Project 3 – Exercise 3 – Still life: Color Accuracy

This exercise is about matching color and tonal values as close as possible. In the previous still life exercises I already practiced this and found the following approach as very helpful:

  1. Tonal value study:  in pencil / charcoal etc. for
  2. Matching tonal value:  Starting with a colour with a hue that is close to the target hue but with higher saturation as with the following steps the saturation typically diminishes. Decreasing value with a dark colour of one or a mix of complementary colours. Decreasing with grey or black lowers saturation as well and can change hue.  Increasing value with white (lowers saturation) or yellow or light blue (changes the hue).
  3. Matching hue: Adjusting hue with mixing with other hues that are going the direction of the target hue. Best to use highly saturated colours. Adjusting value if necessary.
  4. Matching saturation: Diminishing saturation with adjacent colours, complementary colours, grey, black, white.

General questions helpful for matching colours are: is yellower, redder, bluer= Is it more or less saturated? I find that matching tonal values is important for visual perception of form. Matching saturation is important for achieving desired mood, atmosphere. (Raybould, 2013 andIMG_0757 Wilson, 2015).
A good helper for checking values  – besides squinting with the eye – is the use of a black mirror. This is basically a glass sprayed or painted on one side with a glossy black paint. It is used with the unpainted surface in front. One can use e.g. a glass frame. It is not perfect, under very light conditions you can see the colours easily. But under muted light conditions it is a good tool.

Picture shows green and red dot on white paper in black mirror:

Modern alternative to a black mirror: my smartphone (turned off)

For my own inspiration and to get in a painting mood I looked at how a few others were depicting colour, applied accurate colour or whether they took more or less freedom of expression – where I can lean on for the following exercises:

Final painting:

Acrylic paint on acrylic paper 420 g/sqm (48 x 36 cm)

Stefan513593 - Project 3 - Exercise 3

Stefan513593 – Project 3 – Exercise 3

Contextual research

Getting inspiration from William KalfPaul Signac (see also my exhibition visit – click here), Paul Cezanne, and Roderick O’Conor.

Kalf, Willem (1619 – 1693)
– ‘Still Life’, c. 1660
oil on canvas (64.4 x 53.8 cm)
[online image] Available from: [accessed 27 June 2016]

Roderic O’Conor (1860-1940)
– ‘Still Life with Bottles’, 1892
Oil paint on canvas (55 x 46 cm)
[online image] Available from: [accessed 27 June 2016]

Paul Cézanne (1839 -1906)
– ‘Nature morte à la crouch (Still Life with Water Jug)‘, 1892-3
Oil paint on canvas (53 x 71 cm)
[online image] Available from: [accessed 04 May 2016]

– ‘Still life with apples‘, 1895-9
Oil on canvas (68.6×92.7cm)
[online image] Available from: [accessed 04 May 2016]


Pierre Bonnard (1867 – 1947)
– ‘La Table (The Table)‘, 1925
Oil paint on canvas (103 – 74 cm)
[online image] Available from: [accessed 27 June 2016]
-‘Still Life (Table with Bowl of Fruit)‘, 1939
Oil paint on canvas (53.3 x 53 cm)
[online image] Available from:  [accessed 27 June 2016]

Gallery of mentioned works:

Preparatory work:

My still life scene – with one light from the left (small stand lamp – warm light). Quite Cézanne-stylish.


Right photos taken after I found a composition in my sketchbook – a kind of recording my visual sketch journey with a camera. The taken photos already show the challenge of colour accuracy – especially showing limitations of camera shoot at all. The cloth is shifting from greyish to blueish, from darker to lighter etc. Although I did a white balance calibration before.

So I will rely much more for my painting on my naked eye – with observed colours somewhere in the middle.  The still life scene was at low level and I choose even a lower eye level – well, that what I wanted….


Finding composition

What I always find is that sketching my way through composition is much more beneficial and aspiring than looking for compositions through a camera.

