Studying the use of colour and its effect on the atmosphere of a still life

One of the most enjoyable parts of this course for me was the still life portion. I also have such a huge passion for colour and the way it makes the viewer feel, so for this assignment I decided to look at how colour affects art. I started off by researching still life paintings, and found two particular images with striking colour palettes that stood out. One was a very cool toned (blues and purples), and the other was a warm toned, (red and orange) painting. I found a stark contrast between my emotional reactions looking at two images with these colour schemes. With the cool toned, I got a sense of calm and clean order, however there was also a clinical coldness to it. I definitely prefer cool toned images, as the light and airy, minimalistic art style is visually appealing to me. With the warm toned image, my eyes didn’t quite know where to start looking, as it was full of busy patterns and was quite jolting to look at, but seemed inviting, like a cluttered but cosy living room.

I took colour away for one of my sketches, using only black and white, and realised that without the distraction of it, I could really focus on the various tonal values within the piece.  Colour adds another dimension to art, but for me personally it is one of the most interesting and exciting elements. I would like to explore monochromatic art more in the future however, which would allow for me to use a single colour and tone with more focus and without too many distractions. I worked on a few compositional sketches, using the cool toned paintings as inspiration.

I looked at basic colour theory and primary colours. Often, bright reds, yellows and blues are the simplest and most stimulating colours and so are used in children’s TV programmes and nursery’s. However they can be used more sophisticatedly simply by changing the tone. Artist Piet Mondrian’s work uses white space and sharp geometric lines, cleverly using small blocks of primary colours to create a sophisticated and basic complimentary colour schemes verses harmonious colour schemes. Complimentary colour schemes are opposite each other on the colour wheel, whereas harmonious colour schemes sit alongside each other. Both can create a unified colour palette.  This is an aesthetic, purely visually pleasing element of colour.

For this final piece, I went for a restricted palette of yellows, purples and greens. Different colours can trigger different emotions in people, and so using these could subconsciously make the viewer feel joyous, peaceful, and be reminded of nature. I used colours that were close to real life, since plants in nature tend to compliment each other naturally, and simplified the purple and yellow background instead of using the busy window scene that was originally behind the flowers. The pink compliments the green and the yellow compliments the purple. I used paints as I found that coloured pencils didn’t give the vibrancy I wanted, and used a small A3 paper to try and keep my focus on the overall image and not get overwhelmed. Overall, I would hope this piece has a very calm and peaceful atmosphere, as although it has busy areas, the composition allows for lots of space and light, and the majority cool tones creates harmony and removes that busy urgency and harshness on the eyes.



Assignment 5: Final piece


Reference photograph:



  • The longest green leaf stem contrasts well with the purple background behind it, and is also neat and tonally accurate and focused.
  • I really like the colour palette I chose, overall very cool toned but extremely close to the original image.
  • I found it a lot more enjoyable working on a smaller piece of paper, A3 is large enough so I don’t feel restricted and tight but not overwhelmingly large that I find it unmanagable. When I have my own large studio with loads of space I may be able to do large pieces, but whilst I’m in a corner of my bedroom and I’m not even 5 foot in height, big pictures are tiring!



  • In general more care could definitely have been taken. You can be really precise and clean using paints, so I could have had much sharper, crisper lines, especially in the background.
  • More focus on tonal variation, I could have done a few more preliminary larger black and white studies. I also wish I had done a study in line, and just used ink.
  • The collection of flowers to the right are too blue toned. They need to be painted petal by petal and built up slowly with more red mixed in.
  • I started to make a big deal of the dramatic shadow at the bottom but didn’t follow through. I should have then continued looking at and documenting all the tones around that area, making it look like a shelf, otherwise I should have just kept it all one block tone.
  • I could have made the flowers so long they leap off the page, not just confined within the A3 paper.

Demonstration of technical and visual skills – materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills.

I feel like I can be very hit and miss with my technical skills. One day I can observe excellently, the the next I could struggle and get frustrated and end up with a muddy mess on the paper. I think a lot of that is to do with pain management, when I am comfortable my brain has the ability to relax and focus on detailed art, but when I have a bad headache I find it difficult to do highly observational drawings, and a desire to do more abstract work comes out. Maybe I should be incorporating that a little more, instead of trying to be photorealistic every single time, which would also help show my creativity as well. My compositions have definitely improved overall.

Quality of outcome – content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner with discernment (good judgement).

