Monochrome studies

Coursework 1.2, Creative Arts 1.2 Creative Arts Skills, Creative Arts BA (Hons), Project 2: Developing Creative Skills

Exploring Transparency and Opacity in Painting a Winter Tree

In this exercise, I explored two ways to paint a winter tree. In one, I focused on the transparency of the paint, and in the other, I exploited the opacity of the paint.

To begin this exercise, I chose to work with the outline of a winter tree against the sky. This subject offers both simplicity and complexity and an opportunity to play with positive and negative shapes. I started with a photo of an interesting tree silhouette against a pale grey background.

Next, I prepared two A3 sheets of paper, one with a dark-coloured wash and the other with a light grey ground. I mixed a combination of Ultramarine and burnt umber for the dark wash, while the light grey ground was created by combining titanium white into the dark wash.

Once my papers were prepared, I used charcoal to transfer the tree image onto both sheets. Afterwards, I lightly dusted off the charcoal, leaving a faint outline to guide my painting.

Starting with the light ground, I picked up a fine hair brush and outlined the positive shapes of the trunk and branches using the same dark colour mixture from the dark background. I then filled the trunk and main branches with a dense, solid mix of dark colours, gradually fading the colour out to suggest the finer outer twigs and branches.

Switching to the dark, washed ground, I focused on building up the form and outline of the tree by painting the negative shapes between the main branches, small branches, and twigs. I mixed up the same light grey and applied it to the shapes formed by the limbs, trunk, and ground.

As I worked on these two paintings, seeing how the different approaches created unique effects was fascinating. The transparent qualities of the paint in the first painting emphasised the delicate and intricate nature of the tree branches. In contrast, the opacity of the paint in the second painting highlighted the difference between the tree and the sky.


Experimenting with different techniques is essential for my growth and understanding of the creative process. In my recent endeavour, I explored two distinct approaches to painting a winter tree: one with the light ground and the other with a dark ground. This experience challenged me in various ways and taught me valuable lessons about the significance of background and technique in my work.

Working on the light ground felt comfortable and intuitive. The lighter background allowed me to create the tree shapes more effortlessly, and the texture of the paint added interest to the tree’s overall appearance. My brush control enabled me to quickly outline the smaller branches, and the contrast between the tree and the sky made the details more visible and defined.

On the other hand, the dark ground proved to be a more challenging experience. It was difficult to emphasise the tree and highlight the finer details against the darker background. Despite these obstacles, I enjoyed playing with the negative shapes, and this exercise pushed me to focus on these aspects of my composition. It became apparent that the dark ground demanded a more thoughtful and deliberate approach to achieve the desired effect.

Overall, this exercise gave me a deeper understanding of the impact different grounds can have on my artistic process. The light ground facilitated a more straightforward approach, whereas the dark ground required a more strategic and focused method to bring out the best in my work.

As I continue to develop as an artist, I am grateful for the opportunity to engage in exercises like this one. They encourage me to step outside my comfort zone and consider alternative art creation methods. Ultimately, each challenge helps refine my skills and broaden my artistic horizons.

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