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Starting Over

Roses in bottle - value sketch

Graphite in 6×9 Aquabee sketchbook
(To enlarge, click images, select All Sizes)

I’ve been struggling with an oil painting of this image …

Roses in bottle

and finally realized that it wasn’t working because I hadn’t first done a value study and compositional sketches. So tonight I set aside the painting and started over with this sketch to simplify the image and study the values. I took the photo on a rainy day in December when the sun suddenly broke through and lit up these roses I’d just clipped from the garden that were still blooming despite the December storm.

As much as I love to draw, sometimes I’m impatient to get to the fun, juicy painting and so I skip the preliminary studies. Once in a while that approach works, but more often it ends up feeling like I’m wandering and lost in a maze, with no end in sight.

But if I start with a study or two first to determine what really interests me about the image, how I can simplify it, where I want the focus to be, where the lights and darks are, what I want to exaggerate or de-emphasize, and what colors I’m REALLY seeing,  then I have a much better chance of success and hence a lot more fun with the paint. I might still get lost along the way, but I know my destination and how to get there.

I wonder if I should have one leaf overlapping the front of the bottle. If you see any compositional problems or have suggestions, I’d be happy to hear them. Sometimes I find it so hard to see the problems in my own work. Just looking at now in the post I can see I need to lengthen the stem on the top left rose as it looks a little too short to me.

I’m going to start over, using my new sketch as a reference so I can focus on the light, and the colors in the bottle which was what interested me in the first place. If I don’t get tired of it, I might try it in oil, acrylic (bought some acrylics today) and watercolor, just for fun.

13 replies on “Starting Over”

Your photo to use is incredibly awesome, Jana! And I’m studying your post … I’ve read and read about value sketches and they still corn-fuse me, I’m afraid. I’m so glad your wrote this – and would love to see your process so that I might finally understand why these sketches are so important. I have a ‘vague’ feeling that I might understand, but for some reason, values are such a stumbling block for me.


Jana, in the photo, that rose is taller and fills out the composition a little more…it’s your work, do what YOU want with it! It’s lovely to see your work again and this is going to be smashing!


I recently found out the value of value studies too so I ate this post up. I just know it is going to be a gorgeous painting and can’t wait to see it.


Thanks for the comment on my fly waiting to be buzzed in.
I love your work. Particularly the watercolor rose and the figure studies (on BART, etc).
John Carlos
in San Diego


Lin, as far as value studies goes, the best thing I can say is to try it to discover for yourself if/how they’re helpful to you. Do a black and white (or any color) sketch looking for the darkest darks and lightest lights and mid value (or a few mid values but not more than 5 total including black and white). Or look at your photo before painting it as greyscale using a computer program to change it to see where things are dark and light. There are also handy value scale tools made of cardboard that help you see the values that go from white to 10%, 20%, etc. black to 100%. If you line that up with the thing you’re painting it can be really surprising to discover that the color you think is about 50% is actually 20% or 80%. Getting the values right makes the painting a lot more interesting and gives the illusion of light. Squinting helps too. I find it really helps me to understand what I’m working with much better than going directly to color. But you may already get it intuitively and not need practice and tools.


I love yhis value sketch, especially the detail inside the vase. I like the way, in the photo, a leaf overhangs the vase – but I like to be able to see the handles of the vase in the drawing.


Nice drawing Jana! Don’t you love your aquabee?
I would add the leaf over the bottle like you were thinking about. It would break up the negative space between the two lower left and right leaves and the bottle. – that negative space is symetrical in the drawing which could work, but maybe you want to break that up? Don’t know, just a thought. Love the color in the photo. Can’t wait to see the painting.


It is really interesting to see how different people decide to compose their art. I like both your photograph and your value study.

What I really like about the photograph is the composition. The two light blooms seem to balance each other, and the darker not quite open bloom is balanced by the dark portion of the bottle. And the mostly vertical subject is also nicely balanced by a variety of less important horizontal lines, from the table, cloth, chair and framed art. Even the right bloom touching the edge seems like a nice exit from the circular path of the four points of interest.

In the value study, I really like the way that you’ve altered/edited the stems and leaves to create a much more beautiful set of lines. In particular, I like the way the topmost leaf now slides away from the stem, and the less jarring angle between the two left stems.

Hope you have a great time exploring and painting this image.


Hey Jana. Great sketch. I be the value sketch will really help you on your painting. Values are hard to determine in color. Great work on the sketch and looking forward to seeing the painting!


Having just scrolled down through the January archives, I passed the painting you did from this photo and drawings. The photo is stunning. The ‘value’ drawing is a nice botanical rendering of the rose. The photo is stunning in great part because of the overall lighting and coloring of the whole picture. The background is a neutral color and forms a wonderful interaction with the plant forms – the negative and positive. Against this the plant and blue vase are glowing and transparent in the sunlight. I know you said you were “so done” with the painting, but I can see a version with only the background painted.


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