Monthly Archives: March 2016

Review of part 4 work so far

Looking back at my work in part 4, successes and failures, each painting was a valuable addition to my skills; each contributed to accumulating techniques and knowledge and learning to interpret imaginatively.

All the paintings were supported by sketches, studies, photos, notes, objects found at the scene, and the research I was doing at the same time;  reference materials and contextual research that changed the way I approached each piece.

My landscape painting started with my ‘view from a kitchen window’.


Those cold winter, dark, early morning sessions sitting in a cramped space didn’t help.  I was trying to get a grasp of using acrylic paint with no water, just a medium, like oils, as well as limiting my palette to three primaries plus white.  What with the tricky linear perspective as well, it was a challenge too far to produce a very successful painting, but a good step in my learning experience to take forward to the next exercise.


‘Archway’ (hard and soft landscape) was much more successful, one of my best in part 4.


I was standing, painting in the courtyard outside the house, from direct observation of a bright, sunny, cold and blustery scene, and the whole thing has a spontaneous, fresh feel.  I really enjoyed the aspect of using the palette knife with generous quantities of paint, too.


The next exercise, focused on linear perspective, used sketches and photos as reference to paint ‘Street’.


I got rather tied in knots with my paint handling and colour, and strayed into battling with tone instead of concentrating on line.  Trying to achieve Turner’s watercolour effects with diluted acrylic ink washes was fun, and a technique worth pursuing, but will take more trial and error to succeed.  This was my first attempt at adding texture, the black larva gel medium adding to the dingy overall outcome.


Next was aerial perspective of ‘Valley’.


It has a good sense of distance and was successful as a process where I improved my skill in carefully grading tone, colour, detail and focus to create the illusion of depth.  I was pleased with the way I handled the paint in the foreground, thickly, layering wet on wet, using two or more colours unmixed on the brush.  I felt the plastic quality of the paint, and recalled the brushwork of Sisley as I worked.  It ended looking overworked though, and the foreground tree is clumsy, so not completely successful as an end product I feel.


For Creating mood and atmosphere I reworked the ‘night view from a kitchen window’.


Not entirely convincing as a representation of a night time scene, the room is too bright for that.  But I liked the shadows, reflections, sky and moon, window and door – a lot of work went into it but it doesn’t quite gel to create the atmosphere I imagined.


Painting Outside, I took my kit to the bottom of the garden, having made preliminary visits, sketches and plans, and made ‘Orchard’. 


Using acrylics in even a slight breeze and warmth is to accept an additional challenge; it dries fast on the palette, on the brush and on the support, and forces you to find ways of adapting, and especially to work fast.  I enjoyed it and want to do more plein air painting and overcome my inhibitions about working in public places.  It looks sketchy, a little bit incoherent in places, but I was pleased with the outcome, especially of how I used colour imaginatively, and the sky, an optical blend of the colours in the landscape. 


From now on I got into a new stride, and my work became more imaginative and confident.   Doing the three paintings for the next project I was more relaxed as I wasn’t having to learn new techniques, and could just enjoy the physical aspects of using the paint, and the opportunity to put into practice some of the expressive ideas of other artists.

‘Fireplace’ is a painting from working drawings.


Doing the smaller colour study in acrylic was a good help.  In later exercises I made colour studies in other media, but found they didn’t translate so well to the acrylic painting.



‘Rooftops’, is large (squared up to A1) and colourful, strongly influenced by the landscapes of Kandinsky and Münter.


It has a strong composition, use of perspective, contrast in tone and colour, brushwork.  Borders on illustrative though…


From a photo, ‘Meadow’ was about creating texture, and for the first time I used pva, modelling paste, and incorporated flowers, grasses, seed heads.


All three above, together with ‘Archway’ are more successful paintings than the others, and mainly I think because I felt the use of paint and colour as physical stuff in its own right, not just as a means of representing something else.  In the case of the final three, my research into expressive painters liberated me and the enjoyment of using paint imaginatively comes through.

The others are less successful, and the common factor is that I felt a bit cramped doing them…either by the challenge of over-concentrating on technique (perspective, plein air, etc) or because I was physically uncomfortable.

This being the case, I want to consolidate my experiments in assignment 4, by making painting(s) I enjoy doing; that are imaginative in their use of colour; use the physical qualities of the paint to convey my ideas (surface texture, application of paint with variety of tools, expressive brushwork, drawing with the brush, water washes etc);  strong compositionally; demonstrate linear and aerial perspective.


