Part 1, Project 3, Exercise 1 – Tonal study on white ground

We are asked to arrange a few simple objects, lit from the side and produce a tonal painting on white (cream or off-white) paper, using preparatory drawings to come to a satisfactory composition. We are asked to use two low-key colours and white; and not to get fussy with detail.

As I was not at home when I started this exercise, I arranged items that were readily available to me at the house where I was staying – doing preparatory sketches on A5 and A4 paper. I did not have access to a spot lamp or table lamp to make strong shadow.

Chosen items – reference photo


These are some of the preparatory drawings done in my sketchbook:

Once I got home, I started working with painting materials. First attempt was with Cobra water-mixable oils. I used black, ultramarine blue (to make a grey) and white.

Initial laying down of tons with Cobra paint

This paint, whilst fast drying, still takes a lot longer than acrylics to dry. I noticed that it would go muddy when I tried to put in white for highlights, so left it to dry off a bit. I didn’t like the bottle shape – I am aware that we don’t have to take much time making perfect representations of the objects but i decided to do some fiddling with that once the paint was a bit drier.

I then decided to have a go with water-soluble oil pastels on Bockingford watercolour paper, as I really love this paper and find it helps me create a more expressive painting. I did an initial outline sketch in raw sienna and black.


water-soluble oil pastels on Bockingford paper outline
First ‘wash’ or blend of the colours – water-soluble oil pastels

I decided to also try and produce a soft pastel painting, as I had Daler Rowner Ingres butter cream paper, which I thought might work well for this exercise.

Soft pastels on DR Ingres paper – initial blocking in
Tonal study – Soft pastels on DR Ingres paper

I remembered as soon as I started working on this paper why I don’t like it much – it has a very wide grain. I haven’t bought pastel paper for a while, as I’ve been focussing on paper for drawing on (for the previous course- Drawing 1) – but I will be getting my favourite pastel paper soon and hopefully this will make a difference, I would like to come back to this exercise and redo this sketch when I have better paper. I also didn’t use my best pastels, these were Faber-Castell, black and white, with a blue/grey for tone). I stuffed up the shadow area of the bottle but left it as is. Ithink the only think I like about this, is how the cream of the paper shines through the dark and light tones.

Anyhow, I did some more work on the previous ones:

Tonal study – water-soluble oil pastels on Bockingford watercolour paper – A4
Tonal study – Cobra WM oils on mixed media paper – A4

I really enjoyed this exercise and got to spend time practising using the Cobra paints, which I’m beginning to like a lot. It is weird using water with oils! I want to buy some more colours, as I have a very limited selection. I used a knife to put in the white on the candle, bottle label and other tiny highlights on the bottlle. the ‘cork’ looks more like a chef’s hat 🙂 but I’m not fiddling with this anymore.

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