Exercise: Exploring Contrasts

I chose Pyrol Orange.


and I painted 20 squares of paint around it.

This revealed how the orange is affected by the colour that surrounds it (the orange might appear to be in front of the other colour of course).

Several things occurred to me during this process:

  • The colours of similar hue looked lovely. Even when using red, which is a quarter of a  colour wheel away, the orange looked calmer than it looked on the pallet.
  • Yellow also looked pleasant around it – the effect is colourful and bright but the two colours seem to meet and match nicely.
  • The complementary seemed to be something like Cobalt Blue (Cb Blue bottom right) and which I added white to match the tonal values better it became more vibrating.
  • Sometimes I messed it up and accidentally mixed the surrounding colour with the Orange. This produced streaks of a dull mix and interfered with the vibrating effect.
  • I used Pyrrole Orange right out of the tube having never used it before… but it looked like a great colour – very saturated and bright… however, which orange is it? I found that when I varied the hue of the complementary colour I got bigger or smaller effects. I suppose that the most complementary colour produces the greatest effect?
  • Cobalt blue turned out not to be the most vibrant combination 0 that was achieved when I combined Cobalt Blue with Cerulean Blue and white. (4 down, 3 Across >)
  • Pyrrole Orange is supposed to be “Red Orange” but I considered it to be on the Yellow side of Orange on my colour wheel… the one which I painted. There is a degree of subjectivity in everything so my colour wheel may not be as per Daler-Rowney’s. However, as I edged towards violet for the complimentary I found a more exciting effect.
  • Green, on the other hand, although it produced some vibrancy was not so exciting… although it did make the orange stand out more compared to other closer hues. When I was experimenting with darker greens I produced a tonal contrast so it may be that I simply heightened the brightness of the colour using a darker one (green as it happens) without producing that vibrancy.


To produce squares of neutral grey I tried using a prepared piece of board already painted in neutral grey.

The effect of each coloured square was to nudge the brightness (tonal value) of the centre square in the opposite direction to the relative brightness of the colour to the board’s colour… the white made it darker, the black made it (look) paler.

The green had a tonal value very close to the grey and became almost invisible… I think it might have been a bit transparent too.

Other thing affected the effect: larger areas of colour and smaller centre squares (like the violet one, row 3 right) produced an effect that was easier to see. I’m not sure the tonal shift was the greatest but the paint was also neat and even.

Overall this was a very slight effect.

  • Adjacent Tone and colour differences impact on the way a colour is perceived – context is important.
  • The two effects are independent (I didn’t test this, but it looks like it from the accidents). Combining them will combine effects.
  • Bright and colourful is not the same as ‘vibrance’ – the yellow and orange are bright and colourful but do not create a ‘movement’ or ‘shimmer’.
  • Catching the vibrance by not directly looking at is attention grabbing or distracting… depending on your point of view. I can imagine how a central subject that is not ‘vibrant’ can be made to move within its context using a background (or surround) that is vibrant… the slightly peripheral vision will pickup on this.
  • Adjacent is important… as soon as there’s a separation things are different.

Exercise: Still life with flowers

I found a flower in a pot because cut flowers may not last long enough for me to complete this exercise!


My first sketch – I’m standing above the flower pot and looking down into the flowers. They are a very intense pink primrose. Immediately I’m thinking about how vibrant the colour is and how I can realize that. A big plus might be the mid-green leaves which could be close to the complementary colour of the flower.


This is the same plant from a more natural angle.


And again with more careful structure. It’s not an interesting picture on its own perhaps.


Looking at two small areas of the plant


One is sideways like this… which is a composition I like. Especially the tall thinness of the painting frame which reminds me of the overall shape of cut flowers in a vase.


This is my overall set up of the subject. I’ve added some twigs as an additional natural subject and created a reflective stand using a black page torn out of a scrapbook and sheet of glass from a clip frame. The backdrop is a piece of hessian.

I’m still interested in the tall narrow frame taking in the right hand side of the pot from deep into its reflection and up to above the flowers.


Like this.

