Project 3 – Exercise 4: Still life with complementary colors

I decided to go for same still life set up and viewpoint as for the previous exercise. I already had my sketchbook studies, my tonal and colour studies.  I hope that with this prep work this exercise will go a bit quicker.

As this exercise asks for two complementary colours plus white I was curious how this would look like with dry pastels resp. Conté crayon.

From some provious exercises I liked the intimate approach to work back and force with dry pastels/crayon and my finger, rubbing in the colour into the surface. Important is to have a good support that can hold a lot of pastel powder (learning curve from some time ago during my D1 course). As this is a study I am going for a PastelCard, orange tone, 40x30cm. Easy to go scale, I can work on a stool with the paper on my lap.

My tools:

I decided to take an orange and a dark blue as complementary colours. I was confident that the blue will work easily with the glass and the cloth, the orange with the onions. I will see how I get red with these two colours..

Stefan513593 - Project 3 - Exercise 4 - pastel tools

Stefan513593 – Project 3 – Exercise 4 – pastel tools


My work in progress:

  1. Starting as in previous exercise with background (blue and orange, back and force till I get a dark tone I was happy with)
  2. Intermediate spray with a fixative (Guardi brand from Boesner): my dear – a liquid covered the surface, hard to work onto it afterwards.
  3. Continuing with onions.
  4. Continuing with tomatoes: not red, I worked on juxtaposition of orange an blue to enforce brightness and different colour perception.
  5. Continuing with greens: challenge – I simplified by not to work in green at all. I decided to work for green in another approach – juxtaposition of blue and white. A combination I did not use before
  6. Checking tonal values.
  7. Re applying fixative
Stefan513593 - Project 3 - Exercise 4 - pastel - progress

Stefan513593 – Project 3 – Exercise 4 – pastel – progress

Final painting in pastels:

Conté dry crayon/pastels (orange, blue,white) on PastelCard (40 x 30 cm) – orange tone

Stefan513593 - Project 3 - Exercise 4 - pastel - progress

Stefan513593 – Project 3 – Exercise 4 – pastel

=> Overall I am happy with this study, the tonal range (although deep dark values were not achievable), and the colour perception. I didn’t expect this results. Something I will work on more in the future. The final painting has a fresh appearance and a nice interplay of cold and warm colors. I decided to make the tomatoes and onions bigger in size compared to Ex3 to emphasise the focus more on them. The final painting resonates quite well with the final painting from Ex3.

Now I was curious to make another painting in paint. I decided to go for gouache paint as it is free flowing, quick drying, and water-soluble.  As I did the pastel painting in orange-blue complementaries I decided to go now for red-green. I checked before the range of colour possibilities: tint of each one wth white, mixes of both and tints with white. The darkest value I could achieve was a dark, umbra like brown with equal mixes of pure red and green. The paint is not of high quality (gouache for education, Go Create from, CHF 6.50 / 1 liter bottle).

Work in progress:

I applied a similar painting approach as in the pastel painting.

The tomatoes became a deep red colour. For the onions I decided to go for a more ‘pinky’ to distinguish from the tomatoes and cloth and glass that I kept to the green side. Background in dark brown with one modulation in red. For the glass I chose to make the left side a bit more green and the right a but more red – a bit in contradiction to the ‘warm’ light for the lamp and the cooler shadows from the tomatoes.

Stefan513593 - Project 3 - Exercise 4 - gouache - progress

Stefan513593 – Project 3 – Exercise 4 – gouache – progress


Final painting in gouache:

Liquid gouache (red, green, white) on Fabriano watercolour cold press 300 g/sqm (51 x 35.5 cm)

Stefan513593 - Project 3 - Exercise 4 - gouache

Stefan513593 – Project 3 – Exercise 4 – gouache

=> The painting has a kind of vintage look because of the warm browns. I think in the context of a combination of Pieter Claesz (1597 – 1660), Paul Cézanne (1839 – 1906) ‘Still Life‘ series and Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) ‘Still life with Vegetables and fruits‘, 1884 – click here.

The red tomatoes are really standing out. The red shadow on the right side of the glass gives a nice addition to the painting resonating with the red tomatoes and contrasting with the other shapes. The rather pinky onions do work together with the green cloth. Colour interaction of complementary colour is something I could push more in my future works.


  • Applying an intermediate layer of fixative need have attention. Too much makes a liquid layer  where drops can spoil the painting.
  • I was quite surprised how much I can do with just two colours. I appreciate two work with complementary colours as this allowed me to get dark tonal values. I do not think that this can be done with analogues colours. Great exercise!
  • Colour perception:
    To work with complementary colours only the analogous hues (here: red and green) can be a challenge. Not to focus on how to achieve those hues  but rather find other solutions: juxtaposition of both colours to enforce each colour or finding different colour combination not used in other areas (juxtaposition blue and white for greens)
  • This exercise really supported my understanding of colour: to layer both colours above each other back and force (for pastels) and in a more loose approach with premixed colours (gouache) gives darker tonal values. Juxtaposition of both colours, at times with different tonal value, support emphasising brightness and perception of colours that otherwise would require other colours (here: red tomatoes)
  • To paint in red-green and with gouache gives a totally different appeal. My painting approach changed as well as I had to work with the ‘limitations’ of the colour.

Next Time:

  • Be careful with application of fixative.
  • With these two paintings I feel I could have pushed colour boundaries further and being work more explorative on the colour interaction beyond reality (I started doing this in my gouache painting).

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