Tonal study on a dark ground (2)


Mustard jars with pestle and mortar. Acrylics (A3)

It occurred to me while walking the dog that in doing this exercise first time I’d gone off on a tangent and done my own thing. So I resolved to have another go and work with a simple still life arrangement that would enable me to make a reasonable comparison with my tonal study on a white ground.

morandi-still life

Georgio Morandi, Still Life, 1954. Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich

While visiting the Sainsbury Centre in Norwich on Friday I came across this Giorgio Morandi  (1890 – 1964) which I had a good look at close up ( I think it was painted on a dark ground despite the creamy background). I came away reminded that less is often more. A quick internet search on Morandi when I got home made me realise that I have seen quite a few of his still life paintings and that there is a lot I can learn from them as I’ve had a tendency to over complicate. There is a quiet beauty in the simplicity of objects, arrangement and palette in Morandi’s work.

jars sketch

Initial sketchbook pencil drawing (A4)  to establish composition

I put together an arrangement of two mustard pots and a pestle and mortar – all off white and plain  – on a wooden stool. I painted them on a dark, blue black ground.

The wood of the stool was difficult to paint as my brown acrylic did not cover the dark ground effectively and I had to build up several layers. I also had to build up layers to get the light and shade on the pots. This painting took longer than my study on a white ground, and felt more challenging. At one point (taking my lead from the Morandi painting and the fact that I couldn’t easily see the stool because of the lack of contrast) I painted the background a yellow beige. Then I had a change of mind and reverted to  blue black. The more extreme contrast makes much more impact as in chiaroscuro.

I am quite pleased with the outcome, even if the jars are a little wonky. I am glad that I in the end I opted for a simple arrangement with a limited colour palette. The light and shade gives the objects form and the reflected light is effective on the shiny mustard jars, the pestle and mortar had a matt finish.

Set out all your tonal studies alongside one another and assess how well each of them has succeeded in modelling light and rendering tonal values. Which effects appeal to you most?

It is interesting to see that the contrast between light and shade is so much stronger on the dark ground. By comparison my herd of china cows on a white ground looks much flatter. Although that may also be  because I did a better job of capturing the range of different tones in the second painting and blended them more successfully.

Make notes in your learning log on any technical difficulties you’ve encountered and your efforts to resolve them.

On a coloured ground I found that certain colours like green and brown  have to be built up in layers as the paint is more transparent than, for example, white.

I had to work hard to achieve a range of different tones and made a better job of this on the mustard pots by going back over again to add darker shade and whiter highlights. I used both very dilute, transparent paint and well as opaque. I found a dab of kitchen roll and also my fingers to be quite useful to help with blending.


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