Monthly Archives: April 2020

White Flowers, White Vase: What background?

April 28, 2020

It doesn’t sound as though this week will be the best for sketching and painting outside so bring some flowers inside.

This week’s challenge may be painted in any medium but if possible I would like you to select white flowers and a white or very pale vase or jug.  I have no sample painting but have explored with a camera one of the most important decisions in still life painting, the background.   The background tone and colour will help create the mood the artist wishes to convey, and photography is one way to record different backdrops for the same set up, especially if time is limited and decisions must be made and a painting done before the plants wilt!  The reward is that you can efficiently choose a backdrop, get the painting accomplished and have a record of possibilities as a reference for future work.

1. Start by setting up the vase of flowers with a white backdrop and table covering. Click!

Try to photograph the same view of the flowers each time so that you can compare like with like.  As you can see I added a bloom after the first photo so the images are not totally consistent but good enough for you to get the drift.  At the end of your exploration you may of course wish to change things before you start painting.  There is always something that needs a tweak!

2. Change the white for a mid toned background. Click!

3. See what introducing a small white cloth will do. Click!

4. Then find some richly coloured cloths, one of them with some patterns that include dark and vibrant colours like the patterned blouse. Click!

5. Try adding the same small white cloth under the vase again. Click!

6. Lastly Try a different view point. Click!

There are no rules, just play with the cloths till you find a set up you wish to paint and go for it.

My personal preference for the lilacs is the simplicity of the white backdrop, but that is today, on another occasion I may feel in the mood for something patterned and jolly.  As always think about the tonal contrasts in the painting as well as the colour.  I think that is why I am so drawn to enjoy painting the white set up.

For interesting table coverings and textures in subtle colours do look at still life paintings by Jacqueline Rizvi and Charlotte Halliday.  For some of the most beautiful paintings of lilacs reference Edouard Manet and if you are excited by colour, shape and pattern, look at flower still lives by Henri Matisse.

If you enjoy this challenge, try another floral still life exploration with brightly coloured flowers and investigate harmonious (analogous) and discordant (complementary) colour combinations.

Have fun !

Your Paintings

Mock Orange Blossom: acrylic

Vivienne has made an exciting composition with tone, using light against darker areas effectively. The curve of the table, shape of the jug and diagonal with the two tiles in subtle blues at the upper right, gives this painting a strong abstract framework.

White Lilac: pastel

Heather has very skillfully suggested the lilacs without drawing every tiny flower.

White Flowers White Vase: watercolour

A delightfully fresh watercolour from Angela


White Lilac; on black paper

Ann has given us a delightful pattern of flowers and leaves on a dramatic black ground.


White Lilac: ink and watercolour


Red flowers, Turquoise Jug: pastel

Ruth has made a bold statement with colour.  She has picked up the turquoise colour of the jug both in the tile and in the background behind the white backdrop, and in front of the tiled stand. This gives the whole painting a unity and at the same time our focus remains on the flowers and their dominating red. The white backdrop provides a great foil to the red flowers in tone and colour. The warm terracotta tile provides a complementary colour to the turquoise and links back to the warm reds of the flowers. This painting is all about shape and colour.

From the photo of the set up below you can see that the turqoise in the background and nearest part of the foreground has been invented and works brilliantly.

Set up for Red Flowers Turquoise Jug


Fruit Tree Blossom in Pastel

April 20, 2020

At this time of year those of us with a garden and an apple tree have the perfect model for this week’s painting challenge.  Start by looking at Vincent van Gogh’s paintings of peach and almond trees in bloom.  Also look at blossom trees painted by Monet, Pissarro or Sisley.  If you don’t have a live model in full bloom, use a photographic reference or make your own version of a Van Gogh or Impressionist work.

Crab Apple and Cherry Blossom

There is a fine balance between getting the essential character of the tree by getting the angles of the main trunks and branches right and the challenge of overlaying it with blossom and leaves in a way that does not appear overly detailed or fussy, but does give an idea of the tree’s character.  If the blossom is all the same tone it can appear quite flat so look at where the light is coming from and observe the shadow areas well.

