Category Archives: Part 4 – Looking out

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.


4.4.1 painting a landscape outside

Here’s my plein air painting.


Reflections on my experience of painting outdoors 

Painting outdoors I felt immersed in the landscape and my response to it comes through, the more so because I was having to paint quickly and intuitively.  I felt a physical connection – not only through my eyes,  but also via my ears, skin, sense of smell.  I could hear bees and birdsong, fell the heat of the sun on my neck, smell the pine forest.  By contrast painting in the studio from photographs can be a sterile experience.  

I was quite lucky – the weather was pleasant, I was near enough to pop back home for a cuppa, and I knew there would be no onlookers.  Carrying kit wasn’t an issue, so I had table and chair, easel, etc. So this was plein air painting Lite!  It still had difficulties compared to working in the studio, the main one being how quickly the acrylic paint dried on palette, brush and canvas.  This, and the need to finish in one session, in a shortish window before the light altered too much, meant I was forced to work quickly and to adapt my painting method.  My painting is sketchy and loose as a result, the pigments un-muddied, so the pressure worked well for me and the painting looks fresh.

What I’ve learned from painting outdoors

I’ve learned from my research on landscape paintings that the artist doesn’t have to seek out extraordinary views to make a great painting, and this exercise confirmed that.  My subject isn’t particularly dramatic or picturesque, and I still managed to make an enjoyable painting from it.

Natural light changes quickly, dramatically altering any scene, particulaly at either end of the day, so there’s a small window of time in which to put down a statement.  Weather and other conditions outside may discourage anything other than a brief stay.  But that’s not a bad thing; I’ve found that my quick, intuitive paintings are more true to the subject and how I see and feel about it.  There’s no time for overworking, so they stay fresh, and a bit of awkwardness can add character to the outcome.Thorough preparation for the painting session makes a big difference; identify the exact location, study the subject and decide on all the salient points beforehand.  I had a copy of the exercise brief with me which served as a check list of advice to remember while painting.  The preparation of the canvas with a base coat in a complementary colour to my painting gave me a head start, and using a limited palette thereafter made painting outdoors easier.

I’ve learned that I like to paint with that physical connection to the landscape that comes from being there.  If I paint plein air further from base regularly in the future I would consider buying a pochade easel, and I would always take weather conditions into account in deciding which painting media to use.


What I did 

Choosing my subject

Many of the landscapes in the paintings I looked at would probably seem to most people fairly uninspiring in real life.  In adding their own interpretation, in tone, colour, form and line, artists can make engaging, challenging, beautiful, and sometimes astonishing images.

So why go far from home to find my subject?  I have a garden with trees for interest and focus, and far off backgrounds for depth of field, and if I try to open my mind to interpret the subject expressively, I could perhaps make an interesting painting.  The advantages of staying in my garden being I wouldn’t have to lug my equipment far and there’d be no onlookers to intimidate me.

So I set myself up at the bottom of the garden and did some quick drawings of fruit trees from various viewpoints.  I took photos and I made notes by my sketches about the time, weather and direction of light; colours, tones; thoughts on how I would approach painting this composition outside; the focal point; linear and aerial perspective; how I divided up the composition between background, middle ground and foreground.

The first is wide format and takes in several rows of trees, allowing the perspective lines of the rows to create the illusion of depth.  The sketch isn’t too effective in showing the rows but I know they’re there!


It was hard to see a focal point in this composition, so I decided to zoom in a bit and change viewpoint.  I took some photos of alternatives.

The A6 sketches were done on fine liner coloured pens and a water brush.


Other artists’ landscapes

Looking closely at Constable’s oil sketches, I can see he used a wide range of techniques to get different effects.  He used impasto, glazes, dry brush work, dabs and dots of colour and of pure white, colour showing through subsequent layers of other colours.  The  overall effect is of painting done quickly.

I also looked at Bonnard’s landscapes, some of which I collected on Pinterest here.  His colours are magnificent.  Not for him toned down, low key effects; but although he used the full range of pure colour, optically some mix on the canvas, meaning the effect is believable and not overpowering.


