Exercise: Working from a Photograph


Exercise: Working from a Photograph

Choose a landscape photo with plenty of space and either tall trees in the middle ground or hills or mountains in the background… When you’ve decided on your photo, look at it critically to decide how you might interpret it.

Source photo Looking over Blashford Lakes

Source photo
Looking over Blashford Lakes

This is one of my favourite views from a dog walking route over Ibsley Common in the New Forest. I only have the photo digitally and not in print, so sketched out the main photographic composition in my sketchbook to work on my painting composition.

Sketched reproduction of the source photo with compositional options and notes. A4 Sketchbook

Sketched reproduction of the source photo with compositional options and notes.
A4 Sketchbook


Putting coloured frames around parts of the whole sketch/photo helped me decide which composition would be the most interesting.






Composition scaled up and main shapes marked in.

Composition scaled up and main shapes marked in.



Once the composition was decided upon, I scaled it up and drew out the main shapes in a fresh sketch.






Tonal sketch of chosen composition.

Tonal sketch of chosen composition.


Next, the drawing was repeated and simplified tone added to assist with the actual painting.






I decided to use a pastel and watercolour combination on thick cartridge paper. I used a base of soft pastel as an under-painting. I have struggled with working loosely in this section of the course for some reason, so this method is more tactile and more intuitive for me.  I worked the pastel into the paper to try to cover all of the whiteness.  Working in the darks quickly and strongly, using black in the foreground just to get the depth, then using different dark colours, such as purples, reds and browns to give a richness in the shadows. The minimal use of green seems to be helping me, as the autumnal colours are rich and bright, using sienna, yellows and oranges have lifted the whole feeling of the painting. It was important to keep the sky lively too to balance the strength in the middle and foreground. Once the under-painting was done, I tried to avoid overly blending the pastel and kept the marks visible although less so in the background. To assist with subtle branches I used a damp brush to pull the pastel through the trees.

Once the bulk of the pastel work was done, watercolour was added to intensify some darks in the middle and foreground. The birch trees were added with a rigger brush and Naples yellow and sepia. I used the trees in the garden as reference, especially to see the hanging down of the end twigs and remaining leaves, these were added to the painting with a smudge of mixed tones of pastel. Before using the watercolour, the pastel was fixed and each subsequent application was also fixed.

At this point I stood back and assessed what else needed doing. The sky needed bringing up to same level as the foreground, so I built more shadow beneath the clouds. To enliven the painting even more, I splattered watercolour over the foreground shadows after masking off the other areas with a large sheet of paper. I also referred to the last work-in-progress photo and noticed it was more intense in colour than the actual painting.  This is a comment my tutor has made several times, in that the photo works better, therefore, I added more lights and darks to bring it up to intensity level of the photo. Unfortunately, by this time, the light was fading and the final photograph is a little grainy but gives an impression of the finished painting. If time, I may re-take it and post.

Working from a Photograph Exercise. Pastel and Watercolour on cartridge paper. 57 x 39cm

Working from a Photograph Exercise.
Pastel and Watercolour on cartridge paper.
57 x 39cm

When you’ve finished, look at both the painting and the reference photograph.

In what ways did you depart from the photo?
I zoomed into a specific focus in the photograph and have tried to walk the line between representational and abstract.

Why did you make that choice?
I had been struggling with most of the landscape exercises, with a combination of colours, media and composition failing me. I have previously made landscape paintings with pastel that have had a higher success rate, they seem to make me feel freer in the execution of the painting.

Did you produce a painting that satisfied you, or were you overly influenced by the photo?
Funnily enough, when I came back for the second session of painting, I couldn’t access the digital photo for a couple of hours and had to work only from memory and my drawings. This was useful for tonal representation, although, when I could use it again, the photo was useful for colours. As I progressed I used the photo less and less and I like the interpretation that resulted.

Exercise: Painting from a Working Drawing

24, 26 & 28/11/15

Exercise: Painting from a Working Drawing

Choose a subject that you’re already familiar with, such as a corner of a room in your own home, or objects on a table by a window, and make three drawings:

  • a linear study, concentrating on the main shapes
  • a tonal study
  • a colour study

…You’ll find it easier  to use the same medium for this study as you will for the final painting as all media behave differently.