Assignment 4 – preparation for painting

The view from my friend’s balcony was a subject I’d had in mind for a while for Assignment 4.  He was happy for me to use the balcony, so I spent a couple of hours making sketches, taking photos, making notes and collecting leaves and flowers to evoke the place for me, once back in my studio.  Whether I’d be able to revisit I wasn’t sure, so I knew I had to have as much information as possible to carry out the project at home.

The view is open in three directions.

In the south is a garden view; I’m looking down on a complex scene of house and garden in the foreground with another house, pool, trees and river forming the middle ground; together they frame a distant view of reed beds, sesame fields, mountain and sky, with a sliver of sea on the extreme right.  My sketch was a simple line drawing, with colours and tones noted down on it.  I was attracted to the diagonals in the scene, contrasted to the soft vegetation, and could envisage making a work that combined painting and drawing.  The perspective of the houses in the photo was interesting, they seemed to lean outward due to the distortion of the camera.


In the SW is a river view; trees and red rooftops form the foreground, a river, reed beds and forest the middle ground, and background of sea, mountain and sky, forming a fairly conventional landscape.  My pencil sketch explores the main lines and tones, the tangle of trees.


Both these views have ample opportunity to create the illusion of depth using both aerial and linear perspective.

The photo of the third view, to the west, of the town rising up foothills to steep mountain, with sky as background, has just a few trees as foreground.  In the pen and ink sketch I’m looking for a way to show hundreds of houses without drawing each one individually; the eye could be led through the town along the central high street, the minaret drawing the eye to the mountain.


The notes in my sketchbook show time and weather conditions.  I took photos of clouds, close ups of details etc to add to my reference material.

Back at home I made some colour studies (A4) of the balcony views

In the garden view study below, I aimed to develop my thoughts on combining drawing and painting, by making some ink washes then drawing with the brush to define details.  I looked at Raoul Dufy‘s paintings, in particular this sketch, I still have some way to go to produce a similar fluid and open approach to painting and mark-making.  If I develop this into a larger painting I would move the large tree and/or reduce its size; and crop the top to just above the horizon.

In the river view, below, drawn in soft pastel, I concentrate on perspective; linear combined with aerial to take the viewer’s eye into the far distance.  Many adjustments of tone began to give me a good result, and if I continue I would lighten and tone down the dark clump of trees in the middle distance.

My third colour study, town view, is done in watercolour pencils, mostly without water, so my colours aren’t fully developed, particularly in the foreground.  Doing the study, I learned to show the near vertical drop of the mountains behind the town; its various outcrops; how it’s tone,colour and focus fades from right to left.  The town houses do the same; and the linear perspective shifts; those on the right appear to face me; on the left of the high street their lines recede to a vanishing point way off the paper.  I don’t quite understand this; does their orientation actually change or is it an optical illusion?  In any case, drawing them like this gives a greater impression of a wide space

The river view perhaps offers the most in terms of giving me the opportunity to demonstrate the illusion and of depth through linear perspective as well as aerial perspective.  The position of the river on the golden section is pleasing. The interplay of dark and light tones creates an interesting design.  There is scope to be expressive through use of colour.  This is the view I will concentrate on for assignment 4.

The garden view is quite exciting with its diagonal lines and awkward perspectives.  I like the idea of approaching it sketchily with a combination of watercolour washes, and drawing and mark-making with the brush.  This will be a second assignment piece if I have time to do it before my deadline.

The town view could make an interesting painting, but will have to wait for another occasion.


References (Very clear closeup details)

Assignment 4 – the paintings

I’ve made two paintings of the view from a balcony for assignment 4, based on my colour studies and my other reference material gathered at the place itself. The paintings were done A1 on canvas, back in the studio, using acrylic paint.  I talk more about my  experiences of doing the two paintings, and the influences on them from contextual research again in the next post.


River view is a development of my earlier work in part 4 and hopefully another step forward in finding my own artistic voice.

As the painting went on I discovered a new appeal in elements of the subject.  The scene began to evolve on the canvas as a sort of ambiguous, mysterious and slightly unsettling landscape.  The primeval river, reeds, misty shoreline now exist side by side with a small town settlement, complete with exotic garden plants and a transient feeling, recently grown up on the shore of the river.


The foreground, affluent town and garden, was painted using the undiluted media thickly, just adding retarder to extend blending time a bit, and moulding paste to give structure to the three-dimensional surface of the foreground.  I painted it without doing much blending, so that the quick, broad brush strokes would show.  I also gave it rich, warm colours – inspired by the bright oranges I’d seen both in Gaugin and Peter Doig landscapes.  In contrast the middle ground and background were painted with finer, more delicate techniques – dry brush, stippling, glazing, dragging – and more subtle, delicate colours, more suitable to the natural, gentler elements of the wild.  In between, linking the two, the river wends to the sea, reflecting current, woodland and sky.

 The composition, the brush work  and the colours hopefully combine to suit my interpretation of the subject matter and to make a painting that although based on real life also reflects my ideas and imagination.


Garden View by contrast was painted in loose fluid tinted colours on A1 canvas, combining painting and drawing / mark-making with the brush.

The view looks to the south, is light, open and expansive, and suited to the open colours and fluid technique.  The view is so wide open that the horizon is curved.  The sky left white at the top of the canvas allows the painting to breathe more.  Scudding clouds, based on a photo taken at the scene, were painted simply with quick, very broad strokes of white, given shape and form with broken line drawn quickly with the brush.

Yellow fields of sesame in flower and a sliver of white sea in the far distance are realised with quick swathes of the brush.  Standing on the second floor balcony, where bougainvillea shoots were beginning to spread, I exaggerated the vertical perspective of the houses below – making them lean outward, opening out to the view.  The tall tree was truncated so as not to cut the view off.

This painting isn’t as fully realised as the River View, but I wanted it to look dynamic, sketchy.  I think I achieved that with my treatment of the sky, the exaggerated perspective, the diagonal lines.  When I get the painting back from my tutor I could work on integrating the left side of the pool with the greenery to  emphasise the sharp drop of the land to the right, down to the river.  I would also define the Bougainville leaves more, with dark line to emphasise their relative closeness to the viewer compared to the grass below.

Like the first painting, this one evolved on the canvas as I worked, but I did have a clearer idea at the outset of the pastel coloured blue/green/red palette I was aiming for, having looked closely at some Raoul Dufy and Ivon Hitchens landscapes.  I studied Dufy’s mark-making and used some of the ideas I found there –  the sketchy lines defining clouds; expressive lines defining leaves, palm foliage and tree fronds; small circles, triangles and arcs for flowers etc.  I think the watery technique, my free brush drawing and tinted palette suit the subject and express my ideas.


I find it difficult to say which of the two assignment pieces is the more successful, the two paintings are quite different.  River View is more highly finished.  Garden View is more sketchy, open and spontaneous in style.  In both of them I got involved with the physical qualities of the paint to express my ideas, the first both sumptuous and finely textured, the second watery, fresh and open.

The experience of making the two was similar in other ways; both evolved on the canvas in imaginary directions I hadn’t anticipated at the outset.  This was one of the great pleasure of making both paintings – responding to feelings and ideas generated as I worked.   One reason I felt relaxed enough to do this was the paintings were supported by drawings, reference materials and research – I’d got the basics settled and some  technical issues ironed out beforehand.

Both, with hindsight, and as I look forward to part 5, are overtly representational in the final outcome.  They’re conventional, not as creative as some other students’ work, although at the time I was doing them I definitely felt I was exploring new ground.



The process – what I did

River View – I transferred the main lines to an A1 canvas using a grid, then washed the whole support with a pale lemon yellow, feeling this was the pervading colour in the atmosphere.  In the finished painting it’s still visible in sky, sea and headland, river and river banks.

I then started to lay in the shapes of the elements, and colours broadly referring to the colour study, but using more imaginative, warmer foreground hues.

The clump of pine trees in the middle were quickly brushed in, shadow added with quick, broad strokes if a big brush to show some form.  Nearer more detailed pine on the right was blocked in in broad areas, then the impression of fine pine needles at the extreme ties of the branches made using yellow and orange paint on a wide fan brush.  Branches were indicated with sgraffito, and accentuated with dark lines using a fine rigger brush.  Reed bed and grasses were given texture with a large flat bristle brush and dry whiteish colour.  Sea and reed heads were given light dabbing white on with a natural sponge.  Headland was painted dark, dry brushed with palest lemon yellow then pressed with kitchen towel to lift paint and give a cloudy, hazy effect.  Roof tiles were created using paint mixed with texture paste, with short strokes of layered colour.  Foreground trees made with 3D surface using thick mixture of paint and texture paste, highlight colour dragged over when dry.

Here are a few work in progress snaps


Garden View – after drawing the composition on the canvas I washed on some light colours in broad areas with a 1.5 inch brush, allowing the watery paint to dribble down the vertical canvas (not much of that is still evident in the final painting).

Sky, clouds and fields were washed in speedily, clouds defined by line.  Quick, broad washes were created for houses, rooves, garden and trees, then windows were lightly pencilled to check perspective, then drawn over with the brush and coloured

I drew the bougainville leaves with a brush, then blocked each leaf in with colour, offsetting the blocks of colour from the lines to give a more fluid,organic feel.  I wanted them to be an important part of the garden scene below, but not to take focus away from the garden; my solution was to make them similar in tone as the green lawn underneath, but to accentuate their warm colours.

