'I'm always looking for the Hows and the Whys and the Whats,' said Muskrat, 'That is why I speak as I do. You've heard of Muskrat's Much-in-Little, of course?'
'No,' said the child. 'What is it?'
- The Mouse and his Child. Russell Hoban.

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Sunday, 16 May 2010

Tonal exercises on coloured grounds

The colour of the underpainting or 'ground' can influence the whole atmosphere of a painting. Usually only tiny snippets of the underpainting show through by the end of a completed painting.

But it is a good exercise to prepare a number of sheets with different underpainted colours and use these for simple tonal exercises using charcoal for the darks and wax pencil for the highlights. The ground colour provides the mid-tones.

Here is that frog again, done on an ochre ground and a burnt sienna ground.

These are just on paper stretched and sealed with a couple of coats of gesso and then a wash of the colour in acrylic. It is easy to smudge the charcoal so I periodically sprayed the work with a fixative, allowing it to dry before continuing to work.


  1. Magical observation. Or maybe it's just patient hard work.

  2. Thank you YP. They did take a while. At least an hour's drawing each. But after a lot of drawing practice, seeing the right things just comes much easier.

    There's a secret that I have found helps realism a lot: The darkest shadow is not, as you might expect, at the lowest part of an object. For, at that place, if you lighten the shadow just a smidgeon, you show the reflected light that is almost always bouncing off the table/ surface.

  3. Coming from a family of drawers and painters I feel that even I should be able to draw a frog. It's a frog for heaven's sake. Then when I follow what you are doing I realise just how much goes into a drawing of a seemingly simple subject and I am overawed by how lacking in that ability I am. And how much talent you do have.

  4. Oh, fiddle dee dee.

  5. Seriously GB, it's mostly practice during which time you learn to 'see' things as patches of colour/ tone. Not frogs or flowers or hills or a nude body (that last one is the hardest), but just patches of colour/tone. If you apply them as they appear, and where you see they are, then the object appears. It has no choice.

    Paul Klee said "Art does not reproduce what we see; rather, it makes us see."

  6. I followed Mr. RWP's link to you and he is right. Those drawings are gorgeous. How did you get the frog to sit still for so long? (or do you draw from photos?)

  7. Thank you Caroline, and welcome to TLVD.
    The frog was one of my collection of model frogs. They are remarkably patient.

  8. Elizabeth21.5.10

    These are stunning, Katherine.I love the top frog, the second immediately looks more sinister! I often do similar exercises with threadwork - it really makes you appreciate the effect of tones and shades. Thank you for that tip about the shadow not being at the lowest part - that's quite an adjustment in usual understanding. x

  9. Thank you Elizabeth. I wonder if the difference between them is based on the mouth, or the eyes? Or something else? I will come and visit when I have a moment, and see if you have posted any of your threadwork...

    I went through a stage of doing stumpwork beetles once... I must rummage and see if I can dig them out.

  10. Aw, no blog Elizabeth? Don't tell me you actually live in the REAL world? :o)

  11. Elizabeth22.5.10

    Too real at times!! I've just been so choc-a-bloc sorting things out after a family bereavement that I haven't been posting, but there is a tiny amount of stuff on an old ATC post. x


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