Starting the painting

I started my painting by selecting a wide canvas, 50×25 cm, and as a sudden inspiration in the studio, inspired by Bonnard’s use of colour in landscape painting,  I poured the remains of the liquid acrylic paint used in my decalcomania experiments, and with a rag covered the whole canvas with the bright vermillion / magenta mix.  This would be complementary to my green subject, and I intended to leave a fair bit exposed or showing through subsequent layers. 

Looking again at the scene and my sketches, I decided to combine elements from two sketches to make a wide format painting.  With a biggish brush and a pale neutral colour I drew the main lines of the composition, taking care the rows of trees were lined up roughly to one vanishing point.   The light wasn’t noticeably different from before.  My key features would be the walnut tree and citrus grove at the bottom of the slope on the right of the composition, and so on that side I was going to use my highest contrasts and leave much of the red base coat exposed to bring it forward.  The drama is there in the dark glossy foliage of the orange trees, and the red earth contrasted with bright, fresh ground cover.

In addition to white I laid out emerald green, process yellow, yellow ochre, cad red, process blue and burnt umber.

I’ve looked at many Van Gogh landscapes, and noticed how he often has a sky that is a sort of pale peachy colour.  The eye reads this as a sunny sky, even though it’s not blue – I think due to the warm golden glow.  I aimed for this effect, and was quite pleased with my version.  The pink undercoat shows through, and with dabs of pale emerald and pure white adde my sky seemed to have life and, I hoped, would echo the colours used in other parts of the painting.  Distant hills developed gradually; finally with touches of the sky colour reflected in and blurring the hill line, they receded far away enough for me.  

I worked on quickly, using, as I’d seen in Constable’s sketches, a wide range of brush-work techniques, reminding myself frequently to use a broad brush and not to focus just on one area of the canvas. The forest developed as a unified mix of different greens.  The blue-grey trees in the middle distance are olives; I felt rather rash using vivid blue for the shade side, but like Bonnard’s bright colours, it tones down in the optical mix.

In the final outcome I’ve left lots of bare areas, the pink base coat showing through and setting up echoes from one area of the picture to others, helping to unify the painting.  I worked sketchily, at breakneck speed with no time to correct or alter before the paint dried.  My main feeling as I worked was panic, although I became more at ease with the process as time went on.  The sun burned and the hot air dried the paint before I could use it.  I used retarder, and a spray bottle of water which helped marginally.  In the end I got used to using lots more retarder than I would in the chilly studio, and accepted no blending was really possible.


4.3.1 creating mood and atmosphere

After completing the first exercise in part 4, I promised myself I would rework View From a Window.  This exercise is a chance to do so, and to try to inject atmosphere into the rather stark and cold, formal atmosphere of my first attempt.  Here are the ‘before and after’ versions.

Before rework:


The cold atmosphere of the original wasn’t my explicit intention but came about through

  • choice of all tonally muted colours, the dark purple on the left exacerbating the cool effect
  • the composition, which contains no ‘soft’ or homely features; and is essentially a pattern of straight hard lines, with the grid of the window and door frames adding to the feeling of ‘captivity’ inside, and freedom, happiness outside!
  • my own physical discomfort  – I did feel trapped indoors, painting sitting down, cold early morning, constrained in space, using only brushes to apply paint and grappling with a new technique of painting with acrylic medium instead of water.
I thought the painting could be cheered up with some daring touches of primary and secondary colour and the addition of homely kitchen paraphernalia.  Or it could be transformed into an atmospheric moonlit scene, many of which we’ve enjoyed on this terrace, with the palette changed to a harmony of midnight blues and moonlit highlights.

After rework: 

The window faces east, so when the moon rises it can clearly be seen and casts an extraordinary light over the view.  It transforms the atmosphere; the light is bright, extinguishes stars, silhouettes trees and casts strong shadows.  
I looked at other artists portrayals of the night (Pinterest board here).  Some have in common a portrayal of the sky as a deep royal blue-violet, which chimes with how I see the sky from my kitchen terrace when sunset and moonrise coincide.
I wasn’t able to find any painting with the theme of a night time view from an interior.  But when I saw Monet, Leicester Square at Night (see below, end of post),  I did laugh in delight at the audacity of colour palette and brushwork.  The sky is a cool but still deep blue.  The warm contrast of dabs of pure bright reds and yellows in the street below, tonal darks in the foreground, provide a contrast that conveys the bustle and warm energy of he city.
My sky became deep indigo and ultramarine.  Hills are silhouetted, closer in garden trees and bushes are deep green with moonlit highlights.  The terrace has deep violet cast shadows.  Stars and moon added to contribute to the  atmosphere.  To alter colours I used a combination of over painting with opaque paint, and scumbling (dry-brushing) over the original layer to modify its colour. The sky was blended with white, lighter around the moon, deeply dark further away.  The moon had several reworks as I searched for a way to make it convincing.  Turner’s moon and sky in Edge of a Heath was my model in the end.
The following week we had a full moon rising just after sunset, and I was able to observe, and make further changes.  I found I had to help the moon along with electric outdoor lighting to get something approaching the effect I’d painted from my imagination, otherwise all was drained of colour.  I made a few technical improvements to perspective lines (still not quite accurate), reflections and shadows, and called it a day.  
Looking at my other early part 4 paintings,  and thinking how each subject could be handled differently to convey a more explicit atmosphere :-
  • For the exercise ‘Hard or Soft Landscape‘ I painted a view through an archway at home.  
A much more joyful experience than the first exercise, and an outcome nearer to my original aims.  Painted standing outside, dynamically with palette knife;  colours are brighter, the atmosphere is intimate and alive with blustery movement (it was a very windy, sunny few days). If I wanted to change it I would consider trying to convey a thunderous downpour through the archway – darker colours outside and correspondeningly lighter inside; diagonal lines of swirling rain and a gale of wind bowing the fig tree.
  • For ‘Linear perspective‘ I chose a street scene.
I’d describe the atmosphere in the painting as grittily realistic – conveying a general scruffy poverty in the road and buildings, the dejected limp laundry, the cold colour palette.  In fact I wanted the scene to look cheerily domestic, as was my experience when sketching there (I was brought a tray of breakfast and tea by a resident family, who were friendly, interested and polite, inviting me to move onto their balcony where, they said, the view would be better for my drawing). If doing the painting again I’d try harder to pay less attention to the photo, and more to thinking about the atmosphere I wanted to convey.  Now I’d think about painting it in unnaturalistic but more expressive colours – bright reds and pinks, yellow ochre maybe – and with simple shapes and less attempt at detail and texture.
  • Finally Aerial Perspective 
Perhaps there’s a sense of calm and timelessness about this painting, which is how I think about the place.  Blue is a peaceful colour.  Space and distance encourage contemplation.  The garish colours of the German Expressionists would clash with my view of this place; but it’s natural colours change significantly at different times of day and in different weather conditions, and so there’s plenty of scope for different interpretations.  Veils of pinks and golds in the evening; clear, solid colours when the air is dry; a light blue overall haze in humid conditions; moonlight.
  Monet, Leicester Square at Night
Wiki Art 

4.2.1 linear perspective

Here’s my final painting. 

I’ve demonstrated understanding of linear perspective, in a street scene that wends steeply downhill, and I’ve created a sense of receding space.  I’d have liked to show more perspective in the clouds, having them slope towards my vanishing point almost vertically, instead of making them almost horizontal.

I didn’t achieve the kind of loose washes and free line I was aiming for, getting distracted by a struggle with colour and tone. Each adjustment I made detracted from any loose quality there was.    It was tempting to start again, concentrating on line instead of colour and tonal contrast, as the exercise instructions told me to… but I decided not to, and did succeed in making some final changes for the better.  Perhaps part of learning is accepting not every exercise outcome will be a wholly positive one! 


