Category Archives: Part 4

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!


4.2 coloured pencil tondos

The scenes I chose were my painting materials, a bookshelf and a jumble of shoes.  Coloured pencil can be quite a slow medium to draw with, taking time to build up layers and blend colours, so I chose a fairly small format for all three, a 14×22 cm oval, drawn around a kitchen dish, on Arches fine grain cold pressed watercolour paper.  This gave me a bit of tooth to help with the layers.

Paints and brushes 

The viewpoint is from above, with some quite dynamic diagonals and vertical perspective.  After applying some masking fluid to preserve highlights, my first layers were loose watercolour washes, laying in pale tints of local colours.  My aim was then to build up colours and tones with coloured pencils, and to really try to depict textures.  I think the brushes are fairly successful, in this respect, especially the central mop brush.  Despite the highlights the watercolour pans don’t glisten as they should.  If I did this drawing again I’d try to create more depth, to make the paintboxes recede more, and really bring the focus on to the brushes which are reaching up to the viewer.  The work can be viewed any way up, but I prefer it with the large round brush head at the top, as this orientation seems to put the focus on the brushes generally.  The intense colours seem to work well with the black background.



Done in coloured pencil without underlying washes, there’s a lot I like about this drawing; the patterned marble floor comes across well without being intrusive; the gradual building up of tone in the red shoes creates a 3d appearance; there is some nice detail in the white sandles.  The dark sole of the green shoe looks a bit flat and dingy, and doesn’t seem to integrate all that well.  A black background seemed to drown our the more delicate colour of this piece; white complements the drawing and seems more restful.


This is made using watercolour pencils.  In some areas I’ve left the pencil marks visible and in others I’ve applied water to convert them into washes.  The dark areas of shadow were built up gradually (apart from the markings on the cat-bookend I avoided using black).  The black background works well; it seems to enhance the bright, warm colours of the drawing.


I enjoyed making these oval compositions.  The format seems to create a feeling of containment and intimacy, like a vignette.

4.3 Tondo with very fluid paint

Here’s the final painting I made for this exercise.  I think the tondo format echoes the composition quite nicely; the eye follows the drummer’s left arm, torso, and right leg, returning full circle to the drum.  The viewpoint and vertical perspective is quite dramatic.



My foundation work for the painting was a series of sketches I made for Drawing 1 three years ago.  They were each done within 5 minutes, using ink or markers on the end of a long stick held at arms length, ie with a large amount of control relinquished.  I would refer back to my sketches, but also work from direct observation of the figure in front of me.

The subject is a terracotta seated figure, drumming (based on pre-Columbian South American figurines), which I bought around 1987 and have taken with me wherever I’ve lived since then. I looked at Annabel Dover’s watercolour paintings of figurines (Work from the Psychopathology of Everyday Life) and I thought of painting the drummer as a tondo in a very loose and fluid way. 

First I played with ideas for a background, recalling my tutor’s comment in ny Part 2 review that often a strong background makes for a successful painting.  I wanted to use coffee washes to create an interesting textured base layer.  I made a few tryouts, wet my support (300gsm textured watercolour paper, 45cm diameter) with water, then dropped in blobs of diluted instant coffee with a pipette.  I got some nice hard and soft edges, runs and blooms.


Separately, I made a quick drawing of my figurine in my sketchbook using coffee and a pipette, starting with a dilute, wet solution, and blowing it around with a straw.  When that was dry I painted another line drawing, then a much darker one, each time refining the lines, but keeping them loose and variable with the aid of the (rather unpredictable) pipette.  When dry I experimentally added a rough ultramarine wash, thinking I might develop this idea in my painting.


I preferred the curve of the back, the twist of the head, and the feeling of movement in the arms in the middle (green) sketch in the gallery above to the somewhat static frontal viewpoint.  I set up the figurine in front of and below my eye level, lit it from the left, and mapped out the lines in charcoal on my painted coffee  background.

reinforced some basic structural lines with dark coffee and pipette

Darkened the background using ultramarine/coffee solution dropped onto wet paper with my pipette and manouevered with a big chinese mop brush, a natural sponge and tipping the support.



Added fluid washes, wet in wet, of burnt umber and cadmium red.  I think using a limited palette has brought a harmony and economy to the piece so far.  I felt the painting becoming over dark and lifted colour from the background using a soft wet brush and a piece of kitchen paper.  I’m pleased with the modelling of the head and the braids. The form is developing, with the top of the head seeming almost to protrude upwards out of the picture plane.


I continued adjusting tones by lifting colour and by adding cadmium red, until I remembered the advice to stop early.  My overall conclusion is that the background is too dark and the figure is somewhat lost in the ‘busyness’ of it.  I lightened it as much as possible, and in doing so removed some of the distracting textural elements.  The figure came into focus and the painting now seemed to have more room to breathe.

My final step was to add several coats of yacht varnish to the figurine, leaving the background as it was.  This added a deep glaze of warm colour.   Interestingly the gloss disappeared without trace in some areas, and dried to a high gloss on the surface in others – mainly the areas with more concentrated coffee solution, ie. outlined and darker areas.  This means as the viewer moves around looking at the painting, the figure’s outlines, details and dark areas are glossy while its other areas remain matt.

The varnish adds interest to the final image, but the sporadic nature of the gloss could be distracting.  The final version of the painting  is shown at the top.







4.4 adding thicker paint

Here’s a gallery of my final ‘augmented’ tondos.


Adding ‘thicker’ watercolour paint essentially means adding more saturated colours to my earlier thin washes, but I would like to be a bit more inventive in this exercise.  I could alternatively add other water based media (ink, gouache, acrylic), or coloured pencil, water soluble crayon, or marker pen.  I could use oil pastel, or cut and paste painted shapes, add gold leaf, or stencil repeating patterns.

I went to see David Hockney’s work in Saltaire (near his home town of Bradford) today, and I loved his bright colours and the patterns and marks he makes in his backgrounds.  I saw a large four panel folding screen, Carribean Tea Time.  It uses mixed media, combining print and hand-painting with stencil and collage.  In it he plays with perspective; he contended that traditional western perspective places the viewer outside the painting, and he attempts here to pull people in by subverting the rules; he makes objects further back larger rather than smaller, and receding lines (such as the back edge of the table below) longer rather than shorter.  He uses triangles and square shapes to explore his pictorial spaces, and overlapping to create depth.  Also in Caribbean Teaparty foreground objects are hotter in colour temperature (reds, yellows) than background elements (blues, turquoise), an aerial perspective device used to depict distance.


Starting with my Teabags tondo, I beefed up the watercolour washes, adding more saturated colour to the foreground elements,  more detail to the patterns of bowl and tray, and darker tone to the tray to describe its form better.  Then I used inktense crayons with a fine brush to add patttern to the birds on the tray, and finally watercolour pencil thickly hatched in to add tone and form to some of the elements in the bowl. Here are the before and after versions.  Before the rework I felt the background tray and foreground bowl were almost two separate paintings, one placed in fromt of the other.  Now I think the painting as a whole is better integrated.



Derwent Artbar water-soluble crayons were used to add thicker ‘paint’ to the Scissors tondo. Colours layered and blended, darkened and homogenised the marble floor, so it’s less distracting. The tabletop is brought into better focus and now appears more forward in the picture plane than the floor, and ligher and brighter, especially when offset by the black surround.



As noted in the log for Ex 4.1 I was reluctant to spoil the fine, delicate translucent watercolour washes of my Corner of a Room tondo by adding thicker paint, but inspired by Hockney’s Interior With Lamp, 2003 watercolur, I took the plunge and used gouache with a fine brush to emphasise and brighten foreground elements.  As in Hockney’s Carribbean Tea Party, above, I’ve played with perspective and made foreground objects hotter in colour temperature.  The whole feel of the painting has changed;  the earlier version has a peaceful, restrained harmony; the new work has made it more vibrant and given it more depth.



The composition of Laundry tondo needed resolving, to give more weight to the right side.  I used Unison soft pastels and Derwent pastel pencils in some areas, adding pattern and texture, and intensifying some hues.  Im pleased I found a way to retain sufficient light areas while adding interest to them, influenced by looking at Hockney’s mark-making and also the tondos of Virginia Verran with their tracer-bullet dashed lines, their stripes, stipples, doughnut rings and other patterns and marks.  The light areas in my tondo are also more vibrant now by being contrasted with darker darks.





I wanted to address the large sketchy green area on the left of the Washing-up composition, as well as playing with adding thicker paint.  The block shapes of triangles, rectangles and the disc of the brush, seemed to invite collaged shapes to be added to the painting. Iain Andrews cuts and rearranges photocopies of an image to form the basisof his compositions.  I traced my painting and then cut out the main shapes in lightweight, medium texture watercolour paper, painted them with gouache, and laid them on my oriinal thinly-painted piece.  I found I’d just repllcated the colours and shapes which were already there, which seemed a bit pointless; I was also struggling with the composition, finding it very difficult to integrate the dishcloth area on the left.  Laying a black oval paper frame over my circular tondo eliminated much of the dishcloth so encouraged by this, I continued in a playful Hockney-esque way to add oil pastel colour and pattern to my paper shapes, and laying them on the painting.  Some got knocked slightly askew, and I liked the effect; I cut some of my shapes into smaller pieces, and laid them down leaving gaps where the original painting shows through.  When I had a collaged painting I liked I pasted the paper pieces on with pva glue.  Last touch was adding thick pva over the red brush and handle, and painting over it with shiny red enamel.

Now the composiion was looking too crowded in its black surround.  Eventually I thought to remove the frame and this opened up the painting again.  This was the hardest painting of the five to transform, but the struggle was worth it for the learning experience, even though it is perhaps not the most successful outcome.





Part 4 review of work

Here is a gallery of my final tondi

I’m pleased with how I managed to make an inventive, eye-catching painting from a pile of laundry, and with the range of pattern and mark within the Laundry tondo.  If I were to develop this further for the Assignment piece I’d continue to explore mark and pattern, looking in particular at Virginia Verran’s tondi.  My Interior painting has an imaginative and vibrant touch, and if I were to paint more following this I’d explore ways of loosening my use of the media and trying to suggest more of an atmosphere (Jacquie Utley). The Scissors tondo stands out for me.  From not very successful beginnings it is spare and elegant and I managed to achieve a sense of meaningful light and depth in the scene.

I looked at a diverse range of artists who paint tondi, and/or the domestic interior, and adopted some of their ideas and approaches into my work (noted in my log for the exercises as I’ve gone along).  A major influence was my visit to Saltaire and the David Hockney exhibition at Salts Mill, an affirmation in the joy of colour and play!  Colour and light motivate me and I like trying to express what I think about what I see by using distortion, exaggeration, fragmentation, pattern and marks.

In general I think I’ve improved my design and compositional skills in Part 4 by experimenting with a completely new format, because it’s forced me to think about composition in a different way (now I see my paintings all together in the gallery above though, I do notice there’s an – unintentional – preponderance of high and bird’s eye viewpoints, something I wasn’t aware of when making the work).   I started by taking a series of photos of ordinary, everyday objects around my home.  This was a good exercise in observation in itself as it taught me to see the potential for a rich source of subject matter to be found in looking at the overlooked – supported by my research into contemporary artists like Tori Day and Annabel Dover.

I chose watercolour as my preferred medium to work with in greater depth.  I’ve enjoyed using watercolour in the course so far; painting thin and small in Part 1; in Part 2 painting on ice and with coffee; in Part 3 making watercolour monotypes. It feels very ‘immediate’ in use, needing only water, paper and a brush, which I like.   For Part 4 I concentrated on watercolour while at the same time experimenting with bringing other media (gouache, ink, acrylic) into play, as well as pastels and collage combined with traditional watercolour.

In Part 5 I’d like to continue with watercolour (subject to it being workable in the hot dry summer months), and to continue to experiment with ways of combining it with other media.  Watercolour can be both loose and fluid, producing an ephemeral feel, and it can be used in quite a concentrated way to produce rich, intense passages. I’d lıke to exploit these qualities by making a series of loose, thin paintings; and then adding more vibrant touches with more concentrated watercolour pigment, and alternatively by adding gestural marks, pattern and texture with other media.


Watercolour medium – notes

The first Part 4 exercise was a technical learning curve.  My tondo surfaces were fairly large and the first challenge was to learn how to successfully stretch the paper.  The first few attempts were unsuccessful, and I went back to research techniques a bit further.  The breakthrough was to wet the board as well as the paper; and not to over-wet the tape.  After that, and with a few more tips and tricks, I finally learned to get a successful support to work on.

I read the advice for watercolour media in the course manual carefully and kept it in mind while working on my paintings.  The most important were leaving a lot of white space; not creating darks too soon; and finishing early.  Knowing I’d be able to develop the paintings further in exercise 4.4 helped me not to overwork my first five tondos.

I explored ways of creating texture in watercolour and tried to apply these in my Scissors tondo.  Results were not entirely satisfactory as the background textures were too strident and distracting.

Masking fluid was another area of frustration.  After struggling to remove it from my dry painting I learned the paper must be completely dry before applying it, and that it shouldn’t be left on too long.

My old stock of Schminke artists watercolour pans are good quality but the W&N tubes were somewhat dried out and had to be cut into.  It’s good to have artist quality watercolour paint with their high pigment concentration – I was able to get good strong colour washes without having to build up too many layers.

For exercise 4.3 I painted with instant coffee diluted to various strengths, loosely applied with a pipette, blown with a straw and tipped to create runs, and a limited watercolour palette applied with a big mop brush and  lifted with sponges.  I enjoyed the fluid  process, and the mix of hard and soft edges created by it.  My experiment adding varnish didn’t seem to add much and if anything detracted from the result – perhaps I missed the point here.

By contrast the coloured pencil drawings are tight and a bit twee.  The media is slow to build up, hence my choice of smaller format; and I approached the exercise in too conventional a way.  Next time I use them I would try to be more creative and gestural.

My favourite exercise was the fourth one because here I broadened my approach and started to add other media to the tondi, including enamel, gouache, pastel pencils, soft pastels, oil pastels, collage, inktense crayons, water-soluble crayons and watercolour pencil.  I struggled a bit to overcome a reluctance to ‘spoil’ what I’d previously done, and to envisage what changes would add to the already ‘complete’ paintings successfully, but in all five cases the final outcomes are an improvement on the initial tondi, and were fun to do.

Watercolour textures

Watercolour lends itself to creating texture in many different ways.  For my fourth of five painted tondos I wanted to find ways of replicating  the amorphous shapes found in marble, and the splodges and spatters of paint on my studio table covering.  I did some research to get ideas and made notes.

and made several swatches to practise.

The hand-written captions sum up what I did.  In general I found;

1) the degree of wetness of the wash when the texture technique is applied greatly influences the outcome – the wetter the wash the more subtle and softer-edged the texture;  if it’s done too early the texture will disappear altogether as it dries.

2) the pigment(s) used affect the outcome, each reacting differently, and this is something I’ll have to learn as I gain more experience.

I used lightweight rough-textured Arches cotton rag paper as this is what I’m using for the painting that prompted these experiments.  It has quite a fragile surface which pulled off rather easily when removing tape and masking fluid, and was easily damaged when rubbing to lift paint.  I used a much tougher paper for the sandpaper swatch.


When I did the painting – scissors on a table tondo – I learned that care is needed using wax resist not to apply too much, as it can’t later be removed or painted over with watercolour.