The Basket Evolves

I thought that it’d be interesting to track the progress of the basket. Above is a photo I took of the set-up. I should say here that I’m not interested in making my painting replicate the photo. Photos can be very misleading, and painting from them discourages the artist from truly seeing and painting their subject. A photo puts a layer of separation between the artist and reality. In a photo, parallax distorts perspective and all of the subtleties of light are lost. The artist’s job is to take what he sees in his subject, edit out the unimportant and accentuate the important according to his ideas of beauty and order. This is very difficult, if not impossible to do when you’re slavishly copying a photo. That being said, the photo is a useful reference for you to get an idea of what my set-up looks like.

Above, I’ve completed the drawing. I numbered the coils so I could keep track of them better while drawing. It was easy to lose track of which one I was drawing as there were so many similar shapes. I found the basket difficult to draw. Because the basket is constructed of one rope coiled around, none of the ellipses are parallel to the horizontal. There is a slight tipping upwards from left to right.

Next, I did a black-and-white study in oil on tracing paper laid over my drawing. My style is very loose here. Details aren’t important at this stage. I just want to get a general idea of the value pattern and composition.

After I transferred the drawing to the canvas, I did my underpainting in burnt sienna and lead white. I tried to keep the lines precise so I’d have a guide for my overpainting. All values are lighter here than in the finished painting. The colors will look more vibrant over a lighter base. I kept the paint layer very thin so that it would dry faster and not contribute a lot of texture to the finished work.

Here is my first layer of paint. I made the blues and yellows a bit light so that I could glaze them later. The lines are still very apparent. Until I glaze the cast shadows and the bricks adjacent to the basket to their true values and colors, I can’t judge the colors and values of the basket. I stopped here until the surrounding areas were further along.

Above, the surrounding areas are closer to their finished colors and values, so I could begin painting the basket in earnest. I muted the lines between the coils and put down some thinner paint, beginning to indicate the darks and lights. I glazed the blues areas and corrected the colors. I glazed the underside a warm muted orange, and began to indicate the fibers wrapped around each coil.

At my next session, I continued to suggest the fibers and the highlights on the coils

Above, I’ve put in some reflected lights from the tabletop onto the left underside of the blue section. I darkened the shadow cast by the basket onto the tabletop and added more highlights to the rim. I glazed another layer on the interior shadow.

At my next session I strengthened the highlights and darkened the underside. I’m not sure if I like this. I night add back some reflected light onto this area.

Above is the latest version. I added reflected lights in the inside shadow area on the right side. I added more details of the fibers in the lighter areas. I glazed the lower left outside a bit darker. I brightened up the highlighted right side where it meets the paperweight. Finally, I softened up the top front edge.

Here is the photo again. What differences can you see? I notice right away that the edges in the painting are much softer. The highlights are emphasized. Also, the painting doesn’t attempt to show all of the detail. Do you prefer the painting? I do!

Progress of Stones and Dish

I thought that it’d be interesting to track the progress of a part of the painting from the beginning. Above is a photo of the stones on the dish from my set-up.

The first thing I did was to draw them. I ended up changing the positions of the stones a bit, and making the turquoise longer.

Above is my black and white study. This was a very quick and loose rendition done in oil on tracing paper. I did this to better judge the composition as well as to serve as a value guide when I started to paint.

After the drawing was transferred to the canvas, the next step was to paint the under-painting in various tones of burnt sienna and lead white. I have omitted details and painted everything much lighter than it’d be in the finished work.

Above is my first layer of the over-painting. I left the shadow areas lighter, because I will glaze them darker after this layer dries. I indicated some of the details on the turquoise, but at this point they were difficult to see and paint. I know that I can add and correct later, as the forms and colors become clearer to me.

As the surrounding areas developed, I could better see the colors and values on the stones and dish. I lightened the dish and glazed all of the shadows darker. I added bright blues to the turquoise and lightened the right side of the green stone.

This is the latest picture. I added a highlight to the green stone, put in some reflected blues on the right top side of the dish and continued adding details to the turquoise. I’m finding it frustrating that I can’t seem to get the turquoise bright enough. I’m using phthalo blue, which is a very bright, strong pigment. However, when I add white to it in order to lighten it, the color appears more and more chalky and not bright. I tried underpainting the bright areas with white paint, letting them dry and then glazing the blue on top. I thought that this would result in a bright color, since a glaze will usually appear more intense than body color. It still didn’t seem bright enough! Another trick to make a color seem more intense is to juxtapose it with touches of its opposite color. Since orange is blue’s opposite, I painted bits of orange around the stone. It’s easy to go overboard on this and end up with an unnatural look. I’m still thinking about if this idea is successful. One of the frustrating aspects of painting is that no pigment can mimic the intensity of nature. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that just because you see a color in your set-up you can mix it in paint. It’s the artist’s job to make the colors convincing within the context of the painting, relating well to the surrounding colors.

