Take Three: A trio of friends who’ve never met in person hold a still life painting challenge across the miles.
A few months ago, I was chatting via Facebook with my friend and fellow painter Anne Hightower-Patterson White. Although we’ve never met in person, we’ve developed a great connection through social media.
We determined that we were both ready for a new creative endeavor and devised a virtual still life painting challenge. She brought our friend Susan M. Stuller on board, and we were off and running.
We’d each select and share three favorite pieces from our glass collections, and then we’d each paint a still life painting based on some of those pieces. We shipped the glass items back and forth until we all had photographed a still life setup using at least five pieces from the collections.
The agreement was not to tell one another which pieces we had chosen—or to share our works in progress. There was a lot of excitement to see how our different painting styles would translate into compositions featuring the same subjects. Here’s a look at our experiment—as well as some tips for painting glass objects.
Try It Yourself
I encourage other artists who are friends on Facebook or other communication outlets such as Instagram or email to try a similar project. It’s always interesting and educational to see how someone else interprets the same subject through their own eyes and creative style. This even can be done internationally, by emailing the same reference photo or idea to friends around the globe and having each create a painting in his or her individual style. -Laurie Goldstein-Warren
Doing the Prep Work | Anne Hightower-Patterson White
STEP 1: I began the process by doing two 5″ x 7″ value studies (below) to work out the composition and plan the pattern of lights and darks.
STEP 2: I then did a complete 9″ x 12″ color study in which I tried out some darker shadows that I decided to leave out of the final painting. I focused on triangulating the colors to provide a visual map through the painting. For this, I altered a few of the reds and blues from my photos to improve the color harmony.
STEP 3: I completed a detailed line drawing of the composition (3a) and then masked the areas where I wanted to preserve the white of the paper (3b).
STEP 4: I created the initial washes to begin to define the light values and establish the local color.
STEP 5: I removed small amounts of masking and began establishing the middle and darker values, as seen in the upper left.
FINAL STEP: Once I had the values in correct relationship, I did what I call “a finishing step.” I go through and tighten up shapes that seem ragged. If I’ve lost a highlight, I either scrub it out with a fabric dye brush or use a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser to lift color, especially staining color. I think the traditional scrubbers are a little rough on 140-lb. paper; however, the fabric dye brushes by Loew Cornell are just right.
If there’s a small point to highlight, I’ll use my go-to opaque white—Shiva white casein. In the final assessment of While the Fish Danced (watercolor on paper, 21½” x 28″), I determined that the lower corners needed less emphasis, so I used a neutral gray mixture and lightly floated it across the bottom from corner to corner, which helps to lift the eye to the focal point.
Anne’s Watercolor Tips
Begin by observing the glass reflections carefully. Do a detailed still life drawing of the reflected shapes on paper. Make any corrections before transferring the drawing to watercolor paper by using either transfer paper or a light box.
Avoid erasures on your watercolor paper, and use a hard pencil to complete your drawing to prevent losing your marks in washes. Mask the shapes that will remain white or very light.
Layer color one glaze at a time using transparent or semi-transparent colors. Ensure one layer is dry before applying the next.
After painting the initial glaze, apply masking to preserve the lighter values before adding darker ones. Remove the masking once the darkest values are complete. Use a small, stiff brush to soften the edges of the shapes that look too hard.
Anne’s Watercolor Toolkit:
- Paper: Winsor & Newton 140-lb. cold-pressed white
- Paint: Sennelier: red orange, lacquer red; Winsor & Newton: burnt sienna, Winsor blue (red shade), cobalt, aureolin, Indian yellow, raw sienna, brown madder, sepia, French ultramarine; Daniel Smith: quinacridone rose, quinacridone gold, quinacridone coral, sap green
- Brushes: Jack Richeson Extreme Kolinsky, Art Xpress Charles Reid Kolinsky
Using a Limited Palette | Laurie Goldstein-Warren
STEP 1: I do my initial drawing on oversized white drawing paper. When I’m happy with the composition, I move the drawing to my watercolor paper using transfer paper. I then go over my lines with a hard graphite pencil and mask off my whites and any other shapes that I want to remain pure in color.
STEP 2: I paint in a glowing layer first using quinacridone gold, quinacridone rose and cobalt blue.
STEP 3: When that layer is completely dry, I lay in my first dark layer (value 8 or 9) using quinacridone gold, quinacridone rose and Antwerp blue.
STEP 4: When the dark layer is dry, I remove all the masking fluid and begin to paint in the mid-value (3-7) shapes using the same limited four-color palette.
