The Black-and-White Study


Above are my paint mixtures going from white to black. I number them right on the palette, so it’s easier to keep track of them. For instance, if #4 is too light, I can go right to #5, without wondering which one I’d just tried. I find that 9 values gives me enough range to judge the final result, though in a finished painting I use many more values.

Wrinkled Paper #2

I’ve taped tracing paper over my drawing, and paint my study right on the paper with oil paint, using the drawing as my guide. Here is my first stab at the values. It’s hard to get these correct right off the bat, because you can’t judge something’s value unless you can compare it to the adjacent value. I always have to make many corrections once this layer is dry.

Wrinkled Paper #5

I’ve roughly indicated the texture of the paper background. I’ve also tried to correct the values in the vase. I’ve darkened the background on the right. Now I’ll let it dry for a few days because tacky oil paint is impossible to paint over!

Wrinkled Paper #3

The finished study is shown above. The photo has some glare on the left side, so those areas appear too light. I’ve very roughly indicated the design on the vase, and did not attempt more than a suggestion of the paper’s wrinkles.  Details aren’t important here. I’ll use this study to judge the overall composition. If it doesn’t look good in black and white, it won’t look good in color!

I’m pretty happy with this. I wondered if the composition would be improved by cutting off a bit of the top.

Wrinkled Paper #4

I think not. I think that the original version with more space at the top lends the composition a sense of airiness that I like.

Now I’ll order my canvas. That should arrive in a few weeks. Until then, I’ll return to completing the drawing, especially of that very detailed vase!


It’s time to do a drawing. I start by locating major landmarks using my viewfinder and knitting needles, and then measure and draw!  (See ‘Drawing Again’ for details.) Drawing Again


Drawing the designs on the Greek vase will be time-consuming. I think I’ll leave them out for now so that I can more quickly get to my black-and-white study. Small details like the patterns on the vase won’t effect the larger composition, so I can just suggest them in the study without a detailed drawing to guide me. Once I’m happy with my study and don’t need to make any changes in the size of the finished painting, I can order my canvas. This usually takes a few weeks to arrive. I’ll use that time to work on the drawing of the vase.



A Better Photo

I managed to get a better photo of ‘Japanese Basket.’ Most of the glare is gone!

Japanese Basket and Wine Decanter

A New Painting

I began this set-up right before I started ‘Japanese Basket.’ I think it has promise, so I’m going to proceed.


This one started with the crinkled paper. I’m always looking for a new background, and this caught my eye as I was unpacking a shipping box. You never know where you’ll find something interesting to paint. I tacked it up on the wall just as it was, then added the vase- the first actor on the stage! I usually like to cast a deep shadow onto my set-up for the drama of the contrast of light and shadow.


I found a crystal, rock and geode in the same color family and added them. They are pretty small. It looked like I needed some other larger object.

Crinkled Paper- second try

I moved the vase to the center of the composition, and added the woven box and a few more stones. I like that the darks and the lights are now massed into more or less continuous shapes. The dark mass is on the top right side on a diagonal, and the light mass is on the bottom left. This makes the composition more unified. If the darks and lights are scattered throughout the composition, it can look unfocused and spotty.

Crinkled Paper-first try

I thought I’d try something different just to see if I liked it. I don’t like to get stuck in just one way of thinking, here at the beginning. I moved the vase back over to the right and put the box on the left. This doesn’t look as pleasing to me, partly because the darks and lights aren’t massed together and partly because the interest seems evenly divided between the vase and the box. One of them needs to dominate.


I put the vase back towards the center. I wasn’t liking the way the weave on the box was competing with the pattern on the vase, so I substituted an orange pottery bowl. Also, it is difficult to make a pleasing composition with two large objects so I added the large piece of obsidian. I tore off a small piece of the wrinkled paper to see how it’d look. I also tilted up the background paper on the wall. I like the diagonal line this creates on the far left side. It’s interesting and serves to lead the eye into the picture. This arrangement is looking more cohesive than the one before.


Here, I stacked up two stones and used them instead of the paper. I like them better. I rearranged the other stones. I like the way the orange stone picks up the orange of the bowl and vase decorations


I thought I needed some more weight on the left side, so I added a large gray stone behind the geode. I added a large pale rock under the vase. It’s getting better!

20180214_190744643_iOS (1) Here I experimented with leaving more room at the top of the composition. I like the airiness this imparts. I might decide to decrease this space a bit on my next try. I also added a tiny orange stone at the far right bottom. This completes an arc beginning from the geode, up through the obsidian, the belly of the vase, down to the orange bowl, and finally, to the small stone.

I think I like this composition. The darks are dramatic and mostly massed together.  The Greek vase is the obvious focal point. The other objects are complementary and don’t compete with it. I like the way the wrinkled paper echoes some of the lines in the obsidian and the vase. I’ll live with it for a bit and see what I think.



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.