Author: SweetBabyJ, Contributing Editor
|Clearly, painting clear glass is something many pastelists shun, but there's really no reason to do so. A well-done rendition of clear glass can make or break a piece's unity of craftsmanship; a crystal vase with flowers, no matter how perfect each bloom is detailed, will look disappointing and disjointed if the glass is left as an afterthought; but all of those curves and ellipses, reflections and refractions, distorted perceptions- they look so DIFFICULT! And so the artist feels intimidated and strokes in just an indication of the singing light found in clear glass.
Oftentimes, whether from life or from a photo, clear glass appears to be a glare of white and a few dark patterns with maybe the background colour or some stem colours showing- hardly enough information to make that part of the piece sing out. But with the tools we have today, there's no reason clear glass shouldn't be given the same attention as all parts of a piece. It just takes careful observation- and a few tricks- to give the artist all he or she needs to render sparkling, colourful clear glass.
Trick one: Even if you paint strictly from life, realize clear glass is a lot like water - it reflects, and it is transparent at the same time. This means it needs light to strike it to give it form and reveal its chemically-influenced hues, and something behind it to give it depth and the sense of "clear". This means you need steady light, and something colourful, or at least of medium dark value, behind it. While arranging your set up, look for bright sparks of light on the glass, watch for the shadows thrown, and see if you can get the light to reveal some of those delicious refractions where the light shines onto the glass surface and throws itself in a rainbow onto a nearby surface. Once you have your set up in a pleasing composition, grab the camera, and snap a few pictures from your viewpoint.
I know, I know- pics when you paint from life?!? Yep- you'll use these to help you SEE, because, trust me, some of the colours and tones you need to convincingly portray clear glass can only really be seen when you study it very closely without being blinded by harsh highlights.
|This photo shows three small vases on black cloth in strong sunlight. I have them set-up so that the sun hits them nicely for about an hour and a half each morning. As you can see, this is nearly a grayscale study in value extremes- hardly the basis of a strikingly colourful piece, right? Let's see what we can do about that.|
|First, take the photo into a photo-editing program (I use PaintShopPro, but any decent program will work) and increase the colour/hue saturation levels. Do it again. Now look at the glass in the picture- see all the colour shapes this has revealed? It may have also caused far too high a chroma in colours elsewhere- don't worry about that- what you want to be able to really see, is the colours in the glass.|
|Now we have three vases which are different hues: A blue, a blue-green, and a yellow green. Perfect. (I found sunlight reveals the colours best- and oddly enough, more colour is revealed if the picture is taken from a not-quite-backlit position- in other words, the light needs to be strongly angled onto the glass). Print the picture out as big as possible- for one that is really detailed, I will quarter it and print it in four pieces.
I like to tone the ground the opposite temperature of the majority of the figures in my piece, and I note a reddish-purplish hue to the black cloth. Using a medium brown and a light teal NuPastel, I scrub them in wide swaths all over the surface of my white Wallis paper. (Wallis works best for this technique, but using a pre-toned sheet of Canson or LaCarte, Art Spectrum, et al, will work, too). Now I take it outside and use a foam brush to scrub the NuPastel into the surface, staining it, and then wipe, shake, thump and dust all the excess away. (See "this thread" for more information). Now to draw the positive figure shapes onto the ground.
|I use soft vine charcoal and keep a soft watercolour brush nearby to wipe out mistakes. Look and look and look at the relationships of the edges of the shapes, the size of the curves, the negative spaces in between to get your drawing accurate. Ellipses can be difficult to eyeball and draw freehand, but here's a trick: Get a roll of tape- masking tape, duct tape- whatever- and lay it over the ellipse in the picture of the set up. Now you can see the shape of the ellipse in reference to the shape of a circle- and it will help you be accurate. Is the ellipse football shaped? more rounded? a crescent shape? a near perfect circle? Having something to compare the ellipse's shape to makes it easier for you to draw. Pretty nifty trick, eh?|