At this stage the garden washes looked too broken and confusing, so I homogenised them into two larger areas of light and shade, stippling lightly on top.

Last job was to draw the palm tree leaves and pine fronds with the brush, carefully selecting a subtle tone and colour of line.

Work in progress gallery:-



Part 4 reflections – experiences, influences and future plans


I started part 4 with some trepidation – landscape hadn’t been my strongest subject in Drawing 1 – I struggle to depict distance, to edit and simplify what I see and to make a coherent composition from it – more than with other genres (still life, the figure etc).

Lacking a bit of confidence I got off to a shaky start, with a tight execution of the first painting.  My second painting was much freer, perhaps because the archway acted as viewfinder, and presented me with a ready made composition.  It wasn’t really until starting the final project that I found my stride, and felt I was using the paint more openly with a more fluid execution, using bigger brushes and increasing the scale of some of my work.  All my research came together to contribute to the way I responded to the paint.  Having researched and admired the German Expressionist painters – especially Kandinsky and Gabriele Münter- I seemed able to relax and enjoy a new found permission to play with colour and new ways of seeing, and not worry about the rest.

So then I produced the first three paintings that I liked – Fireplace, Rooftops and Meadow – and these are the three which together with Archway and my two assignment pieces are going to my tutor.  The earlier paintings were part of my learning process but are not among the best paintings I did.

The experience of (for the first time) incorporating grasses, seeds and flowers, moulding paste and glue in my paintings was great, and something I want to do a lot mor of as it brings another dimension to the medium.

I enjoyed my plein air painting experience even though it was a struggle with the drying time of the medium.  I have found that colour studies and sketches are best done in the medium of the eventual painting though, so a solution might be to invest in acrylics with a longer drying time; I’d also find a pochade easel quite handy!

For the assignment pieces, first of all I collected a lot of reference material, and made several sketches and colour studies.  This stood me in good stead when making the paintings.  I’d already done a lot of the observation, thinking, planning, simplifying, and decision making about technique, so I was relaxed and could allow other ideas and approaches to develop from there.  I’d already made a large painting, ‘Rooftops’, but I’d managed it by breaking it down into smaller areas which I worked on one by one;  the assignment pieces on the other hand were worked on all over, bringing the whole to a more integrated conclusion.  It meant larger washes, more paint, bigger brushes, and a more physical experience as I constantly walked around and stood away to assess each step.



The sketches in paint of Constable and Turner were an important influence on my part 4 work.  Looking at them and comparing them to their finished paintings taught me it’s not necessary to paint in slow, careful detail, and that a more spontaneous use of paint can be more effective and fresher.  This was especially helpful in my plein air painting where I used some of his rapid techniques and bright colours.  All through part 4 this lesson, and the freer use of colour I adopted from the examples of German Expressionists stayed in my mind and guided my hand, and I think is evident in the paintings I’m submitting to my tutor for review.

The plastic use of paint I saw looking closely at the work of Sisley, Pissarro and Monet was another influence I adopted, using thick gobs of paint in my aerial perspective exercise, and from then on being more generous with paint, enjoying the feel of it, mixing it liberally in the brush and in the support, and doing away with blending and smoothing.  My student quality paints are quite light bodied though, so often the textures created by my brush strokes would disappear as the paint dried; I would never be able to achieve their layered, textural  effects with these thin paints, so maybe I should be looking at investing in better quality heavier bodied paint.

Another influence on my work in part 4 was Gustav Klimt‘s landscapes.  I found it fascinating to look closely at how his paintings were built up from thousands of careful, minute marks to form, often, an almost abstract field of nuanced colour representing a landscape.  My ‘Meadow‘ was informed by his work, as I settled on a composition with 90% of the canvas devoted to a field of green, containing within it the textures, forms and colours of the meadow.

I found Ivon Hitchens landscape paintings appealing, and tried to assimilate his broad, fluid areas of bright colour into my second assignment piece, ‘Garden View‘.  His paintings border abstract and figurative styles, mine so far are more representative, but the influence encouraged a less literal approach in my work.  Raoul Dufy influenced this piece too, especially combining painting with  drawing and mark making with the brush.

Peter Doig‘s paintings are intriguing, mystifying, ambiguous and very appealing – I’d love to see them in real life.  The vibrant colours of the semi tropical landscape in his paintings in my Pinterest board influenced my palette in my first assignment piece, ‘River View‘, and also the way he paints elements of the landscape in fairly flat colour.  Some of his paintings are dreamlike, with weird and wonderful elements that leave us guessing, and I aimed for a touch of mystery and ‘other-worldliness’ in mine in my choice of colours and textures.


