4.1 Painted tondos

Imade a circular and an oval viewfinder and went around the house taking lots of photos through them. Here are some of them.

I chose watercolour as my media for Part 4.  I’ve used watercolour in my pre OCA days, and I felt the UPM course would bring new approaches and techniques to try.  Reading the advice I saw it concentrated on layering new washes over existing dry ones, rather than the wet on wet approach I’d been used to.  I took on board the advice to keep tones light, avoid using darker tones too soon, and to stop early.  My tondos are painted in a variety of weights and textures of paper.


Laundry abstract 42cm dia on textured watercolour paper – my first tondo was based on a pile of laundry.  Zooming in until the shapes approached abstraction, I drew a composition freehand with a graphite pencil straight onto stretched cold pressed textured watercolour paper. Then I started to lay in light washes, working all over the paper, eventually layering new slightly darker washes onto dry ones  I gradually built up a landscape of shapes and forms which complement the circular frame.  I was influenced in how I designed my composition within a circular frame by a remarkable tondo,  ‘Bombardment‘ by Philip Guston, which I recently saw at the RA exhibition ‘America After the Fall’.  Guston’s painting would have been less effective in a conventional rectangular format; his bodies ae exploding from the centre.  My composition, based on a pile of laundry, isnt so dramatic, but is made with a circular format in mind.  Also my painting bears witness to Guston’s Renaissance-like layered treatment of the folds and colours of drapery.

I think the painting at this stage is quite successful; I remembered to leave a lot of white paper uncovered, and to finish earlier than I was inclined to.  The composition is heavily weighted in interest to the left side, so I’m planning to address this in Ex 4.4, maybe by using mark-making to add interest to the right side.


Washing-up – 35cm dia on 300g textured watercolour paper. I used the same methods to prepare and paint this tondo.


My subject is, like the Laundry tondo, overlooked and mundane domestic items, in this case the paraphernalia of washing up, and was influenced by looking at the work of Tori Day and Charlie Day.

I think I’ve got the textures and forms of the three sponges, and the reflections in the shiny plasic surface of the brush quite well.  I feel the composition would be moe satisfying with more dark areas.  The dishcloth or the background colours could be deepened in Ex 4.4

Corner of a room – 33x25cm on Arches 300g rough cotton paper, is a composite of two photos.  It was fun to draw, and was inspired by the work of Anthony Green, which I saw at the RA recently.  His subjects in the exhibition were the intimate details of the persons, objects, memorabilia and furniture in his mother’s living room.  He displayed his paintings and objects in installations.  The paintings were made in any and every format, often taking the shape of the subject itself (eg a poodle-shaped painting, or the irregular form of a rectangle seen in distorted perspective).  Jacquie Utley also paints domestic interiors featuring mirrors, pictures on walls, lamps, tables and chairs.  I adopted my design to an oval format, drawing furniture and objects as if seen in a concave mirror, so we can actually see more than if we were looking through a simple viewfinder.  I don’t know if my angles, curves and distorted lines are ‘correct’, but my composition makes me smile!

I used the medium in pale tints, building them up to daker tones very gradually.  A lot of the paper is left not white, but painted with a very light tint.  I can’t decide at the moment how to add paint in Ex 4.4, as I’m reluctant to spoil the delicate feel; but perhaps watercolour pencil could be brought into play carefully.

Contextual research into Hockney’s watercolours fed into my painting.  His Interior With Lamp, 2003, a watercolour on six sheets, shows a wide angle view of a living room, with pictures, carpet, lamps, chairs and tables.  The colour of the sofas transforms his painting from one which, like mine above, is otherwise fairly pale and neutral.

Perhaps this can point me in a direction for Ex 4.4

Teabags – 35cm dia on Cancon 300g textured mixed media paper. A view from close above of spent teabags and a teaspoon in a bowl on a tray.  The composition is a tondo within a tondo.

I built up the dark interior of the bowl in patient layers, waiting for each one to dry in between.  The paper teabag sachets are lighter in tone,  and I think come forward in the picture plane successfully, overlapping each other, with the dark teabags nestling deeper down.  The tray looks like a flat, decorative disc and not a real 3d object.  Although it’s pretty I feel it needs altering to  integrate it into the composition with the bowl, and to describe its angles and planes more effectively.

Scissors – 26x33cm, on Arches lightweight textured cotton rag.  Asimple  pair of scissors on a table viewed from above.  My idea was to show the solid, sharp object against a white cloth covered in paint splodges; all seen against a marble tiled floor below, with its interesting patterns. Before starting the painting I tried our various methods of creating texture with watercolour, described in a separate blog post here.

An influence for this painting – the subject and composition – is Richard Diebenkorn, who made quite a few works depicting an object on a table – for example a knife, a matchbox.  Charlie Day, a contemporary artist, is also influenced by Diebenkorn in his choice and treatment of subject.

At this stage its not such a successful painting as some of the other tondi.  Its difficult to tell that the floor is lower down than the table.  My texture work with the marble patterns is too detailed and has too much contrast, so the viewer’s eye is pulled to it; in other words the background is distracting and too busy, and probably needs to be darker so the white tablecloth shines out more by comparison.  I’m planning to try and address this in Ex 4.4, maybe using oil pastel or water soluble wax crayon on the floor area.  The scissors are successful but they look as though they’re floating slightly above the table, so I also need to pay attention to their cast shadow.

Doing this exercise was a great re-introduction to watercolour for me, and has made me think about different ways of using the media.

Painting tondos was quite a revelation; the format forced me to think differently about composition.  I dont know why this should be, as many of the same principles apply regardless of format; maybe its simply that there is an instinctive difference between conventional formats which are defined by straight lines and angles; and the tondo format which has no angles and no straight lines, and therfore no beginnings or ends!


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