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

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

Part 1 Project: Transparent and opaque Part 2

Monochrome Studies

Preliminary sketches: In the top sketch I drew in the tree as a positive image, blocking in the resulting negative spaces. In the bottom sketch I drew the negative spaces and blocked in the resulting positive spaces. The white tree enabled me to add some quick tonal variations to it. I haven’t done this on the bottom sketch as it would have made it too much of a ‘negative’ tonal image which wasn’t what I intended, I was more interested in the process at arriving at the tree shape.

Charcoal sketches using positive shapes (top) and negative shapes (bottom)
Charcoal sketches using positive shapes (top) and negative shapes (bottom)

Preparing my supports: using Acrylic paint on preparatory acrylic paper I used an acrylic wash of paynes grey mixed with a little ultramarine blue for the dark ground, then mixed with titanium white for the light ground.


The first thing to notice is the ‘messiness’ of the second image. I found the acrylic paint difficult to work with. It had dried before i could rectify a mistake. The aim of the exercise was to look a the effect of the juxtaposition of the glazes, so I didn’t want to go over mistakes withe the dark paint. I found the paintbrush hard to control too, it was easier to do positive branches that the negative space around them leaving small positive spaces. Clearly much practice needed in general brush handling skills.

I wasn’t entirely sure what modulation of the grey meant in this context. Thinning the dark colour as a positive shape makes sense, but thinning the negative space seems wrong to me, unless you can feather the negative space backwards in some way to produce the effect of twigs. i had chosen a rather un-twiggy tree which did limit my trial of this technique somewhat. However I am feeling as if I am taking baby-steps with just learning to paint so didn’t push this too much.


The dark positive, more opaque shapes make the tree stand out in the foreground. Some tonal variation was possible depending on how thick i layered the paint on (doesn’t really show on photo) which does give some 3d effect (there is a large branch coming forward in the centre of the image) but the tree is undoubtedly solid. By contrast the negative shape image has the tree receding into the background and is quite ephemeral in quality. The ground shows through the dark wash making it seem like a tree shaped hole in the paper. The light wash  over a dark ground takes on an atmospherical quality as it is quite translucent.



Part 1 Project: Transparent and opaque Part 2

Part 1 Project: Transparent and Opaque part 1

Tonally graded wash

Boy was this a learning curve! I tried oils to start with but these took a long, long time to dry. I had the same problem I had in the previous project, that of running and not knowing how to thin the paint properly. For want of a better way to describe it, it seemed very ‘slippy’ over the oil paper, and wouldn’t stick. I also tried canvas sheets and eventually switched to acrylics as the oils (in my newly converted attic space) were taking weeks (literally) to dry – it is very cold up there!!) Small flying things kept making marks in the drying oils too!. The acrylics seemed a little more forgiving about the drag marks.

Overall I didn’t find it too hard to create a graded wash, but i did find it hard not to leave drag lines on the surface – in fact i found it impossible. I have gained a new healthy respect for artists working in blocks of colour washes! It is not as easy as it looks! Different brushes responded differently to both the medium and the support. Stiff bristles on oil paper definitely left the worst marks.

In no way did I feel that I have mastered this skill, although there was some improvement with practice. I took strips of my best ones and pasted into my sketchbook with annotations. As this exercise took place over a long period of time I am afraid that I failed to take  many individual pictures of  sheets. Here, however,  is a selection of the worst and the best.


Single colours:

  • Oil diluted with low odour solvent didn’t’ stick to the oil paper.
  • I found it very hard not to get brush stokes, especially with oil. Acrylics were better.
  • Brush type and support type made a big difference.
  • The addition of white was more forgiving.

Wet on Wet overlaying washes

  • With the oil paint applying the second wash tended to lift the first wash off the paper resulting in the first wash being ‘moved down’ the page by the action of applying the second! This was less of a problem with the acrylic paint.
  • The colours did blend – mixed on the support rather than on the palette.
  • the addition of white again made smoothing the brush stokes easier, but it was harder to maintain a dark tone.

Wet on Dry overlaying washes

This technique seemed to give most control in paint application compared to wet on wet. (there was no lifting off of dry paint).

With transparent colours both were visible in a way that didn’t happen with wet on wet (because they had blended together) – there was a certain translucency about the colours. This was most evident when contrasting colours were used. Effect was lost when opaque colours were used.

