Project: Working on Different Coloured Grounds – Exercise: Tonal Study on a Dark Ground

25/02/15

Tonal Study on a Dark Ground

Prepare a dark ground in advance… You could choose a much darker tone of the same colour that you used for the last ground, or experiment by working on a different ground colour, for example a deep blue.

Tonal Study on a Dark Ground Acrylic on Board - A3

Tonal Study on a Dark Ground
Acrylic on Board – A3

After my research into chiaroscuro, I was keen to try this and decided to stick with neat Paynes Grey for my ground colour.  The reason for this was, to compare the previous exercise (Tonal Study on a White Ground) with this one like for like.  Again, I wish I had taken work in progress photos to record the process.  I used the same set up as before, although the hand-cream tube may be slightly different in position because I keep using it and forgetting to put it back!  The directional light from the lamp should be very similar to before, however, the secondary light from the window was dull and I started this study later in the afternoon so it got even more so as I worked on.  This exaggerated the lamp light so there was more contrast in tones.

Using a 1″ flat brush I marked out the mid tones roughly, initially allowing the darkest darks to remain as the ground colour. Again I left my lightest lights right to the end and used varying tones to sculpt the shapes both positive and negative.  As I refined my drawing I needed to reinstate some darks here and there.  It also became clear that most of the cast shadows had subtle nuances within them and some were really quite light,  When I was happy with the drawing and everything bar the sharp highlights, I looked carefully for the very brightest, lightest lights, of which there were not as many as I first thought.  These were added with neat white paint. That done I mixed a really light tone but not neat white and added the secondary highlights. Most of the blocking in was made with the 1″ flat, slightly more structure with 3/4″ and 1/2″ flats and the white highlights with a size 2 round. Much happier with the drawing and scale this time!

Consider ways in which you could exploit these effects of extreme contrast in future paintings,

I often work on coloured grounds, although, usually plump for a mid tone.  Using the extreme dark was great fun and really focussed my eye on all shapes, positive, negative, subject and cast shadow. Also, working in negative and positive colour-ways, really allows you to sculpt the objects without worrying too much about the blank, white space you have to fill.  I think this is useful for both simple still life subjects, such as this, to make you see the interest that everything has when light is used to model shapes, all shadows are not dark, all highlights are not brilliant.  Also, when encountering a more complex subject e.g. a full interior, it simplifies the scene by taking it right down to the basic light, mid and dark tones before detail is needed, if indeed it really is.  The use in portraiture is evident when viewing  Rembrandt’s work, it throws attention on the focal point of the face and sculpts its planes and hollows. This technique adds drama and interest, even in a simple still life or as in Edward Hopper’s Rooms by the Sea or Morning Sun, cast shadows on a plain wall.

Rooms by the Sea 1951 Edward Hopper 1882-1967

Rooms by the Sea 1951
Edward Hopper 1882-1967

Morning Sun 1952 Edward Hopper 1882 - 1967

Morning Sun 1952
Edward Hopper 1882 – 1967

 

 

 

 

 

 

Set out all your tonal studies alongside one another and assess how well each of them has succeeded in modelling light and rendering tonal values. Which effects appeal to you most?

Working left to right my assessment of how well each of these studies has succeeded in modelling light:

  1. Each object has been modelled with tonal contrast, however, apart from the one large cast shadow, there is no sense of place and not a lot of difference between areas in direct light and those in reflective light.
  2. This is beginning to work although the composition itself does not exploit the tone and the form is a little lost on the sugar bowl.
  3. This one is the most successful pencil drawing and is the composition chosen for its interest and tonal contrast to develop.  It’s a quick rendition but effective in showing form and placement, although the darks are nowhere near dark enough.
  4. The charcoal is much more effective at gradations of tone and the darks are more solid, with the mid-tones having more subtlety. This also helped in selecting the composition to develop as it was nearer to the variety of tone that could be created with paint.
  5. This study again proves the versatility of the charcoal in what, is still, a quick study. Lifting out the sharper highlights with a hard rubber and layering the darkest darks gives a more dynamic image.
  6. The first painting of the study on a white ground is even more successful than the charcoal and I was pleased with the tonal variations. The realisation again and again that tones rely on the those adjacent and not to be viewed in isolation was evident through the painting process.
  7. The second painting on a very dark ground proved to be a little mind bending at first as I had to work in reverse or negative to begin with. However, this really worked and made me see the gradation in tone not only on the objects in front of me but within my own painting too. Working this way round made my lightest lights really zing, whereas they became a little lost on the previous study. It proved to me that with a white ground, you really have to work harder at the darks to show lightest lights.

It is probably obvious from the above that the effect that appealed to me most is working on a dark ground.  When working on your darkest tone, there is only one way to go, and yet there are many different shades of tone between the extremes.

Technical Difficulties Encountered:

  • Pencil studies are fine for initial workings and preliminary drawings for establishing dark, mid and light tones but subtlety of tones can easily be lost unless it is a full drawing and time is spent with differing grades of pencil.
  • Both charcoal and pencil can be smudged, which is great when it’s deliberate but can be frustrating if not.
  • Working on a white ground provides luminosity, however, it can be difficult to go really dark and therefore, achieve the lightest highlights.

 

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Project: Working on Different Coloured Grounds – Exercise: Tonal Study on White Ground

11/02/15

Tonal Study on White Ground – Pencil Studies 1, 2 & 3

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

Tonal Study on white ground - pencil 1

Tonal Study on white ground – pencil 1

 

Using my A4 sketchbook, I drew out an A5 frame in landscape orientation for my first study.  Lamp was angled with light coming from the left, with a secondary light source from the window in front of me slightly from the right. Notes next to drawing.

 

 

 

 

Tonal Study on white ground - pencil 2

Tonal Study on white ground – pencil 2

 

 

Again in A4 sketchbook with an A5 frame, this time in portrait orientation. Light sources as before.
Observation notes next to drawing.

 

 

 

 

13/02/15

Tonal Study on white ground - pencil 3

Tonal Study on white ground – pencil 3

 

A5 study in A4 sketchbook again.  The light was different to previous occasion:  lamp angled from left as before, window light very dull, overhead spots similar to daylight but pointing straight down. Observation notes next to drawing.

 

 

 

As a result of these preliminary studies I intended to select the most successful to create an A3 charcoal, tonal drawing.  Discounting the landscape study, I could not decide between the two portrait studies, so scaled up and converted both to A3 and charcoal.

19/02/15

Tonal Study on White Ground – Charcoal Studies 1 & 2

Tonal Study on white ground - charcoal 1

Tonal Study on white ground – charcoal 1

 

Using an A3 sketchbook, charcoal and a hard, plastic rubber.

Working from the sketch to place the objects and then from life to describe the tone.  I tried to work quickly and kept squinting to see the tonal changes.

 

 

 

 

 

Tonal Study on white ground - charcoal 2

Tonal Study on white ground – charcoal 2

 

Using an A3 sketchbook, charcoal and a hard, plastic rubber.

Working from the sketch to place the objects and then from life to describe the tone.  I tried to work quickly and kept squinting to see the tonal changes. This study proved, working in a larger scale, to be less interesting in composition than the first study. This has less complex shadows and therefore less tonal variance than the first.

 

 

 

From the first charcoal study it became clear to me that this was the version I wanted to take forward as a painting, however, it was still valuable to make the second, in order to have more practice at looking and reproducing tonal shapes and changes.

Tonal Study on White Ground – Acrylic on Canvas Board A3

Tonal Study on white ground - Acrylic on Canvas Board

Tonal Study on white ground – Acrylic on Canvas Board

I used Paynes Grey and Titanium White acrylic and pre-mixed graded tones from dark to light on my palette.  Brushes used were flats 3/4″ and 1/4″, working mainly with the larger, until near the end.  Main shapes were blocked in with a mid tone, darkest darks and graded tones next, leaving the lightest lights until the very end.  It was interesting to note that all the tones were relevant to those immediately adjacent.  For example, the wall behind the curve beneath the lip of the vase was a similar tone when viewed in isolation.  However, to make the vase appear three-dimensional, it was necessary to have a lighter tone to its right than that to its left.  There are many counter changes of  tone that have to be made to bring objects forward and conversely send them back.  The lightest lights, ie pure white were very sparingly used and only for the lightest highlights.  This was great fun and a valuable lesson.  Note: The sugar bowl to the left has grown in size so I need to ensure all aspects are considered in future.