Marching Orders

Had my second weekly critique today. Gary used the time to demonstrate how to choose the right values for each part of the painting. He says the hardest values to nail are the mid-tones, but it is these values that make or break a painting. The reason mid-tones are hard is that the artist actually has a choice. The lightest lights and darkest darks are easy to place because there is no choice – the limited range of values available in paint forces the darkest shadows to black while reserving white for specular highlights.

I like to think of the process as putting together a jigsaw puzzle. With a puzzle, you start with the corners then move to the edges and then the center, always moving from the known towards the unknown, always triangulating from multiple directions. In a painting, you start with the obvious known values which are the darkest shadows and brightest highlights. Once these are placed, you can work up out of the shadows and down from the highlights until the mid-tones are boxed in. At this point, the choice of suitable values is smaller and more manageable.

Gary has painted a number of suggestions directly on my painting: (1) the horizontal gradient in the background should start at a much lighter value on the left and go to jet black on the right; (2) the right side of the table near the red cloth will need to go very dark; (3) the wine and the shadows on the fruit and the right side of the bowl need to go almost to black; (4) the front edge of the table needs to be pretty dark.

If you look at the image above, you can see some of Gary’s suggestions, painted directly on my canvas. I find it fascinating that the background should go from a fairly light, chalky gray on the left to jet black on the right. It is also amazing that the portion of the table top adjacent to the red cloth will be a fairly dark, olive drab. If Gary has these colors spot on – and I suspect he does – they will illustrate how hard it is to nail the mid-tones without the context of the adjacent lights and darks.

Here’s the gradient, roughed in to Gary’s specifications. It actually looks pretty good and nothing like what I would have imagined from looking at the first picture.

At this point, I have put in a more dramatic gradient behind the tableau.


Here’s my Word-of-the-Week image for “Solid”.

The crate is made from a wooden box and six very small window mats. The rivets are from the Michael’s jewelry crafting department – they are self-adhesive faux pearl halves. My original plan was to spray paint the box black and then use a drybrush to add rust and grime. I also wanted to add a cold, cloudy and gray, windswept sky.

The class discussion was great and I came away with a bunch of ideas to improve the concept. Gary says that since I took the time to make the box I will have to actually put it in one of my still life paintings.

This exercise meshed nicely with my theatrical set building experience and got me thinking about the possibilities in constructing sets and dioramas to use as source material for paintings.

Wine and Apples – More Darks

Today I mixed up some deep burgundies for the decanter and the wine glasses. I started with Permanent Alizarin Crimson, then mixed in some French Ultramarine to move more towards violet, then darkened the mixture with Burnt Umber.

I’ve been working to establish my darkest darks so that I will have some reference for my shadows and mid-tones. Soon I will need to nail down the other end of the scale by finding the light mid-tone value for the tabletop. You see, I need to reserve white for the specular highlights – when the painting is done, nothing will be white, except for the small reflections on the glass and the fruit. This means that the table top will need to take on a value more like the cloth but then the cloth will have to go darker, which will push the shadow on the cloth almost to black. When I lose white, the entire value range will compress.

Wine and Apples Background

This evening I mixed up a string of dark, slightly warm neutrals for the background. I started with a mixture of Burnt Umber and Prussian Blue, which I lightened with Titanium White. As I got to the lightest darks on the left side, I found I needed to add a bit of Yellow Ochre and Burnt Sienna to keep the mixture warm enough. I like the dramatic chiaroscuro look of the painting, but think the darkest portion of the background on the right side needs to go darker.

This was my first time painting with Neo Megilp. This strange sounding medium is added to the paint to make it settle and flow. Notice how the dark paint with Neo Megilp is velvety smooth, while the Burnt Sienna in the underpainting shows lots of brushwork.

Tomorrow, I hope start on the darks of the wine in the decanter and the glasses, probably with a mixture of Permanent Alizarin Crimson and Burnt Umber.