Composition: You may like to make a tiny tonal sketch or even two or three to work out a successful composition and to observe the overall shapes and tones.  These should made in pencil and be no more than about 2 inches by 3 inches.  Remember to include suggestions of where background objects you wish to include, garden sheds, fences etc.  Also start to think about what you may leave out.

Paper: Choose a pastel paper that has a good enough tooth to take several layers of pastel.  This may be white or coloured.  I used a sandy coloured paper for the example above.

Making a Start: When ready to start on the final work I find it useful to start with the trunk and main branches, delineating them with a very light touch at first and observing the girth of the main trunk and the angles formed by the main branches.   I then like to indicate the outline of the whole mass of the tree with a broken fine line and mark out any other features I wish to include like fences, shrubs, a garden shed etc., again with a light touch.

Apple Tree: Early stage basic shapes drawn in, and first suggestions of colour.

When indicating indicate these first shapes it is sometimes useful to indicate these areas with colours and tones close to the colours and tones you see for each shape especially in the palest areas.   Whether working in a rather impressionist style with short strokes of broken colour or you decide on a blocking in approach after your initial drawing, try to keep the work fairly open by continuing with a light touch.  This gives far more scope for modifying shapes and forms as you develop the painting.

Apple Tree: colours and tones developed further

Develop the Painting: Look for colours and how they are modified across the form.  Shadow areas of blossom may reflect some of the colour in the sky. Look out continuously for colours that are reflected from one object to another.  At some stage you will want to go in with much stronger colour in some areas. The palest colours and vivid colour accents are best added last as then they will remain fresh and undisturbed.  As you can see from my middle stage of the ‘Apple Tree’ I don’t always follow this advice, sometimes preferring to add touches of the palest tones so that a balance can be worked between extremes of light and dark.

Apple Tree : final image

Do fix your work as you add layers of pastel, but after your last touches of bright pastel are added, fix very sparingly or leave the work out for a few days.  In our fairly humid climate the pastel will become somewhat fixed just by the moisture in the air. However if your work has to travel, a light spray is advisable with the nozzle no nearer to the work than 2 feet.

A complex branching system can be daunting but as you can see from the finished work at the beginning of this post it can be reduced to little dots and dashes of pastel.  I hope to finish the ‘Apple Tree in progress’ tomorrow or Wednesday and will insert the final stage sometime this week.

Enjoy the colours and hopefully some sunshine!

Your Paintings:

In Windsor Great Park near Cow Pond

Apple Tree: mixed media


Drawing with Bling: first experiments with Silver Point

April 13, 2020

This scene is inspired by a bridge and tunnel in the Ceno Valley, Northern Italy.


Unbelievably this is ACT 4  the fourth Art Challenge Tuesday since I was able to give classes.  Hope you enjoy this one.

Silver point was a very popular technique for drawing in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.  The drawings were made with a silver wire in a holder on a ground prepared with gesso, which provided a tooth for the silver particles to be deposited.  It is easy to experiment with silver point with materials you are likely to have in your art equipment and around the home.

Take a piece of heavy-weight watercolour paper, preferably Hot Pressed 300gsm or more, but NOT will do, or even a small off cut of mount board.  Apply two layers of Chinese white, or as I used, permanent white gouache; the first coat should be dilute and the second much stronger. You may wish to prepare paper with more layers of white; the aim is to provide a fairly uniform surface before starting to draw.  When dry the support is ready to use.  For a large scale drawing it is advisable to stretch the paper first to avoid cockling but for your first small scale experiments that should not be necessary.  The sketch above was about 7 x 10 inches and the one at the end of this post only about 7 x 5 inches.

The Family Silver: objects used for the drawings!

Next find your drawing tools; silver jewellery, silver spoons, butter knives and sugar tongs, even EPNS cutlery will work.  In fact most kinds of metal including gold will leave some sort of mark on a prepared paper. Drawing with silver leaves quite a delicate trace of the metal but after time this will tarnish and produce a darker and warmer drawing.  Start by finding what marks you can make with various tools and then make a drawing.

