Assignment 1- What Paint Can Do




June 2011

Just a preamble…….

I am finding it quite difficult to get into the Painting Course and to feel the same involvement which I felt when I came to the end of the Drawing course. There may be several reasons for this:

1. I am surprised at how personal my sketch books and log book had become to me and, with these sent off for assessment, I feel to be without my ‘tools’ – in unfamiliar territory… a bit like spending time in a hotel room as opposed to being in your own home with familiar things around…takes some adjustment!

2. I was ‘pushed’ hard in the drawing course by the tutor and went from drawing simply what was in front of me to searching for a personal visual language. I don’t want to lose the involvement I felt then but accepting that I need to go back to the learning of skills in painting.  The tutor’s last words to me were, ”Don’t rest on your laurels!” So I want to be able to continue this struggle for a language of my own as I go into a new and unfamiliar medium.

3. Even though I completely accept that the external assessment is not a factor in my studies, I can’t help having a feeling of things being ‘on hold’.


Up until now it has always been the pencil which I’ve loved to work with and in the Drawing I course, I found equal satisfaction in using pastels, coloured pencil and pen…  dry medium! This is my ‘comfort zone’!  

Venturing tentatively into acrylics is taking me back to square 1 again – not comfortable!

However I am aware that all of these ‘reasons’ which I am giving myself  can actually be reduced down to the simple fact that I am starting something new!  I know that I shall enjoy this course ….love a challenge and am excited by new ideas. So, here goes…….!

Part 1: What paint can do

Getting to know your brushes

Enjoyed the mark making exercises… just as I found this section of the Drawing Course invaluable.  At first it seems that the play element of mark making can easily reduce it to the trivial.  But I found that the business of mark making became  a vital part of exploring a visual language and I’m sure it will be the same with paint.  Also there always seems to be so few opportunities for play and experiment. I think I am going to enjoy both the possibilities of wash techniques with the subtlety of tone and the stronger painterly feel of the thick paint applied with knives etc.  I don’t have a wide range of different brushes at this point but am intrigued with the variety of marks which can be achieved by using the brushes in different ways.  Played happily with the flat brushes in painting some fruit and loved the shape which the brush makes.

I ran into the ‘ignorance barrier’ here in terms of colour tones but had a go! I continued to explore possibilities with the paint applied without a brush – this is exciting and suggests great freedom in interpretation.  I particularly loved using my hands to apply the paint…(Having spent my professional life encouraging children to paint with their hands, I had no idea how delightful it is…I feel as though I want to go out and buy tons of finger paint for myself and just enjoy!!!)

Interesting using pastels and paint! I have included an image of a piece I did in the Drawing 1 course where I began with an acrylic wash and then applied the pastel.  This worked really well and the pastel background seemed to enhance the depth of colour and the dryness of the pastel.

I want to explore this further…. I am interested in mixed media and want to explore a language which will combine paint, pen and ink, pastels etc

Transparent and opaque

It was only when I began to apply what I had discovered in this exercise about ‘transparent and opaque’ washes that I could see the importance of understanding this technique. I can see that acrylics allow for layering of colour – my only other experiences of this was with coloured pencil, layering one colour over the top of another but in that case the layering led to a wonderful mixing of colour on the surface of the page.  I also discovered a similar technique with pastels …. You could layer the colours so that they did not mix if you used a fixative with each layer. But the fascination here with the acrylics is the combination of both opaque and transparent.  I can see a use for this perhaps in combining a basic wash of grey to depict the dark tones and then overlaying this with a transparent wash of colour… haven’t tried it yet!  The white opaque application will provide opportunities for laying down wonderful highlights of light areas…exciting!

Working on different coloured grounds

I chose some fruit and a container for these studies and tried three different combinations, using pencil.

Tonal study on white ground

Used Payne’s grey on an off-white background.

I’m not sure why but this process of working on a light background encouraged a wash technique but I found that I was building up the dark tones until it seemed to reach a point where the paint seemed to be separating.

Tonal study on a dark ground

The dark background, on the other hand, seemed to allow for a build up of paint layers and I found that I was applying the paint more thickly.  I really enjoyed this study because I like the flat brush.  Interestingly, mark making keeps coming up as I am doing these studies and I am finding that how I use the brush to apply the paint is an important element.

Assignment 1

Selecting the subject to paint takes time for me!  I need to feel a response … a reason to draw something. “What do I want to say about this subject?” Sometimes the answer is not always immediately obvious and there have been times when I have begun drawing something rather automatically at first but find that the subject draws me in and begins to speak as I get to know it.

In this assignment I began with the garden.  With warm summer days and the colours and light, it is an obvious starting point.  Our garden is rather wild and we enjoy watching nature do its own distribution of colour and textures.  My first sketchbook drawings were aimed at exploring the variation of texture and shape, emphasising the contrasts.  I tried different viewpoints but felt the outcome was rather obvious. In the pastel study, I rejected the composition with the curved wall and was drawn to just the lefthand side of the composition, focusing on the verbascum plant in the foreground with a tiny glimpse of sunlight hitting the grass in the far distance..nice! Still the composition was over complicated, I felt.

One of my favourite painters is Nolde so I went to his flower paintings to see how he expresses his wonderful colour sense with flowers.  I love these ones particularly because he has not taken the usual garden view but has let the flowers themselves fill the page.  This approach echoes my feelings about the garden.

Having done a few days’ work on this garden composition, I was getting to the point of being happy with the composition when a friend suddenly gave me a wonderful bunch of the most exquisite flowers.  So I’m afraid that all of the garden inspiration simply went ‘out of the window’.  The shapes and colours of the flowers were wonderful and so I decided to go straight into the centre of the arrangement and see what happened. The flowers gave me such joy and I wanted to express the movement and energy which I could see.

So…..decided to put down a dark background because I had enjoyed the exercise in building up the tones done previously and wanted to explore this technique further.  After the strong blue wash, I drew the shapes of the flowers with a white charcoal pencil and then began to build up the tones.

I began with the dark tones and put these down first with Paynes Grey, and followed this with a general wash of the light tone areas.  It was great to discover uses for the opaque as well as the transparent washes and this allowed me to continue to build up the tones.  I am pleased with the sense of depth I have been able to achieve but even as I am looking at it now I feel that I could go even darker into the dark areas between the flower and leaf shapes.  I also like the feeling of light which has come through.

The greatest difficulty was with the large flower heads and I am not at all happy with the result.  I have overworked these mainly because I couldn’t get the form right.  It is interesting that some of the flower heads just fell into shape and I was able to produce with the merest touch of the paint the result I wanted.  But not with the large flowers!  I like working with the flat brush but realize how precise one’s observation has to be to get just the right stroke.

I noted also in this exercise the variety of mark making which I needed to use with the different shapes.  Questions arise from this:  is this good in a composition? It may provide contrast but I have loved some work of artists who have used the flat brush throughout creating a unified harmonious sense of shapes ad textures.

Overall, for a first attempt at a still life in acrylics I am pleased with the result and can’t wait to start the next one! …perhaps I will return to the garden! My inclination now, having completed a study which is representational, is to experiment with different media and techniques…there is so much I can see that can be done with this subject.  But the assignment asks for ‘representational’ so will stop at this point!


About pbfarrar

I am an Australian living permanently in England. I have recently retired from the position of Principal of an independent school and have taken up the study of Fine Art with the OCA.
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