Future plans

To continue experimenting with different techniques, styles and influences – not to get drawn into only one way of painting early on

Be more creative – think about painting more as an expression of ideas, concepts, moods, rather than simply representation, and find new ways of expressing these.  Try not to explain so much, leave the viewer to wonder and use their imagination.

Particularly move towards more abstract ideas.    I’m conscious that my assignment 4 pieces (indeed all my part 4 paintings) are rather conventional landscape pictures; such straightforward representation isn’t an approach I want to stay with.

Continue voyage of discovery into using thicker paint.  Modelling paste is great, and can be used to create surface texture and to imprint objects  – but it does change the colour of paint when mixed with it, so I’ve since bought  texture gels and will start playing with those.

Continue to explore the possibilities of incorporating objects into paint.

Remember to use the palette knife – I’ve found it helps with the fluid execution of a painting, but didn’t think to use it often enough in part 4.  



4.5.1 painting from a working drawing

Final painting:-


The process of making several studies (concentrating in turn on line, tone and colour) provided me with a treasure trove of information which made it possible to make the painting away from the subject. The only thing I got in a bit of a confusion with was the intricacies of the fireplace – perhaps I should have spent a little time while doing the line study getting these clearer in my mind.  The shadow of the pole on the standard lamp foxed me – where was it?  In the end o decided it was tucked away in he corner between fireplace and wall, but maybe that’s not entirely convincing.

While painting, I found I largely relied on the memory of what I’d learned doing the studies instead of looking at the studies themselves.  This, and being away from the subject definitely gave me freedom to develop an interpretation and my painting style.   I used colour in a more imaginative way, creating an atmosphere of warmth, light and harmony.  I painted in a looser way instead of fussing over tiny details being ‘correct’.  I inserted things from my imagination – for example the colours and shapes in the paintings on the floor, the blue in the door, the turquoise and magenta in the wall.  In my opinion these are the touches that make the painting more creative and more interesting.



This is what I did:-

Before starting on the three drawings I made some quick thumbnails to help me choose a subject.  The notes on the sketchbook page   helped me select the fireplace composition, but I’d like to paint the bedroom scene too given time.  Both have strong shapes and contrasts of light and colour, and enough interest to engage the viewer’s attention.

The fireplace composition on reflection had a shallow picture plane, and the brief suggests using a corner of the room or a window, reminding me that I should be looking for ways of depicting depth in my painting.  So in my line drawing I kept the square format but zoomed out slightly, to better show the linear perspective of the rug, sofa and armchair.  The notes in the sketchbook show how I also use overlapping as well as the cropping of my elements to indicate depth.

Happy with the line drawing, I transferred it to another page in my sketchbook and next morning when the light is best, added tone with willow charcoal.

The aim of doing the tonal sketch was to record information in the sketchbook and in my memory; I’ve gathered quite a lot in the process of investigating and exploring the subject.  In the painting I may make the contrasts more subtle (the darks less black), but I’ll try to keep the effects of the morning sunlight on the wall and lighting up the of the objects.

I transferred the line drawing again, this time to a sheet from a canvas pad for my colour study, which I did in acrylic, the medium I intend to use for my painting.  I painted quite boldly,  usin realistic colours, figuring now was the time to gather as much factual information as I could before interpreting my subject in a larger painting.

It was a mistake to introduce lemon yellow for lightening wall, chimney breast, armchair at the very end.  Otherwise I like this quick colour study; its fresh, not fussy or tight.  I must try to keep hold of that spirit in the larger painting.  The painting of the rug’s successful – in the painting I’ll add its left edge, somewhere under the armchair (it’s linear perspective will contribute depth).  The lampshade is more red than brown in real life.  I forgot the stool – I think the composition needs it.

Back in my studio, away from the subject, I taped a piece of watercolour paper to my board, gessoed it, marked out a square 45×45 cm, and then painted all over yellow ochre.  Meanwhile, I put a grid over my line drawing on my iPad, and drew a corresponding grid on my paper when it was dry, then transferred the drawing square by square.

Grid over line drawing (iPad)


Transferred drawing, 45×45 cm

I set up my studies around me where I could refer to them and started painting, mapping in some darks and lights, working all over the support, .  I wasn’t satisfied with the wall as a literally painted cream colour, so experimented with emerald green, ultramarine and white; using acrylic retarder I was able to paint wet in wet, and so I added more white into the mix on the support, semi-blending to give an effect of light; then, lower on the wall, magenta and yellow ochre toned the turquoise mix to a shift shadow colour.

