Category Archives: 4.1 From inside looking out

4.1.1 view from a window or doorway

Here’s my final painting.  I spent much too long, and had too leave it at a stage I’m far from satisfied with.  However, I will go back into it at a later date;  there is an exercise Creating Mood and Atmosphere which suggests reworking an earlier painting – I could use this, either to create a bright, cheerful atmosphere, or the mysterious moonlit scene I glimpsed while photographing this painting at an earlier stage (see below).

Partly the reason I’m dissatisfied is the bareness of the room – I made my kitchen look as if we’ve moved out! I want to add a cup and sauce, a vase of flowers to the cupboard worktop, blinds above the window, brighten the left hand corner through the archway.  I would add a figure, but rather than have a tiny detail of a figure outside, lost in the background, now thinking of a figure sitting at the worktop looking out.  Or an empty chair.  It would be a more significant compositional element, and link inside to outside.

My other main objection is the dingy colour palette, which gives a gloomy atmosphere, not what I was trying to achieve.  When I rework I mainly want to introduce brighter colour, and create a less depressing atmosphere.



Before starting however,  I looked at paintings by the artists mentioned in the exercise brief, and made the following notes:-

Raoul Dufy – busy, vividly colourful, linear marks, lines, outlines), patterns, decorative.  The view takes up the majority of the composition & is the main focus – often the only bit of the interior is curtains or shutters.  The view generally cool & hot blues.  The interior generally rich, dark reds.

Gwen John – there is often a figure in a simple interior; the window is empty, filtering light into simple interiors of pale ochres and umbers.  Calm & restful.

Edward Hopper – there is nearly always a figure, and strong geometric patterns of light and shade, sharp detail, mute colours.  The focus is on the interior, telling a story;  the window blank or a simplified view. The window frame throws strong shadows on the interior, the light shining through the glass creates strong patches of light inside.


Reviewed my past sketchbook work with views from windows.  In Drawing 1, I did some colour studies; in all of them the window or door framework was the external edge of the composition.  All had too little aerial perspective – too little sense of distance.

This time I want to include some of the interior.  Most comfortable place with potential for interesting composition is kitchen.  Can sit to one side (using diagonal lines to create pictorial space) and include double door and window, together creating an interrupted panorama of the view (verandah, garden, mountain, sky).  Kitchen furniture in foreground.

Did some quick exploratory sketches, using a viewfinder:



Evident my viewpoint was going to be v important – standing meant too great an expanse of worktop and terrace, and v high horizon.  Sitting viewpoint yielded better composition, the view is now the focus rather than a blank floor.

Played with the idea of a seated figure outside – it adds interest and focus in the sketch – will decide at a later stage whether to include.  Ditto re the idea of a cup and saucer or vase of flowers in the foreground – can be decided later.

The big foreground table seemed to bar the viewer’s way to the verandah, so I made it smaller, the viewer can now ‘walk through’ the scene, there’s more openness.

Added simple tonal values to my sketch. Raining, so dark inside (but with soft light bouncing off a couple of places, and strong reflections of light from worktops); light outside.  Big value contrast between in and out.  Next morning sunny – checked out the effect of sunlight streaming in at sunrise.  Noted the light changed significantly within 15 minutes, so would need to paint between say 9 and 11am when lights slightly steadier but still creating interesting contrasts.  Light glaring off open door.  Top of railing, veranda floor, bright light.  All upward & SE facing edges highlighted.  Darkest dark underneath worktop & thru archway.

I discovered Carol Rabe’s interiors which have complex compositions, and are light and airy, with subtle pastel colourful greys, low key. Geometric shapes and the effect of light coming in.  There are no figures but their presence is felt.  Comfortable domestic mood and atmosphere.

Compared to:- 

Diebenkorn’s Views from windows and verandas painted as simplified geometric shapes of contrasting values, colour temperature etc. Colours vivid Mediterranean climate hues. High key, deep contrasts.  Our light is softer, colours less saturated because of the extensive forests for miles around.  He gives detailed attention to surface texture and reflected light.  Eg white tabletop, book, saucer appear deep blue from reflection of sky.  Figures are blocks of shape too, occupying around half the vertical axis of the support.   


I now spotted that my sketch is a composition of two halves – I need to rethink this.  My solution is to add width to the format – think about the golden proportion.


My Format 35×50 cm canvas (pre prepared, mid tone blue under painting) – see if I can paint small scale but still keep a spontaneous effect (as opposed to my kitchen interior for earlier exercise, which was wooden).  Transferred drawing by grid, made tracing for reference (security blanket).

Decided to set myself an additional challenge – use acrylics with extender medium and no water – more like oils, should stay workable longer.  Have looked at videos of the technique.  Up till now have always used water as medium, often copiously like watercolour wash.  Will use a range of flat brushes, and a cool pallete limited to lemon yellow, crimson, cobalt blue and zinc white – also a challenge – as will be painting in the kitchen.  I want to get to know my pigments better.  See colour mixing and tryouts with extender in worksheet below.