Glazing and Painting the Bricks and the Stone Dish

Above is the first layer of paint on the stone dish. The colors and values aren’t quite right, but that’s ok. When first painting something, especially when it’s surrounded by an unpainted area, it’s almost impossible to correctly judge values and colors. Painting is about comparing and correcting- both the painting to the set-up and the parts of the painting to each other. It’s only when you have something down on the canvas that you can begin this process. Once I let go of the idea that my first attempt had to be correct, I relaxed and became a better painter. When I can see that something’s not right, I can decide how to correct it!

The first thing I did was to glaze the shadows on the dish. After that, the first thing that struck me was that the dish was too green and a bit too dark. Above you can see how I’ve corrected that with a lighter, yellower tone. I painted in the rest of the dish. I then glazed the shadow side of the green stone and repainted the rest of it, adding some highlights. I then glazed the shadows and added some more details to the turquoise.

Next I wanted to finish glazing the shadows on the bricks so I could get a better idea of the finished values of the painting. Above, just the two bricks on the left are glazed.

Above, I’ve glazed the rest of the bricks and the shadow on the right tabletop. On the lighter areas of the middle brick, I’ve scumbled a lighter, greener tone both to show the texture and to neutralize the bright orange, bringing it closer to the right color and value. I added a thin glaze of a greenish color to the forth brick to darken and neutralize it.

My next goal was to begin indicating the distinctive texture on the second and fifth bricks. I always end of over-stating this sort of texture at first. I’ve accepted that this is a result of trying to see intricate details. When I’m studying and staring at a small ridge, it seems more like a crevice, so I paint it that way, accentuating the darks and lights! Only later can I see that the changes in color and especially value are way more subtle than I originally thought. I try to correct this tendency as I’m painting by squinting my eyes when looking at the set-up. If the detail I’ve been painting disappears, then I know that it should be painted in a value very close to the area surrounding it. Another reason that I sometimes overstate details is that sometimes I’m drawing them without the aid of the underpainting. Since I usually don’t indicate small details on my underpainting (such as small holes in the bricks), I end up having to draw them in paint. I can see the details better if I put them in darker than they really are. On the brick on the far right you can see where I’ve indicated where some of the holes will be. I’ve also overstated the details on the second brick from the left.

At my next session, I scumbled a greenish tone over the second brick to mute the details and neutralize the orange hue. I also scumbled the lighter areas of bricks 4 and 5. I made the tiny holes less dark on brick 5, and added highlights on them. I added some more of the circular ridges, managing to keep them subtle!

First Glazes on Bricks and More Work on Basket

The first layer of paint on the bricks on the left were dry enough for me to apply my first glaze over. I mixed raw umber, ultramarine blue and some glaze medium and brushed onto the shadow area freely. I then wiped off a bit with a cotton pad to leave a light layer.

Next I applied the same glaze to the second brick. I wiped off more of the glaze this time because this brick is lighter. You can see how the texture from the last layer is accentuated by the glaze sitting in the hollows.

Next I refined the basket. I darkened the blue area on the left with a glaze of phthalo blue and a bit of burnt sienna to dull it down a bit. I then painted in the darks and picked out some highlights. I repainted the light area, also putting in some darks and lights. I began to indicated the markings on the weave. I muted the lines separating each layer of the coil. I then darkened the outside of the basket with a warm glaze of transparent golden ochre and a bit of cobalt blue. Finally, I put another layer of glaze on the shadow on the inside on the right.

I scumbled some light paint over the lit areas of the bricks. I finished putting the local colors down on the left side of the paperweight. I’ll pause here. The rest of the painting should be dry in a few days. I’ll have to wait to continue with my glazing!

Painting Begins

I decided to begin with the backdrop. I needed to get a smooth transition from dark to lighter, from left to right. This can be tricky to do. It requires a lot of careful blending. Blending can get messy because the paint often gets smeared onto adjacent areas. Better to paint it first, so I don’t mar anything that’s already been worked on. Above you can see where I’ve tested several different values of gray to make sure that I’ll get a smooth transition. It’s clear here that the underpainting is a few shades lighter than the finished value. I painted swatches of these colors directly onto my value study to make sure I got them right.

Above you can see the dots of paint that I dabbed onto the value study to compare values. The orange spots are from when I was painting the underpainting. I was checking that the values I chose were a few shades lighter than the finished value. The dark spots are from this session, where I was trying to get the value the same as the in the study.

Above, the backdrop is complete (for now!). I don’t want to work on any adjacent areas until it dries, so I’ll have a first go at the dish and stones.

At first, I try to get the basic local colors in. I can’t do any finished work at this early stage, because all parts of the painting must grow together. If I put a lot of detail in now, I’d probably find later that the colors and/or values were incorrect. Everything must be compared with everything else, as the painting slowly evolves.

At my next session, I roughed in the blue crystal and the two bricks on the left. The color of the bricks is very similar to the underpainting, so it’s hard to see what I did. I put in a thicker layer of paint and indicated some texture. The brick on the far left has a stippled, rough texture. The one next to it has concentric semi-circular markings which I indicated with strokes of the palette knife. I painted the bricks slightly darker than was indicated on my value study because I intend to scumble a lighter value over them to mimic paler deposits on the bricks. I put down the local color of the tabletop on the left.

