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Painting glass bottles in oils

December 21, 2012

Bottles progressing,  oil on canvas board

This one has been going so slowly, I thought I’d post a photo of it in progress. It is slightly lens distorted as you can see by the left hand bottle leaning toward the outside. What I’m happy about in this one is that the raw energy of the under-painting still comes through. You can see it in a previous post.

When I saw this on screen, I ran right up to the studio and wiped off the white highlights on the two dark green bottles. Because,what I’ve been liking about this painting is how it portrays glass without having to resort to the cliché of white highlights, (which can make anything look like glass, actually). The bottle on the far right, though,  has no colour of its own and the white there has a structural justification.

detail showing different paint application

detail showing different paint application

One thing I’ve learned through studying originals of great painters is that there isn’t any rule about how the canvas is covered. In paintings by my favourite painters- including Jeroen Krabbé, Elizabeth Blackadder, Cezanne, van Gogh, Monet- there are passages of impasto, some thick paint, some thin, but also areas where the canvas is scarcely covered.

The work that attracts me most isn’t about describing perfect realism,
but adapting the paint to fit the mood and purpose the painter wants to convey.

I tried applying more paint to the far right bottle, because in the photo there are some nice things going on there, but I really like the unfinished quality of it so I’m leaving it except for defining the edges more.

There is a sort of fork in the road where you have to choose whether to be faithful to the photo or to the way the canvas is evolving.

Being a natural draughtswoman myself, I have to learn to see and think this way. Each painting teaches me more and frees me from over perfectionism.

detail underpainting

detail with under-painting shining through

I’ve left this wild little patch of red and blue acrylic under-painting, and hope in the future to let more of the initial acrylic background come through. It has been painful sometimes to paint over that first wonderful background- it has informed the whole painting though, which you will see is a lot more spontaneously painted than the first bottles (which I still like a lot).

Any critique or suggestions from you painters out there are welcome, since I am still working on this.

paint strokes on present painting

paint strokes on present painting

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15 Responses to “Painting glass bottles in oils”


  1. Your bottles remind me of the days when my brother Joe and I would go digging for antique bottles. And now today, there they are in your painting.
    Thanks for helping me to relive a precious memory.

  2. Laura Hughes Says:

    Hello Sarah,

    Your decision to remove the highlights is one I’m totally with you on! They were the first thing I noticed when I saw the photo and, in my opinion, jarred against the very sensitive, beautiful blending and brush strokes of the whole painting. Your WIP photos are fascinating and so informative. It’s a medium I haven’t worked with since art school a long time ago and you have inspired me to explore oils again. Serendipity struck this Xmas ‘cos I got some oil pastels! I’ll be searching your site carefully for any- and everything related to this!

    Many thanks, Sarah!
    Warm wishes
    Laura

  3. Sage&Scarlet Says:

    So beautiful…you paint like my grandfather did in Germany. Lovely blog- please keep painting… Happy New Season!

  4. decorartuk Says:

    This one is incredible. Can’t add anything else… You should be very proud of yourself. K. x


    • Thank you. It is large and the bottles look kind of like a marching regiment, but I’m happy with the painting and technique generally.

      In your other comment you mentioned thet the bottle series has really evolved. I was thinking about that. I don’t know what impression I give here, but because I only started to seriously commit to painting after being so moved by the Elizabeth Blackadder exhibition in Edinburgh 1 1/2 years ago, some may think I’m new to painting.

      I’m not, I’ve been painting all my life. But only recently did I discover the desire to narrow down to that medium in general and oils in particular and stay with it. I’ve tried to do this in the past, but have always gotten stuck and stopped. I really hope I can follow through this time. Just for the record. cheers, S


  5. Reblogged this on outside authority and commented:
    Marvellous and inspiring painting and so much harder than you’d think when you have a go (see my botched attempts in next post). I can hear the bottles clinking against each other and the artist’s commentary is very interesting.


  6. […] I’m not proud of. But I will keep trying! Thanks to ArtCalling for inspiration. jobza we were talking about setting challenges, fancy joining me in this […]

  7. skavop Says:

    So I’m trying to figure out whether you work just from photographs, or whether you have the still life set up in front of you as well? The reason I wonder is that I find it impossible to see the full range of colour that the human eye is able to see, when I’m working just from photos. I also find that when I make up something like a background I can’t get it to work for me at all. You are terrific at doing glass effects – it’s a terribly difficult thing to do, as less is more when approaching glass, since it’s mostly transparent.


    • Hi Sheila thanks for commenting. I totally agree with you about the limitations of working from photographs. I kept the still life set up for the duration of the painting but I did have good photos to work from while the fruits dried up and changed color. And sometimes the photos helped me simplify details.
      I also am hopeless at making up backgrounds. One of my recent posts shows a rework of some lilies with a dull background. Using an example of an other artist’s work, I repainted parts of it in the style of that example and got new ideas about how to handle backgrounds. I think the key is in not thinking of them as separate but integrating them in every way (color, tone, rhythm of paint strokes) into the whole painting.
      I visited your site and I love, I LOVE the painting from your window. There is something so wide and generous about the tree and the whole space. The painting technique is so confident.
      I tackled painting glass because a friend’s photo inspired me to get back into painting again and it happened to be glass. I hope that my glass painting is more than ‘glass effects’ since I’d hate for it to be a gimmick, and am just as interested in the colour and composition as in the transparency. Thanks for your thoughts.

      • skavop Says:

        Yeah, it’s great to have the option to work from both, isn’t it? I don’t know how the old masters managed without cameras!


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