Project 5 – Exercise 1: Painting from a working drawing ‘Presence’

This exercise asks to follow a certain method in three steps:

  1. linear study with focus on main shapes
  2. tonal study with focus on values and tonal contrast
  3. color study with focus on color relationship, dominant colors and light effects.

I understand that making those studies would have a couple of benefits (to be confirmed at the end):

  • Isolation of different aspects to avoid facing multiple questions during the painting process
  • Reducing complex information as a way of abstraction
  • Considering independently what aspects in a painting should be enforced or diminished
  • The final painting could be the essence and a more free expression of what I want to articulate

I do envision that following this approach the final painting could be just an execution of the visual thinking process  established during preparation.

More or less I already applied this approach in earlier exercises. What is recommended here is to make the color study in the same paint medium as the final painting. Something I did not do often – besides my outdoor painting. As I worked mostly in my sketchbook using oil paint for its long drying time was not an option. I used therefore gouache and acrylic paint as well as crayons and ink before.

To take most learnings from this exercise I will do these studies in oil paint. Besides working in my sketchbook in pencil or charcoal to find an appealing viewpoint and composition.

I will look at my earlier sketches of interior from part 2  and part 3 to see which area to address for my painting.


Contextual research: 

While looking up some examples of other artists were using preparatory drawing or studies for their work I came across John Virtue (b. 1947) – see  The National Gallery. Virtue explains his approach to painting as “My day consists of getting up early, drawing from the South Bank of the Thames, drawing from the roof of Somerset House, and finally drawing from the roof of the National Gallery. Then I start the day and I work on the images here (in the studio) from drawings that I’m making every day.” He also explains about scaling up that he does not want “to square up a drawing to make a large scale drawing” (Virtue on National Gallery). A method I will apply in Ex. 2 of this project. More about his approach can be seen in the video ‘John Virtue

Another great example of drawing is Vincent van Gogh who used drawing to practice and to capture on site impressions. To explore motifs and the prepare compositions. Often he made also drawing forms his painting, to share those with his brother or friends (Ives, 2005). A kind of demonstrating his visual journey – today we upload our works to a blog and share them.

The course material mentioned also Walter Sickert (1860 – 1942) whom I will look at in the next exercise ‘Squaring up’.

It is quite hard to find examples of tonal and color studies made by other artists – besides the demonstrations in  ‘How to do’ instruction artbooks.

Final Painting:

My Presence‘ – Oil on sized linen (60 x 50 cm)

Stefan513593 - Project 5 - Exercise 1

Stefan513593 – Project 5 – Exercise 1

Preparatory work:

I searched a few viewpoints (Bathroom, bedroom) decided eventually for the view on the chair in the bedroom. A view that I choose already in part 2 for the interior exercise, but more from a distance and through a doorway click here – and with my initial sketch.

Preparatory sketches finding my viewpoint:

Stefan513593 - Project 5 - Exercise 1 - sketchbook

Stefan513593 – Project 5 – Exercise 1 – sketchbook

My linear study in A4 in my sketchbook:

Stefan513593 - Project 5 - Exercise 1 - linear study

Stefan513593 – Project 5 – Exercise 1 – linear study

My tonal study in charcoal based on the linear study that I transferred to a watercolour pad (23 x 30,5 cm):

Stefan513593 - Project 5 - Exercise 1 - tonal study

Stefan513593 – Project 5 – Exercise 1 – tonal study


My color study in oil on half page of oil canvas paper (36 x 48 cm):

For this study I mixed the paint and checked color (hue, value, saturation) with the scene in front of me. I did check in parallel also my tonal study. I found that quite helpful as it was aleady one abstraction step further. This helped me not to get bothered too much with details on color. As the format was a bit longer I extended the view up- and downwards.

Stefan513593 - Project 5 - Exercise 1 - color study

Stefan513593 – Project 5 – Exercise 1 – color study

Overall I am satisfied with my color study and the overall tonal match in color. There are a few mistakes or inaccuracies: the shadow art of the laying shirt is too light, the floor a bit too saturated at some points, and the wall is a bit to blueish. The latter mainly due to my use of Paynes Grey, not quite neutral, should be rather going into the yellow side. Knowing this and making notes I am fine with moving on. In my final painting I can adjust – if required necessary. Also I will return to the initial composition from my linear and tonal study with more cropping of at the bottom edge – this would provide a more appealing ‘entry’ into the image.

I do already understand how my final painting can work based on my three studies. So I am not afraid to work without the life scene in front of me. My three studies gave me first enough time to remember the scenery and then abstractions of the three studies will allow me more easily to adapt a looser style and perhaps with a different approach.

Work in progress:

Based on my preparatory drawings I started to work loosely on my painting (canvas, x cm):

My painting approach: Flat color area juxtaposed with line, gestural handling of paint and brushstrokes, focus on simple ‘first right placing’ of color blots

  1. I started with mapping in the room space as imprimatura in acrylic paint with palette knife (cerulean blue, Paynes grey and titan white). I kept the base rather blueish as complementary to the yellow-orange atmosphere of the scene.
  2. Adding subsequent layers with oil paint.
  3. Blocking in main shapes
  4. While painting I found it intriguing to leave some areas (negative shapes) as they are without further layering. By that the imprimatura is visible and adding a different visual effect.
  5. Modulating tonal values, forms and hues.
Stefan513593 - Project 5 - Exercise 1 - work in progress

Stefan513593 – Project 5 – Exercise 1 – work in progress

=> I am wondering whether I should have left more areas ‘unpainted’. In step 2 the chair is kind of translucent, reminds me of absence of human being. Anyhow I do believe that the painting subject and the shirts left are indicating enough of the absence narrative. I


  • My three studies provided me with sufficient information for the final painting.
    Linear study = proportions and relationship of objects; tonal study = values and contrast; color study = hues, saturation and overall color composition and contrast. I followed mostly the tonal study after outlining the main shapes, At times I consulted my color study. Alltogether I painted more from memory as the scene was still very fresh in my mind. It would have been different when there is substantial time between the studies and making the final painting. Then the studies would act as the memory I guess.
  • I found it quite beneficial especially for interior subjects to have some abstraction steps in between. By that I could elaborate the painting more freely. Although I followed the preparatory studies in a loose way and with similar colors, I do think that me preparation of the support helped me to find during painting process possible deviations. Without being focused on a scene I could engage more with the painting in front of me and to response directly to my strokes and the visual effects occurring.
  • I do believe the final painting is coherent, following the studies more or less in similar approach. The imprimatura adds a different dimension. The black portfolios and boxes for work are giving a nice tonal contrast to the chair.  It is a representative painting but not so much of my own emotional response and thoughts included. .
  • Painting my own painting within this painting was an interesting experience. First to get involved in my older paintings again, than to paint small scale paintings and to achieve a similar appeal as the originals, and last as kind of self portrait within me being presence. What comes to my mind is the painting by Gwen John  ‘A Corner of the Artist’s Room in Paris’, 1907-09. I didn’t not think about her painting consciously, it just comes to my mind while reflecting on my learnings here.

Next time:

  • Moving one step further in my painting approach, include more my emotional response and thoughts into the painting and be less representative.


Leave a Reply

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

%d bloggers like this: