Tonal landscape study using only Lamp Black

Tonal exercises with a limited palette

After all my recent autumnal scenes, I decided it was time to try something a little different…plus time hasn’t been on my side of late so I wanted to try to keep up a bit of momentum with a few smaller sketches.

First one up was a exercise that I took from a recent purchase, ‘Simplifying complex scenes in watercolour‘ by Malcolm Beattie. I’ve been leafing through this book on and off for a while and can’t quite make my mind up about it! I think it contains some useful information, but not necessarily anything that can’t be found in any number of other similar ‘how to’ books. I think my main stumbling block with the book is that the author and artist is from Melbourne – nothing xenophobic of course – but the light is obviously so very different and I find the palette used in many of the example paintings and exercises is just a little too vivid and garish for my taste/experience of the world.

This first sketch caused me no end of trouble at first as I didn’t have the colours recommended… (Cerulean blue, French Ultramarine, Alizarin Crimson, Aureolin, Pthahl Red). I started with what I thought was a near approximation, but as it went disastrously wrong, resulting in some very weird shades of green, I washed as much of it away as possible and went back in with a more subdued palette of French Ultramarine, some Lamp Black, Paynes Grey and a touch of Alizarin Crimson (so not necessarily that limited a palette!).

Limited palette exercise
Limited palette exercise
My next effort pared things back a little further and, flying against the convention of not using black, used only black. Compared to the first sketch, where I was sidetracked by colour, this felt much more straightforward as I was purely concentrating on tone.

Tonal landscape study using only Lamp Black
Tonal landscape study using only Lamp Black
Both of these are only small, eighth of an imperial sheet sized sketches, so nothing more than sketchbook studies really. I did find the challenge of working with a limited palette both fun and challenging and something that I’d like to do more of – especially as I hope to be out and about a bit more and looking to create some quick preparatory studies that I may work up a little further back at home.

I think the first one works if you squint at it – which is hardly a measure of success – and the second is generally more interesting and complete. In terms of keeping up the momentum though, I’m already looking forward to carving out some time to do some more of these tonal sketches!

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