Exercise: Tonal figure study (1)

Also see tonal figure study (2) which was more successful

My first attempt at this exercise, before Christmas, was a failure. It was so bad I’m not sure I can bring myself to put the images on my blog. If I do, they will be as thumbnails at the end of this piece.  I’ve spent time reflecting (a bit too much time) and concluded that I went wrong because I was drawing with pencil and charcoal and then ‘colouring in’ with  acrylics. I was also working slowly and painstakingly and fussing about the detail of hands and face at the expense of the overall feel of the painting. The result was wooden and lifeless and not even, after all my effort, correctly proportioned.

During a  visit to the Sainsbury Centre in Norwich on Friday, I had the chance to chat with three fellow OCA students and this refreshed my thinking and helped me to realise that to bring life and vitality to my work I need to draw with a brush, work quickly and spontaneously, experiment and be prepared to see what happens… As a result I may not have followed the exercise instructions to the letter… but I have produced a couple of quick paintings of Brie, the Croquis Cafe model I painted in the earlier linear exercise, and better than my first attempts at painting Kayla.

I used a very limited colour palette – black, white and ready mixed flesh colour. I know this is not ideal (particularly the sausage like flesh colour) but I wanted to get straight into painting to get the feel of what I was doing. I applied the paint with brush and palette knife.


(1) Brie sitting, acrylic on paper









(2) Brie posed on her back









Make notes in your learning log about how well you’ve achieved your goal of making the figure appear as a solid form existing in space.

  • Both figures feel reasonably credible. I drew quickly with black paint and found that I could make some minor adjustments to the overall  outlines but even so the proportions are very slightly out. In picture one Brie’s torso is a little long and in painting two the legs are a little wide.
  • I have created a reasonable sense of form through the use of tone.
  • Both paintings are a little rough and ready and experimental but that’s better than them being fussy and overworked.
  • The strong black lines  may have been more suitable for the linear exercise. Now I’d like to draw a third picture, again going straight in with the paint but using a lighter colour (the background grey perhaps) so that I can lose the strong lines and see what difference this makes.

Woman with her heel on her knee, Matisse 1936

For inspiration, I had a print of this picture by Matisse by my side while painting but unfortunately his genius has not yet transmitted itself to me!




Initial attempt at this exercise which I abandoned for reasons outlined above

interim-2 kayla

Kayla – incomplete painting in which the top part of the body is too small for the bottom half. In trying to capture unnecessary detail of face and hands I lost my focus and I painted the life out of the image.


Initial tonal charcoal sketch of Kayla. This was better than the painting in terms of proportions but still feels wooden.



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