Underpainting

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.

Value Study in Black and White

My paints are mixed in 9 values ranging from white to black. There are many more values possible, but I find that 9 lets me represent a set-up well. I’ve numbered them right on the palette, as usual, for easy identification.

Above is my first pass. I’ll need to let this layer of paint dry before I can make corrections. Otherwise, it all smears together and makes a mess. Looking at this, I noticed that though I had made my vantage point lower, and adjusted the bricks in the drawing, I hadn’t corrected the basket and the square glass plate enough. They are still seen from too high. In other words, too much of their top surfaces are visible. I can fix this here, in the study, at my next session. If it looks good, I’ll have to go back and correct the pencil drawing underneath.

Above is the study after my next session. You can see that less of the top surface of the basket is now visible and the ellipses are shallower. I also corrected the glass plate, painting it at a shallower angle. I’ve gone over everything again, correcting values, adding details, and brightening highlights. The paperweight is more sharply defined, and I indicated the weave on the basket. I decided to darken the shadow area on the far right side (not so noticeable in the photos) and show more of the bits of light showing through the crate that makes the right-side wall. I thought that they livened up this shadowy area. I brightened the turquoise stone, and darkened the shadow cast onto the far left brick. I also noticed that the black vase wasn’t tall enough. I added 1/2″ to the bottom of it. Finally, I chopped off 4 mm at the top of the composition. It’s just a bit, but I thought it looked more dramatic this way.

I’m pretty happy with this study. I’m trying to decide if it bothers me that the turquoise stone is almost in the center of the composition. It’s hard to know. Though black-and-white studies are very helpful for judging a composition, they aren’t perfect. Sometimes color can profoundly effect how the eye travels over a composition. A brightly-colored object might not draw attention in a black-and-white study, but in the full-color painting, it would. The bright blues of the turquoise, paperweight and bowl will direct the eye in a different way in a full-color representation than in this study. I might have to go back and look at the photos I took of the set-up and judge from them whether I like the position of the turquoise.

Correcting My Drawing

Above is a photo of my drawing before I began the changes to lower my vantage point. Below, is how it stands now, after the adjustments.

You can see that less of the top surfaces of objects are visible because I lowered my stool. The ellipse at the top of the black vase is shallower, as is the ellipse at the top of the basket. This all took quite a bit of re-measuring. I recalculated the height of my horizon line (my eye-level) and marked it with a long strip of tape at the top of my drawing board. I drew a dot on the tape at my vanishing point (the spot directly in front of my eyes) I made sure that all lines perpendicular to the picture plane (such as the tabletop and far left brick) met at the vanishing point. This is called one-point perspective. Most of the bricks aren’t parallel to the picture plane, so each has its own two vanishing points on the horizon line-one for each plane. This is called two-point perspective. If the angle is sharp enough, I can draw the vanishing point on my horizon line and use a ruler to draw a line at the correct angle on my brick. The vanishing point for the front plane of each brick that is close to being parallel to the picture plane would be far off to the side on the horizon line. I just estimated these angles because its not practical to draw such a long line.

I made a few more adjustments. The paperweight needed to be a bit wider. The crystal was too far to the right, and the black vase wasn’t quite tall enough, so I added a bit of length at the bottom. I drew the shell, and finished drawing the turquoise and dish. Next, I need to draw the weave on the basket, and the details on the paperweight.

Adjusting My Point of View

I had almost completed my drawing, and was comparing it to the photo I liked best of my set-up. I noticed that the point-of-view in the drawing was slightly higher than that in the photo. I think that when I took the photo, I had held the camera lower than my eye level to get rid of some of the parallax. I don’t know why I didn’t notice this before! Much as I tried to convince myself that the higher vantage point was fine (to save myself having to re-draw!), I really preferred the lower. It seemed to make the line of bricks more imposing and taller. Below is the drawing, and below that, the photo that I liked.

It’s subtle, but you can see that there is less of the tops of things visible, and the ellipses are shallower in the photo. I lowered my stool a bit to lower my view. Drawing the changes I saw was more complicated than I thought it’d be. As my point-of-view got lower, there was more vertical space seen through my view-finder. If I kept the bottom cut-off point of the set-up the same, I now had more space at the top, above the top of the black vase. I can always trim down the composition at the top a bit, if I like this new drawing. Thankfully, the horizontal measurements remained the same, so I didn’t have to re-measure everything!

Above you can see some corrections. The lines perpendicular to the picture plane are receding at a shallower angle, and the top surfaces of the bricks appear narrower. It’s a pain re-drawing all of my carefully observed work, but as my husband pointed out, it will take a lot longer to paint the picture, so I might as well get it right at the beginning! If I had left it, I’d always be unhappy that I hadn’t made it just the way I want it.

Getting Ready to Draw

I’m pretty happy with my composition, so it’s time to start my drawing.

I taped 2 pieces of drawing paper to my drawing board.

Next, I had to decide how big to make the painting. I like to paint my still lifes life-size. I find that they are more compelling if they are close to reality. If they are much smaller or larger, they lose impact. I began by measuring the length of my set-up in the front, estimating where the edges of the composition would be. See below.

I’ll calculate the height of the painting by using the proportions on the view-finder I used to compose the picture. In this case, I used my 2-to-3 ratio view-finder. The set-up was about 21″ across, so it will be 14″ high. I drew a rectangle with these dimensions on my drawing paper. I sub-divided the rectangle into halves, thirds, etc. to make a grid These same divisions are drawn on my view-finder. Using a thin knitting needle held on the view-finder, I can locate edges and points in the set-up and place them on my drawing. If, let’s say, the top of a brick lines up on the top 1/4 line when looking at the set-up through the view-finder, I can draw this on my paper in the equivalent spot.

Below, you can see me using the knitting needle while doing the drawing for my last painting.

I also measure by holding up a ruler and comparing measurements. Perhaps a brick would line up with one inch and the length of the bowl would line up with 1-1/2″. I discuss this and other measuring methods here. https://lindamann.blog/2018/03/02/drawing-again/

I’ll get the drawing mostly right and will then do my value study. Often, after I’ve completed the study, I’ll want to move some things around. I’ll go back and finish the drawing at that time.

Here’s how the drawing stands now.

Some Final Adjustments

I don’t know why I didn’t notice it before, but the shadows cast by the nest onto the front of the tabletop weren’t ideal.

As you can see above, the five shadows are almost exactly alike in size, value and direction. I usually try to vary the space between objects. I also try to avoid repeating the same shapes without introducing some variety. Below, I painted over the shadow on the far left, and re-painted it in further to the left, where it actually should have been. I painted it much lighter than it had been, so as not to draw as much attention. I shortened the next shadow on the left, so that it didn’t reach down to the edge of the table top. The other shadows remained much the same, except that I lightened them. I added some very fine strands of grass, visible against the dark area under the tabletop.

I’m much happier with the dried grasses hanging over the edge and the shadows they cast now. I’ll need to repaint another layer over the painted-over shadows when they dry to get complete coverage. I’ll also soften the edges of the shadows.