Oil Painting Lesson - Paper Ball Exercise

Paper Ball Exercise

This one has good contrast and specific shapes.
This one has good contrast and specific shapes.
This one needs more specific shapes and is lacking enough black and strong white to help give depth to the image.
This one needs more specific shapes and is lacking enough black and strong white to help give depth to the image.
This is an excellent example of contrast and sharp shapes.
This is an excellent example of contrast and sharp shapes.

Learning To See Shapes

The paper ball exercise is one of my favorite exercises to give students of all ages and all painting levels. It usually starts out with the student gritting their teeth and grumbling under their breath, and results in them going into an amazing meditation and loving the results of what they've learned.

This exercise is a great self-test. If it is done correctly - it will look like a paper ball. If it is done poorly or needs work - it won't look like a paper ball.

The trick is to go slow and count the shapes as you work on the painting. Don't make up shapes - paint exactly what you see.

How to Paint a Paper Ball:

  • Start with a sheet of white paper, 8 1/2" x 11" or A4, and crumple it into a ball. (If you are a teacher, have your student crumple their own paper - that's part of the fun!).
  • Light the ball with a clamp light so it has a stark contrast.
  • Create a grayscale (value scale) on your palette of white to black and up to 8 values of gray in between.
  • Lightly sketch out your paper ball with vine charcoal on your canvas.
  • Paint in all shapes, looking closely at the value of each shape.
  • Make sure to not be afraid of using black. I prefer mixing my own black out of ultramarine blue and burnt umber.
  • Make sure the shapes of your edges are sharp (use a flat brush to get this effect).
  • Look for smaller shapes within your shapes - patiently paint these in, it will make all the difference.
  • After you finish your paper ball, decide on a background color and paint in the background. Use a value scale to include shadows and highlights, so it looks like it has some weight to it and is sitting on something.
  • If your paper ball is too gray without enough highlights (see the second picture reference), go back in after it is dry and add sharp white highlights.

*An alternative to using paint, is to use graphite pencils. Similar learning results can be achieved.

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Comments 3 comments

Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 6 years ago from East Coast, United States

Laura, I think there are a lot of amatuer artists here on hubpages and this is a great way to learn light and shapes, and to hone our powers of observation. Thumbs up! Very cool idea. And the paintings are so attractive. If you can make a wad of crumbled paper look good, imagine what you can do with a tree.


kellydove profile image

kellydove 6 years ago

nice hub


Laura Spector profile image

Laura Spector 6 years ago from Chiang Mai, Thailand Author

Dolores Monet - Thank you so much for your feedback. I hope you find it helpful. I love doing this exercise because it's so much like meditation after you get into it...Once you start it's really easy to continue to see more and more shapes inside the larger shapes...It's kind of endless... I think a tree would be a wonderful image to paint especially after the paper ball! Good luck and thank you for stopping by!

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