The aim of this exercise was to make a colour study of a still life using a narrow range of colours comprised of one colour, its complementary and white to lighten tones.
I worked on this while on holiday in Orkney and set up a still life in the kitchen of our holiday cottage using a bowl of fruit and some oatcakes.
After working on some quick line drawings in landscape and portrait format I decided on the composition above with the intention of cropping in on the chair.
Based on a colour wheel from a previous exercise I decided to use lemon yellow and red-violet as complementary colours, creating the red-violet from a mix of cadmium red and ultramarine blue.
I worked on creating a range of tones by mixing:
- Red-violet and white
- Lemon yellow and white
- Lemon yellow and a mix of red-violet and white
From this I produced a range of tones from a dark ochre to a deep plum. Using the colours for reference I worked up a loose colour study noting dark, mid and light tones.
I wanted to concentrate on the colours and tones and decided to use larger brushes than usual to ensure I didn’t get too focused on detail.
Brushes: Daler Rowney System 3 – ½” short flat, Daler Rowney System 3 – ¾” long flat, Daler Rowney System 3 – 1” short flat
For the initial session I blocked in the main shapes:
- Chair – red-violet and titanium white for the range of tones
- Fruit – apple and oranges – I used a darker tone of the background colour
- Tablecloth – white with a hint of the background colour
- Grapes – a deep red-violet
Over the next few sessions I worked on the chair, developing the tones. I added a darker tone of the background colour to the wall to suggest the corner of the room and create a sense of depth.
I created more detail on the apple, oranges and grapes and started to develop the shapes and reflections in the glass bowl. For both the bowl and the plastic beaker I had to remind myself that these are transparent and to remember to show the tablecloth through them.
Using the edge of the ½” brush I dabbed on diluted red-violet and a mix of red-violet/lemon yellow along the lines of colour on the tablecloth. This helped to create the crinkled appearance of the cloth.
Finally I worked on the plate with the oatcakes adding more shadow and the reflections of the grapes in the knife.
In the final session I developed the fruit bowl and the plate. While the bowl is glass I liked the decorative effect of the light and shade on the bowl and decided not to attempt to make it look any more real. On the edge of the beaker I added in a reflection from the glass bowl.
I did more work on the plate keeping the brushwork quite loose and adding more light and shade.
In the background I took a wash of red-violet and lemon yellow over the wall to deepen the tone and to create a sense of texture.
I enjoyed this exercise and, because I was working with a limited palette, thought more about the tonal values and the range of colours that I could achieve.
I was pleased with the overall effect and felt that I had achieved, without being overly detailed, a sense of the range of textures including wood, glass, plastic, china and cloth. Working with larger brushes helped with this.
- I liked the challenge of the limited palette – a useful exercise to focus on tonal values and in the end, although this wasn’t an exercise to evoke mood, I felt that the colours did give the picture that sunny, holiday feel.
- I enjoyed working with larger brushes – it made me concentrate on tones and shapes and avoid being too detailed.
- On final reflection the curve of the table looks a little out – again that lesson of, literally, not losing track of the big picture.