Project 5 Exercise 1 – Painting from a working drawing

For this exercise we are to choose a subject that we’re familiar with, such as a corner of a room, objects on a table etc.  We are to make three preparatory drawings – a linear study, a tonal study and a colour study.

I did two versions for this exercise as I’d started doing small studies of my window and thought I could incorporate that into this exercise.  I also did a series of studies of flowers in a glass pitcher – so that first (even though I actually finished the window painting before the flowers):

I did the requisite small studies – linear, tonal and then did 2 x A3 colour studies, using different compositions, plus an over-the-top attempt at something inspired by staring at Luc Tuymans’ ‘Technicolour’ painting as I have been doing for these past few weeks.  That didn’t work but it was fun playing about with the idea!

I then did a version of this still life flower study on A2 paper propped up and taped to a canvas board on my portable easel.  Working with the surface vertically has challenges when you start the actual painting process, as I like to use a LOT of water with the Cobra paint and of course you get the dripping going on, which is fine if you’re looking at an abstract type of effect and that’s usually how I work but I was getting frustrated with myself because I didn’t want this to be too abstract.   I used Cobra oils for this sloppy underpainting – I have now got Paynes grey and some other colours – the Paynes grey is great to work with, I love how you can achieve depth with it and layer other colours on top, which is what I ended up doing later on. 

I used the Clairfontaine paper – I’ve decided to use this for the exercises and use the Arches for the assignment work.     I was having a few issues with this flower study right from the start, as it wasn’t going the way I wanted it to at all, it seemed very heavy-handed, stodgy and overworked. I took out the soft pastels and did some work on top of the dried oil (yes, you can do that, I discovered!) to see if I could get a softer look and it worked up to a point.  It helped me correct some areas that I was battling with.  I then took out the paint again and reworked bits of the picture here and there.  This is the final result, which will have to do for the moment.

Still Life from working drawings – A2 – oils on CF paper

For the next piece, I had done two small stdies in my sketchbook – one with Tombow brush pens and one with charcoal and pencils. I didn’t do a ‘colour’ study for this painting as I knew the palette was very much reliant on tones.

I again used A2 portrait format and CF paper but this time I used acrylics – very wet and drippy – burnt sienna, black and titanium – for the sloppy underpainting. I wasn’t too concerned about drips but obviously didn’t want dark paint plopping onto the area of the window light itself.

I have to say whilst I was making this painting that I felt decidedly influenced by both the work of my tutor (watching him do the demonstration – painting dark to light) and that of artists that I’m somewhat besotted with at the moment – Luc Tuymans being one. I was very conscious of the idea of tone and ambiguity. I am also becoming aware that I am sometimes too light-handed when it comes to the application of darkest tones, so I tried to make sure that I put down a very dark underpainting where it was appropriate, so I wouldn’t have to keep going over it to get that rich depth of tone.

When the acrylic underpainting was dry, I took out soft pastels and worked with those to the completion of the painting.  This was a completely new departure for me, I’ve never tried using soft pastels over acrylics before.  I used fixative between layers – I actually didn’t think this would work (soft pastels over acrylics) but I found it a lot easier to manipulate tone.  I found myself referring to my reference photo more than my preliminary sketches, just to stop me going off tangent and fiddling too much.  I like the final piece, it grows on me.

‘Red sparks of sunrise’ – Acrylics and soft pastels on CF paper – A2

Reflection questions asked in the course notes:

Did your sketches provide enough information for you to do your painting? If not, what else should you have included?

Still Life: I had enough reference information from my sketches.

Window: I had enough reference information as far as composition was concerned but I should have developed the darks more in the preliminary sketches.

Did you find that being away from the subject gave you more freedom to develop your painting style? In what way?

Still Life: I found it a bit frustrating at the start, I thought i’d gotten off on the wrong footing (putting in a too dark background), however I started to enjoy the experience as I got more into it, the use of the pastels helped me sort out some issues i had with colour correction.

Window: I was very conscious of how I wanted the final painting to look and i have achieved that (at least it is how I wanted it to look).

What is your opinion of he finished painting?

Still Life: This is a new way of working for me. I don’t usually put in so much dark tones to begin with but i think it helped the final appearance of the painting. I like how I’ve managed to get the sparkling light and warm tone of the room, this is how I remembered it. The first colour study is also quite successful but doesn’t have the atmospheric depth of the final piece in my opinion.

Window: I am happy with the end result, it’s exactly how I wanted it to look.

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