Tones from a single layer

It is interesting to be writing this blog as an addition to my hand written Learning Log and as such, I am looking back at each step of the learning process.  This is giving a very different perspective.  From where I am now, in the final module of the Watercolour Course, I can see how I was led step by step through the sometimes painful steps of learning this medium.  As I paint now, I’m applying washes without any thought of the process and I can see how significant this Project on Light and Tone was. At the time, it was unbelievably difficult and I was not enjoying the painstaking process of trying to understand how to use the paint.

Added to this was the loss of my right hand to draw and paint with!  After just one pencil drawing, I injured my wrist and was not able to use the right hand. But I was determined to continue with the exercises and so began using my left hand.

Painting tones from a single layer using left hand

Painting tones from a single layer using left hand

Initially this was hard and I had to abandon my preoccupation with detail. Control was a real problem with the left hand but because I was suddenly not in control, I had to concentrate very hard on what I was SEEING. Interestingly, this helped with the painting because of the intense concentration.

Tones in several layers

Another still life composition and still no use of my right hand!

IMG_0381Began with a lefthand drawing of the composition in pencil. This proved to be the most illuminating experience! To begin with it was very difficult to get any control with the pencil – I was using a large graphite pencil as it was the only one I could hold properly. I had to draw very loosely to begin with but as it progressed I felt to get more and more into the subject.  The amazing thing was that ‘control’ was replaced with ‘exploring’ – I felt to be literally exploring the space with the pencil.  It was completely different to ‘drawing’. I let the pencil go back and forth over the surface letting it find the right tones.

When I got to the tonal painting, I had to try to control the brush with the left hand…not easy!  However I think the experience of exploring the subject in the sketchbook in the way I did, proved to be a huge asset when it came to painting.

First wash

First wash

I started with the overall pale wash leaving the white paper for the lightest areas.

Fourth wash

Fourth wash

Sixth and final wash

Sixth and final wash

Then as best as I was able I built up layer on layer of the tones. I used the sketch very closely as I was confident in this initial study.  I ignored the objects for several layers keeping the tones consistent with the darks and lights of the picture.  The objects began to emerge as I put in the darks.


painting from observation using just paint

painting from observation using just paint

It was interesting to compare the first still life painting with the last of the tonal sketches in this exercise.  For me the first study appeals most…I love its life and energy.  Admittedly, it is painted with the confidence of my right hand but it has become almost abstract in form perhaps because of the lack of emphasis on detail.


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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