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Saturday, August 13, 2016

Painting Glass

Copyright, Jim Lane
Over the Bar, 1999, Jim Lane.
If you look carefully, you can see my reflection in the
1970s vintage mirror tile backdrop as I took the photo.
In debating a title for today, I was tempted to call this item "Painting Transparent Stuff." The reason for that being, as with painting water, the word "glass" rings up in the artist's mind any number of stereotypical images that are mostly oversimplified, but also actually hampers the artist in trying to render in paint or pencil the transparency of glass by instead trying to paint glass. An artist doesn't paint "glass" he or she paints the effect that glass has upon its environment (what's in a glass container, for instance) as well as the effect the of the area (environment) all around the glass, even (theoretically) that which is behind the viewer. This refers to the fact that most glass is ultra-smooth and thus reflects the light, the sharply defined images, and the colors in its surroundings. And if you want to add yet another element of difficulty, there's also the fact that glass is, more often than not, shaped, which radically effects all the other factors mentioned above. So, the first step in painting glass is to avoid calling it glass. It's a shaped, reflective, transparent object. It may seem as if I'm splitting hairs (and rather curly ones at that); but think about it. A "shaped, reflective, transparent object" does not suggest much in the way of a preconceived image. That's half the battle.

Copyright, Jim Lane
Over the Bar (details, from upper left
to lower right).
Seldom have I taken the liberty of presenting one of my own paintings in as much depth and detail as can be seen in Over the Bar (top) dating from about 1999, and the seven detail images (above) seen running from left to right starting at the top-left to the bottom-right. I won't claim to be the best artist in the world when it comes to painting shaped, transparent, reflective objects but, as is obvious from some of my other efforts, such as Class Glass (below), I've gradually acquired a few of the skills necessary to elaborate somewhat on the subject.

Copyright, Jim Lane
Class Glass, 2001, Jim Lane.
I'm sorry the quality of the photo is not better. I've got only
this one shot, which was digitized from a slide some years ago,
causing much of the color subtleties and details to be lost. The
white "blob" at the bottom was originally an orchid.
First of all, choose your still-life objects carefully, ever mindful of the fact that they need not all be transparent. The two paintings above are show pieces intended to WOW viewers at art shows. Class Glass (above) sold almost before the paint was dry (inasmuch as it was painted in acrylics that's a bit of an exaggeration). Over the Bar I still own having given up on art shows shortly after it was finished (the art show circuit ain't for elderly artists). It may be a little too abstract in appearance for the local art market in any case. Once selected, experiment with different arrangements and lighting, shooting digital photos and comparing the results. Once you have a favorite, edit the image as needed then print (or have printed) a good working source photo from which to draw and paint.

Painting copyright, Jim Lane
Photo copyright, Mel Samples
Patches of Red and a Spot of Orange, ca 1974, Jim Lane.
I can't emphasize enough the importance of a clear, sharp, accurate drawing of your objects. The last thing you want is to find yourself struggling with the drawing while in the painting process. Indicate as much detail as you can then lock down the pencil work with a sprayed coat of matte medium. Otherwise you'll almost certainly end up with much of your drawing on the side of your fist as the painting progresses. If you've never painted transparent objects before, something on the order of the painting and source photo Patches of Red and a Spot of Orange (above), would be a reasonable starting place. The photo need not be in color but it's easier that way. This was one of my first attempts to paint a transparent subject.

Copyright, Jim Lane
Circles and Variations Thereof, 1975, Jim Lane.
The framed picture is an actual matted photo attached
to the painted surface (my nephew, he's over forty now).
As a rule of thumb, I recommend drawing the hardest part of any painting first, then painting the easiest part first (usually the background and sometimes the foreground. This allows you to establish the environmental colors early so that they may influence your color decisions as you proceed. Circles and Variations Thereof (above), from around 1975, represents my first foray into painting the contents of a transparent object.

Copyright, Jim Lane
Tantalizing, 1999, Jim Lane
There's likely not a still-life artist alive today who hasn't painted a group of wine and/or liquor bottles together along with the associated delicate stemware and it's bubbly contents. Tantalizing (above), from 1999, was a piece I struggled with almost endlessly (and it's still not perfect). Stemware must be rendered perfectly vertical (if holding liquid) and exactingly symmetrical. The red, cut glass piece on the right is neither. The same applies to the wine bottles, though they're much simpler. I find it helpful to draw a vertical centerline for each such object then measure outwards from it to assure symmetry.

Copyright, Jim Lane
The Art of Preservation, ca. 1985, Jim Lane
As I mentioned at the top, the real key to painting transparent, reflective objects is in the mindset. Trust your photo. Trust what you see over what you think. Each area on the canvas depicting a transparent, reflective object is best thought of as a small abstract painting. Forget what you're painting; concentrating only on the shapes, the colors, and the tiniest details. When painting rounded tops or lids, remember that seen at eye level they are flat, but become oval when below eye level to the point of being perfectly round when looking straight down upon them (usually rather rare). The Art of Preservation (above) has numerous items such as this. Notice that the ovals in the distance are "flatter" than those in the foreground just beneath the viewer's eye level. In Awaiting the Night (below), dating from around 1990, we see how shaped transparent objects invariably prove the most challenging for artists. They are also quite prone to "stealing the scene" (as they do here) from other painted content.

Copyright, Jim Lane

Awaiting the Night, ca. 1990, Jim Lane 


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