Part 1 Project 3 Exercise 2 – tonal study on dark ground

We are asked to prepare a dark ground for this exercise. I previously painted acrylic paper a very dark brown, using burnt umber, orange and black. I chose as my subject a scene in our lounge of a salt lamp – see below reference photo:

reference photo of chiaroscuro subject

I first lightly sketched out the placement of the items with white water-soluble oil pastels – I used this medium for the entire picture.

rough sketch

I worked up the light areas first with golds, oranges and pink. Then worked in darks, including reds, some blue and more shades of yellow and orange. It was only as I started working on the left foreground that I realised there was a glass in the mid-left foreground in front of the decanter! I decided to get rid of the left foreground statuette, as I didn’t think it did anything for the composition.

working up the picture

This is the finished painting – although I will probably work on darkening the background a bit more, to make the lamp and various tones pop more.

‘Salt Lamp’ tonal study on dark ground

We are asked to set out all our tonal studies and assess how well each of them has succeeded in modelling light and rendering tonal values. Which effects appeal to me the most?

arrangment of tonal studies

I am happy with all of these studies but I do think that working on a dark ground provides the most dramatic result. It is not easy to achieve the bright light however, and when I do this kind of thing again, I will probably ‘mask’ off highlight areas or focal points, so that it doesn’t take as much work to get to the required strength of illumination. It is also not a good idea to use opaque colours and white to blend with brighter colours for shadow areas in the painting, as this creates mud and needs to be worked over a lot to bring the transparency back.

With the brightest areas, I had to do a lot of work with the white to get it solid, so this is why I will use a mask next time. I enjoyed how easy it was to create depth in the subjects with a dark ground and want to use this technique for my assignment piece.

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