Painting with black, white and greys. Hmm…no colour, that will take some persistence.

At least that’s what I thought at the declaration of the challenge. More than persistence, it took hard-headed perseverance. Remember that trick sentence teachers slipped into grammar tests? “The boy made his way into the impenetrable jungle.” Impossible. That’s what it felt like.

Today I painted my third monochrome. I have really tried to get the most out of this challenge.

My first was from a photograph of some tourists on Calton Hill Edinburgh.


It seemed to turn out quite well but working from a photograph felt like an easy way out. I needed to be tougher on myself.

For the second painting, I chose to work from ‘life’ and a view of brush fences, concrete and grey brick presented a possibility. It  was a view from the balcony of the neighbour’s front yard. (Sshhh)! Sort-of en plein air.


The composition is totally dominated by that jolly kayak and the pale fence because I laid it down fairly literally. The brush fence was difficult to render and it made me see that large flat areas were not the answer. The proportions of the two fence panels on the left are too similar. This is an unfinished struggle.

So, I had worked on people from a photo, and some hard-edged forms. For the third work I needed to pit myself against more organic forms. Do you hear words of battle?

It was not the lack of colour, although I was dying to take refuge in some greens. The nub of the challenge lay in the discipline of seeing tonally and translating it into form and line. Of course that is what the real pro’s do in plein-air-land as a matter of course.

Preliminary drawing


After about an hour and a half I was ready to give up. I knew this reaction. My tennis court behaviour. 40-love up when I’m serving usually ends up with the opposition winning the game. Self-sabotage? Perhaps it is just giving up. I really thought about it, talked aloud to myself. Not this time. Hot coffee and back to work.

Philippa Robert, Adelaide South Australia

Philippa Robert, Adelaide South Australia

Philippa Robert, Adelaide South Australia

Philippa Robert, Adelaide South Australia
“Ungreenery” with camera’s white balance adjusted

This is my year for learning new skills and brushing up some old ones. It promises to be painful as well as enlightening. A bit like learning to serve properly/reliably in tennis when the old habits work most of the time. My tennis ‘career’ is almost over, so I won’t bother with those lessons.

And by the way, did you notice it is almost May? I think these challenges could be quarterly rather than monthly.


0 thoughts on “The February Challenge

  1. clinock says:

    Interesting confluence here Philippa, I’ve been struggling with b/w also this winter, but in acrylic, and I’m an absolute beginner compared to you so if YOU think it’s difficult…well…I’m amazed at your studies…the second one after preliminary drawing of organics – fabulous – I would have left it right there. What’s your favorite recipe(s) for gray?

  2. seascapesaus says:

    Aha! should have stopped when I felt like giving up.
    Interesting that you saw something in the early stages. Definitely simpler and more abstract. Tough discipline working with greys eh? These are black and white only but my favourite greys are ultramarine with all kinds of oranges. Phthalo blue and burnt siena served well for the Nov challenge but my art school favourite was magenta and a deep cool green. I loved the pure colours and the mixing but I think those greys were a bit cool and nondescript. Great to hear from you John, Thanks for your comments.

  3. artdoesmatter says:

    Wow Philippa – trying to catch up this week on reading my fav blogs – and this “ungreenery” is pretty fabulous! I actually like the post-coffee version(s) and love how you manipulated your camera for the added/differing levels of white. That final study speaks to me of an abstracted take on the past winter in the US and Canada; I see snow-peaked tree limbs and an organic mountain range on the left! Just proves one can ascribe anything one likes (me especially!) to artwork that she enjoys. Cannot wait to see further challenges you paint in the near future!

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