Category Archives: 2 Transparent to Opaque

Transparent and Opaque 4 : Monochrome Studies

For this exercise I prepared two sheets of A3 300 gsm canson watercolour paper, one with an opaque mixture of titanium white and Payne’s Gray to create a light grey colour. The other with a dark wash mixture of Ultramarine and Payne’s gray.

Then I downloaded some clip-art of a winter tree that would help me to develop my own drawing in charcoal in my A4 sketchbook.

1 - Charcoal Drawing iin Sketchbook

1 – Charcoal Drawing iin Sketchbook

From there I copied the drawing of the winter tree onto the A3 sheet with the light coloured ground blowing away the access charcoal when I had finished. I then made a fresh mix of the the darker mixture of Ultramarine and Payne’s Gray and painted the branches with a fine hog’s bristle brush.

For the finer branches/twigs and for those appearing in the background I diluted the mixture to give me a half tone this created the illusion of being in the distance.

2 - Dark Branches over ight Grey Ground

2 – Dark Branches over ight Grey Ground

Once I was satisfied with the first painting it was time to start on the second painting, the one I had prepared with the Ultramarine/Payne’s Gray wash.

After I mixed the paint I realised I had forgot to draw in the tree with the charcoal and not having much time before the paint would start to try I decided just to draw in the trunk and the bottom branch and then build the rest up like a jigsaw. I enjoyed doing this in the Negative Space in a plant exercise in the Drawing 1 Course and this time using paint would be a tougher challenge. It didn’t let me down.

3 - Paintng Negative Space on dark wash

3 – Paintng Negative Space on dark wash

It took more than three times longer to paint the second tree as it did the first, I painted in the main negative shapes as I worked up through the tree on the right hand side reverting to the negative space on the left to help me mark where the next level of branches were.

Painting a simpler tree for this exercise would have probably been better, either that or just painting in the main branches using negative space and then the finer branches with the dark colour in half tone.

The main problem I experienced here was that the branches that were too thin due to making the negative space areas too big had to be widened by going over them again with the dark mixture.

Although the second painting looks very rough, it does look very natural, plus with the light grey paint being thicker or lighter in some areas it gives the impression that in those areas there is more light getting through the branches. This is often the case when you look at a tree and the space between the branches, in some places the sky looks darker due to narrower branches in the distance obstructing the light getting through. Part of the prepared paper was lighter than the rest so I intentionally put the light area at the top of the paper so that the top of the tree would have lighter tones, this paid off as it looks as if more light is getting through at the treetop.

The practice I got from both parts of this exercise will come in handy in the future when painting landscapes but I think I would probably use the two techniques together.


Transparent and Opaque 3 – Opaque Colour Mixing

Some pigments have greater opacity than others without the addition of white and some can be laid on thickly to cover layers underneath, but white is essential for building body colour and is the vital ingredient for most opaque painting techniques. In this exercise, you’ll paint graded tones by mixing in white. Look carefully at your tonal mixes and put some white on your palette or saucer. Choose at least three of the washes you’ve painted (including the single colour ones) and attempt to recreate exactly the same colour, shade and tone of each of these in turn. This time, though, you’ll be mixing colours by adding in white, making the paints opaque.

Over-painting with acrylic works well because it dries so quickly. However, subtle, smooth colour blending is harder to achieve and that is the aim of this exercise. You’ll have to work fast at blending the graded tones of each colour by adding more white progressively or you could go from light to dark. Acrylic paints tend to dry darker than when they are applied so this exercise will help you to see how they behave. If you’re working with oil paints, you should be able to blend the colours with ease.

One way to blend colours is to lay out broad bands of colours to be mixed and gradually feather the tones across each other so that they blend smoothly and evenly. When you’ve completed this exercise, compare the effects of the transparent colour mixes (from previous exercises) and the opaque ones. Think about ways in which both methods could work together. Make notes in your learning log.

Due to the fact that I live in a one-bedroom apartment and will be doing most of this course using acrylics I decided to go with acrylics for now, but I am hoping I can get to use some oil paint in the same way later on in this course.

My first attempt was pretty good although my first band of blending went totally to pot as I grabbed a Titanium buff by accident in a hurry going home from work, I am not sure what a buff is for, I will look into later but I will make a wild guess at toning down bright colours…

In this first attempt which was on one of only two of the only 300 gsm sheets of watercolour paper I had left I attempted to was intending to recreate the tones of the first single colour blend, ultramarine.

I couldn’t really see much difference between the transparent wash in the Tonally Graded wash Exercise, except maybe the transparent washes were probably smoother. However, the colours in this exercise were probably more vibrant.

1stTry with Wrong White

1stTry with Wrong White

The next attempt was on a thinner sheet of watercolour paper on the back of one of the existing washes treated with Gesso but still the bands of colour blends were a success. This time even better than the first go. I have had previous experience at this on one of my own paintings from years ago where the ultramarine towards the top of the sky was very dark as though it was almost touching space, but the colour wasn’t blended as well as these. With the white space between the bands I can imagine the trail of  fighter jets against the blue sky.

2nd Attempt Getting Better - Warped Paper due to Gesso on Thin Paper

2nd Attempt Getting Better – Warped Paper due to Gesso on Thin Paper

I felt that I had got where I needed to be as far as blending the ultramarine so my next attempt was to try and recreate the Violet wash, again the colours were more intense than in the Tonally Graded Washes exercise but not as smooth. Next to the blue bands the Violet seems alot more opaque. I used the other side of the same brush so there is a hint of Ultramarine at the top of the colour bands, this actually looks quite good.


3rd Attempt with Ultramarine and Violet

3rd Attempt with Ultramarine and Violet

From there I worked length-ways across the paper to blend the two colours together althought the ends are quite messy the blend of colour which I achieved by feathering one colour over the other is not too bad, I can work at this but I feel that the Overlaying Washes were a lot smoother and easier to achieve as to blending these two opaque colours.

4th Attempt Blending Ultramarine into Violet

4th Attempt Blending Ultramarine into Violet

Thesecond attempt working down the paper in landscape was a lot better maybe because the paint at less time to try, it was 30+ degrees heat here and the acrylic was drying quickly.

From there I loaded my palette up with lots of ultramarine an attempted to recreate the spherical wash of the base of the Vase in the Painting Monochrome Vessel Assemblage by Brian Irving Shown in the Coursework.

5th Try with Spherical Blend

5th Try with Spherical Blend

After researching Mark Rothko I really wanted to try painting something in the style of but I realised that I would have to make two very dilute mixes of colour to cover the quite large sheets of acrylic paper that I had at hand and so keeping to opaque colour mixing I attempted to blend as many different colours together as possible, I then separated the colour bands with Payne’s Gray to see what emotions I could evoke with this against the bright colous.

6 - Blending Different Colours

6 – Blending Different Colours

Research Point 1 – Mark Rothko and the Seagram Murals

Look at the paintings of Mark Rothko, in particularly the huge Seagram Building Paintings, now in the Tate Modern, which form a solemn kind of tone poem all in shades of crimson.

Rothko was an American Abstract Impressionist painter, born in Russia and emigrated with his family to the U.S.A. in 1913. As a young buy Rothko was interested in literature, music and social studies and won a scholarship to Yale University where he studied liberal arts but left without graduating in his third year.

In 1925 Rothko moved to New York where he was he made irregular attendances at the Art Students League, one of the classes there was a painting class buy Max Weber, which remained his only formal art training. Mostly self taught, he educated himself by attending exhibitions and visits to artists’ studios such as that of Milton Avery, whose work influenced Rothko along with that of Matisse with their simple compositions and flat areas of colour.

Bathers or Beach Scene Untitled 1933-4 by Mark Rothko

Bathers or Beach Scene Untitled 1933-4 by Mark Rothko

Rothko’s earliest pictures comprised of Expressionist landscapes, genre scenes, still-lifes, and bathers and were somewhat muddy in tone while his watercolours of the same period, demonstrate an expert approach to thin washes of pigment. His paintings throughout the 1930s invoked a feeling of mystery and dread with tragic figures set in claustrophobic apartments, lonely city streets and subway platforms.

Mark Rothko - Entrance to Subway - Subway Scene - 1938

Mark Rothko – Entrance to Subway – Subway Scene – 1938

In the lates 30s Rothko and Gottlieb as well as other Jewish artists with similar interests formed ‘the Ten’ together they mounted exhibitions in New York and Paris Until 1940.

During the mid-1940s Rothko evolved a personal watercolour technique.  he applied watercolour, gouache, and tempera to heavyweight paper, then before the paint had time to dry, he used black ink to define forms. The ink would bleed when introduced to areas that were still wet and resulted in the black burst often found in his works from this period. These watercolour techniques seemed to have influenced the technique which he  developed for his oil paintings.

Mark Rothko - Untitled  oil on canvas 1945

Mark Rothko – Untitled oil on canvas 1945

Rothko felt that his new work was consistent with the subject matter of his earlier paintings, he stressed he had not removed the human figure but had replaced it’s form with symbols and later shapes. In his opinion paintings like No.13(White, Red and Yellow) below had developed out of his hopes to express human emotions.

Mark Rothko Number 13 -White Red on Yellow

Mark Rothko Number 13 -White Red on Yellow

‘The progression of a painter’s work…will be toward clarity…..I’m interested only in expressing basic human emotions—tragedy, ecstasy, doom…and if you…are moved only by their color relationships, then you miss the point.’ Mark Rothko.

The Seagram Murals

Mark Rothko untitled Mural for End Wall

Mark Rothko untitled Mural for End Wall

Rothko was received one of the biggest commissions of his life in 1958, to paint a series of murals for the fashionable Four Seasons restaurant located in the Seagram Building on Park Avenue New York.

Mark Rothko untitled 1958


This set a new challenge for Rothko as it was the first time he had been asked to produce a coordinated series of paintings as well as producce an artwork space concept. To do this the artist constructed a scaffold in his studio, the same dimensions of the restaurant. Over the next three months he completed 40 paintings. A total of three series in maroon, dark red and black rather than the intense bright colours in his earlier paintings. He also altered his the usual horizontal format to vertical so that they would complement the restaurant’s vertical features: columns, walls, doors and windows.

Mark Rothko Untitled (section 3) 1959_0

Rothko was influenced by Michelangelo’s Laurentian Library in Florence, with its blind windows and deliberately oppressive atmosphere, he commented that Michelangelo ‘achieved just the kind of feeling I’m after – he makes the viewers feel that they are trapped in a room where all the doors and windows are bricked up, so that all they can do is butt their heads forever against the wall.’ While on the SS Independence Rothko disclosed to Harper’s Magazine publisher John Fischer, that his true intention for the Seagram murals was to paint “something that will ruin the appetite of every son-of-a-bitch who ever eats in that room….”

Mark Rothko Untitled (section 2) 1959_0

Eventually he realised that the worldly setting of a restaurant was no ideal location for such a work, Rothko withdrew from the Seagram Mural commission. He kept the commissioned paintings in storage until 1968 before presenting the series to the Tate Gallery, expressing his deep affection for England and for British artists such as J.M.W. Turner.

Mark Rothko Red on Maroon mural, section 5

Mark Rothko Red on Maroon mural, section 5

The Seagram Murals arrived in London for display at the Tate Gallery on the very day of his suicide, February 25, 1970. His assistant Oliver Steindecker, found him lying dead on the floor in front of the sink. Rothko was covered in blood with slices down his arms inflicted by a razor that was found lying at his side. The autopsy revealed that he had also overdosed on anti-depressants. ‘Mark Rothko was always incredibly depressed’ – Matthew Collings, This is Modern Art.

Mark Rothko Black on Maroon 1958

Mark Rothko Black on Maroon 1958

I used to have a reoccurring nightmare when I was a kid which was more of an intense feeling of anxiety than anything else. There were no figures in the dream just vertical blocks of dark greys and blacks pushing together and as they did the pressure that I felt would force me awake. This could have been from temporary damage due to lack of oxygen to the brain from pneumonia or asthma and I haven’t really thought about it for years but looking at the images above brings it all back and that’s just on the computer.

I’m not keen on the paintings, although I do understand the concept and respect the artist and I would like to get right up close and personal with Rothko’s paintings to feel just what the artist intended you to feel “tragedy, ecstasy, doom”

Although there is some emotion there for me looking at the murals above on a computer do not them justice at all, I have seen how two colours bleed into each other when wet  and can only really guess how the darker colours of the black shape on ‘Black and Maroon’ for example have bled into the lighter maroon. To see that on a grand scale would be something else.

If according to the Greek historian Plutarch ‘Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting that speaks.’ Then yes the poetry that these paintings offer us is very solemn indeed.

Transparent and Opaque 2 – Overlaying Washes

Once my papers from the last exercise, Tonally Graded Washes, had dried I made up the same colour mixes again but this time painting the second colour over the dried wash I had set aside. There were noticeable differences in the way the paint and colour behaved.

