines, too! I added 1/4″ to both height and length to allow for the overlap of a frame when the painting is complete. I can now order my canvas! I’ll use the time before it arrives to work on my drawing. If past experience is my guide, I’m sure that this basket will take quite a while to draw!

A Different Set-Up

This is the set-up as I left it. I found I was reluctant to try a different one. Partly it was because I didn’t want to damage the bird’s nest. Every time I picked it up, it fell apart a little more. Also, I was afraid that I’d never get everything back in the correct position with the correct lighting. Underlying these reasons though, was the reluctance to start from scratch. Creating something new is always daunting. It’s tempting to stick with my first idea because that’s easier. To come up with something different (and maybe better!) takes a lot of work. I decided that none of these reasons was good enough not to try another set-up.

I moved everything over to a different table. I used a darker board as the tabletop, but decided to keep the rice paper on the wall. I missed seeing the shadow cast by the loose weave of the basket in the first set-up, so I put the basket on the right side to leave more room for its shadow. All of the other objects now fit to the left of the basket, instead of on the right, as before. Otherwise, their arrangement is similar. The green glass box is now in shadow. I think that I prefer this. The nest stands out a bit more against the darker tabletop.

Above, I experimented with casting a dark shadow from the right side to add more drama. The top edge of this shadow is a little strange, but I could always fix its shape in the painting. Adding this shadow has eliminated the bits of the light background showing through the interstices of the weave, but overall, I think it’s better. If I adjust the light a bit, some spots should show on the left side of the basket where some parts of the wall are lit.

Above, I decided to rotate the basket. I was intrigued by the new shadow cast onto the wall. I might decide that it’s too distracting, though. I don’t want the shadow to draw too much attention. Also, in this position, the V-shape of the handle where it meets the body of the basket can’t be seen. I’ll live with both options for a day or two.