The door as a flat dark brown lacked subtlety.  I dry-brushed white, giving a sheen, but it seemed too stark a contrast.  Inspired by my turquoise wall I added a layer of pure ultramarine to the door.  The sheen was still there, but softened, and the blue added depth and a harmonious mood.

The pictures in the composition were painted as shapes of fairly bright colour, to give an impression of landscape, still life etc, and from then on they became the focal point of the composition, clustered around the fireplace.  Similarly the mirror on the chimney breast contains an impression of reflections; in the final stage I lightened them, making it less like another picture, but I still didn’t quite achieve the distinction somehow.

The foot stool was flat turquoise at an early stage; it needed bringing to life, and I found that sketchily adding pale yellow gave it light, texture and form, keeping the harmonious turquoise as an undertone.

The sofa on the right became the main bugbear; I changed its colour several times, settling on another harmonious shade of turquoise and blue.  I think it’s the biggest weakness of the painting, and I’m still searching for a solution.

Here’s my work in progress gallery, with the final painting and my reflections on the outcome above, at the top of the post.

4.5.2 squaring up

Here’s my painting in response to this exercise.  A1, acrylic on paper.

Although I completed my research into some of the German Expressionists a while ago, I’ve lately taken it further and added the paintings of Gabriele Münter and Wassily Kandinsky.  Both painted in a modern style using vivid colours and simple shapes.  They didn’t attempt to replicate their subject, rather interpreted it in a way that seems to express an emotional response.  See my Pinterest board.  Kandinsky’s compositions are denser than Münter’s, his colours more nuanced.  In his paintings distinct brush marks can clearly be seen and form part of his expressive technique.  With dabs and short strokes he puts one vivid colour on top of another, creating a divisionist look, so the colours are partly mixed on the canvas and partly in the eye.  Münter’s colours are less neon-bright, slightly toned down, and painted in simple flat shapes, often with thick black outlines.

I’ve tried to assimilate these artists’ techniques into my own painting for this exercise.  I’ve certainly used strong colours, as bright as Kandinsky’s, but my colours are in general more highly saturated versions of the real colours, whereas these two artists take the imaginative process further, to the point where colours become outlandish, garish – for instance, a tree can be blue, red, pink or purple!  The same applies to shapes and forms; mine are simplified, but I haven’t taken this as far as Münter:- for her a tree can be one simple shape – sphere, triangle – with maybe two blocks of tone at most.  Mine are rather more complex affairs, as I slip in and out of the habit of trying to make something look as similar to the real thing as possible, instead of trying to make it look like a thing of its own.

Nevertheless, I’m very happy that I got as far as I did in my interpretative effort, and hope I can continue down this road.


I chose an image of rooftops of my village.  It’s a subject I know well and which I explored in several sketches for Drawing 1, so I don’t feel I’m just working from one photo with no other reference.

Here’s the composition I established by zooming in and cropping my photo and laying over a grid in iPad.  It’s interesting, in that the sun going down behind the hill behind the photographer casts a shadow over the hamlet, while lighting up the higher forest and mountain quite colourfully.  I have other photos with more tonal balance, and I will be able to play with breaking up the large dark-toned mass in the foreground.

In terms of rule of thirds it’s quite satisfying –  the mountain, the transition from shadow to sunlight, individual chimneys, are all aligned with the third lines.

I made some colour studies (11x18cm) in my sketchbook, drawing black lines and colouring using first marker pens then coloured pencils.  The second sketch achieves a sense of distance in aerial perspective better than the first. The pens are transparent, so I couldn’t dab one colour on top of another as Kandinsky does without them mixing on the paper; also I didn’t have any light or subtle colours in my limited selection, so the far distance is too bright and intensely coloured, the bare rock face not reading well,  but I began to see how I could simplify shapes and form.


Below is a work in progress gallery, with notes referring to painting stages.

1.With the iPad grid altered to the golden rectangle proportions of these sketches, the composition draws the viewer’s eye through from foreground to distance vertically, following the road, and the houses as they recede.  I marked it up on A1 gessoed paper to which I’d applied a yellow base coat and transferred the drawing by eye, square by square then erased most of the grid, darkened some of the lines with a marker pen, and started painting.

2. Using the acrylic paints thickly with a medium, like oils, wet in wet, with largish brushes held at arms length and on their sides, layering colour on colour, I went in with dark, rich colours in the foreground, with a confidence I wouldn’t have had without the preparatory work of the colour studies.

3. Working my way from bottom to top, it was important that the middle ground should very clearly recede, taking the viewer on a journey through the village, so I needed to lighten and tone down my colours for that section, remembering that the far distance is highlighted by the setting sun and therefore will be relatively bright.  I struggled with it, but I think I got a sense of aerial perspective eventually.

4. With the far distance in place though, I felt I’d lost the perspective somewhat.  Perhaps the mountains are too dark, and maybe the very dark shadows in the trees behind the houses are too contrasty.  I looked to Van Gogh‘s Les Alpilles, (below), how he treated mountains and sky, and how outlining elements of the composition adds to the painting’s dynamism.

5. I applied outlining in my foreground, but felt the impression of distance would be flattened if I did the same in the forest and mountain parts.  Van Gogh’s perspective looks flattened; the mountains like a tsunami imminently about to engulf the settlement.  I did steal his sky however, and the colour of the mountain!

6. Referring back to Kandinsky’s landscapes, I noticed how the dabs and short strokes of colour which he put on top of other colours would go in all directions, quite impulsively.  By comparison mine were very carefully placed horizontally and looked stiff and regimented.  As I wanted the viewer to wander along the path, I over-painted it and made new dabs following the path’s direction, which I think is more welcoming.

Van Gogh, Les Alpilles

Notes on the ‘squaring up’ technique

I’ve used the technique quite a lot throughout the course already, having practised it in Drawing 1 course too, and find it very useful.  Nowadays I create a grid over my reference image in an iPad app, Jackson’s ARTGRID – less laborious, and it doesn’t spoil the original.

As a first step I might enlarge and transfer the image to transparent paper.  I then transfer this enlarged drawing to my painting support by going over the lines on the reverse of the tracing paper with a soft media, laying the tracing paper on my painting support, and and then going over the lines pressing with the flat end of a pencil.  With the tracing intact, I can always refer back to it to re-establish my lines if they get lost under layers of paint.

Otherwise, I’ll enlarge and transfer the image straight on to my squared-up painting support; I make sure the grid lines extend beyond the painting boundaries, and before starting to paint erase the grid, keeping the extended marks for later reference if needed.


4.5.3 painting from a photograph

This is my final painting for this exercise.


And here are some close up details (click to enlarge), showing how I’ve incorporated seed heads, grasses, flowers,  pva glue and texture paste.

Reflections on the process /outcome

I feel I interpreted the photo to produce a painting which heightens the drama by using contrasting colours and tones and by emphasising the diagonally upward slope of the foreground.  My scrutiny of Klimt’s landscapes paid off; thinking about what he did made me look more carefully at my subject and applying some of his practises and solutions made my painting more interesting in its mark-making.

Taking a photo as a starting point was a good basis for a painting.  I experimented with viewpoint, noticed how perspective altered, thought about distortions, and got very different representations of the same subject by changing the viewpoint and zoom setting of the camera.   I still felt the need to do a couple of quick sketches from the photo I chose, to ‘learn’ about the subject before starting to paint. At an early stage I decided to leave out the central tree trunk and the dry leaves in the foreground, as they distracted from the subject.  I also simplified the background, cutting out various bits of trees, to increase the feeling of space and openness.

The development of the landscape was cyclical; I continually alternated between background, middle and foreground, finding each related to the others and that a tonal and colour balance had to be achieved to create aerial perspective and to ensure the background looked integrated with the rest of the painting. In this respect I struggled mostly, as usual, with the background tones, and achieving the subtle graduations.  I’m still not over happy with it.

The pva applied to the support at the beginning proved surprisingly useful at the end of the process, when I followed its trails with paint to represent detail of stalks and grasses in relief.

My indigo / lemon yellow striped underpainting was a leap of faith; the cool colours were a departure from the warmer greens of the photo.  I believed and hoped it would lend depth, contrast, light and shade to the finished painting – and in the final outcome I feel it does do that.

I mixed texture paste with paint and applied it with a palette knife in three places, near the end of making the painting.  It contributes texture, but was too little too late to form an important part of the painting… still, the experience will stand me in good stead in part 5.

Applying the grasses etc, using acrylic mat medium and painting over a couple of them was fun.  The seeds were brilliant – adding abstract detail, focus, warm colour.  I’m not sure how well attached the grasses are – they’re certainly not completely pressed down to the support; and I’m not sure about using the fresh flower, whether it’ll rot, with air pockets under it.  Again, experience gained and a skill to be developed.



My shortlist of photos fitting the brief in front of me, I made notes on pros and cons of each, and how I would define foreground, middle and background .  Any of them could be used, and that makes it hard to decide. In the end I enjoy painting something I feel strongly about at the time … at the moment that’s the beauty of springtime in my immediate surroundings, rather than a photo of past experiences.  So I took some photos of a flower meadow, and looked at how Klimt approached the subject in his landscape paintings – see my Pinterest board here.  It’s a subject he painted several times, in a pointillist style, always on a square canvas.