The colours did not merge in the same way, in the first exercise the colours made new colours and spontaneous patterns as they merged in the middle but in this exercise the wet layer faded into the dried layer. Merging in this way gives you more control as  the result is more predictable.


1 - Wet Blue Ultramarine over a  dry violet wash

1 – Wet Blue Ultramarine over a dry violet wash

2 - Wet Blue Ultramarine over a  dry violet wash

2 – Wet Blue Ultramarine over a dry violet wash

3 - Wet Violet over dry Ultramarine

3 – Wet Violet over dry Ultramarine

4 - Wet Violet over dry Ultramarine

4 – Wet Violet over dry Ultramarine

From there I went on to look at other pigments all acrylic and I found out that some pigments were thicker than others. Below is a wet and wet overlaying wash of sand over raw umber, with the same amount of water I found that the sand was more opaque than the raw umber so rather than run into the more transparent colour it had to be worked in. However, a wet and wet wash of raw umber over sand had the opposite result with the raw umber running into the sand.

5 - Sand over Raw Umber

5 – Sand over Raw Umber

6 - Raw Umber over Sand

6 – Raw Umber over Sand

From there I wanted to experiment with two contrasting colours and so chose a yellow wash over fluorescent pink, again wet and wet, what I found was that the colours blended well together forming layers of orange as the layers of wet paint mixed into each other.

7 - Yellow over Flourescent Pink

7 – Yellow over Flourescent Pink

From there I chose to do some glazes with several colours over two different coloured backgrounds, one a bright yellow the other, raw umber. I found that bright pigments remained strong over the bright yellow while they toned down over the mellower raw umber.

8 - Glazes ovrer Yelllow

8 – Glazes ovrer Yelllow

9 - Glazes over raw umber

9 – Glazes over raw umber

Transparent and Opaque 1 – Tonally Graded Wash

Set up length-ways and look through your colours for either a strong red (such as cadmium red) or Ultramarine. Then put a small amount of pigment on your palete and work inwater or turps until you have a strong fluid mix of the colour. Load a medium wide brush and work from the top to the bottom of the sheet with increasingly dilute mixes of the colour until, at the bottom of the sheet you have a very pale wash, almost faded out to white.

It was eveming and I had neither a string red or so I tried mixing two blues together to start and the only paper I had was a thin 150 gsm watercolour paper. I learnt my lesson, the two acrylic blues werent mixing together as well as i thought they would and the dilute wash was very streaky and between that and the thin paper the results were horrifying.

I decided to start again the next day after I purchased some Ultramarine paint and some nice Canson 300 gsm watercolour paper as well as a good quality medium brush. With the new quality tools i started to produce quality washes.

i found it wasn’t as straight forward as working my way tk the bottom with increasingly dilute mixes, occasionally I had to load up the brusb with a thicker mix and work my way back up to get the graded wash.

intitally started out by bulldog clipping the sheets to the drawing board but as i got better at the tonally graded washes i let the bulldog clip alone.


1st Successful Wash Ultramarine

1st Successful Wash Ultramarine

2nd Successful Wash

2nd Successful Wash

3rd Successful Wash

3rd Successful Wash

4th Wash Tonally Graded Wash More Improvement

4th Wash Tonally Graded Wash More Improvement

5th Wash Couldn't ask for better

As the brief instructed I practised this several times until I had a satisfactory progression from deep tones to the very palest tones. All the time controlling the load on the brush and the flow of paint on the paper to avoid the paint running, then I put the ones with the most steadily graded wash aside to dry to be used in the next exercise,  overlaying washes. I then did more washes in a dilute mix of violet as it is close to the original colour on the spectrum (as instructed) and set those aside for the next exercise as well.

6th Wash in Violet

6th Wash in Violet

7th Wash in Violet

7th Wash in Violet

Then i worked wet-in-wet and painted a graded wash of the second colour (violet) on to one of the sheets with the second colour (ultramarine) and vice versa allowing the colours to merge in the centre, what i found was that the violet and ultramarine formed layers of purple as they blended into each other which reminded me of an horizon seen from over the wing of an aeroplane.

8th Wash Wet and Wet

8th Wash Wet and Wet

9th Wash Wet and Wet

9th Wash Wet and Wet