Practical Exercise 1.1 – Artwork – Bees


Paper: Canson oil-acrylic paper, 290g/m² (140Ibs)
Brushes: Jackson’s N0 12 round, Daler Rowney – 1″ flat, ⅜” flat
Colours: Cobalt blue, titanium white, yellow ochre, phthalocyanine blue, lemon yellow, cadmium red, cadmium yellow, ultramarine, cerulean blue
Size: 33 x 41 cm (12½” x 16⅛”)


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This exercise follows on from Practical Exercise 1 – Artwork – Bees. I wasn’t entirely happy with that exercise though there were some elements of it that I thought had potential.

As I worked on the initial version I noticed that the painting seemed to have two parts, a sunny world above ground and a shadowy, hidden world among the grasses. This was one element that I wanted to work on as, while these exercises have developed from my childhood sketchbook, I am looking at them now after mum’s death and this idea of the familiar being unfamiliar is still very strong.

My main aim was to develop the sense of a warm summer’s day but with an edge to it. The kind of day where, in the background, you can hear bees humming, then getting closer to you, then flying away. There is warmth, quietness but also a sense of a hidden world with insects providing a sporadic, unsettling soundtrack.

There were other elements, such as the scrapbook cherub, that I liked the idea of but, initially, I wanted to focus on creating the texture of the grasses and developing this idea of a hidden world.


A number of works by Joan Eardley have the kind of energy in them that I would like to capture.

Hedgerow with Grasses and Flowers, c.1962-1963 [External link – opens in new tab]

In this painting Eardley uses gouache and oil on paper. I like the effect of the gouache, the chalky, pastel style has a summer feel. The gouache appears to be used over the oil paint. The paper has areas which are unfinished and the initial layers, roughly applied, seem to stain the canvas. Larger areas of colour are covered by energetic marks, pink slashes across the canvas, dabs of pale yellow and orange circles to represent the grasses and flowers.

July Fields [External link – opens in new tab]

This painting has a more sombre palette for July consisting of blues, ochres, white and yellow with a smattering of green. The fence is shown diagonally from the bottom left leading the eye towards the horizon. This area is defined by the texture of the vegetation. There are bold strokes of blue and ochre with smaller dabs of white and yellow for the daisies. The painting seems to be build up with areas of blocks of colour initially, where the paint is more blended. The rougher areas of texture are applied over this.

Session 1

Initial layers

Initial layers

I decided to work with acrylics as I wanted to work quickly and be able to use layers of texture.

To convey warmth I added an initial layer of yellow ochre. Over this I added a layer of cobalt blue and titanium white, dragging the brush across the paper to create areas of texture and leaving some of the yellow ochre showing through.

Session 2

Blocking in colour

Blocking in colour

For the second session I used a mix of cobalt blue and titanium white using a flat 1” brush. This was a thicker layer but by dragging the brush I left some of the previous layers showing through.

For the sun I added a mix of yellow ochre and titanium white to the top left. I worked on the sky around this using the 1” flat brush and a size 12 round brush dragging and blending the paint.

On the lower half of the painting I added a layer of quinocridone red-orange. This was left to dry for a short period then I lifted out some areas, to create an area of shadow.

Session 3

Adding in texture for grasses

Adding in texture for grasses

I reworked the sky after the second session with cobalt blue, lemon yellow and titanium white applied with a 1” flat brush. I then used the palette knife and with phthalocyanine blue, cadmium yellow, titanium white and lemon yellow scraped the colours directly onto the paper to create texture and shape of grasses. With lemon yellow and white I added in the outline of an iris, another childhood memory.

Session 4

Developing flowers

Developing flowers

After Session 3 I felt that I needed to be careful that I didn’t overdo the texture. Using a flat ⅜” brush I added broad strokes of lemon yellow, cerulean blue and white, mixing this directly on the paper. My aim was to balance out the textured area in the centre with more blended areas of colour.

