Morning class! This week we’re in a Victorian townhouse.
I’d been visiting for afternoon tea when the play of light in the hallway caught my eye. The warm sunlight coming in from garden doors to the right cast a real glow onto the yellow wooden wall. The floral arrangement reminded me of the peonies in the Floral Still Life Painting Course, and you can start to see how compositions can be built out from one point of reference.
There was a natural blue light coming from a window in the hallway out of shot to the left, and an orange incandescent wall lamp, higher up on the right, both contributing to the warm and cool tones in the flowerheads.
This step-by-step acrylic tutorial looks at balancing different areas of light and shadow (chiaroscuro) when working on a sunlit room interior scene.
Downloading the reference photograph
The photo below can be ‘Right-clicked’ and ‘Save Image As’, so you can print it out and follow along with the steps below, or you can download a larger 8 x 10-inch version here
Materials you will need:
- Princeton Catalyst Polytip Bristle Brush: Bright – Size 4 (9.75mm width x 13mm length)
- Small round nylon brush about 3mm diameter (any brand will be fine) this is for the very last highlights
I use a mix of Golden Heavy Body Acrylics and Winsor & Newton Professional Acrylics
For the coloured ground:
- Titanium White (Golden Paints)
- Cadmium Yellow Light (Golden Paints) – Bismuth Yellow or Hansa Yellow Opaque are Cadmium free alternatives
- Permanent Alizarin Crimson (Winsor & Newton)
For the main painting:
- Titanium White (Golden Paints)
- Cadmium Yellow Light (or Bismuth Yellow) (Golden Paints)
- Permanent Alizarin Crimson (Winsor & Newton)
- Phthalo Blue – Red Shade (Golden Paints)
- Burnt Sienna (Winsor & Newton)
- Burnt Umber (Golden Paints)
- Acrylic Glazing Liquid Gloss (Golden Paints)
I use this medium for applying thin layers of paint (glazes) to the surface. The paint will flow nicely and stay in a stable paint film on the canvas surface when working in very thin layers, using water for this method won’t work as well.
- RGM Classic Line, Medium size 45, Diamond shaped, cranked (angled) handle. I use an RGM 45 for mixing the paint on the palette
- I demonstrate on a 10 oz cotton duck canvas board, 4mm thick, 8 x 10 inch (20.32cm x 25.40cm). It’s had two coats of white Acrylic Gesso applied by the manufacturer. (If your board or canvas is white, then it has been pre-prepared with Gesso, and you’re good to go)
- Kitchen roll/paper towel
- Clean water in a little jar, I use a clean jam jar
- Mini jam jar, for putting Acrylic Glazing Liquid into
- Tear-off palette
- 2-4mm Burnt Sienna Acrylic marker from Liquitex
- 3B Faber Castell 9000 pencil (if sketching out first)
Step #1 – Preparing the ground & drawing out
Coloured ground swatch
To give the sense of a sun-drenched interior, I wanted a rich, vivid yellow underpainting. Take some Titanium White and add a little Cadmium Yellow Light, then add a speck or two of Permanent Alizarin Crimson to warm the yellow mix.
Pro tip: If you have Cadmium Yellow, just adding Titanium White will work well as it’s a warmer yellow than Cadmium Yellow Light.
Using a synthetic brush (any flat brush will be fine) dilute the heavy body of the paint with a little water, you’re looking for a thick cream consistency. (see: How to paint a coloured ground)
Paint this onto the white gesso board, so you have a solid (yet thin) covering.
After the acrylic ground has dried (about 10 to 15 minutes), I draw out the structure of the interior.
Step #2 – Drawing in the main shapes
Initially, I use a right angle set square to make sure the inner edge of the door and the inner frame are vertical.
Once I know these central areas are aligned, I can then freehand the rest of the drawing. I’m drawing out using a Burnt Sienna acrylic marker from Liquitex; you could also use a Burnt Umber marker or pencil. I’m working with the marker because I know I’ll be keeping some of the more delicate dark lines still showing through in the finished painting.
I then swap to the wider chisel side of the marker to block in the shapes around the flowers and the chair in shadow.
The perspective of the door
When drawing the perspective of the door, I’m looking at the negative spaces above and below. These shapes create triangles that help judge the perspective angle.
When faced with an open door, you’ll initially be fighting against the instinct to draw such an acute angle. Your brain will be telling you ‘this must be wrong, the bottom of a door is flat’ but thinking in ‘triangles’, can be amazingly effective.
Step #3 – Wash-in with Burnt Umber
I want to establish the tonal values in monochrome first, this helps to check your drawing and tonal hierarchy before committing to colour. By diluting the Burnt Umber with varying amounts of water you can change the perceived tonal value, the more water used, the more the paint has a transparent watercolour feel.
As I’m working upright at an easel, it’s a nice way to judge if I’ve added too much because the mix would begin to drip down the surface, so you’re aiming for quite a dry brush and a stain effect for the tones.
The image can roughly be split down the centre into lights and darks. Your eye will always be drawn to the lightest section within a composition first, so the room in the distance being flooded with sunlight, adds to the illusion of depth by directing the line of sight into it.