Above, I’ve made a first stab at the basket

Next, I worked on the paperweight. The patterns are very hard to see, but I did my best! It’s frustrating to not get it right on the first try, but I can always make corrections later. Each time I repaint an object, it’s easier to see. The more landmarks that are in place, the easier it is to see if what is there is correct.

The vase was next. I didn’t paint the darks as dark as they would be because I want to glaze the shadowed areas later.

Finally, I finished putting a layer of paint on all of the bricks, the shell, and the rest of the tabletop. I couldn’t resist glazing a few shadows on the drier parts of the tabletop on the left. The paint wasn’t quite dry enough, but I got away with it. They will be much darker after I apply a few more glazes.


The underpainting is painted in 9 values of burnt sienna and lead white. In the underpainting, everything will be painted lighter than its true value. I find that the colors look richer with a paler ground beneath them.

Generally, I try to blend out all brush stroke marks in the underpainting, so that a random stroke won’t show through and interfere with the finished painting. In this case, because the bricks are very rough, a little texture in the underpainting will contribute to the impression of roughness, so I don’t blend out the strokes.

Things are kept very simple in the underpainting. I don’t need to show any details. It would be a waste of time, since this will all be painted over. The real painting doesn’t happen until I start the overpainting!

I try to keep the edges sharp, because I don’t want to lose the drawing. Edges will be softened in subsequent layers of paint. I also keep the paint layer very thin so that it won’t take long to dry. It has to be completely dry before I can start the over-painting.

I work from left to right so that my hand doesn’t smear my completed work.

On the basket, I painted in the lines more sharply than they really appeared so that they could guide me when I start to paint. The paperweight is more loosely painted. I just need the major landmarks indicated at this point.

Above is the finished underpainting. I’ll let it dry for at least a week before I start to paint.

My Canvas Arrived!

My canvas is finally here, so I can begin my painting!

The first thing I did was to tape the tracing to the canvas, making very sure that all of the edges were even.

Next, I traced all of the lines. I know from experience that however careful I am, I lose some accuracy and detail. This happens because I’m drawing (tracing, in this case, but still drawing) without looking at the subject. When I’m finished, and I remove the tracing paper, I can correct the traced drawing while looking at the set-up.

Above, I’m removing the tracing paper to reveal the transferred drawing underneath. Now I’ll spray it with a bit of fixative, and start my underpainting.

New Canvases

I’m still waiting for my stretched canvas to arrive. I’m so relieved that the company that makes them is still working! I was talking with the owner the other day, inquiring after my canvas, and he told me that he had a one that he had stretched for someone who ended up not wanting it. He asked if I’d like it. It was 24″ square. Squares are notoriously difficult to compose in. I have only used a square canvas once. Maybe I can blame it on a hoarding mentality in response to Covid-19, but I told him yes! Now I’m in the difficult position of having to compose a picture starting from the size and shape of the canvas, instead of my normal method, of letting the objects I’m going to paint tell me what size and shape would best suit them, and then ordering the canvas. I think that I’m up for a challenge about now! Tomorrow I’ll take a shot at setting something up. I have no idea what I’ll do. I hadn’t thought of a new idea since I’ve been focusing on my brick painting. Stay tuned.

Correcting the Drawing, then Making a Tracing for Transfer to Canvas

First, I removed the tracing paper on which I painted the value study, so I could work on the drawing underneath.

Above, I drew the corrections I had painted in the value study. You can see where I erased and changed the positions of the bricks. While I was at it, I narrowed brick #1 on its right side, and made a few more adjustments all over.

Above, I taped some tracing paper over my drawing. I’ll now trace the drawing so that I can transfer it to my canvas.

Above, I’ve started tracing. At this stage, I like to keep things neat, so I use a ruler to draw the straight lines. As I paint, I’ll loosen up on the straightness. It’s easy enough to get less straight as you paint, but much harder to get straighter once you’ve lost it!

Above, I’m removing the tracing from the drawing.

Here’s the finished tracing.

Now I have to turn the tracing into transfer paper. To do this, I flip over the tracing and scribble with a soft pencil over the areas where there are lines.

Now the transfer paper is complete. All I need now is my canvas to arrive so I can transfer the drawing to it and begin painting.

Adjusting the Value Study

Above is the value study as I left it last. I find that my eye is drawn to the shadow cast by the black vase onto the center brick. I don’t like this. I thought I’d try to move the shadow over to the left, so that only a sliver of light is left on its left side.

Above, you can see the correction. (Please forgive the photo which is a bit light.) I actually didn’t move the shadow much. Instead, I shifted the whole brick over to the right about a 1/4′. This change increased the gap between bricks #2 and 3, and decreased the gap between bricks #3 and 4. Now bricks #3 and 4 were too close, so I narrowed brick #4 a bit to keep a small gap. I also added some detail in the vase’s shadow. This made it seem more like a textured brick and less like a black hole. Overall, I am pleased. The shadow isn’t bothering me now.

I also moved the shell over a bit to the right.. Now I’m ready to draw these changes on the drawing.