Part 2, Project 3, Exercise 2- Colour Accuracy

For this exercise we are supposed to attempt to recreate as precisely as possible the colours as we see them.   Not to be concerned with precision of outlines, scale or perspective – main thing is to try and read colours carefully, noting transitions from light to dark tones of the same hue etc.


I chose an arrangement of items that are topical in this C-19 era.  A plastic face mask (printed out for me by m y son on his 3D printer) – the ventilator area is padded with a thin layer of cotton wool and the front of the mask is made using glow-in-the-dark 3D filament that I got him for Christmas.    I added the de rigeur toilet roll and a bottle of ‘Festive Wishes’ hand soap by Avon that was left over from Christmas – hence the joyous glistening red liquid.  I hope I’d be able to capture the glow of the sunlight filtering through the bottle onto the windowsill wall.

reference image

I first drew a rough guide on A3 Bockingford watercolour paper.  Due to the soft tones in the arrangement – i.e. the off-whites, greys and white highlights, I wanted to use a paper and medium that would allow me to blend the tones well and create a smooth transition between the shadows and light. 


I spent a while thinking about the best medium to use and decided on the water-mixable Cobra oils, even though I was nervous to get going. I decided I needed to really limit the palette as much as possible, to make it easier for me to get the colour accuracy of the subjects.    I chose, white and ochre (to make the warm off-white of the wall).  White, ultramarine (I didn’t use eventually) and black were used to make the grey tones.

putting in tones

I felt I should concentrate first of all in getting the grey tones/off-white correct before I moved on to the bottle.  There are only a few tiny spots of pure white in this arrangement –

  • Middle front of bottle
  • Right side of mask
  • Bottle plunger tip and side of plunger cap

There is also a bright line of white (refraction) on the left of the bottle’s shadow, that is softened with very faint red/pink.   There is a pink reflection (not grey or white) of the plunger unit in the bottle’s shadow. 

There are strong shadow lines:

  • Bottle on left side of toilet roll top
  • Left side of toilet rolls
  • Right lower side of toilet roll and this shadow curves to mimic the roundness of the toilet roll shape.
  • Bottom right and left side of mask
  • Line away from base of the mask
  • Diagonal shadow line down from the top left of the toilet roll across the back wall.

There’s also a glow of reflected light behind the base of the mask on the right – where it rests against the toilet roll.

My reference photo was in A4 size and I resisted the urge to expand this up on a grid – after reading what Matisse had to say about this in the pdf ‘Notes of a Painter – Henri Matisse’  

Composition, the aim of which should be expression, is modified according to the surface to be covered. If I take a sheet of paper of a given size, my drawing will have a necessary relationship to its format. I would not repeat this drawing on another sheet of different proportions, for example, rectangular instead of square. Nor should I be satisfied with a mere enlargement, had I to transfer the drawing to a sheet the same shape, but ten times larger. A drawing must have an expansive force which gives life to the things around it. An artist who wants to transpose a composition from one canvas to another larger one must conceive it anew in order to preserve its expression; he must alter its character and not just square it up onto the larger canvas.

‘Notes of a Painter’ Henri Matisse (1908)

Process notes:

I first roughly sketched out the components of the composition.   After roughly indicating where the strongest shadows were, I mixed a warm tone from ochre and white to block in the wall colour and tone.    Next, I mixed up darker greys, using ochre and white, as well as dots of black and began to lay in the darker tones areas of the obvious shadows.  I continued to work on these tones throughout the painting, constantly evaluating them.  I had the shadow on the right-hand side of the toilet roll way too dark and had to keep altering this and toning it down.  I resisted the urge to use any blue.

building up tones

I left the painting for a while and came back to it after about an hour to tackle the shape of the mask.  I found this was quite tricky but it was interesting to see how it developed and I was pleased with it eventually.  I left the bottle until last.  I realised that I’d made it a little bit squat in shape but decided to carry on, as its basic shape was still okay.   I used pyrrole red, a tiny bit of magenta and orange, laying down thin washes and building up the colours until I had the depth the way I wanted it.  I finished the shadow of the bottle (adjusting the density of the tone, as it was first too dark).   I made some final adjustments with lines and drew in the elastic threads with a pencil.

‘ Still Life under Covid-19’ water-soluble oil on Bockingford paper A3


Overall, I think I’ve got the tone of the items down fairly close o the original composition. I think I could have still worked up the red a bit more on the bottle but have decided to leave it for now.

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