First marks

Woman with Veil


Silver point over permanent white gouache

The images are my first rather crude attempts.  I am also going to make some drawings with silver wire and surfaces prepared with a casein chalk gesso manufactured for use with silver point.  Traditionally, surfaces would have been sized with rabbit skin glue, then coated with several layers of gesso and sanded, so that an even surface was achieved that still had enough tooth for drawing with a silver tool.  Spoons and found implements do not give the control that a wire in a holder would, but do provide an interesting variety of broad and more delicate marks, so have fun drawing with your bling or the family silver!


Your Drawings:

Jane’s Terrier: silverpoint

Delightful Lady; brave line work as this technique does not allow erasure!

Flower Pots

Virtual Tea Party: Paint a Cup and Saucer in Watercolour

April 6, 2020


Responses to this challenge would be a lovely way to contact your friends with a virtual cuppa.  You could even do this one in a garden setting if the weather’s good, part of an alfresco cream tea perhaps!

Getting the drawing right isn’t essential but if you would like to end up with a convincing structure there are a few things you should think about.  If you feel confident with the brush you may like to go straight in with paint but reading through the following and looking at the photos may help your observation skills and thoughts about the composition.

When you are very close to the object you are painting, it becomes more difficult to measure so when you have chosen your cup and saucer, put it down on a table.  Then make some observations.  Move your head/eye level up and down and you will see changes in what you see, so once you have decided on the view you like best, stick to it!


Photo 4. should read…. underside of saucer not visible!

So you have chosen your view.  The object is on a suitable cloth and you are ready to draw.

Ask yourself the following questions;


Where do you want to place the cup and saucer on the paper?

How important is the background(cloth, pattern, wall behind etc.)?

This may impact the size and placement of your cup and saucer in the composition.

Cup and saucer itself

What is the relative overall width and height of the cup and saucer?

How wide is the saucer in relation to the width of the cup?

Can I see the bottom edge of the cup?

How much of the lower surface of the saucer, if any, can I see?

Vertically how far up the cup does the widest point of the saucer occur?

At what point does the saucer disappear behind the cup?

How much of the inside of the cup can I see?

How is the handle attached?

In some ways it is easier to draw from a photograph but photographs can have unwanted distortions especially if you take a shot very close to the object.  These distortions can be largely avoided by taking the shot at a distance from the object and zooming in.

Draw the main shapes of your composition on watercolour paper.

It may be useful to indicate the mid-line of the cup and saucer with a feint vertical line.  This will make it easy for you to check that you have the widths of the cup and saucer symmetrical.  Some cups have wide tops and much narrower bases and all sorts of curves in between.  This vertical will provide a marker so that the symmetry of all the parts of the cup can be checked.

Concentrate on the largest shapes first, then add the details of fluted edges etc.  You may choose to paint pattern directly with the brush after putting in the main washes or to indicate the main areas of decoration very lightly with pencil.

Lit from the right side

Lit from the left side

Before adding washes observe how the light falls on the objects and note if there are any areas you need to remain absolutely white.  These may be very small; note the base of the cup, handle and part of the saucer rim and a couple of reflections in the photo above.  You can do this by either leaving the paper white or using masking fluid.  Slightly more subtle lights can be achieved by lifting out.  If lit from the side the difference in tone between the light areas and more shaded parts may be dramatic and obvious, but where the light is diffuse or from more than one direction this may not be so clear.   Start by washing in the main areas of tone and the background fairly lightly at first then add further washes till these are built up sufficiently before adding the pattern.

Diffuse light

Think about the background.  I chose to invent a wet in wet background .  You can do the same or choose to have a patterned cloth, or for the backdrop to take in part of the room.  Always look carefully at the tones and how they relate to the cup and saucer.  Look for shadows; the shadow that may be cast on to the saucer by the cup and the shadow below and/or to one side of the cup and saucer that falls on to the cloth or a wall behind.

Contre Jour

When the main areas have been painted, the detail of pattern can be added, and if gilded the last thing to add would be some imitation gold watercolour to lend a decorative touch to the painting.

Have fun with the paint and don’t take the words too seriously; just look and paint!

Your paintings;

Tones well observed and beautiful pattern painted freely with the brush

Blue Cup and Saucer; Handle looks really convincing and upper ellipses good, just needs a curve on the bottom of the saucer.

Cup and saucer with gold decoration