By utilising the yellow ground, I can get these super fine areas of bright yellow that help to give space and form around the arms of the chair.
For this painting, I tried out a new brush by Princeton, it has a bright shape, which is similar to a flat but with a slight curve at the edge. Princeton uses a Polytip feature, below you can see an example of the bristle in a filbert shape.
“For the first time, the tip of each individual hair has been split to replicate the natural flags on the finest natural bristle. By giving each individual hair 2 to 3 distinct tips, Catalyst™ is able to hold a higher volume of paint while providing a smoother application. Designed for use with medium to heavy-bodied acrylics and oil paints”
Princeton Artist Brush Company
It’s got a lovely spring to the bristle and was very effective at giving a smooth stain.
Step #4 – Adding the tile pattern with Burnt Umber
What I always find fascinating about patterned tiles in a painting is how much they can evoke a sense of grandeur. They remind me of the museum marble floors in Florence, seen in the Dutch interiors of Vermeer and Hooch (Incidentally, it’s thought that Vermeer used imported Florentine Marble tiles for his interior scenes).
Pieter de Hooch, 1658, A Woman Drinking with Two Men, © National Gallery, London
Step #5 – Adding a Burnt Sienna glaze
Because of the warmer incandescent bulb, I wanted to give the sense of a glow of orange light on the right-hand side of the painting. Using Burnt Sienna diluted with Acrylic Glazing Liquid Gloss, I paint a glaze over the wall underneath the light source and then onto the seat of the leather chair in the foreground.
The Winsor & Newton Burnt Sienna, in particular, has a lovely rich glow to it.
Step #6 – Adding blue to the door
Once the underpainting has been established, I introduce Phthalo Blue (Red Shade) onto the palette.
Mixing it with the Burnt Umber produces a muted neutral blue/grey, and I’ve chosen this blue because it enables me to get a wide range, from the inky blues in the shadows to some crisper clean greens on the flowers.
It’s quite amazing how light and colourful the reflections are on the surface of the door. You can see in the reference image how there are three bands of colours:
- a pale blue at the top of the door (reflecting the sky from a window out of frame)
- a muted purple band in the centre (coming from the interior of the room)
- a darker inky blue towards the bottom of the door as the light becomes softer.
Step #7 – Adding purple lights to the room
For the central purple band in the door, I added some Permanent Alizarin Crimson to my blue mix and lighted with Titanium White. Then, using a dry brush, I scumbled over the floor and the tiles using a muted yellow, also working it over the dark tiles to try and create that illusion of soft diffused light.
Step #8 – Adding inky turquoise to the shadows
With a darker turquoise mix of Phthalo Blue & Burnt Umber, I begin to bring some of the blue shades from the door, through into the shadow side of the frame. I darken around the chair and paint in the marble tiles to increase the contrast in the foreground. Then with some pure Titanium White, I paint in the brightest highlights and reflections.
Step #9 – Painting the shadow pattern around the flowers
Using Cadmium Yellow Light and Phthalo Blue, I mix an intense green which I then tone down by adding a speck or two of Permanent Alizarin Crimson. With this dark green, I paint in around the shapes of the flower heads. By painting the darks first, I can start to assess my drawing and the balance between the tones in the shadows.
Step #10 – Adding green to the flora
With some more Cadmium Yellow Light added to my green mix, I lighten the value (lightness or darkness) and the intensity of the green. This is painted with quick, spontaneous brushstrokes around the flower heads. I balance this green by painting a dull maroon colour, created from the Phthalo Blue and Permanent Alizarin Crimson around the leaves.
I’ve also painted a brighter deep red onto the side of the wall lamp to give a sense of light radiating out from behind the shade.
Step #11 – Increasing intensity to the greens
With a little Titanium White, I cool my green mix and then add a touch more Cadmium Yellow Light, these lightest areas of the leaves are then painted impressionistically on top of the darker tones underneath. Once the brighter leaves are in, I mix a cool lilac and block in the shape of the glass vase holding the flowers.
Step #12 – Painting the flower heads
Using the lilac within the vase as a visual guide, I mix some pinky greys for the flower heads furthest from us. I then add a little Cadmium Yellow Light and Titanium White to warm and lift the value of the flower heads for the flowers closest to us.
Most of these brushstrokes are painted at an angle; helping to bring movement and focus into that area of the painting.
Step #13 – The finishing touches
I now step back from the painting and look for areas of my drawing that could be sharpened or corrected. I use a small round synthetic brush for a few lines under the lamp and add refinement to the drawing of the vase and some white highlights on the panelled wall.
I also add a thicker impasto highlight on the tiles in the foreground and a few specks of highlights onto the wooden bannister to add a sense of light hitting the surface.
When viewing the painting from a distance, I found the purple band within the far room coming out towards me too much, so I painted over with a lighter, more muted tone.
I wanted to bring a little more colour into the shadows and move the viewer’s eye from left to right of the frame, so I mixed a brighter turquoise blue and painted a few dashes around the piece. By having that extra colour intensity, it helps to bring the flowers and the hallway forward in the scene and shift the muted, light values of the far room into the distance.
Taking an extra step back from your painting will often help you to simplify the overall impression.
I really hope you enjoy it!