Project 3 exercise 2 – Telling a story

We are to create a simple narrative involving one or several human figures and produce a painting that gives the viewer the clearest possible idea of what’s happening. A narrative painting is what we’re doing, I guess. This has massive scope but I decided to narrow it all down a lot and use a person I’m interacting with more than normal these days due to C-19 and home schooling. I have watched and assisted (somewhat incompetently) my grandson study for a long time, in front of his laptop on our kitchen table, or in the lounge pouring over a book. I took inspiration from Renoir’s painting of his son, Jean – nothing lofty about my aspirations hey?

Renoir ‘Portrait of the artists son, Jean, drawing’

My grandson has often ended up in a position similar to the Renoir painting – -and we have almost the same chairs! I did some sketchbook work, which I posted images of in the previous post but here they are again:

I am finding it quite pleasant working with gouache to do these little portraits and used them again to create this painting. I used white (acrylic again), cream (which is almost beige), portrait pink, burnt sienna, brilliant red and black. Unfortunately, I didn’t get around to taking photos at the beginning of the process, as my phone was charging. This is the end result:

‘Telling a story’ gouache and acrylic in sketchbook.
close up


Gouache works much better on the Clairefontaine paper, this sketchbook paper was a bit rough and I found it almost like sandpaper with some of my brushes when I came to paint on it.

I notice a common issue – i.e. the photo has washed out a lot of the colour – so there’s something bit off with the white balance on my cameraphone. For my assignment photos I will use my Canon DSLR.

I did not want to create a fussy/frilly background or use too much colour (as in the Renoir, there is a lot of colour in that painting!) – so I have kept the palette muted. I softened the tones of the black shirt, as well as the red stripes on the shirt so that the tones were realistic. I left off painting some areas and just allowed the white of the paper to do the work for me – i.e. the paper that my grandson is writing on. I could have ‘warmed’ up the tones of the face and arms a little more but I’m nervous of stuffing it up and overworking it – anyway this is a sketchbook exercise, it is not a completed formal painting on canvas. I think as an exercise in my sketchbook it works well – I havven’t shown it to the model yet as he’s at school today for an hour or two but I’m sure he will like it. I think it tells a story and that will deepen as we get further away from the C-19 situation and it goes into history, then this painting will have a bit more narrative weight.


What are narrative paintings? They tell a story – not merely figurative. n my mind as soon as you introduce an element that has shape or dimension onto the surface of the picture, you have started a narrative with the viewer. I know that’s probably not the official idea behind the definition of what is a narrative painting. I found a fantastic website while I was researching narrative paintings – I’ve credited it below. – fabulous website and resource

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