Opaque Colour Mixing

The results of this exercise are mixed with the others above. One point to add is that the opaque paint was more ‘solid’. I can see that this could be used to create form in an object. If applied to an object on a background of transparent glazes, that object may seem to stand out from the background. This would also create the illusion of 3D form.

Part 1 Project: Transparent and Opaque part 1

Part 1: What paint can do. Project: Basic Paint Application

Getting to know you brushes

brush marks in acrylic on canvas

Holding a brush after nearly two years of drawing felt very weird. I do not have much experience of painting, although I have lots of inherited paints. I originally joined OCA to do a painting module but was persuaded to start with Drawing Skills 1. I certainly don’t regret that but I am immediately feeling uncomfortable with this module. I know that I am starting from scratch when it comes to actually applying paint to paper. In the brush mark exercise I used acrylic paint but mostly it is oils that I have.

Landscape from memory
Landscape from memory in oil on canvas sheet

I found this difficult simply because I couldn’t hold an image in my head to paint from. In the end I have just made lots of different marks with the brushes which sort of correspond to a landscape. The clouds I created by dabbing the oil away with a tissue.

Pear in oil
Pear in oil

I enjoyed this exercise, although I still have no idea how to control the paint. I understand a little about thinning of paint but as you can see by the background to the right I have obviously used too thin a paint as it has run whilst left to dry on the easel. I deliberately left this part of the background loose with wide strokes but I didn’t expect it to run. It doesn’t show up so well on the photograph but i used a flat brush to draw in the form of the pear on the lighter left hand side. Unfortunately I had to move this whilst it was still wet and in the process of leaving it flat to dry further the stalk got smudged. What I haven’t shown here is many different types of brush stokes, although i did use a variety of brush sizes and shapes to achieve the form and background. Once I had time to look at this piece I came to appreciated the drip marks more. they add a bit of texture to the painting.

Applying paint without brushes

Painting without brushes in oil on canvas sheet
Painting without brushes in oil on canvas sheet

For this exercise I ended up with what looks like a mess, but i did layer paint on, take it off and layer it on again. I used a variety of palette knives, scrapers, a toothbrush, a rag, some old plastic tools from a child’s clay carving set, and my fingers. I used the same painting, finding different ways to layer the paint on . The colours were a bit muddied by the process in places (there was no design to my colours, I was using up bits that I had in odd tubes, including a large tube of very old burnt sienna).Eventually a vague form of a lady reclining formed in scrapped off paint, but I stopped because I was actually tending towards drawing in the paint rather than painting in the paint!

Painting with pastels

Pear in oil pastel with turpentine on canvas sheet
Pear in oil pastel with turpentine on canvas sheet

For the painting with pastels exercise I chose to use oil pastels as I have done lots of soft pastel work in the past (and for drawing 1). I find oil pastels hard to fathom out, they can be very waxy and unresponsive especially when cold. I chose a more unusual view point, that of looking down on a pear (the result is that several people has seen this and commented on the ‘onion’!) making sure I was in a warm room I layered the colours down both on top of each other and next to each other. I blended the colours with my fingers dipped in turps (health and safety??), with a soft rag dipped in turps and for some colours, blended them in directly by dipping the pastel into the turps. I am pleased with the effect that the canvas tooth has had on the result: in places the tooth shows up more (less medium caught on the surface), This helps define the form, although again it doesn’t show so well in the photograph. I did loose my highlights in all this, I didn’t seem to be able to get a bright area without it being really white. The pear was lit by overhead light only so the tonal value range was less than it would have been with a spot light.


  • Early days I know but I am missing drawing! I know that drawing will be of huge benefit to painting and indeed I can bring with me my newly acquired sketchbook and research skills, but the actual manipulation of paint is problematic for me at the moment.
  • there is more to painting than just adding paint! The drip marks caused by the thinner may be something that I can explore further should the exercises allow. There is a randomness to the marks that I liked when using fluid media in DS1
  • Space is also going to be an issue. I have oil paint, but it is taking an age to dry and I have no where suitable to keep it safe during the drying process. I discussed space with my D1 tutor and he identified that I will need some dedicated space if I am to progress to a higher lever.

[Update: With that in mind I have spent my free time clearing and boarding our attic (no mean feat). I have no natural daylight, but I now have a space I can call my own (see below) and can at least leave everything out without it being disturbed.

My new studio - shared with Percy the snake!!
My new studio – shared with Percy the snake!!

It has put me back time wise, hence bulk posting on my blog but I hope that is has been time well spent].

Part 1: What paint can do. Project: Basic Paint Application