Part One – Assignment 1: A finished representational painting ‘Pebbles’

With this assignment I want to answer some questions that came up during my previous exercises:
– When to apply opaque and transparent color mixing?
– When to create more solid forms and when more atmospheric perception?
– What kind of ground should I use?
– Definition of value scale: Low key or high key painting? Or middle?
– Definition of edges: lost edges, blurred edges,
– Definition of light: backlight scene?
– Material: acrylic (Liquitex Heavy Body) and paper (watercolour paper or acrylic paper Canson)
– Scale: max 30 x 40 due to travel constraints

This assignment piece is done with some constraints. I make it while travelling, means I am limited in my choice of media and scale. I hope that those limitations do not hinder me in delivering a successful assignment. Perhaps it can open up new perspectives as well – less is more.

Nevertheless the purpose of this assignment to demonstrate to my tutor my way of working, my routine, my visual thinking and my reflective discernment.

Stefan513593 - Part 1- Assignment 1

Stefan513593 – Part 1- Assignment 1

A) Preparatory work

  • Finding a subject: still life? landscape? interior?

    => I thought about setting up a still life scene and to paint in the traditional way  with under layers and perhaps a more tenebrism approach (what I was not so successfully doing in the last exercise on dark ground).
    As I was travelling and walking outsides on the shore I decided than eventually to do a still life of found objects: pebbles. I was excited by the various color and patterns of the pebbles and I thought it might be a good idea to test my tonal painting as well as a my colour mixing skills. I immediately thought about how multiple transparent layers and opaque paint could work nicely together. So this would be a kind of combined still life and outdoor subject. Considering my scale limitations I also believe that this subject will work quite well on a format around 40×30 cm (A3+) with the subject itself larger as life. This could bring  sense of sublime to my work.Ex2_Tonal study on dark ground_Stefan513593_Page_3


Some preparatory sketchbook studies in watercolour and wax pastels:

On location and refined later.

Stefan513593 - Assignment 1 - preparatory sketchbook studies

Stefan513593 – Assignment 1 – preparatory sketchbook studies

There are possible two ways forward: an outdoor setting with a pebble in its surrounding, or a clear focus on a few pebbles in a rather still life setting.

B) Contextual research

As I decided to paint found pebbles (still life) I wanted to know how other artists are depicting this subject. I did a quick search on Bridgemann Education:

Joseph Lacasse (1894 – 1975)
– ‘Pebble‘, 1910
Oil on canvas
[Online image] Available from: [accessed 30 Mar 2016]
=> An abstract depiction of pebbles in the context of cubism in earth tones. I believe this approach would not be representational enough of this assignment. Although I like the kind of variety in the different patterns.

Joan Warburton (1920 – 1996)
– ‘Polished Stones‘, 1969
Watercolour in paper
[Online image] Available from: [accessed 30 Mar 2016]
=> A realistic depiction of pebbles in thin washes with light background. For me it is a nice painting and I like the evolvement of different colors and a certain luminosity. As it is done in watercolour I am missing solidity in the depiction of forms. I perceive them as rather as glass gems.

Alfred Reth (1884 – 1966)
– ‘Untitled‘, 1952
Mixed Media
[Online image] Available from: [accessed 30 Mar 2016]
=> An abstract depiction of pebble texture in the context of cubism, rather monochrome.  As Lacasse’s painting this one is even less realistic and representational. The focus is mainly on the one stone with a different pattern than the surrounding stones.

Further I thought about the way Alois Lichtsteiner was depicting the perception of stones with rather simple and bold brush strokes:

Alois Lichtsteiner (b. 1950)
=> simple brushstrokes with tonal value gradation with perception of stonesIMG_0093
(see also my exhibitions notes – click here)

=> On the one hand I like the painterly way of Lichtsteiner, on the other hand I was wondering how realistic and representational this assignment piece should be.





From above artists I take some elements for my painting:

  • The focal point on one stone (A. Reth) => Especially I attracted to sketch no 6 with the pebble in violet-grey with yellow-greenish striations could be such a focal point. As this is about painting and not so much about mark-making I believe a rather colourful pebble can work well.
  • The luminosity of variety in colors (J. Warburton) => Can overlayed washes in acrylic deliver on this? I have to test this in some  studies
  • The variety of patterns (J. Lacasse) => Can working with other tools and variety in brushstrokes support this? I have to experiment with what I have at hand.
  • The simplicity and looseness of depicting form perception (A. Lichtsteiner) => How can I include this? I am not sure whether my thoughts so far are not contradicting this.

Also from Lichtsteiner the questions raises what is a representational painting? When is a painting representational and when abstract? I think abstract marks in close up view can surely be part of a representational painting. I believe that quite some parts of the ‘representation’ itself happens in the viewer’s mind (besides the mind of the artist).

I think I will work from my observation and see how bold I can get with my paint and strokes. Remembering as well that the strokes can be done with all different tools besides brushes.

C) Preparatory studies:

Tonal study after sketch no 6:

Stefan513593 - Assignment 1 - tonal study

Stefan513593 – Assignment 1 – tonal study

The tonal study is reflecting the tonal range of the photograph. I find it a bit too uniform. My intention is to have a rather low key painting in the negative space that would support a luminous perception of the pebbles better.


Colour study in acrylics on cold press watercolour paper (Fabriano, 300g/sqm)

For this study I started with my tonal study and continued with overlaying washes to define a possible approach. I wanted to know how I can modulate color tones in multiply layers in acrylic. So far I had a bit more experience with oil and transparent colors. I found out that my acrylic paints from Liquitex were rather all opaques colors. Wondering how far I can push transparent technique.

Stefan513593 - Assignment 1 - color study and approach

Stefan513593 – Assignment 1 – color study and approach

So far I feel confident with my approach to layer colors over a tonal gradation.

As I didn’t use the whole paper I had to look now into a possible cropping for an intriguing composition. I looked at two options (with the help of Photoshop cropping tool): a golden ratio and a golden spiral. I wanted the middle pebble in the focus but not sitting in the middle (too boring for me). Therefore I decided of a composition where the ‘nose’ of the middle pebble is in the centre of the golden spiral. By that the composition is a bit unbalanced but I felt it as the most intriguing one.

Stefan513593 - Assignment 1 - cropping composition

Stefan513593 – Assignment 1 – cropping composition


I am not so pleased with the rather dull, non glossy surface appearance of the acrylic paint. A kind of missing my oil paints. As I do not have any acrylic glossy mediums at hand I have to see how I can work further on a luminous appearance of the colourful pebbles.

Before starting with my final painting I want to make some studies on coloured ground, further variety of color overlays, and techniques for pebbles texture:

Stefan513593 - Assignment 1 - further preparatory studies

Stefan513593 – Assignment 1 – further preparatory studies


From these studies I found a dark ground as most intriguing and more suitable for my subject. The lighted low saturated pebbles do stand out quite well. Although I preferred the white background for the coloured pebbled. Regarding the texturisation of the pebbles I am still not so convinced. Seems like the trials in my earlier color and approach study are the most successful ones (with white markings done with a stick or a tissue, overlaying wth translucent color). What I did not like was the still rather opaque appearance of some washes, especially the yellow one. My intention is to obtain through layering of local and complimentary color an intriguing luminous perception and a certain visual depth.

I continued with an evaluation study on acrylic paper (Canson 210g/sqm) to see an impact of different textured ground as well as to confirm my approach. I also started to work on the edges and decided to make the upper more receding pebble with blurred edges – marging with the background.

Stefan513593 - Assignment 1 - evaluation and confirmation

Stefan513593 – Assignment 1 – evaluation and confirmation


I like this paper better with the appearance of the acrylic paint compared to non-treated cold press watercolour paper. I will use this for my assignment piece.

Those studies defined my painting approach for the assignment piece:

  • Ground:
    For the mot colourful pebble I will use a white, for all the rest and negative space a dark background (Payne’s grey, ultramarine, and umbra burned)
  • Opaque techniques & tonal gradation:
    – I will apply first a tonal gradation in local color mixed with white (to desaturate the color) to build up the main shapes and believable and solid forms
    – I will apply thin white washes further to create patterns
  • Transparante techniques:
    I will use transparent washes of diluted color and using complimentary color effects to create luminous color layers
  • Texture:
    I will use other tools (comb, bubble wrap, sticks) to create uniques patterns on the pebbles
  • Along the painting process I will adjust my approach were needed and for better

D) Assignment work

With my pre studies, deeper investigation of tone, color, patterns, and ground and following my defined painting approach I started with my assignment piece.

After preparing my ground (Payne’s grey, Ultramarine, Burned umbra) and blocking in main shapes with local tones and correct tonal gradation.

For the local colors I applied the following color mixes: Cd red & Naples yellow, Ultramarine & Alizarin Crimson, Indanthrene Blue & Payne’s grey, Cd yellow & Cd red. I used pre-mixed tonal scale of titan white and payne’s grey to mix with the tube colors to obtain a less saturated color.

Meanwhile, I was able to purchase transparent yellow and a glazing medium in the neighbourhood (still on travel).

At that point I did rethink how to tackle texture and painting. I was not too happy with making a nice representational image only. Although I thought that as assignment 1 piece I should be less ambitious and demonstrating rather my painting skills. Nevertheless, I was still intrigued by seeing how others are possibly addressing this subject differently.

Jean Dubuffet_Soil ornamented with_1956
Jean Dubuffet (1901 – 1985)
– ‘Soil Ornamented with Vegetation, Dead Leaves, Pebbles, Diverse Debris‘, June 1956
Oil on collage on canvas (89.3 x 77.1 cm)
[Online image] [accessed 05 Apr 2016]
=> I do like the variety and contrast of texture and black negative space. This what I intend to achieve with my painting. However, I do not like the rather flat appearance of Dubuffet’s picture. Perhaps something to keep in mind for future work.
Nancy Eckels

Nancy Eckels_Written In Stone
– ‘Written In Stone‘, 2013
Acrylic on canvas (36″ H x 60″ W)
=> Eckels used rubbing technique with towels to work the paint into the surface. Could be a good approach considering the purpose of this assignment and my limited tools at hand.


For me the question how to continued to work: Apply texture on the pebbles before overlaying washes in color or afterwards? From my previous studies I liked the effect when a final layers makes the underlaying applied texture a kind of encapsulated into the painting. Quite like the natural creation of those colourful pebbles.

Continuation with developing texture and patterns with sponge, tissue, stick, and brushes. Applying color washes. I rubbed in some colors and markings with a tissues into the surface (as Eckels) and I started to work on the edges to make a differentiation between sharp edges in the foreground and blurred edges of receding pebbles merging with the background. The dried leaves surrounding the middle pebble act as an contrasting element and my intention was to make them not too dominant to be distractive.

I finalised the painting with a modulating the middle pebble (Hansa yellow, Light green perm.) and few more color washes and pattern markings. I used glazing medium for a more glossy surface of the middle pebble as the focal point. I also was careful not to damage neither the overall tonal gradation of the painting nor the luminosity of the middle pebble through too much of overlayed washes.

The final painting is at the top of this post.

Overall I believe that I worked out quite well an approach through tonal gradations, local colors, applied patterns, and use of a variety of tools to make it more intriguing. Compared to the original setting and the photograph taken the colors are surely more saturated, but this was my intention as to bring a sense of sublime to this painting.


  • I struggled at the beginning due to time, space and media constraints what I can do and how to find a proper subject. With focused creativity I was more sensitive to not so common themes. After settling this I felt the flow and felt more confident with the following steps till I reached the final painting stage.
  • Building up layers of color is a good way to adjust color perception.
  • Feeling limited with the range of acrylic paint I had at hand. I figured out that most them were opaque colors (not the best for my chosen approach through)
  • Overall I am not sure whether my approach is rather a drawing approach or already a painting approach as I based most of my discernment on markings and tonal values.
  • I have the feeling that the painting in step 3 with the local colors in tonal gradation already gives a good image. my route continued with more details on patterns and color washes. I am wondering what else could have worked for a different visual perception. I am still thinking along the way of the works of Jean Dubuffet and Alois Lichtsteiner.

Next time:

  • For the striations on some pebbles I would have loved to test wax resist technique. As I didn’t have oil pastels with me this would wait for future experiments.
  • I found that the overall appearance of the pebbles were a bit dull. But I was happy that I could purchase a glossy medium on my travel so that I work on the surface gloss a bit more. I think oil paint would have a given clearly a different appeal.




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