Here’s what I did, my research, reflections, difficulties and decisions along the way :-

I decided to develop into a painting a collection of townscape sketches, photos and notes I made nearly two years ago.  The reference material shows the streets from many angles, zooms in on detail (street furniture, windows, chimneys), and describes the scenes and atmosphere quite extensively, so even though time has passed I’m still able to recall it vividly.


I chose the street scene with laundry to develop.  It demonstrates linear perspective having ample lines receding to two different vanishing points on a lowish horizon (I was sitting uphill); I also like the contrasts, light and shade and colours.

The course materials suggest using fluid paint washes to create a sense of indeterminate space, and then structuring this space with line;  using a stick dipped in paint for the line might be a way to avoid being over-fussy and tight.  I looked at Turner’s 1840 Venice watercolour sketches; he uses just this method, with loose washes given structure by quickly drawn line.

Some of Turner’s washes have hard edges corresponding to architectural lines

Others have washes dissolving into each other but roughly corresponding with areas of light and shade.

His palette is sky blue, silvery grey, umbers, ochres, siennas.  Shadows are deep umber and ultramarine, or a rich Indian red.  I notice also how Turner’s edges tend to dissolve more the further away they are, giving the illusion of distance.

So I planned to lay down some carefully considered,  pre-prepared coloured washes on a piece of thoroughly dampened watercolour paper.  I wanted to convey the deep shadows and strong lights, so I would need some quite dark mixes and defined edges for the cast shadows and the windows; mid tone shades for the road and the shadow side of buildings; and some delicate light washes for the sunlit building.  The sky would gradually lighten toward the horizon, from a mid tone to silvery-white!

But first I considered the format and composition.  I decided to go with landscape format (partly to vary my work more – I’ve done mostly portrait format paintings lately); but I felt a wider format than the photo (perhaps the golden mean) would be more satisfying, so I extended out each side.  Also the building glimpsed at the end of the street bars the eye from travelling into the distance; I decided to get rid of it, widen the gap, and add a vague suggestion of the street continuing to draw the viewers eye further into the picture plane.  All this was put together as an under drawing on my 40x65cm paper, using a grid to enlarge the photo.

Used mainly acrylic ‘ink’ I carefully washed the sky with pale greys and blues, and the building on the left with pale blues and mauves.  All the buildings are white in fact, so I didn’t want to go too dark. 


I mixed a ‘black’ with my three primaries and no water, and painted in the dark, hard-edged cast shadow in the foreground.

Eventually I realised that if the right hand buildings represented the lightest tone, followed by the sky, followed by the left hand buildings, the latter would have to be a lot darker.  I ditched my size 22 and went for a 5cm flat, mopped up the remaining dark mixes from my wells, and slapped them on top of the ‘carefully considered’ washes.  This is looking better!  Encouraged, I took a stick and ‘drew’ eaves and chimney details.


Now I needed to similarly darken the sky, with a brighter blue.  Looking again at my Turner references, my washes are too precise – ‘colouring in’ – I need to not be afraid of having some skips in the washes – the line to be added later will clarify the structures.


Uncannily, I’ve ended up with exactly the same dirty mauve and greenish puce colour scheme of my first exercise in Part 4, view from a window – how horrible!  I’m feeling quite dejected and wondering when I might start to make some paintings I actually like in Part 4.  Tomorrow I’ll stick the electric cables in, call it a day and move on to the next exercise.

Next morning I overcame my discouragement and made some quite major changes in my final session, for the better – see the final painting at the top of the post; I really darkened those left hand buildings, bravely with Indian red first, then blue-grey roughly on top, and finally scumbling a very light tint of blue on top of that.  I’m learning that it pays to be bold with tone; it’s easier to lighten an over-dark tone than to add tone in timid increments.   The sky was warmed with ultramarine, and the distance given less focus, lighter and more neutral tints.



