White Roses in Creamery Bottle, oil on linen, 8x8"

White Roses in Creamery Bottle, oil on linen, 8x8"


Strauss Family Creamery is a Marin County dairy that produces organic dairy products served in old-fashioned glass bottles from happy cows that graze on sweet grass in the hills by the sea. I enjoy their bottles as much as their cream in my coffee.

I started this painting with a goal to complete it from life in one 3-hour session, as so many plein air artists and daily painters do. I had somehow come to believe that I “should” be painting that way too. But while I met my time goal, I didn’t like the results (see original version below). And that’s when I finally accepted that it’s better to take as much time as a painting needs, and relax and enjoy the process rather than try to rush to keep up with someone else’s “rules.”

If you’re interested in seeing how I got here from there, click “keep reading” and stick around. Fortunately my roses held up long enough to complete the painting so I was able to work from life, but here is a photo I took of the original setup, with colored cloths chosen without enough thought about a color scheme for the painting:

White roses - photo

White roses - photo

Before I started the painting I did a quick same-size (8×8″) sketch and value study (below) with pencil and grey markers. I’ve found this is a critical step for me–it helps me find problems with composition. I corrected my original boring composition that had both the subject and the line between table and wall perfectly centered.

Value sketch done before painting

Value sketch done before painting

But somehow once I started painting that sneaky horizon line in the middle of the canvas came back! Here is what I had at the end of that first session: weird complementary colors for the background (orange and blue) that called more attention to the background than the subject, a canvas divided straight across the middle, and a big blank area on the left.

"Finished" painting after first session

"Finished" painting after first session

The next morning my friend the art critic/plumber looked at it and said, “Well you know I love when you paint glass, but this one does nothing for me. I don’t like the colors and the leaves look unfinished.” I completely agreed with him. For starters I knew the background colors needed to be neutralized and darkened.

So I photographed the painting and started playing with it in Photoshop, using “Replace Color” to try different colors and values for the background:

Photoshop version 1, using "replace color" on background

Photoshopped version 1

(above) I toned down the table top and tried a darker blue background but it felt  depressing. Then I looked at some Adobe Kuler color schemes on their website, trying to sort out what would make the colors more pleasing, and liking this one and this one.

Photoshop version 2

Photoshopped version 2

In Photoshop (above) I moved the horizon higher, changed the leaves and added some imaginary petals to fill in the blank area on the left. Satisfied with a chocolate-brown and neutralized teal background, I mixed the new colors, scraped off the paint I was replacing, repainted the leaves so they were not covering the bottle, and painted a petal on the table that had dropped from the roses that were still hanging in there, though the leaves had shriveled up.

On Day 3 I fixed a few more things and added a few more strokes to the flowers and declared it done, quite pleased to have taken off that stupid pressure to be a painter who isn’t me.

Art theory, Flower Art, Oil Painting, Painting, photoshop, Rose
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Join the conversation! 7 Comments

  1. I do like your final version best. It seems to have a “caught in the moment” truth to it if that makes sense-not so studied I guess.

    Isn’t it amazing what just a few changes will do? And you knew the painting wasn’t right for you and you stuck with the idea of “repairing” it somehow. Really great.

    Lastly, I know exactly what you mean about the idea that a painting has to be done in one sitting because that seems to be what some people do. Like peer pressure. Sometimes it works and sometimes not and I think the trick is in knowing when you have to edit something after the fact.

  2. Wonderful painting! I always appreciate it when you include the painting process, and this one is particularly affirming to be the painter I am, not the one I ‘should’ be!

  3. Beautiful! Unless you are actually painting outside, I don’t see the point in rushing. Funny about that creeping horizon line. I did some scraping off of paint myself yesterday, but in my case it was hair that just kept getting bigger and bigger, lol. I bet your plumber friend will approve of this one now.

    • It’s so funny you mentioned hair! I tried photographing the painting indoors and couldn’t get the right color balance so I took it out and set it on the driveway pavement to take the picture. I didn’t notice until I opened the photos in Photoshop that a big cat hair had landed in the paint. After some careful fiddling around with a little brush I was able to get it out and fix the spot I made, but it had me worried. It must have been left over from brushing my cats outside a couple days ago. Setting it on the ground to shoot the photos is supposed to be a good way to get the perspective correct more easily with the camera, but I don’t think I’ll do that again! Jana

  4. I like the finished study. It was really interesting to read the processes you went through esp. as I think I should be doing studies before I start a drawing but don’t. I like how you use photoshop to help with correction.

    I liked your comment about the line crept back in – with my last drawing I drew it out carefully making sure everything wasn’t symmetrical but when I inked the ruin was back in the middle. ;?

    • Isn’t that weird? I wonder if as humans we just have a natural preference for symmetry. I know that when I draw people whose heads or bodies are obviously at an angle I straighten them up in my drawing and don’t even realize I’m doing it.

  5. This is something I tried for a week to do! A painting a day, small size, quickly. But they all came out pretty bad, except for the last one which was mediocre. I was only doing this because that is what “everyone” is doing. But this is not me. You’re much faster at figuring things out than me. You only needed one day to know it didn’t work for you. Maybe I just have a stubborn streak!

    I liked your use of photoshop to look at the colors, and kulur too. I’ve used those for other things to help me, but not like that. Good info.

    So I’m on the slow, paint it how I want/need to paint it train with you!

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