Zinc white is too transparent – I want vibrant solid blocks of colour with definite shifts of tone so switching to Titanium white.

By the end of two 2 hour painting sessions I was finding it a tricky technique to get to grips with, it’s a completely different way of handling acrylic for me.  Seems to require a lot more paint, I’m not using enough and quickly running out of mixes.  Finding it difficult to gauge tonal values of my mixes, they look quite a bit lighter on the palette than when dry on the canvas.  Result at this stage is that my tonal values are all over the place!  Outside should be bright light, inside relatively dark.



Blues are exaggerated as photo above taken indoors.  I like this – it could be night, outside bathed in moonlight (note for future painting?) but it’s not the sunny morning light I’m after, so I’m going to persevere.  Next stage lighten outside; correct the perspective lines of the foreground cupboard.



More like it! (but it’s taking too long, I’m getting way behind my schedule, and I’m running out of steam on this.  Made some more minor changes (see final painting at top of blog article) and decided to leave it there and reappraise / rework at a later date. 





4.1.2 hard or soft landscape

 Here’s my final painting.  It’s very different in character to the last exercise – done with a palette knife and generous with the paint, it’s much freer and more expressive.

Final painting 



What went right?

  • The colours I chose were in largish tubes, and I was much less inhibited about using a quantity of paint than I was in the previous exercise, where my tubes were the small variety.
  • It was most important to simplify and eliminate some detail.  The composition at the halfway stage looked open and inviting with the area of light in the middle – if I’d emphasised  the wrought iron fencing and other foreground elements it would have become too busy and confusing.
  • Varying the mode of paint application (smooth archway and sky, dragged dry paint, dabbed wet paint etc) – it gives the painting life and rhythm.  
  • I’ve achieved my aim of depicting a bright and sunny view.

What could I have done differently?

  • More preparatory studies – eg colour alternatives.  I felt under time pressure so just did one quick sketch plus a small colour one and an iPad tryout halfway through the painting), but it would save time in the long run to work out colours on a small scale quickly in my sketchbook before starting to paint, instead of redoing areas of the full scale painting several times.
  • I would have started with palette knives – I find this more enjoyable, I get involved with the physical feel of the paint more, I’m less afraid of ‘going wrong’, than when I’m laboriously making several small, thin glazes.
  • Not sure I like the smooth texture of the vellum mixed media paper.  To compensate, I could have gessoed some texture within the archway before starting, leaving the surround smooth.

What did I learn?

  • To get involved more with the physical stuff of the paint, be generous not stingy with it.
  • Colour mixing with my three colours
  • Palette knife painting is faster and more expressive than brushes for me, and takes some of the fear away

What did I do?

This is a most familiar view .. the view I see each time I arrive home.  Through an archway which frames the garden.  It’s winter, bright, cold, blustery weather,  there’s an old fig tree, bare now and forming striking patterns with its branches.

I took several photographs; zoomed in and out;  looking up to the sky above, through pine branches; the fig tree closer in; looking down at the floor showing its colours and reflections.

I made a quick study with charcoal pencil, and jotted down some notes in my sketchbook describing the weather, the light, colours and contrasts.

image   image

There are hard and soft elements… my study with its ambiguous (ie wrong!) perspective lines, the chequered floor, the sculptural look of the trees, side-lit in the low midday sun; reminded me of a Paul Nash landscape, where things are never quite recognisable.

 Paul Nash, Landscape of the Moon’s First Quarter


The archway itself frames the view; I’ll decide later how to crop the painting, either leaving the arch sharply delineated (maybe using masking tape) as part of the composition; or cropping it out of the composition.


Using A2 mixed media smooth gessoed paper I drew major lines showing the line of background hills; then archway, fence, path, terrace and stairs in perspective (my viewpoint was to the right side of the arch); then mapped in the three trees. I laid down a mid tone shade around the archway.

My plan was to use just three colours again – this time process cyan, process yellow, process magenta, and white, with Amsterdam acrylic retarder as medium (no water – continuing to get experience in using acrylics like oil paint not watercolour).

I started painting the view with paintbrushes; soon found they were slowing me down and pulling me towards lifeless detail, so ditched them in favour of palette knife. This was a good decision – with less control over detail, and the tendency with a knife to pick up more paint, I painted faster, and more broadly, at arms length.  I was bolder with colour and tone.  The knife created interesting textures dragged across and pressed on/lifted off the paper.  Parts of the painting are almost impasto, parts are flat but all within the archway has texture one way or another – no smoothing out or blending; some of my colour mixing was done on the paper; sometimes I picked up 2 or 3 unmixed colours at once with the knife and dabbed repeatedly to create an impasto optical mix – for example the pine tree foliage at the top of the view.

The focus is the fig tree, and it’s curved, whippy, bare winter branches.  The strong, low midday sun created strong tonal contrast, which I used to help draw the eye.  I played down the chequered floor and railings in the foreground so the eye could travel through to the fig tree and the view and explore there.

I used a ruler as a guide when painting straight lines.

Work in progress gallery: