Project 2 – Exercise 4: Still life with man-made objects

For my third still life painting in this project I decided for a ‘man-made objects’ on which I can improve my painting approach in a loose and more expressive manner. I will skip due to time constraints  exercise 3 (natural objects). This exercise ask for a simple, compelling arrangement (max four objects with a common use), and creating a visual drama through tonal contrast or interesting colour areas. One important aspect and still challenging for me is matching tonal values of contrasting colours and re-creation of accurate colours in shadow areas.

My learning form exercise 1 was to understand differences between applying broad areas of colours in an expressive approach versus accurate depiction of solid forms through tonal value gradations.

I start as with contextual research as I found this way forward a beneficial approach to find my own way of doing.

Stefan513593 - Project 2 - Exercise 4

Stefan513593 – Project 2 – Exercise 4

Contextual research:

I felt intrigued by some works of contemporary artists. Although quite different there are certain aspects in each of them that resonates with my perspective at that moment:



  • Helen Frankenthaler (1928 – 2011) approach to work in paint on unprimed canvas which allows to convey a sense of raw and expressive perception
    – ‘Mountains and Sea‘, 1952
    Charcoal and oil unprimed canvas (220 x 297.8 cm)
    [online image] National Gallery of Art, Washington. Available from: [accessed 28 May 2016]
    => simple flat color planes with showing the support

Later I found some works of the Dutch artist

  • Jacco Hinke (b. 1970)
    – ‘Abstract Concha‘, 2014
    mixed medium on plexiglass (30×40 cm)
    [online image] collection of the artist. Available from: [accessed 24 May 2016]
    => his depiction of movement different to Richter’s blurred paintings, with expressive strokes that are abstract in close up view and turning into a realistic perception form distance. Juxtaposition of abstract marks and tonal rendered background.
    This makes me think about blur and perception in paintings. When is a blurred mark just abstract and when is is triggering a perception of a realistic rendering of form in the viewer’s eye?

Another aspect that I find intriguing is the depiction of the void, the emptiness / void:

His work in the context of mediative emptiness it resonates with the asian style of painting and a wonderful work is that by

  • Mu Ch’I (Muqi) Fachang (1201-1300) Chinese Zen buddhist monk and painter
    – ‘Six Persimmons‘. Album leaf, ink on silk (35.1 x 29 cm)
    [online image] Available from: [accessed 18 May 2016]
    => simplified painting with a quite unique composition. A tonal gradation from dark in the middle to light at the sides. Due to its simplicity there is an evocative and mediatative visual appeal.

Form here I take the various notions of compositional drama.

Gallery of some mentioned works:

Browsing through my domestic environment I got attracted by the subject ‘Tools‘: Simple mundane objects of daily use. Have to think about which one to use. Gets me immediately into thinking about narratives.

Tools are a subject depicted in simple but visual dramatic terms by

Jim Dine (b 1935).

Examples (all available at [accessed 30 May 2016]


=> A narrative in monochrome on coloured background / monochrome visual dramatic drawing / tonal form and atmospheric coloured background

From all the above mentioned contextual works I would intend a following approach:

  • Combination of tonal gradation and loose and more abstract markings
  • Exploring contrasting colours and tonal values (same of different)
  • How to integrate the void?
  • Use of colour to support
  • Exploring blurred and sharp marks / images

Blur and visual perception:

The human visual system is organized such that the center of gaze is specialized for small, detailed things, and the peripheral vision has a lower resolution — it’s better at big, blurry things.” (Landau, 2012). And neuroscience studies explored the difference between blurred images and sharp images. They concluded that the blur image resonate with the emotional response of the amygdala while the conscious vision asks for sharp and detailed images. (Cavanagh, 2005)

Tonal values and colour:

Claude Monet’s painting ‘Impression Sunrise’, 1873 is a good example of the visual impact of his different colour with same tonal values (are at times called equiluminant). The orange-red sun has the same tonal value as the surrounding greyish clouds. However the eye clearly discriminates it and the painting gets an eerie and shimmering quality. (Landau, 2012 and WebExhibits, 1960). So this visual effect can be used for creating senses of motion and vibration.

Preparatory studies in sketchbook:

Ex4 - Still life with man_made objects_Stefan513593_Page_3a

Ex4 - Still life with man_made objects_Stefan513593_Page_3b


Chosen color mixes:
– Blue brush: Cerulean blue and Prussian blue (for tonal value and hue), Paynes grey (reduce tonal value), white (to increase tonal value) / Azo red and Cd Yel Med (for hue) and Emerald Green (for saturation and hue), Paynes grey (reduce tonal value), white (to increase tonal value
– Black brush: black and white, with sap green as complementary
– Metall: black and white
– Red adjustable wrench: Cd Red Med and Aliz Crim (for value and hue)
– ‘Color on the plate’: liquid drawing ink

After completing both paintings and with some distance after a few days I reflect more on my decisions taken and how successful they were:

My planning and working methods: 
Q: How to match colour?  I read somewhere to do a step approach: 1. Try to match value, 2. Try to match hue and starting from a higher saturated colour. Lower saturation can be achieved by complementary or white (white reduces values as well). Considering challenges with tonal values and colour matching I found this approach extremely helpful. This avoid the tricky part of starting to match colours with high saturated and often dark tube colours (e.g. red and blues)

Tonal values and colour matching:

Ex4 - Still life with man_made objects_Stefan513593_Page_4

My choice of format/scale:

To apply a looser approach with more expressive marks I found that standing with more distance form the painting helps. I found that working in my smaller scale sketchbooks makes me to work too much on details what I wanted to avoid. Therefore I decided to go large scale with bigger than real life sizes.


I decided to go for a kind of narrative that would allow the viewer to make up his own mind. Relates also to some discussion in the OCA forum linked to photography thread.

Ex4 - Still life with man_made objects_Stefan513593_Page_6


For the plate I was thinking which one from the top was better (the one with the interesting rim or the other with the shiny surface). I also wanted to see whether an ’empty plate’ or a ‘full plate’ would be better. I decided to go for the shiny one and a full one in ink.

Comparing ink on unprimed canvas and a acrylic primed ‘plate’ with Clear Tar Gel for extra surface gloss. Here the ink stands on the surface in droplets. On unprimed canvas, though glue sized, the ink merges into the surface.

Ex4 - Still life with man_made objects_Stefan513593_Page_7


My paint handling:

Expressive abstract strokes alla prima. With a more tonal xxxx background. Applying markings with different tools that allowed my to be faster in paint application and not fiddle around with details. Keeping the background rough, maybe unfinished to keep the focus on the objects.

Ex4 - Still life with man_made objects_Stefan513593_Page_5


My painting approach:

  • Composition: a combination of formal elements (tools with hard edges, plate) and fuzzy and blurred elements (brushes, color on plate)
  • Support: unprimed sized canvas mix as it adds a certain rawness to the scene
  • Paint: I decided to go for oil paint as I find them much more powerful in brightness and more visual impacting due to the impasto effect. Also they work much better on unprimed canvas.
  • Painting tools: I work with brushes, combs, and other ready-to-work found tools for getting interesting textures and patterns
  • Color on plate: I have to see whether I go for ink (so bright and luminous) or also oil paint. I need to see how ink performances on unprimed canvas or whether I need to prime the surface of the ‘plate’ first (smooth and glossy texture)


Work in progress:

Ex4 - Still life with man_made objects_Stefan513593_Page_2

In the last step I was rethinking blur and washed with a dry brush and turp across the surface and the painted objects. The advantage of oil paint is that it was not yet dried and I could nicely make blur marks of motion.

Time spent:

I did this painting faster than the provious exercise as I wanted really to focus more on my expressive and at times abstract strokes and getting right tonal values and colour and less on compositional or conceptual ideas. With prep work it took around 2 days. The most intense as the colour and tonal value matching on life still life in front of view. Changing time of the day with especially changing reflections and changing tonal values. What a challenge! Eventually I finished.

At the end I am wondering whether cropping the image would do any better for the visual perception of the painting (Cropping the top area). Would this be more balanced and more focused on the center part? Better eye focus? Or to much ‘pressure’ from the top?

Stefan513593 - Project 2 - Exercise 4 - cropped

Stefan513593 – Project 2 – Exercise 4 – cropped


  • I think that focusing on tonal values first are the important for the success of the painting. Taking time for matching values and than colour is quite rewarding though time consuming.
  • The blurring visual effect through dry brush and turp application makes the painting more interesting. I am wondering how far I could have gone? (see Gerhard Richter blurred paintings)
  • Matching colours: First matching tonal values, secondly matching hue and starting from a higher saturated colour that is easier to desaturated with complementary or white.
  • I  build the still life from individual objects. With deep exploration in my sketchbook and deeper experimental investigation I eventually came to the final composition and painting approach. The scene in front of me was the result from this process. I am satisfied to learn that this kind of practice led painting process is more rewarding and also more successful than having already a clear concept and image idea in my mind.
  • I am not satisfied with the red wrench (size and color values). Perhaps I painted it at the end, day was coming to an end and I wanted to finish. The blurring made it better though.

Next time:

  • As I built the painting from individual object I think that I lost at times the overall image. Only with the final blurring strokes I brought the objects together. I could have investigated more the relationship and space between at an earlier stage.


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