Tag Archives: introduction to painting

Working on Different Coloured Grounds 1 – Tonal Study on a White Ground

The brief for this exercise:

Find a few simple objects that are ready to hand are  plain and un-patterned. A jug, vase and/or some fruit would be ideal. Place them so that they are lit from the side, either by natural light from a window or by lamplight.

Using a tonal drawing medium such as a soft pencil, pastel or charcoal, do some simple studies of your chosen objects in your sketchbook. Make several studies from different angles and then decide which viewpoint and angle you will use for your tonal painting.

I didn’t have many jugs jars or a good choice of fruit at hand, my girlfriend had just brought some oranges down from up north so I decided to try and make a composition using them along with an aluminium bowl a glass vase filled with liquefied coffee and a jar of calcium tablets which I emptied and peeled off the label. I made some sketches in my sketchbook in charcoal.

For the first two sketches I placed the objects on the top of the fitted unit at just under eye level lit by a bendy lamp. I decided that the top of the fitted unit was too high and I also wasn’t satisfied with the oranges in the bowl, I thought that less objects would make a simpler but stronger composition.


1st Sketch

1st Sketch

1st Sketch Notes

1st Sketch Notes

2nd Sketch

2nd Sketch

2nd Sketch Notes

2nd Sketch Notes

For the third sketch in charcoal I removed the bowl of oranges from the composition leaving 1 large orange plus the jar and vase and placed the objects on a round table at a lower level then I taped a sheet of paper to the back of the table to give it a plane background (always get distracted drawing backgrounds). The bendy light lit the composition from the right hand side. I did one more drawing with a 5B pencil to analyse the tones using a different monochrome media, between the two mediums  they helped me to ‘weigh up tonal variation without the distraction of different colours and hues‘.

3rd Sketch

3rd Sketch

3rd Sketch Notes

3rd Sketch Notes

4th Sketch -  Natural Light

4th Sketch

I have been working later than usual so all the sketches were done in electric light but the next day was an early finish for me and for the first time I got to see the composition with natural light shining through the window from the left and it looked a lot better and the highlights on the jar and vase were very attractive and so I decided to paint the tonal study in daylight which would take me the next 5 days, due to late finishes at short nights.

Chosen Composition

Chosen Composition in Natural Light

Materials Used for Painting

  • Canson paper for Acrylic and Oil
  • Acryic Paint: Titanium White, Payne’s Grey, Chromium Oxide Green
  • Brushes: Flat Brush, Pointed Round, Medium Wide (synthetic), Fan, Medium Wide, Detail Round, Pointed Round (hog’s bristle) 

The brief recommended that we paint small on A3 or A4 paper or card, the best acrylic paper I had was 15 x 18 inch and because this was going to be my first painting I wanted to use a quality prepared paper rather than Gesso on watercolour paper which was the only other paper I had.

Tonal Study on a White Ground

Tonal Study on a White Ground

I made a first thin off white acrylic wash with a very dilute wash of  yellow ochre thinking that there was an element of warmth in the composition in front of me, this was pretty silly of me I should have probably started with a grey wash, this was my first mistake. My second mistake was using a charcoal that was difficult to brush off and left quite heavy marks and so after I completed painting the objects I had to paint the background.

I started on the calcium pill jar first blocking in the form with the un-mixed chromium oxide green then painting in the lighter shades with a glaze of white mixed with green followed by the dark shadows and then the highlights in a very dilute mix of grey and then white for the lightest reflections.

With the vase I made the mistake of using Payne’s Grey straight which was too dark and so I went over with a mix of green and grey with the darker reflections with a green glaze before painting in the highlights in white.

To give the orange a bit of texture I stippled a base layer of paint and then once the paint was dry I depicted the various tones by blending the grey green and white with an almost scrumbling-like technique.

For parts of the painting I used water to moisture the paint and in the glazes  but I also bought a bottle of Liquitex flow aid that I used for the first time in this painting. For me this painting was not just a tonal study but the first painting that I had used a number of techniques, brushes and materials that I have never used in a painting before.


I am not completely satisfied with the finished painting but I am happy that I learnt a lot here about how the acrylic paint behaves, making the following observations.

  • Acrylic paint looks darker on the palette than it does it does on the paper.
  • A diluted glaze of acrylic paint over the top of another layer of paint gets darker as it dries.
  • It’s best to start off lighter and then work darker when trying to match hues with a previous layer of paint. (There were times when I had to stop what I was doing and then came back to painting but had to clean the palette because the paint had dried).
  • Diluted paint is more likely to run when applied over the top of a dry layer of paint.
  • Washes are great for shadows.


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 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

Basic Paint Application 2: Applying Paint without Brushes

Painting knives have been used for many centuries, usually in conjunction with brushes, but you can also complete whole paintings with just knives, which are sold in many sizes and shapes.if you don’t have one, use an ordinary palette well loaded with paint for your initial experiments.

I went out and purchased a painting knife for this exercise and I initially used acrylic paint with a medium gloss gel to thicken the paint.

Also try applying paint using old plastic credit cards, set squares and protractors, pieces of cardboard windscreen scrapers and plastic plastering tools. You can apply paint quite thinly with these and lay one colour over another so that the first layer remains visible. Don’t worry about creating a painting- just enjoy experimenting.

Unfortunately I am limited to what I can find here in Bangkok but I do have an old student union card as well as protractors and set squares.

Now try applying paint with sponges, rags, toothbrushes and your fingers. Sponges and toothbrushes are good for texture effects, and can be built up in layers or laid over flat colour. Rags and fingers are useful for blending one colour into another or wiping across the surface. This exercise is best done with oils as they dry slowly, giving you plenty of time to manipulate the paint.

I went out and bought a small pack of oil paints to use for my first bit of experimentation. I had some board that I have been using for backing board for my first assessment (drawing 1) so I decided to use the oils on that. I had learnt how to clear my mind and doodle in Drawing 1 so I decided to continue here.

Painting Knife

I started with black and white paint with a painting knife which I didn’t think was as controllable as I thought. I thought I would have more fun with this. I used the knife on the bottom and forgot to prep the support which seemed to absorb the paint so I covered the rest in Gesso.

Credit Card

Next I used my old student union card which I found was more controllable than the painting knife and that I could get better angles (flatter to the board) with it.

Bubble Wrap

This was the first time I used bubble wrap which I wrapped round a Vicks’ Jar to give me almost circular groups of prints with it. Later  would use a soap box which gave me a large square of prints that was better for covering bigger areas.


I have yet to find a natural sponge. I did used a synthetic sponge on it which gave me the same texture as a cloth.


I loved using the protractor but I found I had to either put loads of paint on it or move the protractor in a wave like motion on the surface so that the whole edge would touch the surface. By then dragging this down I could make a fan like pattern.


1 - Doodling in Oil Paint without Brush

1 – Doodling in Oil Paint without Brush

More Experimentation

For me that was my first bit of oil painting done and what I learnt from it was that I had to learn how to mix better so. So from there instead of wasting more oil paint I decided to continue with the acrylics and medium gloss gel instead.

I had seen how these looked together separately on the same support now it was time to see how they could interact with each other and so the next ‘doodle’ was a result of finger painting over painting knife and then bubble wrap and protractor over the top. This tyime I made circles with the protractor.

2 - Experimenting with Fingers Student card and Protractor

2 – Experimenting with Painting Knife and Protractor


3 - Experimenting with Student card and Protractor

3 – Experimenting with Student card and Protractor


Reading the brief again I realized I had overlooked the toothbrush, so with a flat toothbrush I set out to recreate the same landscape I attempted in the last exercise, Getting to Know your Brushes, personally I prefer the toothbrush landscape below

4 - Painting with a Toothrush

4 – Painting with a Toothrush

Bubble Wrap over a Square Object

As I said above I wrapped the bubble wrap around a soap box for more experimenting, the result of which can be seen below which I tonally graded by letting the paint fade into the middle and then used a close paint colour at the other end of the paper.

5 - Applying Paint with Bubble Wrap

5 – Applying Paint with Bubble Wraparound a soap box

6 - Applying Paint with Painting Knife

6 – Applying Paint with Painting Knife

7 - Applying Paint ewith Fingers

7 – Applying Paint ewith Fingers

8 - Applying Paint with Student Card

8 – Applying Paint with Student Card

My preferred painting tools from this exercise are definitely the credit card as to the paintng knife as well as fingers and bubble wrap.



Basic Paint Application – Getting to know your brushes

I had no prior knowledge of paintng brushes or their names before this exercise. I had only ever used a cheap round synthetic brush for stippling.

The brief for this exercise:

Part A : Start by exploring the range of marks and shapes that can be made with your brushes, make marks of different sizes, using flats, rounds and filberts.

materials used:

  • Canson XL Mixed media pad (about A4)
  • Gesso
  • Hog Bristle brushes
  • Synthetic Brushes
  • Reeves acrylic paints

After researching the names of the brushes online I then went out to purchase some, Ito start I bought hog bristle thinking they would be the best but after this first part of this exercise on recommendation by an artist friend I went back and invested a bit more money in synthetic.

For this part of the exercise I used flat, angle, fan, bright, round and filbert brushes and acrylic paint and three sheets of Gesso prepared mixed media paper.

The first sheet in blue was basically my first attempt at getting to know the length, width and type of stroke I could get from each type of brush and I did use every type of brush I had at my disposal as I had never used any of these types of brushes before. On the next two sheets in brilliant red I looked more into what marks I could make with each brush.

I found that the main brushes made the following types of strokes:

  • The ‘Flat’ brush made strong long strokes.
  • The ‘Bright’ creates short controlled thick strokes.
  • The ‘Filbert’ can create short round, flat, thin and pointed strokes.
  • The ‘Round’ brush good for thin to thick strokes depending on how much pressure is applied
  • The ‘Fan I thought this would be good for texture like leaves on trees and clouds but I think I need to find a synthetic fan as the hog bristle was a bit disappointing.
Getting to Know Your Brushes 1

Getting to Know Your Brushes 1

Getting to Know Your Brushes 1 - Second Experiment

Getting to Know Your Brushes 1 – Second Experiment

Getting to Know Your Brushes 1 - Third Experiment

Getting to Know Your Brushes 1 – Third Experiment

From there I focused on the both synthetic and hog bristle Flat, Round and Filbert brushes in and with just these three brushes I made a wide variety of marks with short strokes, long strokes and by applying more or less pressure and different parts of the brushes to the paper.

Getting to Know Your Brushes 1 - Marks with Flats, rounds and filberts

Getting to Know Your Brushes 1 – Marks with Flats, rounds and filberts

Part B : Then, from Memory, paint a small simple landscape (about A4). Use large brushes so you won’t be distracted by the urge to include detail; instead, concentrate on the possibilities and patterns made by the brush strokes.

Gettibg to Know Your Brushes 2 - A Landscape from Memory

Gettibg to Know Your Brushes 2 – A Landscape from Memory

I live in Bangkok and don’t get to see much country landscapes and throughout the Drawing 1 Course I drew most of my landscapes, bar one, in a park close by so the painting above, was from memory, from my 360 degrees studies. I concentrated on possibilities and patterns made by the brush strokes but these happened in the background as to the fore or middle-ground and with the fan and flat more than the other brushes that I use on this exercise which were a hog bristle medium wide, flat, filbert and fan although the smaller filbert was good for the leaves on the trees.

Getting to Know Your Brushes 2 - A Landscape from Memory 2

Getting to Know Your Brushes 2 – A Landscape from Memory 2

i decided to have another go at this part of the exercise, with synthetic brushes. Again from memory, from the same exercise 360 degrees studies, facing West. Looking at the original drawing in charcoal afterwards it is nothing like but it did give me chance to concentrate more on possibilities and patterns made by the brush marks.

I had more control with the synthetic brushes and found that the edge of the flat was great for grass, tree trunks, the filbert was good for shading as well as the curved form of the branches. This time I used a synthetic fan, which I think was for watercolour, and by using grass green at one end and lime yellow at the other I was able to depict the light shining off the trees and by fanning in a circular motion was able to give the trees more body.

Part C :  Once you have experimented, paint a piece of fruit, using the techniques, taking care to set the fruit in direct light to help define the form.

Getting to Know Your Brushes 3 - Painting Fruit

Getting to Know Your Brushes 3 – Painting Fruit

Originally I bought four bananas for this part of the exercise but by the time I got round to it they had gone off in the heat of my kitchen so I used a pineapple I bought the day before. Because it was evening I directed a bendy lamp at it so I could define the form. I used a lot of the techniques that I had learnt above plus a few new ones but I used the Flat, Angular and Filbert mostly on this. I am glad I didn’t use the glossy gel on this as the flat matt acrylic paint makes the pineapple look almost stone like and even though I didn’t do an amazing job on the leaves they only add to the stone feel.