STEP 5: Once I’m satisfied with the values and shapes, I use a gray wash from the remaining paint in the palette to push back some of the glass pieces and bring others to the forefront of the painting.
FINAL STEP: I achieve the finished look by masking off just a few of the white and pure color spots. I then apply a violet-blue wash over the entire painting to unify it. Finally, I use a soft brush to prevent disturbing the underlying layers of paint in Stars in the Dark (watercolor on paper, 30×22).
Laurie’s Watercolor Tips
Don’t just shoot a photo of your still life and begin. Study the light, reflections, refraction and surfaces. Only draw reflections and shadows that are important; not every detail is needed. Join values that are close together to create larger shapes.
Soften the edges of masked elements in some areas of the still life and leave hard edges in others, always considering the variety and quality of your shapes. Push back some pieces in your still life; not all of the objects should have equal importance.
Laurie’s Watercolor Toolkit:
- Paper: Fabriano Artistico bright white 140-lb. cold-pressed
- Paint: Daniel Smith: quinacridone rose, quinacridone gold; Winsor & Newton: lamp black, cobalt, Antwerp blue
- Brushes: Silver Brush Black Velvet 1½-inch flat wash; Yasutomo/Haboku stroke 6060L
Building Up Shapes and Values | Susan M. Stuller
STEP 1: I photograph a variety of still life setups with strong light. After choosing several, I proceed with a few value studies and then select the one I like the best.
I do my value studies on tracing paper with a Sharpie pen and a pencil and mark the center of the paper with an “x,” so I don’t arrange anything in the center. Next, I proceed with several tracing paper layers to refine my drawing.
STEP 2: When I’m satisfied with my tracing paper drawing, I transfer my drawing to my painting surface with graphite paper and mask the whites I want to preserve using Winsor & Newton masking fluid.
STEP 3: I like to apply the glow colors first so I know where they are and can paint around them. Next, I wet the paper and add a warm light wash, dropping in some neutrals in
STEP 4: I start to build up shapes and values, gradually using colors I know won’t lift as I proceed to glaze over them. Most of the light to mid-tone grays are painted using a mixture of cobalt and burnt sienna, and I occasionally drop in a little permanent rose if I want a violet tone.
The masking fluid is removed during the glazing process of this step, so that the hard edges of the mask will be softened in subsequent layers.
STEP 5: I continue to refine shapes and values while adjusting the temperature. I wait until
I have more completed shapes before I start on the blue vase.
STEP 6: I rewet the background around the glass items and, using a round, soft mop brush, I drop in a warm neutral wash using indigo, raw sienna and a little alizarin crimson. I also use some Dr. Ph. Martin’s liquid watercolors to brighten up the strong colors in the marbles and some of the glass items.
STEP 7: I start slowly on the blue vase. Putting in the glow colors first, I paint more of them than I need, knowing that as I change values I’ll lose some of the color. I then add small amounts of those same colors around the painting to help guide the viewer as he looks at the painting.
FINAL STEP: I continue to glaze color on the blue bottle as well as add several glazes in the background using the same indigo wash. I also use the indigo wash to push back some of the glass shapes.
Cheap Joe’s scrubber is great for softening any remaining hard edges left by the masking. I decide to add a few cards to Something Borrowed, Something Blue (watercolor on paper, 21×29) to strengthen the focal point. I continue to soften edges with the scrubber brush and add a few final glazes to push the values
Susan’s Watercolor Tips
A great drawing is a must when painting intricate glass still life paintings. Create clear light shapes that make the glass sparkle, even crafting or eliminating some shapes for composition’s sake.
Mask the major light shapes carefully; they’ll be important to the final painting. Design is important to the overall success of the painting; don’t make it too busy. Always keep the following in mind as you paint: values, values, values.
Susan’s Watercolor Toolkit
- Paper: Arches 300-lb. cold-pressed
- Paint: Holbein: cobalt blue, ultramarine blue, Prussian blue, cerulean blue, alizarin crimson, burnt sienna, raw sienna, indigo, new gamboge, permanent rose, permanent red; Winsor & Newton: Winsor green; Mijello Mission Gold Watercolor: cerulean blue; Dr. Ph. Martin’s: phthalo green, blue, yellow light, ultra-marine blue Brushes: Silver Brush Black Velvet
- Brushes: Silver Brush Black Velvet jumbo round; Loew Cornell 6 and 14 rounds, 1- and 2-inch flats; 2- and 4-inch hakes
Article written by Laurie Goldstein-Warren, Anne Hightower-Patterson White and Susan M. Stuller