Part 3, Project 1, Exercise 3 – Tonal figure study

We are expected to concentrate on conveing form by exploring tonal values in this exercise. We are asked to set up the model in a light source that casts clear shadows and highlights, using natural light (supposedly works best).

I’ve had several go’s at this. I found I was limited with being able to first of all find a model who would sit long enough and secondly, arrange my model in a setting that met all the criteria for this exercise – i.e. shadows and highlights being clearly visible. I also have a very small working space and cannot use an easel to stand and paint the subject – so i end up working off reference photos and this distorts perspective.

I am aware from work I did in Drawing 1 that either I get too hung up on fiddling when it comes to studies of the body or I don’t concentrate on creating fluid lines and therefore the work ends up overworked, but not in a polished way. I suppose it boils down to confidence. I’m very much blundering along each time with my own way of starting a study of the body, I think I have entrenched bad habits. I find though, when I work with charcoal I get to the point really quickly and the work is far fresher and more accurate insofar as capturing the essence of the subject.

My first attempt at this tone study was done in charcoal and I think is the best intepretation. In most of the cases I worked on 115lb A2 Clairefontaine paper (more on that below).

Charcoal – first workings
Tone study – Charcoal – A2

I obtained a set of Tombow brush pens in grey tones this week, which were recommended to me by a fellow student in Drawing 1 (thanks you!) and decided to try them out.

Brush pens – outline
Tone study – Brush pens – A2

I was really pleased with these Brush pens, they are a delight to use but I was disappointed with the paper (Clairefontaine), it didn’t take any real working on the surface and degraded if I did too much blending, so I stopped working on the study after a while. I did another small A3 tone sketch on CassArt mixed media paper and the pens performed much better on that, although I didn’t do much work on developing the tones. I want to get paper that is better suited to water-based Brush pens like these Tombow ones, as I am constantly wondering whether with deep saturation the ink will bleed through to the other side of the paper.

Tone study – Brush pens – A3

I’ve been watching a lot of videos around monoprinting techniques recently and decided to try a monoprint idea, using masks (for the head, top of chest, arms and legs).

Tone study – monoprint with oil paint and watercolour wash – A3

I like this one and if I have time I’m going to have a go on A2 paper. The only thing I found difficult with the monoprint was trying to rub in ‘tone’ – it didn’t really work very well. Need to understand more about the techniques involved doing this kind of effect.

I then decided to try another version with pre-toned paper. I used a dirty ochre beige (Cobra water mixable oils) on the Clairefontaine paper. I don’t know why I chose this colour, I knew it was wrong the minute I started putting it down! Anyway, I waited for it to dry and then started an underpainting using Caran D’Ache water-soluble oil pastels.

Tone study – oils – A2

I eventually got the skin tone more or less similar to my model’s. I was not happy with her face or the position of her left leg against the cushion.

Then i decided to try a monochrome study – again using Cobra water-mixable oils on the Clairefontaine paper, which actually likes oil paint. I pre-toned the paper with a very diluted wash of black watercolour paint. For this one I tried to work quickly. I made a quick under-drawing and then used a 2″ wide brush to block in the main shapes and tones.

Tone study – oils/monochrome – A2

I found it much easier to work with the oils on this paper, as it has a somewhat chalky texture. Despite its thickness and weight however, it has a fragile surface and is easily eroded, so doesn’t take scrubbing or scumbling work very well. I found that particularly evident when I used the Tombow brush pens, particles lift off the surface as you blend the ink and this was very annoying. As per my tutor’s suggestion, I am going to invest in some Arches paper for the next exercises. Of all the papers I’ve used recently, the CassArt mixed media paper (in pad form) has been the most robust.


  • I am working in a very small constricted space, not using an easel, which is affecting the way I attack work, as well the perspective. I have to look into this. My large A-frame easel was irreparably damaged when we moved houses a couple of years back and I miss it. I am going to invest in another one that can take weight. I used the A-frame easel to support 5 foot by 4 foot canvasses and it never gave me any trouble. If I am to do expressive work with regards human studies and future landscape exercises going forward in these courses, I need to be working larger. I don’t do small space work very well. I like working on paper but I don’t feel it is the right material for me to use in my painting exercises – it just isn’t robust enough. That said, it is very expensive buying canvas to use for practise work. I know that I can use other materials – for example unbleached calico, which I’ve used before quite sucessfully. I don’t have the space or tools to make my own stretched canvasses so might end up investing in canvas boards – will have to investigate prices.
  • Monoprinting- I need to do a lot more practise and experiments but I think I’m on to something that might influence my own style, don’t know but it’s worth having a go.
  • The next work we are doing in this course revolves around portraiture, so I don’t need to be in a big rush to get a large free-standing A-frame easel for that, I can use a small desk top one (I have two of those).

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