Stefan513593 - Project 3 - Exercise 3 - sketchbook 1

Stefan513593 – Project 3 – Exercise 3 – sketchbook 1


Colour evaluation:

I did those first with water-soluble crayon (Neocolor II – set of 40) and water washes to get as close as possible to observed colours (considering above mentioned challenges). Later I tried with watercolour. I used them rather like gouache (mistake). Than I started to do layering with watercolour, but found that this gives me another area to explore – and decided to postpone this and not consider any longer for this project.

My approach was basically the same as outlined above: tonal value first, hue and saturation second. Discovering the complementary hue in the shadow as enhancing visual effect. Makes the yellow-ochre warmer – matching better with the warm lamp.


Ex3 - Still life - Colour accuracy_Stefan513593_Page_6

Tonal studies:

In charcoal and graphite. As I did before I found it good to assess the total values on a scale. Here I choose a seven value scale. That allows me to consider contrast better. I started with value #1 (highlight) but will consider in the future to start from mid tone (#4).

Stefan513593 - Project 3 - Exercise 3 - sketchbook 3

Stefan513593 – Project 3 – Exercise 3 – sketchbook 3

Tonal and colour studies in acrylic in A3 sketchbook:

Based on my smaller scale studies I went to paint (acrylic) and repeated my tonal value scale study, a first colour matching study and a second one (more flattened colour areas) that were based on my learnings so far:
-> tomatoes more orange
-> onion too yellow
-> background darker and less saturated
=> still the edge in the waterglass more blueish (as it is a blue glass)

Stefan513593 - Project 3 - Exercise 3 - sketchbook 4

Stefan513593 – Project 3 – Exercise 3 – sketchbook 4

Challenges met and how I can overcome:

I met several challenges concerning tonal and colour matching:

  • Viewpoint changed hue and value
  • Low eye level made it hard to match with my approach the colour. Looking from to far away was out to the small objects also difficult.
  • Finding a balance between high saturation and lower tonal values.

Painting progress

My approach to match colour is to take small paper strips out on the top the mixed colour and compare side by side with the target area.

Here a section of my exercise strips – gallery of colour spotting:


My step–by step approach:

  1. Imprimatura of middle grey (value#3 on my seven value scale) – to facilitate my further tonal exploration
  2. Blocking in market value of background
  3. Going sequently with color matching: cloth, glass, tomatoes, onions, greens – not working to much on details and tonal rendering
Stefan513593 - Project 3 - Exercise 3 - progress

Stefan513593 – Project 3 – Exercise 3 – progress

Checking my painting with the still life scene:

  • Tomatoes could be brighter and a bit more orange
  • Onion right could be redder
  • Background could be a bit lighter in the middle

I adjusted them where possible. Overall I am pleased with my colour and tonal value matching. Compared to life still life scene it works very well.

The final painting is at the top of this post


  • My colour spotting approach works although time consuming (need more practice) and on small objects quite challenging.
  • Referring back to my tonal studies I could have applied a more careful scrutiny as adjusting values  on colour painting is harder to do (e.g. cloth in the background was too light)
  • I started with middle grey imprimatura, at the end I find the final image a bit flat and missing overall brightness (compared to my color studies in A3 sketchbook). As the acrylic paint is at times rather translucent I would rethink my approach for the future. In oil the approach works better.


Next time:

  • Making a min A3 tonal study and working from there.
  • Assessing main colors, local colour and range of saturation beforehand in a less detailed approach. I think to matching the limits is critical – half tones and hues can be mixed while making the painting. Would save time also.


  • Raybould, B. J. (2013) ‘The Virtual Art Academy’ Available from: (Raybould, 2013)
  • Wilson, K. and Laurie, S.S. (2015) ‘Drawing & painting: Materials and techniques for contemporary artists’. United Kingdom: Thames & Hudson. (Wilson, 2015)

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: