Winnie at the Piano: #2

I tried that painting of Winnie tinkling on the Piano again today. I paid very careful attention to the proportions in my sketch, which helped the painting significantly. However, I am starting to feel like sketching so many details at the beginning results in “coloring” instead of painting. By penciling in every shadow and crease, I end up putting the painting into a box, and when I paint I feel like I have to honor those lines. It ends up feeling a bit like a paint-by-number… yuck.

I wonder if using the sketch to just lay out the biggest shapes and the most important proportions would help me paint more freely. I might give that a shot on the next one. I think finding a way to use the sketch just to landscape some boundaries for me… that way when I paint, I’ll be forced to keep looking at the source, instead of just putting colors on the sketch.


From the top of her head to where she is sitting on the stool is three units.

I really wanted to get this sketch right, so I decided to measure it carefully. The painting is larger than the source photo, so I used “head units” as my measuring stick.

I used a compass/caliper thing that I got from Rachel’s Pappy to get the width of her head, (her head is as wide as it is tall.) This is one “unit.”

Then I walked the caliper across the image to see how many units different elements were.

From the left edge of the piano to just past her right fingers is six units. From the top of the piano to the bottom of the stool is roughly six units.

This means the bits I want to draw fit into a square. But, I want this composition to be rectangular. So, need to change something. I decided to make the music book taller, and her dress longer. That way I could increase the vertical size of the image without screwing up the proportions of the rest of the image.

I didn’t notice the snowball on the floor until just now. (Winnie ambushed me while I was painting.)

After measuring the photo according to head units, I drew two vertical margin lines on my paper indicating the space I wanted my composition to fit into. Then, I guessed at a width on the caliper, and checked to see if it would fit six times between those margins. I opened it or closed it a smidge until I had a width that fit between those two lines six times. That distance is one “unit” for my painting.

You can see my “head” units on the tape on the sides.

Everything else can be measured in terms of these units. I can see how many heads tall she is. How many heads are between her eye and her finger? Just set the caliper to a “photo head unit.” Then, walk the caliper like a Pirate on a treasure map in order to measure whatever you are looking at in the photo. Now open the caliper to the larger unit for the painting, and check my proportions. It’s exactly what an artist is doing when he holds his paint brush out in front of him, and uses his thumb to check how tall something is – only I’m using the caliper to get a constant unit.

I kept measuring like this on the photo, and then used the caliper to measure the drawing as I went. This gave me a pretty close drawing.

I checked my drawing against the photo in photoshop. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty darn close.


I knew I wanted straight clean lines on the bottom left and top right, with ragged messy splotches on the top left and bottom right. So, before anything else, I painted some light color into wet paper in those corners.

Then, I PAINSTAKINGLY painted around the details. I could have been much looser, but I worry about that. Every time I go very loose, my painting comes out looking like a dirty mess. I decided to paint to the sketch, and try getting variegated washes within the large shapes. This seemed to work very well, but I may have gone overboard with it. Maybe I should just be simpler in those big shapes, and use variegated washes to help with those busy bits in the painting. I’m honestly not sure.

At any rate, I kept going with the washes in the large shapes until I had covered the image with washes and felt like it could stand alone. At this point, I think the painting could be considered complete, but it still looks flat.

It might be because the lower portion of the piano is so light in value. I think I need to darken that considerably, and see how it goes… I worry that will ruin the painting, but it could also really bring it home. I’m honestly not sure… whatever I do, it definitely still needs something.

Ok. I think that was the right move. Now Winnie feels a bit flat. I’m going to let it sit for now. I’ll look at it again tomorrow to see if I should deepen some of the shadows on Winnie.

I glazed a few shadows on Winnie’s dress, hair and arm. That should do it. If I mess around any more, I’ll just ruin it.


I tried this painting again today, but with fewer details in the sketch, and zoomed in, but I don’t like what I came up with.


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