I have especially tried to apply my knowledge of colour and composition throughout this assignment. My sketchbook demonstrates that learning. Throughout this course I have explored elements of art and subjects I have never even considered before. I feel I now have a solid foundation of ‘mistakes’, practice drawings and plenty of feedback that will serve me well for my next course.

Demonstration of creativity – Imagination, interpretation, invention, personal voice.

Within the constraints of the exercises and deadlines I have tried to be creative, but do believe I could have done more to push them to the limits and explore beyond what is asked of me. In part 5 I have begun experimenting with colour in the most exciting way, and have enjoyed it immensely.

Context – reflection, research, learning log.

My research has definitely improved, I make a conscious effort to make it more focused and specifically look at a certain element of a painting I want to learn about, rather than writing a generalised essay/biography of an artist. My learning log has been short but concise, documenting my choices and reasons, actively trying not to ramble or explain unnecessarily. I have also been looking through my blog regularly, reminding myself of lessons learnt, updating artworks and going through the rolling ‘to do’ list.

Assignment 5: Preliminary studies

I begun this assignment by quickly drawing a mind map and brainstorming some of my main ideas. I quickly dismissed the figure as it was one of my weakest areas, and the outdoors as it was the most difficult to get source material from. I decided to do still life as I really enjoyed the process of drawing my house earlier on in the course, easily accessible and not reliant on anyone but myself.


I started to think more closely about what I wanted to experiment with during this project. Colour has always been super interesting to me, so I decided to ‘explore the use of colour in still life drawing’.

I started researching and made some brief notes in my sketchbook.

sketchbook 3

Edited transcript:

Clive Branson, ‘Still Life’. 1940. Studied at the Slade school of Art. Exhibited with Royal Acadamy at age 23. Was an active communist and fought in the civil war, ultimately killed in action in 1944.

Colours: Warm toned. Reds, yellows, oranges, muted peaches, hints of blue. This restricted palette brings harmony to the painting. The atmosphere it creates is busy and cluttered but cozy and happy, loved.

I was drawn to this image primarily because of the books, since I have struggled to draw them in the past. When I focus on just one single element of a drawing, it comes out more polished. I need to now practice putting the pieces together a creating a fully thought out image with well thought out, harmonising components. Also really interesting composition.

sketchbook 4

Edited Transcript:

Still Life – New Studio. Oil on Canvas by William Brooker.

  • Studied at:
    • Croyden School of Art (1936)
    • Chelsea School of Art
  • Taught at: Central School of Art (1965)
  • Principle of: Wimbledon School of Art (1969)
  • First Solo Exhibition (1955) at Arthur Tooth and Sons – also exhibited with London Group.

I immediately fell in love with the minimalist colour scheme and its clever use of of composition.

Colour Palette: Brings unity, calm atmosphere, blues, purples, whites and pale yellows, and then pops of green that draws your eye to it. More focused on tonal variations without distraction of multiple different colours.

Composition: Uses the rule of thirds, has symmetrical balance and lots of space at both the top and bottom. My eyes personally are first drawn to the large blank areas, leaving the smaller, more cluttered areas to be discovered as I explore the painting, feeling like I have plenty of room around me. The repeated square and bottle shapes create harmony throughout this image.

sketchhbook 2

  • For the first composition, the vase sat central in the middle of the page, and wasn’t within the rule of thirds.
  • For the second (clockwise), I lowered the vase which sits a lot more comfortably, but it felt a little bare and that something was missing.
  • I piled up a stack of books next to the plants for the third composition attempt, however opening the biggest book next to the plant didn’t work. The height of both the plant and book fought to be dominant. I am also going to push the books out of the frame slightly so they dont overpower the main subject of my still life.
  • The final one worked the best, however for my final piece I am going to have just three books stacked up, rather than four.


I used coloured pencils for this sketch. I tried to emulate William Brookers neutral cool colour palette of purples, blues and light yellows, but I struggled to blend the coloured pencils together nicely.

Assignment 3 – Final Changes after Feedback

updated ass 3

I had two choices for my final piece, and with the help of my tutor I actually ended up deciding on this greener foliage drawing. I think the use of dramatic shadow within the composition really helps it stand out. I really struggled with the branches initially and so used coloured pencil and white paint to try and add character and change the weak straight lines that were there initially. I also spent a little time using watercolour pencils on the fence as well, as I felt that it seemed very detached against the rest of the drawing, and I needed to create a little more unity within the image. I adjusted the tree in the foreground, dulling down the round circular lump that was an uneven growth on the tree but was drawn too perfectly circular to look like it was supposed to be there. I wish I had spent more time researching looking at other people’s drawings of trees for inspiration so I wasn’t so worried about creating a photorealistic image. Art is supposed to be creative and I got stuck in the mindset of needing to completely perfectly replicate images. However, ending on a positive, I am really pleased with how the shadows are incorporated within the composition.