Turner’s Venice by Lindsay Stainton, pub Book Club Associates, 1986

4.2.2 aerial perspective

Here is the final painting.  I’m moderately satisfied insofar as I managed to concentrate on employing the devices of aerial perspective and successfully achieved a sense of distance.  If I were to do it again I’d try harder to avoid detail, instead focussing on painting simpler areas of tone and colour – if I’d done that I might have ended up with a simpler but more effective painting.

I’m pleased with the progress I’ve made in using acrylics like oil paints with a medium and no water.  For the foreground I picked up generous amounts of paint, often two or more colours unmixed on the brush, and dabbed them on thickly, so the surface of the painting itself is textured.

The part I struggled with most was the area beyond the row of trees to the horizon, and getting a convincing gradation of tone, colour intensity and focus into the distance.



Selected a sketch from a year ago (below)  to work from for this exercise; a simple landscape, showing a high viewpoint looking down over a valley to distant hills.  The high horizon gives space in the picture to describe a vast distance.   It’s an open view, with interest in the foreground, middle ground and background, so should give me maximum opportunity to practise and demonstrate aerial perspective.

The sketch is monochrome ink wash;  I will use colour, as two of the aerial perspective  devices involve the controlled, subtle gradation of colour; one from saturated to muted shades; and the other from warm to cool colour temperature.  I did a colour version at the time of the sketch (see below) , but it wasn’t successful in using aerial perspective devices (mid ground colours too bright; hills too focused; distant colours not blue enough).  I’m hoping to do better this time.

At the outset I think all three devices need to be combined to achieve a dense of distance – if any background element is too focused, bright or warm-coloured it will tend to pop forward in the picture plane.

I had a closer look at Turner’s Modern Italy – The Pifferari.  His scene, like mine, has a high viewpoint looking out over a vast distance, and a high horizon.  I could see quite clearly how he uses all the devices of aerial perspective.  Also, I notice, his scene appears to recede in layers, with several distinct changes in the picture plane.  I think that also helps significantly to describe distance.  I’ll try to break my scene down into defined overlapping planes in my painting.

My support is a 40×50 cm board prepared with an all over bright blue, and my medium is acrylic paint.  I lightly painted a few lines denoting the horizon and three or four main elements, then using just Paynes Grey and white started on a monochrome under painting.  I soon found the task of subtly grading focus, tone and and colour saturation calls for more skill and concentration than I’d thought.

The painting below, View of the Thames, Charing Cross by Alfred Sisley shows just how subtle the variations must be, and makes my first efforts look coarse and clumsy.


With ultramarine and white paint, acrylic medium and a largish palette knife I trowelled in the sky, adding a tad of indigo and burnt sienna to describe the underneath of clouds, and a little process yellow along the horizon; I wiped in distant line of hills with a tint of ultramarine.  This establishes my lightest tone, and the most distant plane.

Next, the foreground scrub and large pine tree, representing the first ‘layer’ in the pictorial depth, must have the most contrast and focus, and the warmest and brightest  colours.  I used a size 24 flat brush to pick up mixes of indigo, burnt sienna, process yellow for highlights and white for opacity; dabbed these on thickly, creating the texture of rocky scrub and pine tree foliage.

At this stage (below) I feel I’m on to something good.  Lots of texture, contrast, warm colours in the foreground.  The middle ground as far as the row of trees quite warm but lacking some detail; beyond the trees gradually getting greyer, paper, cooler and out of focus.  There IS a sense of great distance, although there are still lots of anomalies, for example the middle distance beyond the row of trees all the way to the horizon needs to be much lighter in tone.

It seems with any of my painting 80% of the work is done in 20% of the time.  The relatively small changes thereafter can have a big impact on the final painting – for the better if I honestly reflect on my original aims, and look critically at the work so far.  The stages of this painting, all done with one aim in mind, to maximise the sense of distance using all the devices of aerial perspective, are shown in the gallery below, and the final version also at the top of the article.