In Farmhouse with Birch TreesKlimt observes the meadows in three different stages – the flower meadow in front, the narrow reed stripe on the left and the mown meadow with fruit trees in the background.  The ground colour (first layer)  graduates from saturated, bright greens to bluer shades in the background.  Over it he places numerous marks representing flowers and grasses.  Vertical stripes of pale blue become the longer grasses.  In the flower meadow, shorter turquoise strips depict shorter grasses.  Blue, pink, white yellow blobs, up to maybe 1cm diameter, become flowers – but they’re made of light and dark tones, saturated and muted colours, mixed in proportions according to distance.  Some flowers are clumped together, some are individuals, as they would be in nature.  The mown meadow is made of horizontal, slightly blended strokes of the brush.

Blooming Field is different in character, having a muted overall tone, with a very dark ground – as in possibly black or indigo – covered with thousands of marks representing grass and flowers.  Too much darkness is alleviated with bright red poppies possibly 3cm diameter in the foreground, and the relatively luminous, sunny right and lower foreground made with brighter yellow marks.

Poppy Field combines the bright background, the bright red poppies and the densest array of flowers, making it the most decorative and least realistic of the three paintings.
The three examples have in common a very high horizon, where meadow meets the distance, allowing space underneath for an expanse of meadow, which becomes a colour field with infinite nuance and suggestion of detail.  Only a few flowers are painted in pure colour; the majority are muted, to a greater degree as they recede;  their size and detail also reduces with distance.

Composition:  Another painting I admired recently, Prunella Clough‘s Fishermen in a Boat,  also has a very high horizon.  It’s subject is a beached fishing boat.  The viewpoint is from close above looking down, and the boat occupies 90% of the picture. On the beach in the small background looking out to sea is a tiny fisherman – beyond him a narrow line of sea. The unusual composition seems to say something important about the connection between boat, fisherman and sea.  My composition would be structured similarly, a close-up expanse of meadow viewed from a very low viewpoint,  giving way to the middle distance at the top of the slope.  There is an orchard, and behind it sky and mountain.  I played with thumbnail compositions in my sketchbook and decided a square format would give a feeling of space more than portrait.

Size – making the painting is going to be a time-consuming process, but my tutor encourages making some paintings larger.  Klimt’s are generally 1 metre square.  Time presses, with an assignment deadline, so I’m going for 65×65 cm, the largest that will fit in my A1 portfolio.

Support – Strathmore 300 gsm mixed media paper (no canvas big enough).

Medium – acrylic paint mixed with texture paste in the foreground; and grasses, flowers and any other material found in the meadow that inspires me, incorporated using pva glue

Work in progress gallery no. 1 – Preparation:-  shows my selected photo cropped in various ways; a thumbnail of Prunella Clough’s composition; my sketchbook composition and colour tryouts.  In the colour study I explore the underlying tones and nuances of green (getting a clear idea of where I’m going at this early stage should help reduce time spent adjusting and redoing areas of the larger painting).  In the try-outs I’m experimenting with pva, texture paste, and incorporating grasses etc.  I puzzled over the best way to apply these, never having used them in a painting before. Should I put in texture first, but if so would I be able to make a smoothly graduated undercoat? Should I create texture with paste, then paint it, or mix paste and paint together? When should I stick the found things on? Etc.


Work in progress gallery no. 2:- Doing the painting:- In the end I decided to get started, and see how things developed. This is what I did:-

  1. on the painting support, drew the main areas in pencil! then created texture of grasses & flower stalks in foreground with pva
  2. made an all over undercoat, graded from indigo to lemon yellow
  3. developed background and flower meadow in paint.  Background painted using large brushes, serrated scraper, splayed fan brush.  Background daisies dotted on in groups with a coarse natural sponge for speed.
  4. continued developing, adding flowers, grasses etc, assimilating what I’d learnt from Klimt into my work
  5. added meadow grasses and flowers with paint mixed with texture paste, incorporating found materials – fresh flower, dried grasses, flower seeds.



Have subsequently discovered John Singer Sargent‘s Thistles, and thought about similarities between it and my painting.

His use of colour gives a feeling of Autumn and harvest time.  The field has very dark undertones, like mine. The red field is exaggerated in depth and richness of colour…mine is a more literal interpretation of colour, but I’m happy with it as it expresses Spring time, which is what I wanted.

Both paintings have a very high horizon and a low viewpoint with foreground dominating.  Seargent’s distance looks far more distant than mine, lacking the middle & background ground detail & focus that I’ve painted.  This harks back to my misgivings about my background…  after looking at this I think it could be less focused, to concentrate the viewer’s attention on the meadow grasses subject.