Reflection on tutor’s feedback for assignment 1


I feel I should start by explaining why I am doing POP1. I have drawn on and off (mainly life drawing) for many years but have very little experience of painting – certainly no tuition, not even a local class. A few years back I inherited a well-worn set of ancient oil paints (all still in very workable condition) and brushes. Once I had removed the now considered toxic colours (some of these paints are nearly 50 years old!)  I was left with a reasonable palette which sat unused in a draw. Then 3 years ago, due to a back injury, I suddenly I had some time on my hands whilst not being very mobile. Out came the paints and needing a reason to paint set about painting my daughters portrait. It took a week and was done from a combination of life and photographs.

Lily with apple. Oil on canvas

I was very pleased with the result: it is a good likeness; has a good range of tones; and was great fun to do. There are some issues, compositionally for instance, it isn’t helpful to be looking down on your subject! I have to hang this really low on a wall as a consequence to get the eye gaze right! However, the point is that I was happy with what I had produced through what was really trial and error (along with good use of you tube videos on mixing flesh tones!) As a direct result of doing this painting I rang up OCA to enrol on POP1 with the hope of being able to expand and learn on this very brief experience. At that point I was persuaded by the OCA office to enrol on D1 first which I duly did. It took me 2 years to complete, and whilst it had its up’s and down’s overall I loved it.


So now I am enrolled on POP1 which is where I originally set out to be…and instantly I feel as if I hit a huge wall with the exercises. A brush feels weird in my hand, the paint doesn’t do what I want (and I don’t understand what I want to do with it) and the paper doesn’t behave how I expect – none of which I experienced with my portrait above. I know one painting isn’t much to go on, but I firmly believe I can regain the enjoyment I felt in doing it…I just haven’t worked out how to yet and I am finding the process frustrating and dis-heartening!


Given that was how I was feeling when I sent my assignment off I was pleasantly surprised to read that ‘This first assignment is full of promise’ and ‘there is some really lovely painting here and some nice experimentation too..‘. I really feel that I have struggled to move from Drawing Skills 1 to POP1, however I can see from this feedback that in fact I have managed to bring some of the skills I was starting to gain (those of experimentation, the idea and use of a sketchbook to name but two) into this module which is such a positive position to be in and something I need to hold on to. I am not one to shy from a challenge but negativity can get the better of me if I am not careful.

‘It is important as you progress to achieve a constructive creative balance between holding on to your research focus and inspiration and allowing the process to suggest opportunities to you.’ This comment struck a chord with me. I know that I tend to latch onto an idea and find it difficult to move away from it even if it isn’t working. One of the biggest hurdles that I didn’t overcome in D1 was that my assignment work was never as good as my preparatory work. That pattern seems to be repeating itself here. Your comment ‘this final painting may have suffered from a slight lack of nerve’ is probably true. I didn’t intentionally set out to create a more ‘pin sharp Dutch style realism’, it just happened that way, and the final image is nothing like what I had in my head (which was a much looser style). I too prefer the more sculptured study (mentioned with respect to brushwork) and suspected I tried too hard in the final piece even though I was very consciously trying not to try to hard!!!  I have no idea how to overcome this problem other than to keep going and not be scared by it.

I am really interested to read that you felt as if I was enjoying colour in the abstract paint experiments. I was! I got a lot of satisfaction from daubing colours quickly next to each other. I recognise that I have an odd relationship to colour. I really enjoy colour for colour’s sake (as a child I used to collect paint colour charts – well still do really) yet I am not drawn to use it, or if I do, it tends to be the more muted tones or earth colours. The choice of a black background and black vessel probably reflect that, but the brilliant colour of the orange fruit against this background was stunning to look at and that contrast definitely appealed to me. Perhaps I am over thinking it but I feel I don’t know what to do with colour in terms of turning it into realistic shapes – which is maybe why the abstract shapes came across more strongly than the final painting! I am painting with a constant feeling that I have missed the point somewhere and I am not entirely sure of what I am doing.

Interestingly the little pear that I did was done very experimentally without much forethought and I feel was one of my more successful paintings in terms of colour use, however the process was much more like drawing for me. I definitely sat down to ‘draw’ it rather than ‘paint’ it. Again this points to me needing to make the mental leap between the two.

You ask which of the two egg paintings I think is more successful. Both have successful elements and elements that need improvement. However on balance I think the one on the white ground just has the edge. Whilst the tonal patterns of the bowl and the eggs are executed in a more competent manner on the coloured ground (it was the second of the two so I had had some practice), it is the bench of the first, larger painting that I think makes it more successful. It has tonal variation in it rather than colour variation. The smaller painting has the ground showing through but the grey is fairly flat over the top which, whilst making the eggs stand out more prominently, loses the vibrancy of the painting as a whole. The shadow on the larger one adds to this tonal variation. I hadn’t come across the artist Richter (presumably Gerhard) before this feedback. However I have looked him up and amongst his many different styles I am particularly drawn to his still life paintings such as Apples (1984) which I presume show the smudging you refer to. I find this painting fascinating. There isn’t a single hard line in it! He appears to have taken Cezanne’s idea of indeterminate edges in still life to the extreme and produced an almost photographic quality image but blurred (and I use that word deliberately over soft focus). I have put more about his in my research book.

Thank you for your timely turnaround of my assignment and for your very helpful comments and further pointers. If I have rambled on too much here I am sorry but thank you for sticking with it.