I decided to use the corner of the lounge, with both the wall lights and standard lamp on.  It was afternoon, however, as usual for this November, it’s overcast and light levels are low.  Using pencil for the linear drawing to try to keep the shapes clean and clear, I also used pencil for the main shapes then using pen for the tonal drawing. I found the pen useful for describing tone as it was small (around A6) in scale and the pen would not smudge and blur the image.

Pencil linear and pen tonal drawing A6 in A4 sketchbook

Pencil linear and pen tonal drawing
A6 in A4 sketchbook


I made a fundamental error with these sketches as they were made on the right hand page of my sketchbook. This prevented me having these and my colour study viewable together whilst making the final painting. To get over this I cut out the page and turned it over to be the left had page and stuck it back in my book. Now all three can be used as reference at the same time!



Colour study Pen and watercolour A6 in A4 sketchbook

Colour study
Pen and watercolour
A6 in A4 sketchbook


For the colour study, I stuck to using the pen to draw out the shapes and watercolour to add colour and tone. For this I used student quality pan colours although, I used artist quality tube colour for the actual painting. Again, as I did for the working outside exercise, I sorted out my colours first.





I did not use all of the colours I thought, ie Naples Yellow, Viridian nor Raw Umber, however, having the palette loaded and ready, made it simpler and quicker to paint. I also drew out the main shapes lightly in pencil and resisted the urge to use pen to “tidy” up, it also allowed me to draw with the paint itself.

Painting from a Working Drawing Watercolour on watercolour paper A4 on A3 paper

Painting from a Working Drawing
Watercolour on watercolour paper A4 on A3 paper

  • Did your sketches provide enough information for you to do your painting? If not, what else should you have included? I felt confident with the information in front of me, of course, I am very familiar with the subject so that helped too.  I found the tonal drawing the most useful although, the colour study helped to lay out my palette.
  • Did you find that being away from the subject gave you more freedom to develop your painting style? In what way? To be honest, the subject itself didn’t really inspire me into “freedom”, although, the light and shadows are always interesting to me and I enjoyed trying to show the light coming through the lamp shade and the shadows of the plant leaves. I enjoyed drawing with the paint and using wet in wet technique to achieve the tones.
  • What is your opinion of the finished painting? In the main I think it’s worked although I had to work hard at getting the darks as dark as I did. I don’t love it and I don’t hate it but I think it was good practice to have gone through the process and will be invaluable in future projects.


Exercise: Creating Mood and Atmosphere

10-13 & 17-18/11/15

Exercise: Creating Mood & Atmosphere

For this exercise, either create a completely new painting that evokes a powerful atmosphere of some kind or re-work one of your earlier paintings. First identify clearly what you’re trying to achieve… However you choose to approach this exercise, make extensive notes about the techniques you’ve adopted to achieve your stated aim. When you’ve finished, reflect on the success of your completed work.

Original sketch from Drawing 1 Pencil A6 in skechbook

Original sketch from Drawing 1
Pencil A6 in sketchbook



Looking at previous paintings I wasn’t particularly inspired, however, I also looked back through my old sketchbooks for ideas. I came across the Sketchbook Walk exercise in Drawing 1 where I had made several sketches of style separating two fields and hedgerows. I like the overhanging trees and various angles of the style. I tried to decide between two different views and tried a couple of watercolour sketches in my sketchbook.



Preliminary watercolour sketch View 1 A5 in sketchbook

Preliminary watercolour sketch
View 1
A5 in sketchbook


This view is interesting but did not evoke any mood to speak of within my mind.

Notes for prelim sketch 1 View 1

Notes for prelim sketch 1
View 1











Watercolour sketch View 2 A5 in sketchbook

Watercolour sketch
View 2
A5 in sketchbook

I  was fairly certain that I would use view 2, however, I wasn’t sure what mood I wanted to illustrate. The original sketch was made in the summer with the trees in full leaf. I was keen to change the season to autumn yet that wasn’t enough of an atmosphere. Whilst pondering, I had the radio on, and as it was Armistice Day coming up to 11am, the two-minute silence began. Whist thinking in that quiet moment of how life would have been in the World War 1 trenches looking at the drawing, it struck me how I could make the foreground dark, wet and miserable reminiscent of the trenches. The style and fence could be symbolic of the obstacles in the way of a peaceful future and the distance could be brighter and light to show hope. Notes next to sketch indicate my thoughts at the time. I began to add the colours that I thought might aid this idea into the watercolour sketch.

Tonal and compositional sketches View 2 A5 in sketchbook

Tonal and compositional sketches
View 2
A5 in sketchbook



I felt I needed to work out the tones further and wasn’t happy with the horizontal lines so tried to add more diagonals to give more interest.






From my research into expressive landscapes, I was very enthusiastic about this exercise. I was particularly taken with the Paul Nash and Graham Sutherland paintings for their shapes and colours, bordering on the abstract at times – and also Emil Nolde’s work for its expressive colour that was allowed to flow and create wonderful effects. I could see how these influences could be incorporated into my painting. As noted in my sketchbook, I wasn’t feeling that oils were the right medium for my purpose. I had bought a watercolour ground that is painted onto a support and makes it react in a similar way to watercolour paper. I was hoping to incorporate texture with wet in wet watercolour to evoke the atmosphere. Below are the stages taken to try to achieve my vision:


It was going so well until the details were added. Up to and including picture 5 in the gallery, the painting was full of atmosphere, albeit not quite the one I was aiming for. I kept going with adding a few objects and details with watercolour and at this point it may have been rescued, however, adding oil pastel at this stage killed not only the painting but my enthusiasm also. I over did the pastel and attempted to wash it out with thinners, this just muddied the whole thing and I left everything and came away. The choice of oil pastel was made to work into the watercolour and avoid the necessity for fixing, this proved to be a mistake. The next day, I decided to try again and prepared a fresh support, without the textured acrylic this time – this had made the watercolour pool in an unattractive way the first time round. I had to wait for the ground to cure for at least 24 hours so had intended to start the next day – I was very disillusioned and despondent so didn’t feel creative for a few days. Three days later I was back. Plan B, was to continue with watercolour but to change to soft pastel, a more appropriate pairing of media.  Trying hard to create the atmosphere I had planned I spent a couple of days working on the second painting below.

Creating Mood and Atmosphere 11th Hour 11th Day 11th Month Watercolour and pastel canvas board 60x40cm

Creating Mood and Atmosphere
11th Hour 11th Day 11th Month
Watercolour and pastel canvas board 60x40cm

Again, the colour in the photograph is not closely representational of the actual painting. My tutor has often commented that the photographs are more successful colour-wise than the paintings. With this one, I initially thought this too, however, after looking at the photo for sometime and then glancing up at the painting, I changed my mind. The camera on my iPad seems to enhance blues in particular, which I must be aware of until I can source a better camera.

When you’ve finished, reflect on the success of your completed work.

  • Generally, I think the composition is a little empty – I tried to address this by making more of the middle distance.
  • I think the combination of media worked better than the first attempt.
  • I am happy with parts of the painting ie the puddles, the overhanging branches.
  • I am not convinced that the mood is successful – it’s partly there but would need explaining, which in itself is a fail.
  • To me, it’s not a wow and maybe the size and scale of the support was the wrong choice.
  • A lot of effort but minimal progress.
  • Wish I could have stopped at the fifth photo of the gallery but that did not fit the mood intended.
  • Lots of hard lessons.


Exercise: Linear Perspective


Exercise: Linear Perspective

Now find a location in which there are hard landscape elements… Or you could find a location inside a large public space, such as a railway station or shopping mall, or work from a bench in the street… Note the outlines of buildings, roofing and guttering that can be represented as lines receding to achieve linear perspective… In this exercise, the use of line by drawing with a brush or a drawing medium will be more important than your use of colour and tonal contrast.

Linear perspective. Sketch onsite using liner pens. A5 drawing in A4 sketchbook.

Linear perspective.
Sketch on site using liner pens.
A5 drawing in A4 sketchbook.

Again the weather was against me, incessant rain and windy conditions prohibited me from sitting outside to draw. Instead I sat in the car after choosing a parking space on the side of road giving me a view down the street.  Other cars were coming and going all the time so I firstly concentrated on the roof line I could see. From the Drawing 1 course, I was aware that I should establish the eye level first in order to visualise the linear perspective lines. Unfortunately, I had to have three goes at this before I got it right. By coincidence, I had received my copy of Artists & Illustrators magazine, (November issue I believe), where there was an article on perspective. I remembered the advice given, that if you hold a piece of card level with your pupils and hold it flat so that all you see is a straight line, the corresponding point in your view is the eye level.  Once I used this technique, I was away. I had decided to use pen to avoid erasing lines of the actual drawing, although, I found it useful to draw perspective lines in pencil using a ruler as a guide. Once I was happy with the roof line and general direction of the street, I sketched in the cars parked along the road in front of me to further assist the perspective.

My initial intention was to make a preliminary sketch and then make a painting using Sharpie pen and watercolour on site.  However, my car battery had other ideas as it disliked my having the windscreen wipers on whilst the engine was off and slowly died a death, resulting in my having to wait for the breakdown guys to bring a new one! My enthusiasm for painting died with it! Before leaving, I took a quick reference photo for colour and placement comparisons to go with my drawing to enable me to make the painting at home.

Linear perspective. Painting using Sharpie marker pen and watercolour. A3 paper.

Linear perspective.
Painting using Sharpie marker pen and watercolour.
A3 paper.

Review your finished painting and make notes in your learning log. Have you been successful in creating a sense of receding space? Is there any part of your painting that doesn’t work as well as the rest? What could you do you put this right?

  • I think there is a sense of receding space due to the diminishing scale of the buildings and cars as they go away to the background.
  • Looking at the pavement on the right, it gives a sense of going uphill rather than flat and going round the corner. The drawing of the front car is not accurate enough compared to the sketch, I have tried to rectify this to some extent but not enough. The corner building in the distance with the triple aspect roof was particularly challenging especially as I hadn’t made my drawing quite clear enough to reproduce away from the view.
  • To put this right, I could have made more of the kerb of the pavement by indicating the kerb-stones (they being another set of parallel lines). The paving was cobbled not slabs so more tricky to show as they may have become overly detailed. Had the drawing of the car been more accurate (widening of the windscreen and making it less tall), the foreground would have been a better scale to show the illusion of items closer being bigger etc.
  • I’m convinced that, had I stayed in situ and made the painting, it would have been more successful.

Other than these things, the general feeling is of a street receding into the distance and my husband recognised immediately the place from where I had been drawing. I also enjoyed the looseness of the watercolour painting.

Dynamic Landscapes – Workshop with Lynda Appleby


Dynamic Landscapes with Lynda Appleby (http://www.lyndaappleby.co.uk)

As a member of a small art group that meet on Fridays (I attend when I can), we sometimes arrange demonstrators/tutors to give workshops.  We were asked to bring our usual materials, be it acrylic, oil or watercolour, an A3 or A4 sketch book, pencils and a prepared support of A3 size with the intention of working up to A4 for the painting.  Lynda was to bring reference photos,

Unsure of what to expect, particularly as we were to work from photographs, I set up my workspace

Tonal Thumbnails and Exercise in Preparation for Painting. As working upside down, the first sketch is at the bottom of the page.

Tonal Thumbnails and Exercise in Preparation for Painting.
As working upside down, the first sketch is at the bottom of the page.

for using watercolour (I use all sorts of media so didn’t really have a preference) and sat down with an open mind. Using a photograph taped to her board upside down, Lynda demonstrated a tonal thumbnail in pencil, concentrating on the horizon line not being central, the main shapes and tones of the image.  Drawing from the upside down image concentrated the eye on these things rather than specifics of trees, hedgerows and fields etc.  I had used this method before for portraits from photographs and it is very effective.  Lynda made a couple more thumbnails and then it was our turn. We had 3 photos each to choose from and as I wanted to do something different to Lynda’s demonstration I chose a fairly complex photograph and even though I was working upside down, I still got too bogged down in details!  Lynda suggested a little sub exercise of grading tonal pencil marks to help focus – this helped and the thumbnail drawings improved.  A lesson to remember to warm up first!

We then listened to Lynda explain a little about colour mixing.  I must admit, I was very interested in this as, although I have learnt some basic mixes that I can repeat, I tend to employ a pick and mix method.  Should I need to repeat a specific mix, I’m not sure I could.  Lynda explained that while at college, they had spent a full 4 weeks exploring colour, we would barely touch the surface in 20 minutes!  I knew the theory that any colour may be created from the primaries but lack the skills to even begin.  As we were painting landscapes, we concentrated on these colour palettes.  We explored the:

  • Warmth and coolness of colours – looking at the seasons in the countryside, it is logical to use cooler mixes for winter and warmer for summer. Now, I can’t remember which way
    Attempt at creating a colour mix chart of cool and warm primaries.

    Attempt at creating a colour mix chart of cool and warm primaries. I was a little confused at first, even then I was surprised at the variety of colour. It will be worth working through my paints and creating more charts.

    round Lynda suggested, however, thinking about Autumn and Spring for myself, I would tend to have warmer, richer colours for Autumn leaves and cooler, fresher colours for Spring – I suppose there are no set rules but a balance is desirable.

  • For a limited palette it was suggested that we could use a warm and a cool of each of the primaries, plus a white, if using oil or acrylic.
  • Landscape colours in a painting are often muted with some flashes of brightness – to achieve neutrals, mix a strong pigment with its opposite on the colour wheel.  We were shown (using watercolour) how to make a chart of our paint colours, adding parts of the complimentary colour in greater strengths to create varying tones and colours.  For example, when Lynda used a very vibrant Opera Pink and added some blue/green, a multitude of muted “heather” colours was created. A very valuable lesson.
  • Having always taken the simplistic view that with aerial perspective, distant colours are lighter and muted and close-up are darker and brighter in a well balanced painting, it was suggested that some distant objects are in fact quite dark.  The main difference is the contrast, distant objects do not have the distinct contrast of tone that nearby objects have. This helped me where the”greyer” areas leave me undecided whether to go light or darker.
  • Once a colour is mixed, then to lighten in tone, add white for oil or acrylics, or more water for watercolours.

After lunch, we put our preparation to the test.  Using only my sketch and (not overly successful) colour mixing chart, I painted the simpler ploughed field image.  I marked out minimal shapes, mainly the horizon line in pencil then continued just in paint. We all worked in either watercolour or acrylic and surprisingly, the acrylic painters appeared to have a more challenging time because of adding the white to vary tone as well as mixing the colour.  They are all experienced in using acrylic and my theory is, as I found too when attempting the colour chart, that after working intuitively (or guessing), when a theory is put to the test, the brain goes into panic and confidence is lost.  However, I have experienced this many times with the Drawing Skills and now the Practice of Painting courses, that I have faith that the more it’s practised the more natural it becomes.

Not quite finished approx A5 watercolour from thumbnail sketch.

Not quite finished approx A5 watercolour from thumbnail sketch.

At the end of the day, we had a group critique and it was evident that we all found this a very useful day.  My main point to work at, was to increase the contrast in the foreground, maybe a few splatterings of brights and lights.  I have kept my masking tape border in place, so that I may finish it as some point.  For me, it was great to have instant feedback although I am happy to work alone and learn at a distance, it was a nice and rewarding change.


Assignment 5 Drawing Outdoors – Media Experimentation and Selection

17 & 18/11/14

Assignment 5 Drawing Outdoors – Media Experimentation and Selection

In my mind I wanted to use water based media to produce washes particularly with wet in wet effects. The following experiments were mainly focussed on the woodland in the middle ground of my composition and which colours to use for what.  I was also keen to try out salt effects both with sea salt and table salt to disperse the ink and watercolour to produce texture. I’ve taken some work in progress photos to show how the layers were built up.

Colour media experiments with notes

Colour media experiments with notes

A mixture of watercolour, acrylic ink and oil pastels.

Sketchbook page showing the colours I intended to use following the colour studies. Also, the adding texture with screwed up tissue and hand-made paper,
A mixture of watercolour, acrylic ink and oil pastels.


From the above studies and playing around with colours and media, I made a rough plan in my sketch book of the colours of ink and watercolour I wanted to use.  I had seen some mixed media work using tissue paper as a textured base so thought I’d try this, plus I had some hand-made paper that was very absorbent and frayed freely at a torn edge. Texture is a key part of this drawing so I also wanted to try using salt  sprinkled onto wet media and see how it reacted, I used large grain sea salt and fine grain table salt.  I imagined that the larger grain would be useful to describe the moss on the

Further experimentation with textures using: Oil pastel as a resist Salt to diffuse pigment Hand-made paper to use wet in wet pigment.

Further experimentation with textures using:
Oil pastel as a resist
Salt to diffuse pigment
Hand-made paper to use wet in wet pigment.

concrete and the finer grain would give a diffused effect to show rough texture.  I could, of course,

have used rough watercolour paper to show this, However, I made a conscious decision to use smooth hot pressed paper as I can add roughness but not take it away and be more selective in where this was done.