Part 1 Project: Working on different coloured grounds

Tonal Study on a White ground

I had some duck eggs sitting on the side on a gorgeous sunny day. The sunlight streamed in and lit the eggs up is quite starkly. Liking the effect I decided to use that set up as for my tonal study. I played around with the idea of using 3 eggs in a white porcelain bowl and drew some quick sketches to get an idea of best compositions. I particularly liked the strong cast shadows on the wooden bench and on the porcelain. A side view revealed shadows on the porcelain cast by the eggs, visible through the thin ceramic. Looking for an unusual view-point I settled on a top view. It gave good tonal values,  was an unusual view-point, and I could situate it a place relative to me where it would remain in the sun for the maximum amount of time.

Sketchbook work for egg composition
Sketchbook work for egg composition

Next I did a quick tonal study using 5 shades of grey marker pen

Tonal study in marker pen
Tonal study in marker pen

Using a white ground I sketched an initial outline on prepared oil paint paper, then painted my tonal study using Payne’s grey and titanium white oil paint. On recommendation I thinned the paint with Liquin Original to help with the drying process.

Tonal study on white ground. Oil paint on prepared paper
“Duck Eggs’ Tonal study on white ground. Oil paint on prepared paper A3

Tonal Study on a dark ground

I decided to stick with the eggs and do a similar study for this exercise so i could compare the results. I prepared a sheet of oil painting paper with an acrylic base of Indian red to give a deep, warm tone. I chose this colour as the strong sunlight through a lovely warm glow over the arrangement, even though the eggs were duck eggs and generally look rather blue than pinky brown.

Once again I sketched on a rough outline before a painting my tonal study in Payne’s Grey and Titanium white, thinned with Liquin Original. This study was a little smaller (A4 compared to the previous study which was A3). There was a lot of background in the first study which I have not painted in the second. The bowl and eggs are of comparable size in both.

Tonal study on a dark ground. Oil over acrylic
‘Duck Eggs’ Tonal study on a dark ground. Oil over acrylic on A4 prepared oil paint paper.


side by side….


Dark ground

I did wonder if I have mis-interpreted the exercise with the dark ground. Was I supposed to leave some of the background evident? As it is the effect that the dark ground has on the painting is quite remarkable. The whole painting takes on a warm tone, even the darkest colours appear much warmer and have a richness to them. I altered the tonal value of the bench for the second study as I felt that this makes the highlights stand out more and was a truer reflection of the actual tonal values. Here I have let the ground show through in places adding to the general warmth of the painting. The dark ground is less evident in the eggs, probably because I had to layer the white paint to to create the illusion of form. What is noticeable, however, is that the highlights of the eggs get a little lost here compared to the white ground study due to the warm tones coming through.

I am still struggling with controlling of the brush, but I did feel progress as I found myself selecting those that left less of the drag marks. I am starting to understand that  direction of brushstrokes matter. They can be used to shape form, such as the curve of the bowl or the eggs. I think that the eggs on the dark ground show this better than the white ground (see below), however the reflections on the inside of the bowl of the white ground are better represented by brushwork than those on the dark ground.

White ground

The study on the white ground is much cooler in contrast to the coloured ground. Contrasts between the white and black appear much stronger. I am surprised by how less effective the white ground study was at modelling form – but that may be me just getting a bit better at the process in the second study (dark ground). The eggs on the white ground have retained more tonal variation, but less successful in their form, especially the lower left egg.  This painting was however more successful in representing the curve on the inside of the bowl with brushstrokes. In both studies I realise that parts of the shadow on the inside of the bowl are too dark. I found the transitions between strong light and strong dark tones difficult where they happened over a small distance (on the eggs for instance). I didn’t feel I could capture the roundness of the egg without making clunky lines of wildly differing tones.

The texture of the bench had to be created with paint in this study, in contrast to the coloured ground. I am pleased with the way that I have managed to create texture by not over-mixing my white and black paint. Again brush strokes are important for suggesting the long direction of the bench.

Points to take forward

  • A coloured ground does alter the way both dark and light colours appear.
  • The warmth of the tone of the coloured ground also will affect your painting as a whole
  • Brush marks can be used to suggest form, especially when combined with use of tone.

Note in response to tutor feedback:

My tutor asked which of the two paintings I preferred. They both have some more successful elements and some less successful elements. On balance I thing the one of the white ground is in fact the more successful and I consider why a later post as a response to feed back from my tutor


Part 1 Project: Working on different coloured grounds

2 thoughts on “Part 1 Project: Working on different coloured grounds

    1. Thanks Kim, my family are in agreement with you! I probably should go back and do the white background one again now I have had a bit of practice at painting as I think I would handle the forms a little better.


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