The camerahas messed-up a lot of this scene – the hessian is a lot less glaryin real life and the flowers look nearly fluorescent (maybe they are! Do I have a UV light handy?).


A quick sketch to just look at the components. I may have to get a little higher to enable more leaf to be in the picture – I’m thinking it will become important for the flower colours to show well.


Exercise: Still life with natural objects

I started with a carrot, a tangerine (or “easy peeler”), lemon, pine cone and a radish.

I quickly found that I liked the colour harmony of the carrot and the radish… especially with the radish’s tiny spec of green on its crown.


Sketches using coloured charcoal.

Several things appealed – the contrast in shape and size… there’s a sense of the ridiculous about it; two basic shape ideas, a tapered cylinder and a spherical basic shape.


I found this low angle…


Or at least created a high platform!


Looking here at where the tonal values change.

I’m wondering about adding something in the background. These two objects together are good – having their own simplicity, and I don’t wish to add something that will detract from this. It reminds me of a photographer’s ‘infinity’ backdrop where the join between floor and backdrop is invisible as it is a continuous white sheet. Perhaps I could do just that – a studio portrait of carrot and radish… an engagement photo!

I’ve found this by artist Tom Brown:


…which captures the simple joy of the fruit using highly visible brush strokes which convey freshness and edibility of the subject somehow. Squinting at it reveals how photographically faithful it appears.

I’m noticing also how the aligned marks (outside the shadow area on the table) create a unity – pulling those marks together into a single area.


This one by Mark Brisco shows he visible outlines that were encouraged for the previous exercise. I’m not mad on these – I find them artificial.

The brush marks here are smaller and arranged vertically. There’s an atmosphere created which is still – perhaps it evokes rain on a dreary day. The flowers are a little shrivelled-looking and the fruit not so ‘gay’. Those vertical marks seem to create a kind of ‘flattening’.


I’ve been trying out colours for my radish and carrot. The Carrot might be OK – it needs a pale orange that is definitely not pinkish or too white. The radish is hard to pin down… when I look at it I’ not sure I can name the colour or even decide which way the colour needs to change on the pallet. It’s definitely red-based and I thought it had a hint of blue (to make it a very red blue-violet) but I can’t decide if it’s actually another thing altogether. Interestingly it improves a little if I change to another red… the problem could be that the ‘Primary’ red that I am using (usually Cadmium Red) can’t produce the hue required for this radish – maybe it needs the right primary red. Crimson Alizarin seems to be closer. Would Scarlet Lake or Rose Madder be better?

Exercise: Drawing in Paint


I found a collection o four object on the corner of a shelf in a shed… a hot glue gun, two rolls of tape and a roll of thick garden wire.


This shows a sketch of just the garden wire and the tape… after making the above initial sketch I decided to remove the glue gun and focus on the remaining three objects.

I re-arranged them a little – this shows the tapes in two different ways showing one end and one side. The garden wire now propped up on the left tape.


I’ve shown here the grain in the wood on the table-top. It’s a roughly made bench and two pieces of wood about at right angles so there are two grain directions.


Next, I focussed in on where the garden wire rests on the tape. Above is an A4 sketch. I find this more interesting… there are now two large curing areas and one straighter pattern (wood grain) to consider. I like the macroscopic effect which is a more modern idea for composition that had been considered for the Dutch Masters’ Still Life.


This is a re-crop of the previous sketch as a square – I’ve selected it so that the objects are each partially cropped out of the picture. This provides for a lot of directional lines entering the edges of the frame at different angles – the wood grain from bottom left; the garden wire in a vortex from bottom right to top centre; one roll of tape in another vortex on the left side – entering and leaving the frame; the angle of the right hand roll of tape… which could be a diagonal bottom right towards centre top… but also could have depth as it might travel into the picture.

The centre of the picture includes an interesting area where the left roll of tape can be seen through the strands of the garden wire, as can the wood grain if it is visible in terms of being lit. This effect can enhance the depth of the image drawing the viewer in. The whole effect should be one of travelling into the image where there could be a volume of un-knowableness… an area that is deep and has no details to make out.

I need to draw these again this time focussing on the level of detail that I need for the initial painting. I think I ought to concentrate not on the individual strands of the garden wire but on the shape of the main bundle of garden wire where it blocks the view completely as a solid bundle. After this are the two rolls of tape, their main tone contours and the shadows created.

The rest of the lines – the concentric turns of tape, the individual wires and the wood grains – all follow the major shapes so are details that can be affected directly in paint rather than in line.



This is a snap shot of the set-up. Perhaps not from where my eye will be!

The whole scene seems nearly monotone but there are some definite contrasts:

  • Warm/Cold lighting (two sources here – indirect daylight and a lamp). This is mostly visible as warm/cold banding on the black tape.
  • Green of the garden wire vs the light orange hue of the wood
  • The way the garden wire appears white as it catches the window light then becomes close to black at the back and where it is shaded.


This is the approximate crop I’m looking at.

Because if certain time-of-day constraints I think the lighting might have to change so that it’s all artificial rather than daylight, but there is some possibility here of rendering that warmth as a contrast to the garden wire and keeping that as a cold dark green.

Looking at one particular shape – the strand that loops around outside the coil.

This is still quite sketchy so now I want to focus more on the outlines and shapes…

The shapes now become very bold statements – much more simple elemental ideas.

Moving closer in loses the edges and so appears to weaken the composition, but I’m drawn to the closer image.

Within this, there are other shapes that are part of the overall objects and also negative spaces that I have not investigated.


I’m starting to see here the contribution of the geometry of the shadows, including the negative space of the shadows.

The cheese-wedge shape at the bottom is technically interesting for having one edge generated by each of the three objects.

Showing the shadow shapes in a separate diagram.

Re-checking the framing preference as being for a square canvas

Laying down lines of paint for the initial composition on the canvas.


5278 Dark Ground 20170407

Previously I painted this for Part 1 as part of an exercise and it has become my favourite painting on this course to date. I’m not sure why… but I wanted to build on the experimentation with the style so I’m deliberately adopting this kind of approach to the brush marks.


As I progress I am trying to keep my work focussed at a select range of scale. The tape roll on the right has ‘dirt rings’ or marks of some kind which I’ve painted but, if I look closer, I can see the rings of the individual winds of the tape. These I am choosing not to try to represent with actual marks. I feel they are implied by the dirt rings.

Similarly, later on, I find that the grain of the wood on the table is too indistinct to be represented directly. The one detail that I am keen to reveal is the winds of the wire.


Only now right at the end do I add the white highlights that reveal the strands of wire properly. There is a parallel with the dirt rings on the tape now in that I have chosen only to paint in the highlights on a selection of the wire rings… the presence of the rest is implied.

Now that this is finished I’m revising my understanding of this style of painting – the marks I’ve made with the brush, a kind of blob, do some things:

  • They have an emotional content. I’m not sure how to pin down the emotion to this type of mark, but they bring some kind of ‘gritty reality’. It is interesting that the inexactness conveys something ‘truthful’ about the scene. Perhaps our imagination plays a part?
  • They have a Pointillist aspect. They are distinct from the techniques Surat et al made famous – these artists used dots that were not individually visible from normal viewing distances creating a colour-mixing effect “within the viewer’s eye” (so to speak) rather than on the canvas. Nevertheless, they do create similar effects, albeit more overtly. In particular, there is the ability to alter the hue or tone over an area by varying the number of blobs used in each colour.

I realise looking at this that I have been a bit restrained about the marks themselves – I’ve only used a couple of different brushes whereas I could have used pallet knives, card, plastic, etc to apply the paint resulting in different mixes and textures.


The exercise instructed to leave the initial outlines visible to improve aspects of the composition. I’m not entirely sure about that choice – I’m not fond of seeing things outlined except that… when I look again at some familiar artworks (especially those in children’s books) I notice there are outlines sometimes which I had not been conscious of previously. I do concede that they seem to help in my picture but that may not be universal.

Exercise: Complementary colours

I Painted a Wheel


This took quite a while because of mixing colours. Again it was all reasonably straight forward until I got to Blue-Violet… which really needed me to know what I was doing to Violet in order to make a bluer version.

In the end I used Scarlet and French Ultramarine (and white) to make something closer to the purplish-blue that violet might be. Red-violet sticks out on my wheel like it doesn’t fit with either neighbour.

Green was quite hard to mix… it was hard not to see either a yellow-green or a blue-green hint in it and it took me a long time adding bits of blue and yellow to home in on where just green is.

Complementary Comparisons and Mixes


This is a terrible photo because the colours are not representative of what is seen directly. Almost everything in this image is too vivid.

The colour groups from left to right, top to bottom are…

  1. Red / Green
  2. Red-Orange / Blue Green
  3. Yellow-Orange / Blue-Violet
  4. Yellow / Violet
  5. Red-Violet / Yellow-Green (done wrong!)
  6. Orange / Blue
  7. Red-Violet / Yellow-Green (corrected)

I mainly used the colour wheel that I had painted to reproduce these colours (where they weren’t readily available on the pallet).

If I had to describe the mixture of each pair (the vertical stripe of colour next to each pairing) I would call it ‘Khaki’: an Urdu word for ‘dust-coloured’, the colour of the ground – therefore perhaps the colour of most of the world!

I have read about the effect that has been observed when opposing colours are placed next to one another – the idea is that each colour is mixed (visually in our heads) with the complementary colour of the adjacent one. The affect is to make both colours stronger and so they get into a childish fight about who’s the most colourful and your eyes pop out!

These colours that I’ve painted certainly look nice and bright but I’m struggling to see a fight! That said… the same colours on the colour wheel look more calm and soothing. Putting the opposite colours next to each other has had some effect then – they are less calming.

The mixtures all tend towards the centre of the broken scales – greyish greens or browns. I am supposing that if I could mix ‘perfect’ colour wheel colours then all the mixtures of the complementary colours would be a neutral grey – a perfectly mixed opposition.

I do notice that colours where I’ve had to mix in more white have come out with brighter mixes, which makes perfect sense. If I had not mixed in white these colours might become even more drab and khaki.

The overall observation for this exercise is that analogous colours (placed adjacent to one another) are calming while opposites ‘fight’ – create ‘excitement’. This simple fact could be used to evoke calm/excitement emotion from an image painting. For example… adding green into a red and orange flame might make it into a more fearful fire rather than an attractive, worming fire.

Exercise: Broken or tertiary colours

So this was fun!


No, really! I enjoyed it. There’s some kind of indulgent luxury about just making rows of colour blobs without thought for composition, meaning etc.

I thought of a Peacock’s Feathers to get the blue-green. The red orange was a little tricky because, unless you compare that colour to a red, it just looks red. Well it’s not, it’s definitely a slightly orange red.

Starting at blue-green and adding my red-orange (tint – I added white because my red is very deep) at each, and a little white if I thought it needed some. I missed the grey by a small amount – I have a slightly green-grey and a slightly red-grey.

The orange to violet scale was harder because I didn’t have a good idea in my head about what makes the ideal violet. I have lots more colour names that I know like mauve, burgundy, purple, indigo (what does that look like) and I don’t have a definitive map of where they all arrange themselves in the gamut. I thought of the sweets ‘Parma Violets’ to get something acceptable.

To make this violet involved experimenting with Red Aliziran, Prussian Blue, French Ultramarine, Rose Madder and Scarlet.

Once I was past the break it was hard to control the violet… my changes in hue were very small at each step. Perhaps something closer to purple would have helped.


Exercise: Primary and secondary colour mixing

You know that cartridge paper stretching bit? I didn’t have the right tape and and it went wrong – the tape ‘let go’ of the soggy paper. So I used hardboard offcuts instead.

These are painted in grey five-and-a-half.



  1. Chrome Yellow
  2. Cadmium Yellow
  3. Lemon
  4. Yellow Ochre

I was surprised about mixing with whit to create opacity – only a small amount of white made all the difference, although I was initially worried about the change in tint affecting my observations… but in the end I think they helped.

When I compared the yellows in pairs I found that I could make comparative assessments about which was more ‘pure’. I also found that adding white or black revealed other things within the pigments.

Cadmium Yellow was the most purely yellow.


Blues were harder. I found myself questioning what I was looking for… what does a proper blue look like?

I had a choice of:

  1. Cerulean Blue
  2. French Ultramarine
  3. Prussian Blue

I was quite surprised after my investigations to find that Prussian Blue stayed blue under most conditions whereas the other two revealed hints of green and violet in them (this is sounding like wine tasting… maybe that’s a good analogy… not all red wines are the same!).



I had five colours resembling Red.

  1. Scarlet Lake
  2. Cadmium Red Deep (Hue)
  3. Red Alzirian
  4. Rose Madder
  5. Indian Red

A fact that I had never really come to terms with before is that pink is a tint of red. The importance of pink is that it doesn’t betray an impurity in a red colour – that’s what it’s meant to look like. I suppose it’s jut that we have a special name for a tint!

Scarlet lake and Rose Madder were quite easy to eliminate as they were too puplish! In the end it was Red Alzirian that was the most red. When placed next to any other red the other red looked more orange or blue.

This ‘target’ has reads in descending order of purity from the centre.

These are my pallets…


…pieces of glass saved from the skip – used to be louvre panels in big windows. 


I’m not entirely sure if I’ve got this right. The rule that seems to have been derived from Chevreul’s work is that when two colours are adjacent each will appear as if mixed with the other’s complementary colour. I’m not sure how big this effect is but it might have made all those shades look different in their contexts.

…although, what’s “right”. I chose my primaries and now I’ll live with the choice!

Colour Scales


Although this came out reasonably well there turned out to be two problems…

  1. The steps are quite small… colour changes are abrupt
  2. I used the wrong red because I salvaged it from another pallet and later realised that I’d misremembered my own labels.

On another technicality the exercise asks from Yellow to Red!



These are the right colours. The pale ends are not showing up so well – there’s a bit more definition in the yellow end transitions.


The red to blue I did twice – the second using a little white pre-mixed in with both primaries… it made it a bit easier to mix intermediate colours from these very dark primaries.

The middle tones are a little plum-coloured. Some of them look bluer in this image than in real life where they are a bit browner-grey. This could be a colour temperature problem with the photograph which is taken on an iPhone with automatic colour temperature.


I looked back at my exercise choosing these primary colours to see which reds and blues naturally had violet hues in them.

Rose Madder stuck out in the reds as did French Ultramarine. When mixed these two colours produced a convincing violet.

I mixed Rose Madder with Prussian Blue (my primary) first and this did produce a violet but it was less rich/vibrant… quite a cold look.


I tried a few other likely and less likely combinations – Scarlet and Prussian Blue produced a pinkish- lilac violet… quite cold again. I feel the Prussian blue must be dominating this cold effect.

Cerulean Blue and Scarlet also produced a good lilac; Cerulean Blue and Rose Madder made a warmish pink more than any kind of violet.

Once more with Tone


The photograph exaggerates how bright the yellows are but they are still too bright compared to all the other colours… no matter how much white I put in.

I had trouble with the other end deciding where to end up… the red and the blue are both very deep and the red would have ended as pink soI extended the yellow-red scale to simply bring the red back towards the pure colour again. The same with the blue, but I messed it up a bit fiddling with it afterwards.

I didn’t get what I was told to expect with the red-blue scale. The exercise says I will get muddy greyish colours in the middle but these are definitely mauvey-pinky-lilacs. I almost found a grey in the middle but it insisted on ending up as the blue side of grey. The middle tone is a little darker than the rest which are all reasonably even… although some of this may be down to the camera’s distortion of the colour.

Maybe I should have added some white to the yellows at the start? would that have tempered the brightness? I tried black but it was ‘orrible.