Archive for the Composition Category

Master Painting Copy

Posted in Composition, Intro to Oil Painting, Old Master Copy, Tonal Drawing, Tonal underpainting with tags , , , , , , , on October 18, 2014 by Betina Fink
Color reproduction of Caravaggio's "Baachus".

Color reproduction of Caravaggio’s “Baachus”, @1575.

Copying a Master painting is a project we are doing with my beginning oil painting students, in order to better understand how the Masters developed composition, form in space, color and value. Start with a good quality reproduction, with the intention of enlarging it somewhat (no larger than @16 x 20″) or copying it the actual size.

Starting with the grid below, we analyze the composition of the painting, and make a tonal study in graphite. The grid is drawn on plexi glass with a sharpy marker, and can be laid over the reproduction and the drawing. We draw the same grid on the paper first when starting the tonal drawing study. Notice how intersecting lines and spaces in the grid coordinate with important areas of the Master painting (eyes, wineglass, bowl of fruit, other features).


Closer look at the graphite tonal study in progress, without the compositional grid.

Closer look at the graphite tonal study in progress, without the compositional grid.

The size of my study and copy after Caravaggio’s “Baachus” will be the same size: @11 x 14″. I’m using varnished baltic birch, with a golden middle tone value. This will help me see the lights and darks better as the painting progresses. In the process of beginning with a “grisaille” underpainting, I’ve sketched in the grid, and begin the basic shapes of values I see in the reproduction.


Intermediate Oil Part I: Plaster Cast

Posted in Classical, Composition, Intermediate Oil Painting with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 20, 2013 by Betina Fink

In this first project for my 2nd year students in Intermediate Oil, we are painting a study of a dramatically lit plaster cast of greek and roman statues and an architectural element: Apollo, Diana, Hellene, or an artichoke shaped finial.


The painting is going to be somewhat of a hybrid between using a classical method of tonal indirect painting, combined with a contemporary prismatic use of color harmony. Here are some classroom notes on how to proceed (the finial and gourd paintings use the  tetrad harmony expressed in the color scale examples on the right). We are going to complete the painting using a rectangular tetrad of green, red, violet and yellow, painted above an imprimatura of burnt umber and ultramarine blue reductive grisaille. (Reductive means removing or taking away of paint to bring back the lights of the original canvas white).


Initially we create a half size tonal drawing, on top of a grid that mathematical divides up the picture plane into halves, quarters and eighths. (Grid is on left side of chalk board notes above). The grid is helpful in placing and measuring the plaster cast within the composition. Intersecting lines and diagonals often create sweet spots in placing the forms, and the grid is helpful in realizing that. See my category on composition for more information about using grids. My finial and gourd paintings propped next to my color scales articulate the process.


Here is Ramona’s work in progress: she has her tonal black and white sketch above her painting, so that she can refer to the drawing study and the actual object she is looking at. Her imprimatura (underpainting) has been washed on using a combination of burnt umber and ultramarine blue. She has removed the lights using a brush dipped in turpenoid, and a soft blending rag. The result will be a monochromatic underpainting in neutrals (grisaille) on which to base the rest of the painting. It is important to also go back in with darker and middle values of the paint to fill out the correct tone of the form, as well as add some white to kick up the volume of the lights.


Pictured above is Becky’s work. She has sketched in some of the geometric compositional grid so that she can easily copy the proportions of her drawing onto the canvas. These can be blended away once the tonal imprimatura is complete.

The next step (Part 2) will be adding warm lights and cool darks based on the palette that we have chosen: the rectangular tetrad using green/red and violet/yellow. Students may be more expressive with their color choices so that the result will be a more colorful adaptation. Stay tuned!

Still Life With Tassel Part II (Students)

Posted in Composition, Drawing to Painting, Still Life 1, Warm and cool studies. with tags , , , , on March 22, 2013 by Betina Fink

This post will show the work of some of my students on their first still life with three objects in oil on canvas. A simple set up depicts a fairly shallow space that will describe fore, middle and background.


First Evelynn creates a tonal drawing, using a compositional grid:



Another tonal drawing of a similar set up by Gwynn:


Some notes on the white board describe the project (along with the Intro 1 students’ white object project).


Sharyn creates her underpainting using burnt umber over the burnt sienna ground:


Pete adds his first color pass (burnt sienna/ultramarine blue palette):


as does Bea:


Good work everyone!

Hanging Drape Part I

Posted in Composition, Drawing to Painting, Tonal Drawing, Warm and cool studies. with tags , , , , , on March 14, 2013 by Betina Fink


This will be a painting study of a white hanging drape (pillowcase) set at an angle, with a strong light source. I will keep the drape hanging until the completion of the preliminary drawing and painting, so that the creases and folds will remain the same.

Now for a preliminary drawing, but first, a compositional grid:


I begin the drawing in graphite and use the gridlines to help place the drape.


Continue working on the drape, this is 1 1/2 hours of work, and will need some value finishing, but basically the drawing is there, definition of value and shape.


To come: preparation of a burnt sienna ground on the canvas, and an underpainting in burnt umber.

Still Life with Tassel Part I

Posted in Composition, Drawing to Painting, Still Life 1, Tonal underpainting, Warm and cool studies. with tags , , , , on March 13, 2013 by Betina Fink


A monochromatic bronzed candlestick, a faded green silk tassel, and a pale blue nut. A wrinkled sheet of sturdy brown packing paper is used as backdrop.

A compositional grid is drawn for a preliminary graphite drawing:


Next, I place the forms within the grid.


…and complete the drawing below.


On a burnt sienna oil ground I block in an underpainting using burnt umber, in preparation for a limited palette oil painting.


With the first color pass, using cool/warm palette of burnt sienna and ultramarine blue:



New Crew in Town

Posted in Composition, Drawing to Painting, Tonal Drawing, Warm and cool studies. with tags , , , , , on March 5, 2013 by Betina Fink

Recently I have the great fortune to be starting with a new Intro to Oil painting crew! We are working on our first project: a single white object. We will analyze the values, study the form in space and use a limited palette. Here are some examples of the initial value drawings of our simple white objects:



We are studying value using a strong light source. A compositional grid helps place the object and the cast shadows along the sweet spots of line and corner intersections. Close attention is also paid to the subtle details of the decorative aspects of the simple objects, which can often turn out to be a dynamic aspect of the painting.

And now here is my graphite study of a small marble bowl:


And an example of an older painting with the limited palette scale that we will use for the actual painting (ultramarine blue and burnt sienna).



White pitcher: from drawing to painting, Part I

Posted in Composition, Drawing to Painting, Tonal Drawing with tags , , , , , , on October 26, 2012 by Betina Fink

Drawing is a fundamental study and preparatory tool to begin a painting. Here is a “blurred” photo of a simply shaped white porcelain object – in this case, a small pitcher. I’ve blurred the image to better see the light and dark shapes.

Slightly blurred image of small white porcelain pitcher.

I’m going to make a study of the pitcher in graphite, looking carefully at lights, darks and edges. The background will also be determined by value: a combination of dark against dark backgrounds, light against light, and areas somewhere in between. This will give a sense of enveloping space.

Graphite rendering up to six different values.

The next step will be a transferring of this drawing to a toned canvas, over which a grisaille (black to white toned) underpainting will be done. The canvas is toned using an oil wash of burnt sienna. Not too transparent, not too opaque.

Toned canvas, 16 x 12″, using burnt sienna.

I’ve put the sacred geometric grid directly on the canvas above, using vine charcoal. Look for the next post, when I will redraw a diagrammatic image of the pitcher. For now, I will practice my grisaille values by making a value chart that progresses from black to white, on a small canvas panel.

7 value chart, 1 x 7″, in oil.




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