I then used a cotton wool pad and water to remove some of the darker areas of colour as this seemed to be overwhelming the lower half of the painting. To create more defined areas of shadow I used washes of quinocridone red-orange and phthalocyanine blue in the negative space between the flower stalks. I tried to balance the lower left-hand side with the right by removing some of the previous layers and, again, used broad stokes of colour mixed the paint with the brush directly onto the paper. To create more detail in the central area I used the palette knife to add small dabs of quinocridone red-orange and lemon yellow.

Session 5

Adding in cloud and putto

Adding in cloud and putto

For the next session I wanted to create a little more texture and contrast for the foliage on the left and right of the painting. Working with the palette knife I used mixes of phthalocyanine, lemon yellow, ultramarine and titanium white and scraped the paint directly onto the surface. I lifted areas of paint out trying not to overwork any particular area. I also added some height to the grasses to create more depth to this area and dabbed on small areas of cadmium yellow with the palette knife to represent flowers. I added a wash of cadmium red and ultramarine to the iris.

At this point I looked back at work in my sketchbook and decided to try out one of the compositions I had played with where I added in a cloud, as in the previous version but, instead of the putto being on the cloud, the figure was at the bottom of the painting with the composition referencing The Sistine Madonna. I also added in the outline of the bee and a small caterpillar amongst the grasses.

Session 6

Working on texture of flowers and grasses

Working on texture of flowers and grasses

For session 6, I worked on the texture dragging paint with the palette knife across the surface of the grasses to create smeared areas of dry paint. I developed the shadowed area of the foliage using washes of quinocridone red-orange and phthalocyanine blue. Using the palette knife I used titanium white, cadmium yellow and cadmium red to develop the texture of the cloud. Finally, I began to develop the putto.

Sessions 7/8

Work on flowers, caterpillar and bee

Work on flowers, caterpillar and bee

In the final two sessions I worked on the putto, adding more detail and trying to get the eyes looking upwards towards the caterpillar. I added a little more texture to the grasses on the right-hand to balance more with the left. I also added washes of cadmium red and cadmium yellow across the cloud trying to highlight the texture of the cloud more.

In the last session I felt that the angel was looking a bit too robust compared to the application of paint in the rest of the painting so I lifted out some of the colour aiming for a suggestion of something a little more ethereal. I added more detail to the caterpillar and the wings of the bee.

I worked a little more on the cloud but felt it wasn’t working out as I had hoped – perhaps if it had been added at the beginning, rather than as an afterthought, it may have worked better.


Technical and visual skills and quality of outcome. Overall, this isn’t a work of great technical skill though it has a number of aspects that I think have potential. For the texture I have enjoyed the element of chance involved in applying paint directly from the palette, without mixing, with a palette knife. Subsequently, scraping off paint, adding washes and lifting out colour has made me slow down a little as I went on and consider more what I felt was required. I have had to be more patient and let paint fully dry, using the time to think about my options.

Demonstration of creativity and context. I feel that there is potential with this idea. It has been inspired by childhood drawings and the process of doing it, which brought to mind the cherub scraps, has meant I could draw together different childhood memories. This version has also allowed for some appropriation from the composition of Raphael’s The Sistine Madonna.

My concern is whether I have the technical ability to do it justice. Referring to images of Joan Eardley’s work made me think more about each step that I was taking – applying broad areas of colour first, then a layer of more blended colours before starting on the textural elements. I now need to experiment much more with other mediums and techniques.

Notes for Studio Practice

  • Revisit ideas for composition.
  • Try with oil paint – play with sample pieces
  • Work on a larger scale, on canvas, may help to get more energy into the initial layers.


Eardley, J. (c. 1962-63) Hedgerow with grasses and flowers [Painting] At: (Accessed on 14.06.18)

Eardley, J. (s.d) July Fields [Painting] At: (Accessed on 14.06.18)

Raphael (1513) The Sistine Madonna. [Painting] At: (Accessed on 29.06.18)

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Practical Exercise 1 – Artwork – Bees –