Assignment 2 – Final changes after feedback

updated ass 2

Once I received my feedback, I had a much clearer idea of what wasn’t working with this drawing. Although the rule of thirds was working with the composition, there was an imbalanced focus, the bright green garden view through the window contrasted and fought uncomfortably against the bold bookcases and I needed to choose a single area to draw the viewers eye to, so I dulled down the greenery using some white paint, which completely changed the whole image. It instantly felt much more calming to look at. This was an important lesson in looking at the overall big picture and what elements stood out and drew my attention first, instead of just looking at the individual components that make up an image. I enhanced the curtains as well, using a variety of white grey and black brush pens to make them look heavier like genuine fabric, as they were previously very weak with little contrast and I hadn’t really considered their importance. I also added more detail within all the books as well, incorporating more decorative variety and interest within the bookcase.

Assignment 1 – Final changes after feedback

updated ass 1

The main feedback I received from this assignment was that I needed to include more tonal depth within the piece. Working back into this drawing, I used a much heavier hand and made a more conscious effort to use more intense areas of dark and light, especially visible around the small tablet bottles. I initially drew lines around objects very simply and didn’t focus too much on tone, as I didn’t have the confidence in my own abilities to draw or place objects accurately, and I was very hesitant, but I have since come on so far and am much more instinctive and relaxed. This has created a more 3-dimensional drawing, which is especially visible in the stuffed cat toy, which was originally flat looking on the page. I also made the contrast more dramatic, deepening the darkest blacks and leaving the highlighted areas white using a putty rubber, especially in the jar which is layered with shades of grey to create an accurate reflective glass surface.



Formative Feedback – Assignment 4

  • Positives
  • Improvements
  • Own Comments 
  • Tutor Comments


This was an extremely challenging assignment to undertake without access to a life class and with no previous experience of life drawing. You have quite quickly developed a sense of where you might take this in the future. More use of appropriate contextual study might have helped. This is a fair start and I hope you will continue to develop your life drawing as I feel you would quickly develop.

Assignment 4 Assessment potential

I understand your aim is to study for a Degree and that you plan to submit your work for assessment at the end of this course. From the work you have shown in this assignment, providing you commit yourself to the course, I believe you have the potential to pass at assessment. In order to meet all the assessment criteria, there are certain areas you will need to focus on, which I will outline in my feedback.

I am required to select a statement here but in this case none of them apply exactly. This was a challenging assignment and there are issues in your assignment work that we do need to address, but I feel that this assignment is not representative of your portfolio as a whole and so looking across your whole output, I think that we can build a convincing portfolio that demonstrates your learning. I also feel that considering you had never drawn a person before or attempted a head drawing that the outcomes are good relative to your experience.

I have struggled a lot with this assignment. I used youtube videos and photographs which were not ideal. Relying on other people such as family members for my art felt incredibly stifling and demanding, when they had busy schedules of their own, which is why I would want to focus more on self portraiture. Alongside travel difficulties, part of me is also completely intimidated by life drawing classes, as I know I am not up to a decent standard, but I know to get to that point I will need more real life guidance with real life models.

Feedback on assignment
Demonstration of technical and Visual Skills, Quality of Outcome, Demonstration of Creativity

The brown figure is successful. It uses tones to create form and the proportions are reasonably accurate. This could go into your portfolio for assessment.

The large figure on lined paper is reasonably accurate in terms of proportions. Shoulders are really quite complicated bits of engineering, as are hips, and you have to give enough room for the whole shoulder. Have another look. Above the breasts is the collar bone. The shoulders are quite high, may even protrude up as two bumps, and the shoulder blades behind need room too. Your shoulders here are a bit skimpy and squished.

I found this on the internet. It is helpful to illustrate how large shoulders are compared to the breast area

You could also have been more specific with the use of tone. Your shading is quite generic and you could have looked harder to get the shapes of tone is more accurately. That would have brought out the form of the figure more.

The movement drawing can also go into your portfolio. It is inventive and the way you have reworked the drawing has given it a really nice patina. The bottom is massive, but it works overall as an image so that is okay. Tone is working harder here too. Well done.

Your first ever self portrait has a slight Elizabeth Peyton feel to it as you have exaggerated the eyes and use her cool palette. I would need to see a photograph to be sure, but the lips do feel a bit disconnected from the face and the black line through the middle is too even and reaches too far across. This is a good first effort and I think making three of these in a row would quickly see an improvement. Hair needs to be seen as an object like a helmet as well as strands so you can look for signs of an overall effect of cast light as well.

Sargeant has picked out the shapes of cast light here rather than describing the hair in strands.

The other two drawings come from a starting point of drawing a boundary or outline figure. I suggest you have another go at these. You have a lovely model gymnast and some nice photos. Try to build out from a basic skeleton and focus on weight, balance and tension. The painted version of your gymnast in profile is nice in your sketchbook. Look at figures as part visual proposition and part meccano set. Focus on what strikes you as visually important but get there by mapping the engineering of the body accurately.

Demonstration of technical and Visual Skills, Demonstration of Creativity

There are some head drawings here that rely too much on generic features (eyes, nose and mouth) when you need to ditch that and focus instead on the head as a skull covered in skin. Remember that the eyes are nestling in deep holes, and cheeks are held out by bones which link to your mouth and jaw.

Look how the eyes here are mainly visible because the brow bone, cheeks and eyelids describe the area around them.

Here, Ariana Grande has tried to minimise that effect by using make up so that we are less aware of her head, and focus instead on her features. However, a sensitive look at even this bleached out face with over described eyes reveals a tenderness to the edges of the mouth and of course she is still human and so still has eye sockets and a jaw, however subtly apparent.

When you are drawing people, think of the drawings as head drawings in the first instance. Think about the space inside the head, and build out to create the form of the whole head. Be very aware of the temples, the jaw line, the way the nose relates to the brow bone. Also be aware of the asymmetry of the human face. ‘Beautiful’ people and children often have very symmetrical faces, but most of us are quite imbalanced.

Boris Johnson has hundreds of tiny deviations from symmetry that make his face unique. His ears, eyes, lips and nose are all different on one side to the other.

Look at these lovely drawings by Rembrandt. See how much care he has taken to draw a whole head here, the shading really helps to make the head round. Look how seriously he takes the space around the head too – he is mapping in things regardless of their importance conceptually (i.e. whether they are eyes or a piece of wall) his focus is on the visual relevance and on building up a sense of space.

I am sensing a pattern in that I am struggling to depict a realistic likeness and bring individuality into my portraits. One thing I really need to be more conscious of is the big picture. I can look too closely into minor details, whether that is in written reflections or whilst drawing faces. I need to be aware of the overall effect my artwork produces.
Context, reflective thinking, critical thinking, analysis

Your research is too broad for your own needs. I think more focus on the practical realities facing you as a student would have helped you more directly. Use your drawings to decide what research to do. For example, you have a few key requirements. You need to learn how to observe the figure, how to make the drawing seem alive, how to use tone and line etc etc. Then you have a poke about the Tate website or the jerwood drawing catalogue or the national portrait gallery and look for artists that are doing what you need to learn. Having said that you do this well in you research point on foreshortening. your research point on using anatomy is interesting but possibly not related to your drawing as much which is a shame as that really is key for you.

I am going to go through every piece of research and condense it, researching a clear focused point. I have been more aware of the websites from which I get my information from, but now need to take it a step forward and condense it, relating it to my own drawings.

There are several videos about life drawing on the Tate website. The Christopher LeBrun one is particularly helpful, the Michael Sandle one is good too although not a great advert for his teaching. There is a moment in the Christopher le Brun one where he is drawing and I think it is really important to notice just how much his eyes dart between the drawing and model.

Learning Logs or Blogs/Critical essays
Context, reflective thinking, critical thinking, analysis

You could still do more to apply your research to your practice. I think it would be good if our next tutorial was via video as I think this is easier to explain and discuss together.

Suggested reading/viewing
Videos above

Consider attending a life drawing class locally.

Pointers for the next assignment
● Reflect on this feedback in your learning log.
● Use tone more precisely to describe form
● Look really hard and observe carefully.

Well done, I look forward to your next assignment.

To do

  • Tighten proportion accuracy on most drawings
  • Large figure on lined paper – redraw and edit shoulders – learn more about the underlying structure of body 
  • More specific in my use of tone 
  • Have another go at drawings of my model dancer – build out from a basic skeleton 
  • Draw at least 3 self portraits – use repetition to improve accuracy
  • More contextual study – Go through every piece of research – figure out what I want to learn from each specific artist, and use it to influence my own drawings.
  • Watch and comment on life drawing videos from Tate