  • Be more positive about painting and more bold
  • I have put a big label on my easel saying ‘Construct with Paint’
  • Experiment / practice more with glazes
  • Consider other techniques
  • Don’t be too constrained by original ideas, allow the process to open up different possibilities


Reflection on tutor’s feedback for assignment 1

Part 1 Assignment 1

I decided to do a still life for my first assignment, something that I could leave set up and return to as necessary. For this reason too I chose to work my final piece in oils. I did however do much of the preliminary colour studies using acrylics for easy of drying.

Having decided that I may have misinterpreted the previous exercise and not painted a subject against a dark background I decided to rectify that and do a still life against a dark background similar to the way to that of the old Dutch Masters. For instance:

A vase with flowers by Jacob Vosmaer 1613
Jacob Vosmaer, A vase with flowers. 1613

In this painting the beauty and the colour of the flowers (and insects) are allowed to shine out of the painting by dark background and vase. This vivid colour is even more dramatic in the painting below, where the yellow of the fruit positively glows out from the background. As well as showing the subject of in arresting fashion, this juxtaposition of the lights against darks also serves to add depth to the painting. As such the subject floats forward towards the viewer creating a very 3D visual effect

Franscisco de Zurbaran.  Still-life with lemons, oranges and a rose. 1633

The process

I have a lovely low-cut boat-shaped ceramic vessel glazed in a matte black which holds pieces of fruit. I decided to arrange some bright coloured satsumas and a persimmon in it and played with the arrangement to find an interesting composition. I put the whole set up on a black cloth and then started making some line sketches. The vessel is very low, as is the fruit and it very quickly became obvious that if I wanted a black background I would have to have paint the vessel from quite a close, high view-point. Too low and the fruit would not be so visible over the edges of the vessel and the vessel itself dwarfed somewhat by the room in which it was in.

Having worked out a composition that I thought would work well I then made some colour studies of the tones and hues involved. I had enjoyed working with the dark tones over a dark, warm coloured ground in the previous exercise so I decided to prepare a surface with a mix of burnt umber, cadmium red and a little cadmium yellow (acrylics). Using this mix as a base, I then worked colour swatches onto it investigating suitable colours for the vessel (payne’s grey, burnt umber and white) and for the fruit (cadmium orange, cadmium yellow and white). Initially I was working in my sketchbook but I realised quite soon in that the cartridge paper (unprimed) took on the colour in quite a dark tone. Thus, I also prepared some titanium primed oil paper with the ground and repeated many of the colour swatches. As I thought, the primed paper took on a different tone as the paint sat on the surface and didn’t sink in.

However as I have found in previous exercises I tend to struggle with paint on this smooth surface, I have little control over it. Aware that I needed a little control over my paint for this assignment I prepped my third piece of primed acrylic paper which has a linen type slub to it. The paper is also much whiter than the titanium oil primed surface. I used this third sheet to do some quick acrylic studies of the persimmon and the orange in acrylic paint to see how the colours were hanging together.

The Final Piece

I washed a layer of orange acrylic over a final A3 sheet of prepared oil paper to provide a dark warm ground to work on. Using payne’s grey oil paint diluted with liquin original I then sketched out the outline of the vessel and the fruit in a composition that I was happy with: close in and high up, looking into the vessel. Working with mixes of burnt umber and payne’s grey for the vessel and cadmium red and cadmium yellow for the fruit I blocked in the main areas of colour. For the persimmon foliage I added a little green to the mix to create a brown-green colour. I also used this for the shadow areas on the fruit. I used titanium white to layer on high-lights on both the fruit and the vessel. I used a mix of cadmium yellow and cadmium red to create the reflected light on the vessel.

Vessel with fruit
Vessel with fruit


Bringing forward ideas of using coloured grounds to create a warm rich black from the last exercise I used a warm dark ground here with the additional hope that the warm red-orange colour just showing through the black background would tie in with the brilliance of the orange fruit. Certainly there is a warm orange glow in the background, however the dark ground had the effect of darkening the tones of the fruit too. These dark tones then competed with the need for brilliance and light in the depiction of the fruit. I may have been better to lay down a different ground under the areas of the fruit, one of a lighter tone so that it didn’t compete with their final colours. I wonder if I should have left the fruit shapes as white, or applied a yellow ground instead.

I tried to vary my brush strokes to create interest and to depict different textures. In some areas this has been successful, such as the stippling type marks creating the highlights on the dimpled skin of the fruit, and the feint orange reflected light on the inside of the vessel. The marks here give an impression of a much smoother surface. In using brushstrokes to create form, I was more successful in the study than in the final piece. Whilst I tried to create the leaves in a single brush stroke in the final piece and then add the highlights, the form isn’t so successful as the leaves in the study.

Given the composition I ended up with I didn’t put the edge of a table in at all. On reflection this possibly was a mistake as the vessel isn’t really grounded to anything although the bottom of the vessel disappears and merges into the shadows and the dark cloth so there isn’t really a feeling of the vessel floating in space. Part of me doesn’t mind this as when I look a the final piece I see the arrangement of the still life as it was, on a dark cloth. However I understand not all viewers with think this. That said, with this particular view-point it would have been hard to get some kind of table edge in and maintain the same sense of scale so perhaps it is ok not to have one in.

Part 1 Assignment 1